One of my cherished travel memories would have to be from the month I spent working as an archaeological dig volunteer in Spain.
It was a long and dirty month, but also a month where I could do more than hostel hop.
I made great friends, connected with my surroundings, and gave my brain and body a good workout.
As stated in my alternative travel ideas story, archaeological digs offer the general public another way to see the world, one perfect for history buffs or those who like to get their hands a bit dirty.
Most of the digs are for students, but many archaeological sites around the world offer volunteer opportunities — albeit for paid volunteers.
At least it's good to know that the funds you put into it generally help cover your room and board and fund the dig itself.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I volunteer on an archaeological dig?
Volunteer positions on archaeological digs are available worldwide and open to people of all ages.
According to the Archaeological Institute of America, the website I use to search for fieldwork availability, opportunities are currently offered in Israel, the UK, the USA, Macedonia, Greece, Romania, Peru, Bulgaria, Italy, Belize, Australia, Ireland, Spain, Mongolia, Cyprus, and Ecuador.
Digs will typically run during the summer since they're organized by universities or with the hopes of having university students along.
It is essential to remember this, as summer heat in many locations can be overwhelming.
What can I expect on an archaeological dig?
Well, for one, this is not a vacation, so expect hard work. You'll be in the pits with college students getting practical experience and professional archaeologists, so you better believe they take this seriously.
You can expect a lot of early mornings.
When I worked for a month as a volunteer on an archaeological dig in Spain, we had a 45-minute bus ride to the site each morning.
This was before we began our hours of digging, generally done in the early morning hours to avoid the peak of the day's heat.
You can expect to get dirty.
Don't pack up all your nicest clothes because, by the end of the term, you will probably want nothing more than to chuck your work clothes in the bin.
There were work days on my dig when we were covered from head to toe in mud after a few rainy days at the archaeological site. And if it wasn't mud, it was just sweat.
You can expect to learn a lot.
You should be fine if you take part in a dig marked as one for beginners, as no previous experience may be required.
Plus, the fact that they act as field schools for many archaeology students means the people running them are teachers. Ask away and learn!
What about accommodation?
Accommodation options vary for archaeological dig volunteers, so research before signing up for fieldwork opportunities.
When I did my dig in Menorca, Spain, we all lived in a four-bedroom apartment with up to six people in a room (much like a hostel).
Other archaeological projects will have participants stay in college dorms, hotel rooms, apartments, or even a tent.
Archaeology volunteer programs can vary from comfortable to highly rustic, just as the price will vary.
How do I pack for an archaeological dig?
The dig program you are participating in will most likely provide specific tips, like whether or not you need to bring a sleeping bag or tools.
For the most part, you can expect to need knee pads and heavy-duty gardening gloves. Closed-toe shoes are great if you'll be working with pick-axes.
Clothing and hats for sun protection are essential as you'll be out for hours, and a poncho or rain jacket might come in handy on wet days.
Another tip would be to bring some bug spray and a reusable water bottle.
How much does it cost to participate in a dig?
Depending on the location, amenities, and length of time, the cost will vary for an archaeological dig volunteer.
Digs typically last around two weeks, but month-long and summer-long courses are available. A typical month can run anywhere from $1,500 to $3,500.
If the price of a dig seems high, you might want to consider that many will include all meals and your accommodation — plus some free knowledge and group tours along the way.
So, a dig might not be a form of budget travel. Still, it is a different form of experiential travel, allowing participants to immerse themselves in a place, learn about its history, and perhaps even uncover something worthy of sitting in a museum.
Related: Las Vegas Dig This
Will I have fun?
I loved my time as a volunteer on the archaeological dig in Spain, but just like with any group tour, your fun will depend on several factors:
- The other dedicated volunteers in the group.
- Your location, amenities, and comfort level.
- The amount of physical activity.
- The amount of free time given.
- Your interest in the subject.
- How you get along with the dig directors and volunteer coordinators.
Many programs will include group tours to other parts of the region, so archaeology volunteers aren't seeing the same thing day in and day out.
When I was in Menorca, we went on a weekly excursion to different sites on the island.
I highly recommend this to travelers who tend to get lost in museums on the road or those that want to take in the vibe of a destination while still feeling like they are being productive.