It has long been a philosophy of mine that the more fortunate should do their best to give to those who have less. And in terms of travel, if you are going to spend the money to buy a plane ticket to a foreign land, why not spend some time helping those in need?

In recent years, the popularity of volunteer programs abroad has increased, with more and more people, whether they be celebrities or high school students, spending time in impoverished areas around the globe.

When I was 16, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to Nairobi, Kenya, and spent two weeks volunteering in orphanages, hospitals and homeless shelters.

While I have immensely enjoyed every trip I have ever taken, this trip in particular was my favorite. Upon boarding my plane back to the states, I felt humbled, fortunate and satisfied that I had made a contribution to a community, no matter how small that contribution may be.

With the new year comes new plans, many of which I am sure center around travel. As we embark on 365 more days of adventure, I urge you to consider taking a volunteer trip. Here are five programs that send volunteers around the world which I personally recommend:

Volunteer Arica: This particular non-profit has had a presence in Singida, Tanzania, since 2002. Partnering with the locally based non-governmental organization (NGO), Health Action Promotion Association (HAPA), members of Volunteer Africa join forces with villagers on a range of construction programs, including health clinics, schools and homes. Volunteers receive lodging in camp conditions that mirror those of the community, often without electricity or running water. The program has the ability to last either two, four or seven weeks, with costs starting at $900 for the two week, $1980 for the four week and $2590 for the seven week, not including flights, vaccinations and a personal backpack kit. Since the volunteer site is within easy travel distance of destinations like Zanzibar, Kilimanjaro and several safaris, program volunteers have the choice to explore Africa after their trip. Volunteer Africa is a program that puts volunteers in the shoes of locals, helping them to truly experience what it is to live in a third world country.

Global Volunteers: If you’re not sure exactly what kind of volunteer work you want to do, Global Volunteers is a great choice. They provide eight different programs year round, ranging from teaching English and repairing buildings to working with children and elders. They are stationed on almost every continent, including Europe, Asia, the Pacific Islands and South America. Anyone interested can submit an application on the programs website, along with a $350 deposit. The standard program fee is $2495 for one week, $2695 for two, and $2895 for three. If you are a returning volunteer or student, however, you get a $200 discount. As with Volunteer Africa, program volunteers are encouraged to explore the area in their free time.

Glimpse Magazine: For those divas who contribute to our site or any who may have a talent for writing, Glimpse Magazine could have the perfect program for you. They send writers to a variety of countries to participate in travel writing that attempts to reveal the conditions people are living in and generate public awareness. Every year come fall and spring, Glimpse chooses 10 contributors, who are writers, photographers and/or videographers responsible for creating a professional portfolio to be published on the Matador Network. The program lasts for at least 10 weeks, and contributors are given a $600 stipend, professional editorial support, and career training in travel writing and publication. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old.

Open Mind Projects: If you’ve ever wanted to travel to Asia, here is a great way to get your feet wet. Open Mind Projects currently have destinations in five Asian countries; Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Burma. Volunteers can work with eco tourism, teaching English, helping refugee children, working in orphanages and schools and more. The program prides itself on providing low cost volunteer experiences that make a impact on the local culture. Costs start at approximately $750, but vary depending on the program and length of stay you choose. All volunteers are welcome to partake in a volunteer training program and most meals are included in the set price.

Volunteer Latin America: Reaching out to the communities of Central and South America, this program also boasts a range of choices, but focuses on environmental efforts. They offer programs working in forest reserves, organic farming communities, sustainable community development, Toucan research, the highlands of Peru and more. Prices and inclusions vary for every program, ranging anywhere from $2 a day to $500 a month, with certain programs providing food and shelter and others leaving the options to the volunteers. They are particularly seeking volunteers who speak Spanish, seeing as they have a variety of English teaching programs and are always in need to translators. Volunteers are welcome to choose from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala and Peru.

Each year we have the opportunity to start fresh. This year, make a commitment to focus on others and do your part to make this world a better place.

Volunteer in Africa