How To Volunteer Abroad
Do you bore quickly of lounging by a pool and sunbathing on a beach? Do you prefer getting involved with the local community and make a difference on your travels? It sounds like volunteering abroad is something you might be interested in! If you want to explore a new destination, experience another culture and gain hands on practical skills, you can achieve all of this and more on a volunteer project.
More and more volunteer projects pop up every day and it is becoming harder to know which project to choose or even how to go about organising a volunteer placement. I have put together this handy post to help travellers organise volunteering abroad:
Where Do You Want To Volunteer?
Volunteering abroad has boomed in popularity and has become a global opportunity available in every region of the world.
Living costs abroad can dramatically affect where you choose to volunteer and should be factored in. Most volunteer projects operate Monday to Friday, leaving weekends free to explore. This is when budgets can easily get eaten up. Check out travellers’ forums online to see what the latest hostel and transport prices are, before making a final decision.
There is a reason so many backpackers travel to Asia each year, the continent is filled with affordable countries. Volunteers can find accommodation for a few dollars a night and prices remain low throughout the year, rarely inflating for tourists.
South America maybe the cheapest destination to fly to from the USA to volunteer, however prices on the continent can still hit low budget travellers hard. Compared to Asia, there is less aggressive competition amongst hostels and tour providers, leaving travellers getting less for their money.
Prices in Africa shock volunteers who often arrive expecting to live on a dollar a day. Tourists rarely get to appreciate the same prices as the locals, which are inflated for tourists and are non-negotiable. In addition, with fewer airlines travelling to this part of the world, flights can be substantially higher from the USA.
When Would You Like To Volunteer?
There is no right or wrong time to volunteer, help is needed all year round!
A volunteer sending organisation will be able to advise when is based on:
- Project needs
- Group sizes
- Ages of volunteers
- Personal skills
- Flight costs
Summer breaks are popular among young volunteers with larger group sizes and more people to meet on your project. There could be as many as forty volunteers all living together in summer months, compared to five in low season. However, volunteering in the summer usually comes with flight price increases.
November to May is popular among mature travellers, who can also take advantage of cheaper flights. Smaller group sizes also mean that projects can feel more personal as coordinators are able to offer more attention to each person.
It is always worth checking the weather for when you plan on travelling, remember that different countries experience the seasons at different times of year. Never assume that because it is sunny and hot in July at home, it will be summer that time abroad. Did you know that Argentina often experiences snow in July?
As tempting as it is to get away now and help as quick as possible for a week or two, it may be better to wait a while and volunteer for longer. You may find yourself better prepared rather than travelling now when you barely have enough time to plan what you’re going to wear.
If you only have a week spare, you can still make a difference. Although, you may want to avoid long haul destinations which are twenty-four hours away. By the time the jet lag has worn off and you’re settled in, it’ll be time to turn around and come home. It is also worth checking any overland travel times, some projects require a seven-hour bus journey after landing, reducing time spent on the project.
What Do You Want To Do?
There is no limit to the different ways to volunteer abroad. Teaching, building and health projects are the most popular and widely available, however with volunteering abroad increasing in popularity there are more unique and unusual projects popping up every day!
Au Pairing – get to know a family and help them by au pairing, looking after the children and maintaining their home.
Teaching – depending on where you have chosen to travel, volunteers either teach English as a foreign language or if the locals speak English already volunteers are free to teach a subject of their interest.
Building – underdeveloped communities need help with building, volunteers get involved repairing problems with the local’s houses, building libraries, schools, hospitals and whatever there is a need for nearby.
Health Care – volunteers with an interest in the medical industry can travel overseas and help in underdeveloped communities by donating supplies and bringing over new practices to outdated hospitals.
Animal Welfare – there are many expats who have rehomed abroad and set up cats and dogs sanctuaries who welcome international volunteers.
Help Exchanging – these are the most diverse form of volunteering. Companies offer food and accommodation in exchange to international volunteers offering to work for a couple of hours each day.
Why Are You Volunteering Abroad?
Volunteers travel and help overseas for many different reasons, none are wrong. From cultural exchange and giving back to gaining new skills and personal growth, each project offers a unique set of reasons and benefits.
Volunteers aiming to gain a better understanding of a local culture, gain a much better perspective than tourists staying in a resort. Volunteers interact with the locals on a daily basis, staying in their community and have the chance to visit their homes to see exactly how locals live.
Whilst helping overseas, volunteers gain a great deal of transferable skills: communication, team work, leadership, organisation, administration and much more. Some volunteers even volunteer with the specific aim of gaining skills for a particular job they want. Even going as far as printing off the required skills on a job advert and being sure to gain hands on experience in each area, ticking them off as they go.
Organisations versus Independent
Organisations provide support both before travel and whilst helping overseas. Pre-departure teams help volunteers find flights, apply for visas and advise what volunteers can expect to do on a project. They also have in-country support teams who organise all of the volunteering, act as a translator and help organise weekend trips away.
Organisations can also be a good middle man and backup. Fellow volunteers snoring and keeping you awake? Simply email HQ and continue enjoying your volunteering, they can liaise with the in-country team on your behalf.
Independent volunteering can be organised by contacting a foreign charity abroad and asking if they accept international volunteers. Going direct can cost less than volunteering through an organisation, there are rarely booking fees or weekly payments, although volunteers may be expected to find their own accommodation and cover transport which can quickly add up. Look for affordable backpacker hostels and guest houses nearby to help save pennies.
Often when volunteering directly through a charity there is much less support provided and more suited to confident, independent travellers. Staff are busy focusing on the charity and don’t have time to pick volunteers up from the airport or plan free time activities. Bring a good guide book and plan ahead how you will organise your free time.
Resources For Volunteering Abroad:
GoFundMe – others may be keen to help you make an impact overseas and donate money
Trip Advisor – for information and advice on local tours at your destination
Sky Scanner – probably the easiest site to find cheap flights worldwide
World Packers – craigslist for independent, unstructured volunteer opportunities.
FCO – government travel safety information with country-specific updates
Fit For Travel – NHS site lists immunisations needed before travel