Before I arrived on my first volunteer project abroad, I hadn’t once considered what I would gain from it, instead I worried whether I would even have anything to offer and that everyone else would be more experienced than me. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Although it’s a cliché, it is true that you get back more than what you put in! I genuinely didn’t expect to be on such a natural high for such extended periods. I can’t explain quite what it is that is so special, perhaps it is coming together as a community with like-minded people, with a common goal, knowing that shortly this precious moment will come to an end, when we all head home.
Not everyone knows about the benefits that affect the volunteer themselves. I have tried to list the mental health benefits below:
- Travellers who get away twice a year are less likely to feel depressed or suffer from this mental illness.
- There are nine million people in the UK who sadly suffer from loneliness. Chatting with fellow volunteers increases face-to-face interactions and lowers loneliness.
- Planning a volunteer trip helps people become more positive about their lives, with a more positive outlook on their health, economic situation and general life.
- Getting away is great for boosting creativity, immersing yourself in another culture is known to make travellers more creative.
- Telling stories of your trip to loved ones back home can actually strengthen your relationship with them.
- Strengthening your relationships with others improves your mental health and boosts your self-esteem.
- The act of simply planning a trip is enough to increase happiness.
- Limited internet access, cold water and little privacy in dormitory style accommodation helps volunteers realise how much is taken for granted at home.
- Margaret J King said the mind and body resets with travel and stress relief is the main benefit.
- Travelling actually keeps you healthies! According to a study done by The U.S Travel Association.
- Volunteers gain an understanding of the country much better than the typical tourist as they spend much more time with the local community. Not hidden away in hotel rooms, or with only hotel staff for company.
- A creative outlet is a great way to practice mindfulness and all projects with children provide opportunities for arts and crafts.
- Completing small tasks in a relaxed environment without piles of paperwork, takes the pressure off and allows enjoyment and a sense of achievement after the task is completed.
- Getting away from the sofa to regularly travel reduces the risk of heart attacks, compared to those who only travel every six years or so.
- ADHD volunteers noticed that while volunteering their focus improved and they were able to concentrate for longer.
- Having to adapt to differences in foreign cultures often means stepping outside of your comfort zone. Stepping away from comfort zones makes people less emotionally reactive to day-to-day changes.
- Although losing luggage and getting lost in a foreign city can be stressful, they are great opportunities to develop problem solving skills for the next curveball life throws you.
- Meeting new people in a foreign environment can help with agreeableness according to some studies. Compared to those who did not travel, travellers scored higher in conscientiousness, were more open to experiences and were more emotionally stable.
- Three days after a volunteer break, travellers report feeling more rested and in a better mood, these benefits are then stated to longer for weeks.
- A change is as good as a break, the 9-5 life at home can sometimes feel as if it’s the same day on repeat. Humans like routines but we also need a change of scene every so often.
- Without the worry of work or school and the deadlines that come with them, volunteers are happier when travelling abroad.
- Exchange the stresses and commitments of everyday life for meeting new people, sights and experiences.
- Travellers get so excited about an upcoming trip far greater than when they are anticipating a purchase or possession.
- For some volunteers, travel is less about visiting a new place but instead about escaping an old place, helping us to manage stress away from everything which adds to our stress levels.
- Learning about other cultures makes volunteers more open minded, helping them embrace different ways of life opposed to their own.
- You’re never too old to stop learning. Volunteering abroad surrounded by locals provides the perfect opportunity to have a go learning another language.
- Learning another language or about another countries history and their culture means that your brain is growing. The brain is a muscle and needs strengthening.
- Affordable volunteer organisations provide pre-departure and in country care and support, at a fraction of the price and help match volunteers together before they travel out.
- The challenge of solo travel increases independence. Having to live on a budget, cook for yourself and organising weekend trips and get aways can seem daunting but certainly means becoming more independent.
- Through the act of helping others your brain releases dopamine, the chemical which makes you happy.
I do believe that there is a volunteer opportunity for everyone somewhere in the world! You do not need to be a brain surgeon or have a PhD to make an impact. For all of the benefits that can be gained, anyone feeling a bit low or not so sure of themselves might want to consider getting out of their box and seeing what they can get back in return. I think everyone will be surprised at the results. My own personal mantra to others is put in 100% and get 150% back!