Stop the presses! We are Best For the World (again)!

Today, Animal Experience International was recognized for creating extraordinary positive impact as a business based on an independent, comprehensive assessment administered by the nonprofit B Lab. Honorees are featured on B the Change, the digital Medium publication produced by B Lab,

 Animal Experience International is honored in the Best For The World Overall list, which includes businesses that earned scores in the top 10 percent of more than 2,400 Certified B Corporations across all categories on the B Impact Assessment. Animal Experience International was also honoured in the Best for the World Governance, Community and Environmental lists.  The assessment measures a company's positive impact on its workers, community, customers and the environment. To certify as B Corporations, companies like Animal Experience International must complete the full assessment and have their answers verified by B Lab.


The full B Impact Assessment evaluates a company’s environmental performance, employee relationships, diversity, involvement in the local community, the impact a company’s product or service has on those it serves, and more. Honorees scoring in the top 10 percent of all B Corporations set a gold standard for companies using business as a force for good. Animal Experience International made the list thanks to exceptional practices like donating 6% of their profits to their animal welfare and conservation partners, using 2% of their annual sales to plant trees, and providing their local community leaders with enough help in one year (2017) to 219 weeks (4 years).

The 226 Best For The World Overall honoree companies come from 92 different industries and 30 countries. B Lab simultaneously released separate lists recognizing top-performing B Corporations as Best For Environment, Best For Customers, Best For Governance, Best For Community and Best For Workers, which can be found at In the fall, B Lab will release the Best For The World: Changemakers and the Best For The World Funds lists.


Animal Experience International truly has three stakeholders: the placement partner (where we send clients), our clients and the planet. This honor shows not only is it possible to run a business with these ideals- but a business can thrive! We have had more than 550 clients volunteer on 27 different programs and every experience has been safe, ethical and beneficial to not just the animals, the community and the clients but also the environment.  Our business success has never been at the expense of our client experience, the planet or our local community members. This honor shows that the dream of running a company that is truly beneficial for people and the planet while making profits doesn't have to be a dream. We hope that we can inspire more clients to volunteer and make a difference with us- we also hope to inspire more businesses to take the leap and become certified as a B Corp. Conscious capitalism isn’t just a trend, it’s a way of life at AEI and we have the awards (and quantifiable data) to prove it. ” said Nora Livingstone, Co-Founder of Animal Experience International.

Additional 2018 Best For The World Overall honorees include: A to Z Wineworks; Give Something Back Workplace SolutionsMascoma Bank and Northwest Permanente.

“With the rise of anger at a system that feels rigged, people are hungry for companies like Animal Experience International, who are changing the system by building businesses that seek to create the greatest positive impact,” says Jay Coen Gilbert, co-founder of B Lab. “Best For The World is the only list of businesses that uses comprehensive, comparable, third-party-validated data about a company’s social and environmental performance. As consumers, talent and investors increasingly demand transparent, values-aligned businesses to buy from, work at and invest in, companies will need to not just the best in the world but the best for the world, and not just to be nice but to be the most successful.”    

A total of 932 Certified B Corporations were named 2018 Best For The World Honorees, including: Patagonia; King Arthur Flour CompanyGreen Mountain Power; and the United Kingdom’s Charity Bank. Fifty-two countries are represented, including Denmark, India, South Africa and Taiwan. The selection criteria for Best for the World honorees are available at

Today there are more than 2,400 Certified B Corporations across more than 150 industries and 50 countries, unified by one common goal: to redefine success in business. Any company can measure and manage social and environmental performance at


About Animal Experience International

Animal Experience International (AEI) is a Travel, Adventure and Volunteer company that specializes in animal and wildlife conservation experiences. Animal Experience International is an organization with a mission to help animals around the globe by matching clients with animal-related volunteer opportunities at sanctuaries, wildlife hospitals, animal clinics and conservation projects. Through their respective work as a wildlife veterinarian and as a volunteer coordinator for wildlife sanctuaries, co-founders Dr. Heather Reid and Nora Livingstone have come to understand the need for an B Corp like AEI. People from all walks of life, and from every country, are seeking animal-related experiences as volunteers. Organizations that provide help to animals, either directly or through conservation projects, are often reliant on volunteers to achieve their goals. AEI is excited to help bring these two groups together and make a difference in the lives of animals around the world. AEI is committed to making sustainable and long lasting connections by partnering with only the very best organizations around the world. The TICO certification means these quality, worry-free placements allow AEI’s clients to focus on taking care of the animals and getting the most possible from their volunteer experience.

Animal Experience International – Points of Interest:

-The only Travel, Adventure and Volunteer company dedicated to animal and conservation projects that is a certified B Corporation and registered social enterprise in Ontario.
-AEI’s directors are both women.
-AEI’s president is a wildlife veterinarian.
-To date, AEI’s charitable donations to animal projects and wildlife conservation have exceeded AEI’s profits.
-To date AEI has more than 550 alumni go through their programs.

B Lab is a nonprofit organization that serves a global movement of people using business as a force for good.  Its vision is that one day all companies will compete not only to be the best in the world, but the best for the world and society will enjoy prosperity for all for the long term.  

B Lab drives this systemic change by: 1) building a community of Certified B Corporations to make it easier for all of us to tell the difference between “good companies” and good marketing; 2) passing benefit corporation legislation to give business leaders the freedom to create value for society as well as shareholders; 3) helping businesses measure, compare and improve their social and environmental performance with the free B Impact Assessment; 4) driving capital to impact investments through use of its B Analytics and GIIRS Ratings platform.


For more information, visit


B the Change is a Medium publication, produced by B Lab in collaboration with the community of Certified B Corps and the movement of people using business as a force for good.


B the Change exists to inform and inspire people who have a passion for using business as a force for good in the world. Because we believe that storytelling is an essential element in the transformation of business and society, we commit ourselves to telling the most compelling stories possible to the largest audiences possible to propel the movement of business toward its destiny as a powerful force for good. We want to dramatically broaden and deepen engagement with entrepreneurs, managers, employees, investors and citizens in one of the most important discussions of our time.

Read all B the Change stories at


Celebrate World Turtle Day!

4 turtle projects, 3 continents, 1 important mission: save sea turtles. 

After being on earth for 110 million years, sea turtles are in trouble. Climate change, oil spills, plastic, micro beads, fishing and poaching are hurting sea turtle populations around the world.  

But, don't worry there are ways to help! The easiest way to help sea turtles starts at home. The choices you make with respect to plastic have ripple effects across the world. Remember, every single piece of plastic that has ever been made, STILL exists. Some plastic can be recycled but more than 90% of the world's plastic is not recycled.That plastic has to end up somewhere- and eventually a lot of this waste ends up in the ocean where it hurts sea life. 

Want to make a bigger impact? Why not volunteer with sea turtles? Every single AEI program is community based and run, which means our programs address the local reasons for turtle decline in those communities. It also means your fees, donations and time goes directly to the local community and the work they are doing for their ecosystem and the animals that live there.

Today is world turtle day so why not help turtles at home and abroad? Apply today and we will give you $100 off your fees!


Sea Turtle Conservation in Costa Rica

Help with sea turtle conservation on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

Nearly all species of sea turtles are endangered – their numbers dropping due to poaching and over-exploitation, climate change and pollution, habitat destruction, accidental capture in fishing gear and trauma from boats. Our partner organization in Costa Rica helps sea turtles through conservation, research, sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation.

Sea Turtle Conservation in Australia

Help with sea turtle conservation off the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

The Great Barrier Reef is located just off the coast of northern Queensland and is one of the seven wonders of the natural world. The reef attracts people from all over hoping to see first-hand the gorgeous diversity of marine life. Unfortunately many of these magnificent marine creatures are in trouble, including the Green Sea Turtle, Flatback, Hawksbill and Olive Ridley Sea Turtle.

Sea Turtle Conservation in Sri Lanka

Help conserve sea turtles in Sri Lanka. 

Five species of sea turtles nest on the beautiful beaches of Sri Lanka, and these turtles are also under threat. In 2005, the “boxing day Tsunami” affected Kosgoda, Sri Lanka tremendously. Hundreds of metres of beach were lost and so were people's livelihoods. Fishing was compromised and even the local tourism industry saw a dramatic decline. Many people are now dependent on the selling of turtle eggs and jewellery made from the shells of Hawksbill turtles.

Leatherback Nesting Conservation in Costa Rica

Help conserve sea turtles in Costa Rica by protecting nesting sites. 

The beaches along the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica are the nesting site for many Leatherback, Hawksbill and Green Sea Turtles that lay their eggs here.  As the female turtles come in to nest, they are exposed to many threats. One of the biggest threats is the illegal poaching of the eggs that they lay.

Celebrate Your Mama and Her Love of Animals

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We think that mamas want to have adventures, too! While all of them deserve sleep-ins and frosty drinks, some mothers crave adventure and a way to nurture something inside of them they had to put on hold when they had kids. 

When we were younger we all had favourite animals that we loved. As parents we get to relive this wonder and excitement with our children. But we can start to believe that there are no opportunities for us to help animals. Leave that to the biologists, the veterinarians, the professionals. Well, at AEI we help everyone volunteer with animals no matter their background. We provide safe, ethical and life changing trips, so anyone can have an animal adventure. All our programs include airport pick-up and accommodation, most of them include food – all-inclusive packages, but with endangered animals!

Volunteers help with the conservation of dolphins in Croatia, take elephants on jungle walks in Thailand, feed breakfast to toucans and monkeys in Guatemala and care for kangaroos in Australia. Our animal experiences span more than 15 countries and help over 25 important programs. 

Sure, some mums want a total break from everything- fair enough! But for those who are looking for an adventure, something just for themselves - and those animals they used to dream about? Animal Experience International is for them!

Should You Travel Alone?

If you are untethered, footloose, fancy free... why not travel and volunteer with animals? 

We will help you live your dreams by making it real easy.

When you travel with AEI you get picked up from the airport and dropped off. You live either right on site or close enough to walk through UNESCO world heritage sites or on ocean side boardwalks. Most programs have meals included- but some don't for those looking to cook for themselves. Travelling by yourself means finding the program that is exactly perfect for YOU.

Looking to meet lots of people? We have lots of programs that have you volunteering on big teams of international volunteers. Looking to introvert and really focus on the local culture? We have one-on-one volunteer placements that you live with a family and volunteer on local teams of volunteers. 

Everyone is welcome to volunteer (after a short interview to make sure they are right for the experience and the experience is right for them) and then we do all the logistics. Our programs are great for single travellers because you get to participate in exactly what you want to do but you won't ever be lonely!

Our programs are safe, ethical and our clients always have local or international volunteers who are hosts and adventure buddies. Remember, we visit all the places first to make sure that they safe for single volunteers and groups, alike! 

Do that thing you have always wanted to do because you WANT to and you CAN.  


Travel Swag Recommendations!

In January we submitted some travel advice to Happy Luxe. They were looking for some travel recommendations. Well, do we ever have those! Our volunteer coordinator travels 20-30 weeks of the year. They specifically were looking for advice about travelling in Africa. 

We have two programs in Africa, one helping rescue wildlife in Malawi and one helping rescue dogs in Kenya. Our volunteer coordinator also has volunteered in Sierra Leone and Uganda

The final blog was great: How To Have The Best Trip Ever: Awesome Travel Tips for Africa. A great group of people with a lot to stay about travelling ethically and smartly throughout the continent. 

What made us maybe even more excited was the email from Happy Luxe a few days after it was published. They thanked us and asked if we wanted a thank you care package. Of course we did!

A few weeks later and the day before a flight cross Canada we got a travel wrap, pillow and eye mask. All of them made from micromodal, in America, designed by women. So not only were they soft and comfy they also made us say: hey, this company sounds pretty neat! 

happy luxe 2.jpg

True, they buttered us up by sending us some free stuff but after trying them (and loving them) how could we not recommend these travel accessories to everyone? 

The wrap was great on the air plane, the pillow was outstanding for sleeping in the airport and the sleep mask was perfect for the jet lag that followed. Soft, sustainable, brought to you by good people who want to share travel knowledge and all actually designed with function as well as looks in mind. 

Wait, what is micromodal? Micromodal is a super soft fabric that is made by spinning cellulose of beech trees. There are so many people on earth, there is no fabric that can be mass produced that has a completely ethical footprint. However, micromodal is better than a lot of fabrics. It has a smaller water and carbon footprint than most synthetic fabrics- and cotton!

We think Happy Luxe is a great little company and we like little local business. We also like that the woman who designed all of these travel accessories was Leah Murakami, one of the first combat ready female fighters pilots in the U.S! If you are looking for something to make your flights a little bit more comfy but don't want to cut ethical corners, we really recommend what Happy Luxe has to offer! 

Take care and travel safe!

World Water Day

This year Wold Water Day is all about helping animals 

All life needs clean water to grow, survive and thrive. Our volunteers understand the reality of this fact as they help animals around the world. Every single program we offer depends on water. Howler monkeys in Guatemala need fresh water to drink. Elephants in Thailand need water to clean their sensitive skin. Horses in Mongolia need water to fall as rain, to nourish the grass that they eat. Dolphins in Croatia need unpolluted water in which to live. Without clean water, life on Earth wouldn't exist. As animal lovers we must protect our water - fresh and salt, from pollution, toxins, plastics and human development. 

When you volunteer with animals you are doing more than helping those specific and individual animals you are in contact with every day. You are showing your friends, family and community that conservation isn't just for some - it's for all of us. Your powerful message is that you know you can help these animals - and that they can too. We can all do our part to protect and conserve the world around us, including our rivers, lakes and oceans. 

To help spread this message of empowerment, if you send in your application today, we will give you $100 Canadian off your trip fees. Take advantage of this amazing offer as you celebrate World Water Day and stand up for nature!


Everyday Should Be World Wildlife Day...

When you were younger we bet that you had a favourite animal. Do you remember what it was? Maybe it was a horse that you imagined running across endless fields? Perhaps it was a majestic elephant - or even a herd of elephants? Was it a sea turtle you once saw tucking itself into corral to find a snack? Maybe it was a beautiful rainbow macaw flying through tropical jungles or a monkey who watched you from its forest home. Remember how they felt so distant, so wild and free?

Well today they need your help to stay that way.  But the good news is, they are no longer distant dreams. Now that you are grown up, you can volunteer with these animals and help conserve their populations world wide. From dolphin conservation in Croatia to wildlife rehabilitation in Guatemala, we have programs for all you animal lovers. Whatever resonated with you when you were younger will benefit from your help now. And we think it's the perfect year for you to live your childhood dreams.

It's not World Wildlife Day (that was March 3rd) but why not make it every day? And what better way to celebrate than to apply to volunteer with your favourite childhood animals!


Summer Break Inspiration

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This summer how great would it be to volunteer with the animals you always loved?

When we are younger we have our favourite stuffed animal, we have pictures of horses in our locker and then three wolves howling to the moon on our sweatshirts. Well, why not volunteer with animals?

With no previous experience needed you can volunteer with AEI and help on wild horse programs in Mongolia, dolphin conservation in Croatia, elephants in Thailand, wildlife rescue in Malawi, and a whole lot more!

It's the ethical way to see the animals you have always loved. They aren't in chains, they aren't in aquariums, they aren't in circuses made to perform, you won't be riding them. You will be rescuing, conserving and helping these animals.

This summer why not help protect the animals you always loved in a country you always wanted to visit?

What are you doing for spring break?

It's time to think about your last minute alt spring break plans. While others go to beaches or parties, did you know you could be an animal hero? Animal mission trips are open, available and affordable!

Will it be serious?

You are serious about having a meaningful experience - and we are committed to making that happen. There are so many benefits to partnering with AEI and volunteering with animal organizations overseas. International volunteer work provides opportunities for personal and professional development. These life changing experiences will let you add to your knowledge and skill set, while making an important contribution to the project you are helping. Whether you are a professional, student or an animal lover wanting to make a difference, AEI can help you find the experience you are looking for. AEI Experiences allow you to travel in a meaningful way – you are not just a tourist, you are part of the community,­­ supporting the important work being done by our placement partners. These international placements can provide skills needed for school credit or career development. They can help you make important decisions about your own life direction. And they let you explore a new country, become part of a team, and form lifelong friendships. Use your dedication and passion to help animals, while adding to your own personal knowledge and experience! 

Will it be fun?

Have fun while changing the world for the better! AEI helps you explore the world while doing what you love – helping animals. Volunteering is an amazing way to visit exotic locations and  learn about the culture, customs, and traditions of a new country. Bring along a family member or friend to create lifelong memories. Or make new friends as you join our team of animal lovers who are traveling the world while making a difference. You are passionate about enjoying life while having meaningful experiences. We are here to make that dream happen. Let us take care of the details - so you can have the adventure of a lifetime! 

It doesn't matter what you choose, when you travel with AEI, you'll have a life changing international animal experience!

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Connections and lucky meetings

In the autumn of 2017 our co-founder went to Oman, in the Middle East. She went to volunteer her time at a dog rescue. When she was there she thought about what took her there and how interconnected the world was. She wrote a blog post about it that was published on She Sees the World and then republished on Evox

It got us thinking about our clients and their stories. What did they do while volunteering that would lead them down a different path? What would their stories look like now that they volunteered?

Also... Who did they meet?

If you watched BBC Earth's #BigCats you saw the Pallas's cats. We just found out that our volunteers who were in Mongolia last year ran into the BBC team! They even got to watch the footage of the 5 little Pallas's cat kittens- in the field! Something that they will remember forever, imagine looking back on your trip and remembering just casually hanging out with people filming things new to science?

Check out a video our volunteers made after they volunteered in Mongolia.

Jaime and Bob Irwin

Last week we found out one of our volunteers met Bob Irwin while she was at her placement volunteering at a sea turtle rehabilitation centre in Australia. Imagine how she felt when she met an animal conservation legend and getting a selfie with him?! These are the things that stick with us, that change our lives. 

While writing this we found out our volunteers in Guatemala are going out on an iguana release! Something else that will stick with them for the rest of their lives. 

We don't know where our stories will go and what events will cause other ones, but we do know that for people who volunteer with animals, the future will be extraordinatry! 


Australian Wildlife

Australia Day brings lots of questions and lots of concerns. What does reconciliation look like? What does conservation look like? What does honouring the future look like when we don't want to forget the past? One thing that can bring us all together is the special and endemic species and ecosystems of Australia. They need to be protected- from us humans. 

Australia doesn't just have cute animals, it has important and unique animals that aren't found anywhere else on Earth. It has animals that need to be protected while communities are invested in and protected. Visiting Australia means learning more about their natural and historical contexts to understand better what needs to be protected and how. It means understanding there aren't easy answers.

We all share this planet, the natural world IS where we live. Volunteering can help us share- with each other and the animals, just a little better. 

When you think about visiting Australia consider volunteering with it's remarkable wildlife. They need you and the story when you come back home is a story that needs to be told. 

Are All Volunteer Programs Positive?

Unfortunately: no. 

"Volunteering" doesn't automatically mean you will be helping. Which is why before we send any volunteers anywhere we make sure the work isn't just safe and ethical. It's real.  

Before partnering with a program we ask to see their release rates; their animal handling protocols; check if they are accredited, registered, certified or part of any in-country or worldwide animal alliances, charities, colleges or trusts. We also visit them as the final step into making sure our clients are taking part in the best programs in the world. 

But why is this necessary:

Unfortunately there are a lot of groups out there that are taking advantage of volunteers, animals and people. People want to travel and give back and their good intentions and motivations shouldn't be taken advantage of.

Never volunteer on short term programs that have you with children or marginalised community members. In Cambodia regions 72% of children in 'orphanages' still have one or both parents (research conducted by UNICEF Cambodia). Some parents use their children as pawns on the street- begging for money instead of sending them to schools. Begging is seen to make more money immediately than the investment of school. When we give money to children begging on the street we lock them into a cycle of unsustainability, lower education and poverty. We strongly encourage you visit sites like ChildSafe International to learn more about child exploitation and how you can travel fairly. There are more than 215 million child laborers worldwide. If you see a child who you suspect is being forced to work please contact ChildSafe International or Interpol.

What about animals?

Unfortunately, while researching conservation and animal programs we are starting to see the same startling trends being noted with 'orphanage volunteering'. People are stealing animals from the wild, running fake sanctuaries and charging volunteers to 'help'. Volunteers are going, spending a lot of money and thinking they are helping but not actually doing anything but harming these individual animals and sometimes whole populations. Without the proper care these animals live terrible lives languishing in enclosures not suitable for them and eventually die of malnutrition or other very much preventable deaths. There are some programs that have volunteers working hands on with lions just to have those lions released into game hunting reserves. These blood lions are being raised not for conservation but for killing.

We all want to be hands and feet for programs helping the world around us. But, we have the responsibly to who we are helping to make good and educated choices so we are benefiting not hindering the cause.

Introducing Our Newest Experience...


We are so excited to introduce to you the newest wildlife rehabilitation centre AEI has partnered with. This is a partnership years in the making. It takes us 2-3 years of research, correspondence, site visits and planning for each program. We need to make sure it's safe (for solo women travellers, young adventures, senior volunteers and everything in between), their ethics line up with ours (both in the humane welfare/treatment of animals and the ethical treatment of employees), and the placements are real (they are accredited and have partnerships with conservation groups, sanctuary alliances and of course keep and share their release records).

In November Nora went down to Malawi to visit the wildlife rehab centre and after two weeks of volunteering she gave it the final thumbs up. We have been working since then on details to make this experience a reality for you! 

Malawi is the principle hub for wildlife trafficking in Southern Africa. Wild animals in the region are threatened by this illegal wildlife activity as well as the bushmeat trade, deforestation and other conflicts with people. This organization aims to protect wildlife, provide care for rescued wild animals and empower the guardians of the wild. More than 200 animals are in care at this wildlife centre, with the goal of returning as many as possible back to the wild each year.

What will you do when you volunteer? 

Volunteers provide care for all the animals at the centre. Volunteers help by preparing meals for the animals, feeding the animals, creating environmental and behavioural enrichments for the animals and helping with cleaning tasks. Working hours are completely dependent on the animals currently at the centre and on the level of care they need. Ideally shifts are from 8am to 5pm with a break for lunch. But during orphan season, baby feedings can take place late at night or early in the morning. These feedings are split up between volunteers, but please be aware that there may be some long days or even some night shifts.

Basically you will be an animal hero to baboons, monkeys, servals, owls, antelope, hyenas, alligators and more!

So what are you waiting for? Apply today to take part in the wildlife rehabilitation of some of the most iconic animals in southern Africa.  

Why We Will Never Volunteer With Kids.

When we started AEI we wanted to help people like you make the very best decisions while volunteering with animals. We visit all the programs, we look at release records, humane welfare standards must be high and we show preference to programs that have home stays- so you can live IN the community you are volunteering in.  We make sure the footprint you leave is as beneficial as possible- in the community and the environment. This is also the reason we don't have programs that have our volunteers working with kids. But why? Don't kids need help, too?

Did you know certain forms of volunteering can be harmful to the very people you’re trying to help? Did you know that 80% of children living in orphanages are not orphans and that volunteering at or giving to such places may be supporting the exploitation of children?

Working with children in institutions, such as orphanages or schools, is a job for local experts, not for volunteers who are just passing through. Children deserve more than good intentions, they need experienced, skilled and supervised caretakers and teachers  who know the local culture and language.

If you would like to support children, speak with a local child protection organization to see how you can help (we have a list of contacts for you). There are many ways you can support children without directly caring for them. Look for opportunities that involve empowering and transferring your skills to local staff to have a long-term  positive impacts, such as marketing or communications, website development, graphic design or fundraising (again, we can put you in touch with great organizations that would love for you to help).

We want to make sure we were always making a beneficial difference to the communities. We want to make sure that we do right by you, the community and the youngest and most vulnerable members of the community. For those reasons we decided to become a ChildSafe Supporter. We want to help protect children from abuse and exploitation and help our volunteers better protect children while abroad.

Do you have questions about ChildSafe or about how you can help the community without harming children? Just ask! That's why we are here!

Nora and Heather

Your Idea of Perfect is Ruining Your Trip.

“I am having the time of my life but things are different from my expectations - so help me!" I get emails a few times a month that say: I am having the time of my life, I am loving it here, everyone is wonderful, this is an amazing journey... however there is something I don't like. Can you help me?!

The reality of traveling is that there will always be things that you don't like. But does that mean something needs to be fixed? Being outside our comfort zone offers us the unique opportunity to learn about ourselves, to grow and to become more resilient. Even though it is hard, sometimes the best thing to do is to lean into our discomfort and accept the greater life lesson. Humans have never been this connected. We used to share information when we got home from an adventure, not at the end of every day. This meant that we would share the whole climate of a trip, but with technology we are now sharing the temperature of each day. And as AEI’s Volunteer Coordinator, I am often the once receiving these daily updates. That CAN be good. If people aren't having the time of their life. If they are unsafe. If they are sick. If they need a change. However when people think their trip is incredible, once in a life time, perfect.. but still not perfect, this is the time to rethink our mindset. When we travel we need to leave at home our preconceived ideas, our impatience and our need for instant gratification. We need to be open to new experiences and different points of view. We need to put our expectations into the context of a completely different culture and approach the situation with an open heart and open mind.

After helping hundreds of amazing people volunteer all around the world, I have a few observations about having the “perfect experience”. Here is the first one:

When you are in another country, the best people to address and solve your problems are the people around you. Traveling is an opportunity to take ownership of your life, to be your own advocate and to literally create the path you want to go down. As a Volunteer Coordinator I am here to help, but I am literally thousands of kilometres away. Rather than contacting me and asking me to fix a problem, I always suggest that people talk to the local coordinator, vet or local contact, and discuss the perceived problem together. Many times people are surprised that by discussing what is happening and learning why things are the way they are, that their perception shifts. Even if the problem isn’t fixed right away, you might be able to take a more understanding view and learn about the country and the culture in the process. This is an important and powerful shift – instead of people saying that a situation NEEDS to change FOR them, they can say the situation is changed BY them.

My second observation has to do with our perception. What makes us consider something to be a problem? Is there really a problem, or is the problem something that only exists because reality often isn’t equal to our expectations?

When we are preparing for the “adventure of a lifetime” we place a lot of expectations on the experience, imagining what we want to get out of it, and what it will be like to visit that country. We each have our own reasons to travel and volunteer with animals, and we are all hoping to get something specific from our time away. I try to help before you go by answering questions, sharing information with you about the placement and providing a travel guide about the country. However no matter how well you prepare for your trip, it will never be exactly how you imagined. Sometimes it is even better than you could have dreamed, and sometimes it is so different that your head is reeling. And rarely things happen - like getting sick, a world event, or a natural disaster - that no one could have foreseen. It often helps to realise that it's not the experience that isn't perfect - it's that the experience does not match the expectation of the traveler. Placements will never be perfect for everyone, all of the time. But is it for me, as the Volunteer Coordinator, to 'fix reality' (which would mean actually changing a placement so it fits a volunteer’s expectation)? Or is it for the traveler to redefine their idea of the placement, community, culture and country? We shouldn’t demand a change in a community because it doesn't meet our imagined ideas. As visitors to another country it seems more appropriate to approach our experience with an open mind, and try to adapt our ideas to reality.

Which leads me to my third observation: people are underestimating the country they are visiting.

The amazing people who travel and volunteer through AEI want to make a difference. However we have to be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking we have the only skills and solutions needed to change a situation. There is a fine line between wanting to help, and wanting to swoop in with our own answers to be a hero in the community. Our partner organizations have been doing important work in their own countries for years, addressing problems specific to the animals in their area. These local organizations are the ones who best understand the situation, the politics, the laws, the culture, and the reality in their country. Many people tend to romanticize their volunteer experience, painting these countries with massive imaginary brush strokes of a place they think should be poorer- more in need. They do not understand that their view of a country may have been highly biased and base on their education, media consumption and of course political background. They are also not understanding the massive spectrum that these countries host: very wealthy to very poor (just like their own country).

We cannot go in with preconceived ideas on how we will help, and what the country will offer us in return. While hands-on work is invaluable, it is not the only – or even the most important way – that we can make a change. Just showing up makes a difference. This supports the economy of the local community, and validates the importance of the work in the community’s eyes. It helps our placement partners continue to run their programs. It educates our friends and family back home, and makes the world a more informed place. We cannot underestimate the country we are visiting and think that they owe us their stereotypes, owe us our expectations of them. We are ambassadors of our own countries, and we should be careful not to come across as being entitled or self-serving.

I believe that if we can overcome these three misconceptions, traveling can be an uplifting and life-changing experience. You cannot report the temperature every single day and have someone from across the world change it for you. We need to remember to take ownership in our lives and try to solve problems on our own. Travel with an open heart, seek to understand, and do not go on your trip with preconceived ideas of what the volunteer placement “owes” you. Remember that you are there to lend a hand, not to solve problems. And take delight in all the surprises the new country and culture shares with you. If your experience while travelling isn't “perfect”, is it the Volunteer Coordinator’s fault, the country’s fault or your fault? Or is it the essential essence of traveling and experiencing new things.

More importantly, does it even matter if it isn't perfect?

How Do We Keep Volunteers Safe?

Safety is a top priority at Animal Experience International. Our amazing clients travel to more than 15 countries, helping animals in countless ways, making new friends and immersing themselves in new communities and cultures. We want to empower our clients to try these new experiences, knowing that we have ensured the best safety practices are in place.

We have personally been to all of the Placement Partner locations to inspect, participate, view and judge the transportation, activities, humane animal care, volunteer care and living conditions. We have met the people you will be staying with, working with and adventuring with our placement partners. AEI Experiences are only made official once we are satisfied that they are safe, ethical and responsible placements. AEI has signed agreements with our partners to ensure they will provide assistance in the unlikely event of an emergency or crisis, and will help you find appropriate medical care if needed.

Our volunteer coordinator emails with all of our Placement Partners at least once a week, some of them once a day! This close relationship benefits everyone. We can reach our contacts quickly if needed, we can be advised of any changes to the programs and we can give our partners feedback that we get from our volunteers. Each of our Placement Partners has established international volunteer programs, with excellent safety records. The volunteers go through applications and interviews to participate in the placement, and AEI clients sign agreements to follow rules and procedures outlined by AEI. This helps to ensure a safe and friendly volunteer environment where any acts of violence, harassment or dangerous behaviour (towards people or animals) can result in dismissal from the placement.

As a volunteer, you will be met at the airport by a representative from the organization, and taken directly to your placement. During your stay you will be living either on-site, or in the community in a pre-approved hostel or home-stay. At the end of your trip, you will be returned to the airport for your flight home. This provides a continuous duty of care, and minimizes the risk of you getting into trouble in an unfamiliar country. You are part of the group from the very beginning!

AEI provides you with up to $500,000 in travel health insurance through the International Volunteer Card - insurance specifically for “voluntourists”. The Volunteer Card has the added bonus of a 24 hour emergency support line, manned by people who specialize in travel emergencies who can offer you advice and assistance no matter where you are. You will be provided with a detailed safety procedure manual explaining how to arrange emergency medical evacuation, and payment to a hospital or facility that requests upfront payment.

We also provide you with travel manuals that give practical advice on everything from travel visas, staying safe, health concerns, and what to pack, to how to deal with culture shock - these manuals are guidebooks specifically designed for you and your exact adventure. We believe that the more prepared you are, the safer and more enjoyable your experience will be.

AEI also offers a book, Traveling Without Baggage (written by our volunteer coordinator), about keeping safe while traveling. This book is available for purchase as an e-book or a printed version can be sent to you. We’re sure all authors think their book is important, but we really believe travelers will benefit from this short book – in terms of both physical and mental health.

As you can see, your safety is very important to us at Animal Experience International and to our Placement Partners. Despite all the safe guards that are in place, safety ultimately comes down to the individual. This is a trip that you will be taking on your own, so we encourage all of our volunteers to be smart, not to take unnecessary risks, and to trust their gut! Guts always know. If something feels unsafe, it probably is, so be empowered to say no if needed and trust yourself. As in all things in life, there are no guarantees that nothing bad will happen - but we try our very best to stack the deck to ensure you will have a safe trip and a positive, life- changing experience.

If you would like more information or clarification about safety policies and procedures, please don’t hesitate to ask. That’s why we are here!

Nora and Heather.

Volunteer Fees, the ethics behind them.

On occasion, people have shared with us that they were unable to go on an AEI Experience because they could not afford to pay the trip fees. We find this really heartbreaking because we truly believe if there is a will, there is a way. If you want to travel and volunteer with animals, we want to help you do it. We want to help you live your dreams and that’s why we offer fundraising mentorship. We have been fundraising for volunteer trips, work, school and charities for years and we can give you ideas on what has worked for us and what has worked for our clients. We are here to help, so we hope that you accept it!

But why are there fees?

The sad reality is that it is actually quite expensive to run an animal welfare or conservation centre, and animal sanctuaries have even more associated costs. From electricity for the surgery rooms, to water for cleaning and bathing, from food for the animals (they do eat a lot) to medications and veterinary staff to look after the health and well being of the animals - it is not free, or even low cost, for a centre to be in operation. Thankfully volunteers, like you, step up and offer help – meaning these centres can exist on the limited funding they receive from donations.

Feeding, housing and caring for the animals are large expenses. But what about the cost of taking care of you? Who will pay for your meals and your electricity while you are volunteering? Who will pay for the petrol required to drive you around? Who will pay for the water you use for your laundry or showers?  In order for us to be ethical and just-minded, we have sat down with all of our partners and agreed on ethical and fair compensation for your stay while you are volunteering. We know that the time and skills that you volunteer are invaluable (thank you!) – but we don’t want our partners to lose money because we are helping. We cover the cost of the resources required to host our volunteers. We offer more than a living salary to our drivers and of course we pay house mothers for their time preparing meals, not just for the groceries our volunteers consume. Since most of our trips include your accommodation and food in the total price of the trip, we think of AEI Experiences as “all inclusive trips”. When considered in this light, our experiences are less than what most people pay for a one week vacation!

AEI is a B Corp and we have pledged social, economic and environmental responsibility. The majority of your money goes directly to our placement partner to pay your placement fees which cover your accommodation, meals, airport pick up and drop off, training, support while on project and any membership fees and uniforms that are required.  Your travel insurance and IVC Card benefits are added to your fees and so are carbon balancing your travel with the Carbon Farmer. The rest of your fees go towards supporting our placement partners (such as the place where you will be volunteering), developing new placement opportunities and allowing AEI to function as a socially responsible B Corp.

We provide our clients with many fundraising ideas as well as much fundraising assistance and mentoring throughout the process. Please let us know if you are interested in learning more about fundraising – either for your personal fees and airfare, or to provide additional support for the organization where you will be volunteering. Most of our volunteers do fundraise for at least a portion of their fees and you can too! If you do have any questions about fundraising or about fees, please ask! We want to help you be able to help some of the most ethical programs on the planet - as a responsible AEI volunteer!