Travel Better

Travel Towards a Career.

Travel isn't magic, it isn't going to make you taller, it isn't going to make you funnier, it won't make you rich... but maybe it can help you find you

What if when we booked trips we didn't see them as debt inducing, we saw the cost as investment? What if we looked at the world as a classroom? What if we didn't label travel as a separate and different part of life? Then, what if we didn't label our home as 'the real world'? 

What if the whole world, our whole lives, all our experiences were important? What if travel wasn't 'just' for tourism? What if it was an investment in our future? 

Those are a lot of questions, maybe your next trip will just be a vacation on a beach, perhaps it will be going to visit friends in a new town. Even though we are more than the sum of our parts, our travels, no matter where they lead us, change us. All our experiences mould and change us, if we realise it's happening or not. 

Our co-founder, Nora found this out when she went to Nepal in 2007. She didn't go to intentionally change her life, she didn't even think it was possible. She just went and now more than 10 years later she credits that first big trip as one of the reasons AEI exists today. You can read more in an article she contributed to in Student Loan Hero

We tell ourselves all kinds of reasons we shouldn't travel: we don't have enough money, we haven't worked enough yet, we haven't travelled enough before a big trip....

We want to inspire people to invest in themselves and in their future. Travel maybe won't suddenly change your life, but what if it did? What if hundreds of tiny little travel experiences changed your life over the course of a few years? Why not take the chance? Why not book the ticket?

We'll help you change your life through travel. We'll help you invest in yourself and your future. We'll help you do this while you help animals, local communities and broader ecosystems. We did it and we will be with you every step of the way.  

Contact us to talk more about where you want to go and how we will get you there!
Apply to volunteer on an international animal program with AEI.

Confronting the Aftermath of Animal Trafficking in Costa Rica.

When you google ocelot, this is what comes up:

Can you keep an ocelot as a pet?

Is it legal to have an ocelot as a pet?

Are ocelots dangerous pets?


Animal trafficking is alive and well in the Americas. It's disturbing how these animals are captured. It's harrowing to see how they are illegally trafficked from the country. It's heartbreaking to see what their lives become when they are stolen from the wild and live as unhappy pets in small enclosures. 

This is an animal sanctuary we recently visited in Costa Rica. While sanctuaries are not perfect (only the wild is), it did a pretty damn good job explaining to people why these animals couldn't be realised back into their forest homes. Spoiler alert: humans. When these animals are trafficked sometimes their teeth are ripped out without anaesthetic, sometimes they are declawed without anaesthetic, sometimes they are just taken so young they never had a chance to learn how to be wild. They can't hunt, socialise, den or even really cat. 

Humanities obsession with owning things and our entitlement over the natural world has spelled often a life of torture and psychosis for the animals who survive animal trafficking. 

If you love animals, keep them in the wild. Ocelots are not for you, no matter how cute you think they are. 

While this enclosure is pretty good habitat for this cat, it pales in comparison to the life she would have if she was in the wild.

While this enclosure is pretty good habitat for this cat, it pales in comparison to the life she would have if she was in the wild.

We are Elephant Friends, and friendly!

We are so proud to announce that we have been named one of the 215 elephant friendly travel companies by World Animal Protection!

That means when you volunteer with us you know for sure the elephant program is one that isn't just helping the animals, it's not hurting them. We couldn't agree more with World Animal Protection's elephant campaign, elephants are wildlife, they are not entertainers!  We are committed to elephants, to their protection and sanctuary. None of the elephants at our partnered sanctuaries will ever be chained up. They will never be part of elephant rides. They will always be given ongoing and consistent medical care. They will always be respected and loved for the gorgeous animals they are. 

If you love elephants, volunteer with them! Just make sure you volunteer on and visit centres that are certified elephant friendly by World Animal Protection!

Readers Digest says no to elephant...


Why? Because they asked us what tourist attractions were overrated. We thought about this idea at first. We love being tourists, that is why we started AEI. We love travel but we love giving back- the real reason we started AEI. 

We love going to new and exciting places and getting selfies with other tourists. We love meeting people at landmarks we had only dreamed of visiting. We love coming back and showing silly grins from silly friends exploring places that have been explored before, just not by us. We love being tourists. We love touring the world. So did we really think there were things that were overrated. Then we remembered the horrible torture of elephants and we remembered yes, of course there were things that were overrated- they were things that take advantage of animals, people and communities. 

Elephant rides help no one. Before elephants can be trained to have someone (or someones) on their back they have to be horribly broken as babies. We would explain it more, but it really is horrific. A quick search on google will keep you crying for days. After elephants are terribly broken, they can be dangerously shipped all over the countries they are living in. Sometimes on the back of trucks, sometimes on trains, always horrified and in danger of hurting themselves and others. Once they get to the attraction they will be working in they are typically not given enough water, socialisation or room to roam. They are chained when they are not boringly walking the same track over and over again with heavy loads on their backs. Do the elephants like this? Of course they don't. Do the communities that have elephant rides located close to them? Typically they don't either. They see these elephants languishing in the sun, in pain, bleeding and rocking due to boredom and torture. Not many communities we have talked to are excited to say they host exploitative acts. 

So why even have them anymore? Because people want to see elephants and don't know there is a better way! The better way is visiting and volunteering at elephant sanctuaries. Places were elephants are allowed to live in social groups with enough water, browse and space to walk, without chains and painful isolation. We help people volunteer in Thailand at such a beautiful and loving place, you can volunteer their, too! Check out our Elephant Sanctuary Volunteering page and write us a note if you are interested. 

There aren't too many things that we think are overrated when you travel, but we for sure think there is no good tourism when there is exploitation. 

Check our Readers Digest's article about overrated tourist attractions and see what we have to say about elephants!

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!

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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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.

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

PS: Are you a Floridian looking to volunteer locally? Check out All The Rooms for their blog about the best places to volunteer in Florida