Hawaii & Alaska Volunteer Trip Overview
Visit two states unlike any of the others while earning 40 hours of community service on this journey through America’s lands of fire and ice! We’ll dive right into Hawaii’s Big Island on an adventure trip sure to leave you feeling rewarded and refreshed. Team up with a local marine conservation organization to earn 20 hours while becoming ambassadors for a healthy Hawaiian ecosystem. Experience hands-on learning while working closely with marine biologists on important projects focused on the ocean and local sea life. Snorkel, survey reefs, collect ocean data, and become educated about reef ecology. After three days of our marine biology project, you’ll officially become a certified reef teacher!
We’ll leave Hawaii’s beaches for a different outdoor paradise! Alaska is known as the last frontier and land of the midnight sun—it’s a place where your life will change!
You’ll visit Homer, one of Alaska’s best-kept secrets near Kenai Fjords National Park. A true gem of an Alaskan town, Homer has managed to slide under the radar of Alaska’s typical tourists. Next, a visit to the fisherman’s haven Seward will bring even more Alaskan culture and adventure into your life. You’ll have the chance to hike to the top of a glacier, whitewater raft down a river surrounded by snowcapped mountains, kayak in a glacial bay while looking for seals, and spend your evenings around a campfire! To top off our adventures we will volunteer at a wildlife conservation center for bears, moose, and more!
Our Hawaii and Alaska trip is designed to nurture older teens and teach them to be more savvy travelers. Because as you grow, your interests and needs do too. So get ready to connect with nature and local communities, and learn how to be an independent traveler!
During this program, you will…
- Earn up to 40 hours of community service
- Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and hike through a lava tube
- Snorkel with manta rays at night
- Learn about reef ecology and become a certified reef teacher
- Horseback ride or hike through the incredible Waipio Valley
- Explore lush rainforests, sparkling waterfalls and volcanic craters
- Enjoy a traditional Hawaiian feast at an authentic Hawaiian luau
- Learn the traditional art of hula dancing during our own private lesson
- Watch for dolphins as we enjoy a BBQ lunch while sailing on a catamaran
- Capture a once-in-a-lifetime sunset and stargaze from the summit of sacred Mauna Kea*
- Whitewater raft up to Class IV rapids in two stunning canyons
- Strap on crampons and literally “walk on water” as you hike across a glacier, or for those brave enough, learn how to ice climb!
- Spend time in Kenai Fjord National Park and hike to the top of the Harding Ice Field
- Hike to a glacially-fed alpine lake filled with icebergs
- Channel your inner musher as we visit an Iditarod training camp and take the sled dogs out on a run!
- Kayak in a glacial bay and keep an eye out for seals and other wildlife
- Enjoy delicious seafood fresh from the Pacific
*This is an optional excursion
DAY 1: DEPART FROM LOS ANGELES (LAX)
When the group flight takes off, the trip has begun!
DAYS 1-10: KONA, HILO, NORTH AND EAST SHORE
Our Hawaiian adventure start on “The Big Island” also known simply as Hawaii! Here we will work closely alongside marine biologists for three days to learn and help care for the fragile underwater ecosystem that surrounds the island. We’ll encounter numerous exotic fish, an abundance of healthy coral, dozens of sea turtles and more! At the end of our project, we will be certified reef instructors ready to educate Hawaii’s visitors about safe swimming and snorkeling practices and what they can do to help keep the reefs lively. Our service projects will be centered around observational snorkeling to survey reefs, collecting ocean data for research, and educating visitors to Hawaii.
Marine conservation won’t be the only focus of our time on the West Coast of Hawaii, we’ll have plenty of adventures while there as well! We’ll witness the varying ecosystems and climates as we travel around the island, learn about aquaculture at the Octopus and Seahorse farms, and watch manta rays barrel roll through illuminated waters as we snorkel with these gentle giants at night. Take a horseback ride through stunning Waipio Valley and see what the North Shore is all about. We’ll dive into the rich culture of Hawaii in our hula lesson and learn that the dance is much more than just swaying the hips.
We’ll take a road trip from the sunny west side of the island to rainforest-centric Hilo to experience a different side of the Big Island! We’ll see numerous waterfalls, a rainforest-themed botanical garden, and lava rocks galore! We’ll visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to wander through lava tubes and hike the rim of an active volcano, and view turtles basking on a rare, black sand beach.
We’ll spend a very special morning on the slopes of the dormant Hualālai volcano with a family that are stewards of the land. This unique cultural experience will teach us the importance of native plants and animals, and we will help with removing invasive species and take time to connect with nature. We will plant a Koa seedling–a sacred and protected tree in Hawaii–as an aina, or gift to the mighty Hualālai volcano.
Our time in Hawaii will be topped off with an authentic Hawaiian luau, complete with amazing performances and delicious food!
DAYS 11-13: ANCHORAGE
After we say aloha to Hawaii, we will travel to the other non-contiguous state: Alaska! We’ll fly to Anchorage, the state capital, a city holding 40% of the state’s population yet only the 4th biggest city (in square miles). Here we will explore the city, see what survived the famous quake of 1964 and get an insight into Alaskan history and culture while visiting the Anchorage Museum. To see as much as possible, bike the breathtaking Anchorage Coastal Trail.
We’ll spend time volunteering at Alaska’s Wildlife Conservation Center. We’ll have a walking tour of the property with a naturalist guide and immerse ourselves in the natural history of the 13 species of Alaskan wildlife housed here. Working alongside staff and naturalist interns we’ll work on projects to better the lives of the animals through husbandry, maintenance, and enrichment projects. We will even get to feed moose and make “toys” for wolves and bear cubs! Not only is this a fantastic opportunity to give the animals unique experiences, it is a once in a lifetime chance to see Alaskan wildlife exhibiting natural behaviors up close and personal!
While in Anchorage we will take a day trip out for a surreal experience literally “walking on water” as we trek across the Matanuska Glacier. Those who are looking for an adrenaline-pumping experience will have the option to ice climb instead! Our expert guides will help us navigate the glacier to discover stunning formations and bright blue ice.
DAYS 15-17: HOMER
Continuing with our theme of service we will be spending time at a living laboratory on the south shore of Kachemak Bay. This is only accessible by boat from Homer and we will stay overnight in traditional Yurts. Our group will learn about natural history and assist with maintenance and light construction projects. We’ll also go on an oceanography cruise.
Once the project is completed we will have a chance to explore Homer, the halibut capital of the world. Our group will go on a stunning hike in Kachemak Bay State Park to an iceberg lake and explore the town of Homer, including the unique Homer Spit, a 4.5 mile piece of thin land jutting into the bay where the harbor, restaurants, hotels, and some of the more historic areas of Homer are located.
DAYS 18-20: SEWARD
Seward is considered one of the best adventure capitals in the state. During our time here we will get our adrenaline pumping while whitewater rafting down Six Mile Creek between two stunning canyons. We will sea kayak in Resurrection Bay and learn about the history of the area, discover wildlife, and check out the coastal rainforest. We’ll also visit the Alaska Sealife Center to provide a close up look at many of the species that make up the waters.
To top off our time in Seward we will experience what many people call the most beautiful hike they have ever done, heading up to the Harding Ice Field at Exit Glacier.
DAY 21: GIRDWOOD
What better way to end a dream trip than channeling our inner Iditarod dog sledding champion? We will visit a camp for the dogs, get to know the team, ride on a circuit, listen to some incredible Iditarod stories, and to top it off, get to cuddle some pups who will someday be racers themselves! Spend the rest of the day hiking, playing disc golf and soaking in the beautiful sights of Girdwood before returning to Anchorage for the final night in Alaska.
DAY 22: RETURN FLIGHT TO SEATTLE (SEA)
Authenticity is engrained in everything we do. Eat, stay, and travel like a local.
Check out what past travelers have to say about TFT and discover why we are consistently awarded “Top Youth Travel Organization” year after year.
"With this being Owen's first time away from home in quite some time, we have been so grateful for the level of care and attention that you and the team put into every single detail of the trip. Even with the flight issues at the beginning you managed everything smoothly and ensured they had the time of their lives. It was so great to be well informed every day with emails and photos so we didn't even feel like we had to text Owen at all during the trip. I know he appreciated this independence! Owen had an unforgettable trip to Hawaii, met new people and had new experiences, and for that we can't thank you enough!"
"Overall fantastic! A trip of a lifetime and Conor has made memories and friends that will remain with him forever."
"Wanted to thank you so very much for your professional and wonderfully personal handling and care during Dylan's time with you. She was just thrilled and overjoyed with the whole experience. She said everything was planned perfectly, and with the exception of the one van breaking down, not one hitch along the way, that is impressive to say the least. Really appreciate all the hard work and effort that goes into this, and also how kind you and your team are to make these young adults just have the best time, learn a lot, contribute to the world and have experiences that will last forever."
Travel with us and discover why we are consistently winning awards for Top Youth Travel Organization.
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of teen typically participates in this program? What are the requirements to join?
Teens from all over the world join this program! Typically, our participants are culturally curious individuals who are excited to make new friends, experience something unique, and interested in stepping out of their comfort zones and expanding their horizons.
This program is exclusively for students who are currently in grades 9th through 12th and approximately 14 to 18 years old. Students living outside of the USA are welcome to join!
Where do we stay?
Our hotels are chosen specifically in safe areas and are well suited to facilitating group supervision. We stay in centrally located accommodations, usually within walking distance of the main attractions. We do not use large, impersonal chain hotels on the outskirts of cities; we prefer to select smaller, family-run hotels where we establish personal relationships with the owners.
In Kona, our hotel is right next to a small bay, perfect for swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, and right in the heart of Kona’s many shops.
In Anchorage, you’ll get your first taste of what it’s like to stay in a college dorm, as we’ll eat breakfast in the dining hall and live dorm-style for the four nights of our stay! Designed for student housing with privacy and security in mind, rooms are available in single suite, double suite and quad suite arrangements. All rooms have single-person beds and private bathrooms.
In Seward and Peterson Bay, we stay in cozy yurts that allow for all our creature comforts with convenient access to the magnificent Alaskan wilderness.
For safety reasons, we do not publish the names of the accommodations we use. We do not feel it is safe to publish the name of a hotel where a group of teenagers is staying abroad. After registering, participants and parents are given access to our secure parent website where you will be able to see the names of all of the accommodations for the program.
Do most travelers go on their own?
Yes! In fact, over 75% of students who travel with us choose to come independently. This encourages teens to step further outside their comfort zone and make new friends. We believe that one of the most rewarding and exciting elements of travel is the new friendships that form along the way. When we travel by ourselves, we are bound to make new friends from all over the country and even the world. The best part is, you can travel again with your new friends on another TFT program the next summer!
If you are thinking about joining a TFT program by yourself but you are feeling unsure, please let us know! We have plenty of references from solo travelers who had great experiences and would be happy to chat with you about it.
Can I bring a friend?
Absolutely! We ask that if you do come with a friend, you and your friend(s) maintain openness to meeting new people and sharing this special experience with the entire group.
What do students like most about the USA for Older Teens: Hawaii & Alaska Service trip?
Students love the insight they gain from experiencing the “real Hawaii” on the Big Island. On USA for Older Teens: Hawaii & Alaska Service, the meaningful service project that protects both reef life and endangered species is an impactful start to learning the importance of marine conservation. Working and learning alongside peers makes for an even more enriching experience!
What is unique about the USA for Older Teens: Hawaii & Alaska Service trip?
USA for Older Teens: Hawaii & Alaska Service provides an amazing opportunity to explore in-depth one of Hawaii’s best-kept secrets. The Big Island is home to a dizzying array of wildlife, beauty, climate zones, and things to do. In addition to the service component, students love the exciting mix of activities and cultural experiences that make each day an unforgettable adventure!
What is included?
Tuition cost includes ground transportation; accommodation; chaperones and guides; program-related activities and admissions; taxes and tips; all breakfasts and dinners.
Not included in cost (this is not intended to be an exhaustive list): airfare; lunches; visas and visa application fees; personal and medical expenses; activities and admissions that are not program-related or referenced in the itinerary; beverages other than filtered water at meals; participant expenses that are outside of the program description, such as excess baggage fees and damage to hotels; expenses related to unforeseen circumstances, such as transportation strikes and natural disasters.
How do the optional group flights work?
Upon registration, you will be contacted by our International Logistics Team to discuss the program’s flight details. There is no requirement to take the group flight, but there are several advantages to doing so. The group flight is usually chaperoned by a TFT staff member, and it also offers an opportunity for the students to get to know one another prior to the start of the program. Parents are responsible for coordinating transport to the departure airport – however, the logistics team will send out instructions detailing the exact meeting spot and airport point person. For additional information about flights, visit our dedicated flight page.
Who leads the program?
Our staff is a cut above the rest! We seek out two main characteristics in our counselors – extensive knowledge of and experience in our destinations, and a passion for working with teens. Our staff’s backgrounds include living abroad and working in summer camps or other educational settings. Team members are proven leaders and role models, who connect easily with others and form genuine friendships with each student – all while bringing each destination to life.
We celebrate diversity! Our staff represents 49 different nationalities, speak a combined total of 21 languages, and visited 142 countries. Additionally, 80% of our staff lived or worked abroad in their lives. With so many unique experiences to share, you are sure to gain a global perspective.
Our average minimum ratios are one staff member to every seven participants. Each program has one Trip Director with several support staff, depending on the group size. Directors must be at least 25 years old and have prior experience working with TFT.
What are the safety qualifications for our staff?
Our staff members undergo a rigorous hiring process. They receive the same background check as school educators, an extensive training process to go over all safety precautions and protocols, and are required to be certified in CPR and First Aid. We exclusively hire responsible, multi-talented individuals who are safety-minded and are as passionate about teen travel as we are.
What is the average group size?
We pride ourselves on small group sizes to create a more authentic and personalized experience. Our group sizes fall between 13 and 24 students – the perfect size to facilitate new friendships without feeling lost in a crowd! We believe smaller groups eliminate the likelihood of cliques, and allows for a well-rounded, healthy group dynamic.
How does this program connect to other programs?
Our program dates are designed specifically so that participants can opt to combine trips throughout the summer. When connecting to another program, your counselor will escort you to the airport on the last day of the program and assist you in meeting your next group at your new destination.
What is the food like on this program?
In a word – delicious! At TFT, we believe food should be an integral part of the travel experience and always make an effort to eat at authentic establishments when we can. What better way to immerse yourself in the culture of a place than by sampling the local delicacies, and we encourage students to do so whenever possible! Just as we stay away from Americanized hotel chains, we try to avoid restaurants with menus that cater only to tourists because every good traveler knows the best food is found wherever the locals are eating!
The food in Hawaii involves plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and of course, seafood! Some typical foods we will have the chance to try are poke bowls, acai bowls, poi, and breadfruit.
Of course, we are always willing and able to accommodate vegetarians, vegans, gluten allergies, and other dietary restrictions.
Do we ever get time to go off on our own?
Our staff and teens are nearly always together, but we do provide the opportunity to break up into smaller groups to allow for flexibility and customization within the itinerary.
We offer free time in defined safe areas – for example, shopping in a market or exploring a museum. During these times, students remain in groups of at least two and are given no more than an hour. Of course, the counselors remain nearby and available. Additionally, a lifeguard-certified counselor supervises the campers any time they are involved in water activities.
Do I need any vaccinations for this program?
We recommend checking with your family doctor regarding vaccinations and medical advice for the destination you are visiting. For more information, please check the World Health Organization’s website. Upon registration, we provide a list of recommended vaccinations that can be discussed further with your doctor. For Specific questions pertaining to the COVID-19 vaccine, click here.
What should I bring on this program?
We will send out a recommended packing list before departure but, the most important consideration is to PACK LIGHT! If your program is 13 days remember you are not packing for 13 days. A good rule of thumb is to pack one week’s worth of clothes that can be easily mixed and matched together– one off outfits are not recommended. Depending on the duration of the program, there will be at least one opportunity for your child to do laundry.
Learning to travel light is great discipline, and seasoned travelers, which is what we want our participants to become, know that packing light is key.
What kind of visa do you need for this trip?
US citizens do not need passport or visa for this program, but a form of government-issued identification is needed for airport security.
When joining a TFT trip from outside of the US, please be sure to check your country’s specific visa requirements.