Volunteering Abroad – Who, What, Why, How, Where and When?
Volunteering abroad can be a crazy, crazy world if you’re a newbie, so here’s some expert advice on how to…
One of the many things long-term travelers are often asked is how they can afford it. We’d go so far as to say it’s the number one question! And while some people might have a large amount of money stashed away, sold all their belongings or robbed a bank; most long-termers have developed a savvy system for staying on the road.
One of the best ways for you to put off going home is to get involved with volunteering. You can pretty much do anything you want, anywhere you want on the planet, with free accommodation, meals and time-off all in exchange for your skills, bubbly personality and a bit of hard work. Some positions are paid too! But volunteering abroad is something of a minefield, so we put together some tips on how to find the best experience for you.
First of all, just who do you think you are? Seriously?! Who are you? What are you most interested in? What are your passions? What are your skills? What are you really good at? Take some time to figure out the “who,” and then you can start to think about the “what.” If you’re terrified of pigs you’re probably not going to want to work on a pig farm.
Make a list of your skillset – you’re going to need it when approaching potential employers. Remember – just because it’s voluntary work doesn’t mean they’ll take any Tom, Dick or Harry. You need to be able to sell yourself. So, who are you?
You’ve written out a list of your skills and interests, and a pattern should hopefully be emerging. It’s from this that you should be able to think about the “what.” What is it that you want to be doing during your volunteering experience? If you’re good at painting, maybe decorating an orphanage in Mozambique is your calling? If you love animals, perhaps helping at a wildlife sanctuary in Thailand is up your street?
Good with the kids? Teaching English in China could be an option. There are literally thousands of volunteering opportunities out there with something for everyone – so now you just need to find them!
Volunteering abroad is a wonderful opportunity for cultural exchange, for you to really immerse yourself in a country rather than just skipping through it. You’ll make some amazing new friends, create lasting memories, step outside your comfort zone, grow as a person, learn new skills and seriously improve your resume!
Perhaps the most important thing though, is just how much you can help people. Doing anything from working in a hostel to helping distribute medical supplies – you’ll have a worthy and rewarding experience. Oh – and you’ll be able to travel longer too!
Here’s the really exciting (and also trickiest) part – finding a volunteer position. There are several ways that you can go about this, but one thing we’re passionate about is not paying to be a volunteer. There are legitimate companies out there, and there are also not so legitimate companies – some asking for money upfront, or for you to do some fundraising in order to cover the costs to send you on your volunteering experience. We think there are enough “organic” volunteer experiences out there without having to pay for the privilege.
Having said that, it depends entirely on what you’re looking to do, and the resources involved in getting you to do it. Volunteering that covers a specific niche might not necessarily be available to everyone – randomly posted on a volunteer job board – and so going through a company might be the only way to experience, say, Turtle conservation in Costa Rica. It really is up to you. One of the best sites you can use is helpx , which charges a small membership fee giving you access for two years to their huge database of volunteer projects all over the world. Sign up, create a profile with that list of skills you’ve made, and then start sending out requests to the places you want to go, to do the work that you want to do. Workaway is very similar, just asking a little more for the membership fee.
Alternatively, one of the best and most rewarding ways to find volunteer work is to ask around when you’re already on the road. If you’ve got that confidence, just turning up to a place and inquiring if they need help in exchange for food or accommodation is a great way to have a unique experience.
Keep your ears open – word of mouth exchanges might just help decide your next direction. Get yourself out there!
The sky is the limit! When you’ve decided what you want to do, with a simple search online you’ll be able to find loads of opportunities in any number of places around the world. Obviously, you might not find camel farming in Scotland, but you get the idea.
Choose somewhere you’re excited about, somewhere you want to see and somewhere you’re comfortable with – then get applying to anything that’s suitable! If you’re looking for inspiration, hotspots for WOOFING (working on organic farms) include New Zealand, Australia, South America and Southeast Asia.
Look at the calendar, check the weather forecast, ask the employer! Some positions only have availability at certain times of the year – when olives are being harvested for example – so that particular farm probably won’t be recruiting in the middle of February. Keep yourself happy too, if you’re not a fan of the rain it might be best not to volunteer somewhere during monsoon season. Use the old common sense – go when you’re needed and when you’re comfortable.
There are many more things to consider when it comes to volunteering – especially for the first time – so make sure you plan well. It really isn’t for everyone, and while some people might stay for years, others leave in under five minutes when they realise they have to poo in a hole in the ground. Keep a good head on your shoulders and make some informed, smart decisions and you won’t go far wrong. We thoroughly recommend giving volunteering abroad a go – you’ll be able to tell some cracking stories for years to come!
Do you have any volunteering abroad experiences? Share them with us!
I'm a world traveler with a passion for new destinations, healthy food and sharing good tips. Since 2011, I have traveled to over 65 countries and wrote over 2000 articles all over the web. Join me on this adventure!