10 Top Tips for Volunteering Abroad

Volunteering is one of the most rewarding ways of travelling and is booming in popularity. Increasing travellers are option to join other volunteers helping overseas and experience this exciting way of travel.

Start off your volunteer project on the right foot with these top tips:

Look for Affordable Programmes

Searching online for volunteer programmes will result in a flood of opportunities. Expensive organisations usually dominate the search results. However, there is no need to be spending thousands for a week of volunteering. Affordable volunteering organisations do exist but will tend to pop up on the second and third page of results.

Many organisations offer substantial discounts for long stay volunteers. Ask before booking what sort of discounts are available for longer stays. One clever option if you are adventurous and flexible is to book through an organisation for a week or two then extend your stay directly with the local charity which will work out a lot less with a chance to find your own budget accommodation.

High living costs in your chosen country can eat into your budget fast and mean the difference between weeks or months away. Check out the backpacker forums for the latest updates on how much food and transportation is costing. Backpackers in Thailand have recently been surprised by the spike in costs on the islands whilst in Cambodia you can still get by on a few quid a day.

Ask To Be Put In Contact With Other Volunteers.

The majority of volunteers travel by themselves; however, this doesn’t mean they are the only one on a project! In the same way as volunteering at home, volunteers will most often be working alongside local people. Most organisations can help put solo volunteers in contact with others who will be there the same time.

Volunteer for a suitable amount of time.

If you’ve only got one or two weeks to spare, it’s a good idea to choose a suitable project that you can start straightaway. Teaching can be successful in as little as one week, whereas building a whole school or a water bore hole may take a few months. It is heart breaking to set something up and begin the foundations of a project and leave before seeing results.

Some volunteer programmes are designed for longer stays so you might not get stuck in until day four! An organisation should be able to tell you if there are orientations and training and how quickly you’ll be able to get started.

If flights take twenty-four hours to reach a destination, it’s often not worth only going for a week. By the time everything is unpacked, and you’ve settled in, it will be time to turn around and come home.

Find a role which best suits you

Think about what skills are best used on a project and if you have these. Volunteers with experience in building or teaching may enjoy volunteering in that field as they are more familiar the work. Even if a volunteer has no previous experience but they have an interest in a particular area, they are likely to be passionate about it and get more out of their trip.

Don’t only take into account skills and interests, also consider any phobias, dislikes and social anxiety.

Squeamish and emotional people are probably best avoiding challenging environments where they may be overwhelmed. Likewise, volunteers that don’t enjoy the company of animals or suffer from allergies will need to be aware of locations where strays are common and will roam in and out of properties freely. Marrakech is an example, being over populated with stray cats, not ideal for travellers with allergies to find them on the doorstep all hours of the day.  

Consider The Documents You Will Need

Make sure you know which visa you will need for volunteering before you sign up to a programme. An organisation will be able to advise on the correct visa and website to apply through which may not always be the obvious one. For example: some regions of Thailand require a permit whilst others welcome unpaid volunteers on an entry-stamp alone.

Some visas have to be applied for many weeks prior to travel, sending off the appropriate documentation and passport, whereas some visas are obtained upon arrival and others can be started online, taking a print out with you.

Always make sure you have valid insurance before departing. Most volunteering abroad isn’t dangerous, but accidents can happen anywhere. An appendix doesn’t care if it is at home or abroad, it can rupture at any point. Considering the average price of a bed in a hospital abroad, without any treatment, can start at £100 a night, you don’t want to be adding on this unnecessary expense.

In addition, make sure you email your policy and reference number to friends and family in case you’re too ill to access them should something happen.

Talk To Everyone

A great tip when arriving on a volunteer project is to set yourself a goal of greeting everyone and exchanging names in the first 24 hours. Don’t stick to the first people you meet, you could be missing out. Volunteering is not like staying at a hostel. Other volunteers already there will expect you to say hello! After all, you will be living and working 24/7 together.

Volunteering attracts people from all different walks of life, volunteers meet people that they may never have met in their home country, hear stories from all over the world and even network with people. All volunteers share an interest in helping others and seeing a new country together.

Remember To See the Country

Seeing more of the county and meeting more people helps give a wider perspective on the country as a whole. Be sure to remember to do this! Sometimes, volunteers can sometimes get caught up in helping others and forget to visit attractions and see what the country has to offer.

Take a couple of days out each week. Find out what is fun to do in the surrounding areas, there may be a secret attraction, cheaper and more authentic than a commercial tourist attraction. Touring does not need to be expensive, a two-hour bus journey may only cost £1.

In addition, try to break away from the volunteer group if you’re in a large group. It is a very different experience exploring with a couple of others than it is in a group going from bed to beach to bar every weekend.

Set Goals For What You Want To Achieve

It’s not selfish to take advantage and plan what you want to get out of volunteering. Whether it is experience for a future job or simply just a boost in confidence. Make a list of goals to be achieved whilst volunteering and discuss how is best to tick them off with your hosts or support team.

Volunteers helping overseas not only give back and benefit the local community, volunteers also learn from the experience themselves.

Check Weather Before You Pack

Not all continents experience the same seasons at the same time. Many people forget that July is winter in the Southern hemisphere.

It would be embarrassing to step off the plane with a bag full of shorts and tank tops, only to find out the country is expecting snow, which will often be the case in Argentina and Chile.

Be sure to check the weather a week or so before you travel. Seasons are not always predictable either, countries can experience a change in weather at any time. It is always best to be prepared. Take note of the night time temperatures too, a lot of volunteers spend evenings socialising outside, layers are usually recommended. The Kenyan plains may be twenty Celsius by day and frosty at night.

Bring A Positive Attitude

Culture shock can come in different forms. For volunteers in developing countries, extreme poverty can be upsetting. Be prepared to witness hungry children and saddening lifestyles, it is important to remember the impact you are making and stay positive about the experience.

Local priorities may be very different. It can be worthwhile and satisfying to discover what the genuine local needs are and help fill the gaps. Rather than second guessing from a western perspective.

You will never be able to experience a country or volunteering for the first time again, make the most of the exciting newness.

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