Voluntourism: A Green-Minded Match Made in Heaven!

High five, its vacation time! As you begin to dream of mai tai’s on the beach and how many swimsuits to pack for Maui, we want to introduce you to a new (heartwarming) trend that’s hitting the travel industry today- Voluntourism!


Volunteer tourism – coined “voluntourism” - is one of the fastest growing trends in travel today, with more than $2 billion dollars being donated by volunteer tourists around the world (source: New York Times, NPR).  While initially this notion doesn’t appear to fall in line with vacation vibes, volunteering just a few hours while living that laid-back lifestyle can be a truly meaningful way to spend a small portion of your vacation.  Fallen in love with Key West?  Indonesia?  Maui?  Well, what better way is there to appreciate whichever destination you’re calling home for the week than by helping the local community preserve their land (and sea!).  A bonus: volunteering provides you with a unique hands-on opportunity that will allow you to experience your destination in an authentic way that most tourists aren’t exposed to. 

“People who help the land and the culture, who give unselfishly for the sake of the land, they are the heroes, the real warriors.”

— Ed Lindsey, founder of Maui Cultural Lands

When choosing your activity, keep in mind that voluntourism can last as long as you’d like, depending on how you want to dedicate your time.  From only a few hours to an activity spanning multiple days, make your choice based on two factors: how you want to be fulfilled personally, and how productive your activity is to the cause you’re supporting. Consider choosing a personal cause that really resonates with your own life and values - something with real, tangible meaning that you personally find inspiring! Choosing a non-profit or cause that you care about and will enjoy dedicating your time towards will make your experience more meaningful and fun!

On our gorgeous island of Maui, there are so many options for activities and causes that would love your support! Here are a few of the companies whom Trilogy partners with throughout the year:

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1.     Hawaiian Islands Land Trust

HILT is a non-profit organization committed to working with private landowners, community groups, community leaders and government partners to protect Hawai‘i’s precious land. Proper protection defends against the threat of losing any more precious resources than we already have, while careful stewardship of these protected areas ensures that their cultural and conservational values survive in perpetuity.  

Planting taro patches in Waihe'e. Photo cred: HILT

Planting taro patches in Waihe'e. Photo cred: HILT

Love to garden?  Donate your time working in a Hawaiian mala’ai (garden), building taro patches in Waihe’e!  If you hit unsubscribe to the whole dirt and bugs scene, that’s no problem either – HILT hosts many fundraising events and community outreach projects that are always in need of land conservation advocates! “No effort is too small” for volunteers to be part of the HILT Ohana, so long as each individual believes in their mission - “Protect the lands that sustain us for the current and future generations. Ho’omoe wai kahi ke kao’o – Let’s all travel together like water flowing in one direction.”    (‘Ōlelo no‘eau)

HILT offers weekly and monthly events, like these examples here, that all help to preserve the lands they manage, including Maui locations in Hana, Kapalua, Nahiku, Waihe’e, Wailuku, Launiupoko, and more.  


2.     Maui Cultural Lands

MCL was established in 2002 with the goal of bringing in the people of Maui, both residents and visitors, to help with the restoration of Honokowai Valley. Once a thriving, self-sufficient community of 600 families, Honokowai Valley was home to a large village, farmlands, hundreds of trails, and countless heiaus (places of worship).  With the sugar boom in the 1920s, however, the village’s streamwater was diverted for its cultivation, causing devastation to the area’s native plants and resulting in the entire village evacuating in search of fresh water.  Since 2002, MCL has cleared more than 10 acres of Honokowai Valley, uncovering the historical homes and heiau’s, as well as miles of rock walls, many of which served as boundaries for family’s land areas.

MCL offers weekly maintenance days on Saturday which are dedicated to preserving the Honokowai Valley project. “It’s enough work for five lifetimes” states Uncle Ed, co-founder of MCL, whose ultimate mission is to “Stabilize, protect and restore Hawaiian cultural resources.”



3.     Surfrider Foundation Maui

Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit, environmental organization dedicated to protecting our ocean, waves, and beaches. Surfrider hosts local volunteer-based chapters in every coastal and Great Lakes state in the U.S., with numerous campaigns that have been an integral part of legislative measures aimed at protecting our beaches. 

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The Surfrider Foundation was a key player in Maui’s 2011 ban on single-use plastic grocery bags, eventually leading to Hawai’i’s ban of plastic bags at Point of Sale in 2015 - the first state to enact this law! ]

Other Surfrider campaigns include: Butts off the Beach, Ocean Friendly Gardens, Ocean Friendly Restaurants, Rise Above Plastics, Blue Water Task Force, and Beach Cleanups. Check their website for upcoming volunteer opportunities!



4.     Polanui Hiu Community Managed Makai Area

The reefs along Lahaina’s coastline at Polanui were once known for its abundance of fish and algae. Over the decades, the reef now shows signs of decline from many causes, including significant human impact, overfishing, an abundance of recreational use, sediment runoff, and poor water quality. Polanui Hiu is a local community group that works to restore the resources and traditions once practiced along these shores.

One of their most popular volunteer activities since 2014 has been their Reef Fish Surveys, where volunteers join together as “citizen scientists”.  Armed with clipboards, data sheets, and snorkel gear, volunteers take to the nearshore waters to document marine life and fish populations who call the reef their home.  Using this information, Polanui Hiu can detect any changes in these fish populations, which then helps to ensure the proper evolution of activities’ management and fishing guidelines in the reef.

Join them in their next Survey, held the first Saturday of every month, from 9:00am-12:00pm and become a citizen scientist! Check out their Facebook page for the most updated information.

The coast of Polanui Hiu

The coast of Polanui Hiu

So wait, who said anything about work?!  To us, so many of these activities sound like exciting tropical excursions - hiking through lush Maui forests and snorkeling with hundreds of tropical fish! So why not enjoy the best of both worlds?  Sail, snorkel, suntan, and relax, but spend a few hours (or a whole day!)  of your adventurous vacation giving back to the ‘aina. Hawaii is blessed with some of the most beautiful and culturally significant environments in the world, and we promise you’ll leave feeling both relaxed AND fulfilled, and most certainly with a new appreciation for this tropical paradise that we call home.

Either way during your stay, we emplore you to be conservation minded: say no to plastic straws, eat at ocean friendly restaurants, bring a reusable water bottle to the beach, use reef-safe sunscreen, and bring reusable to-go utensils!  Remember it is our kuleana to look after the lands and oceans that we all love, because otherwise, there won’t be any left.  <3    

Kuleana: for every privilege, there is also a responsibility.