Intrepid traveler and international volunteer, this week’s guest post has been written for us by Emma Higgins of Gotta Keep Movin’.
Emma is basically a rock-star! An incredibly inspiring travel writer, it took her a long time to achieve full-time vagabond status, however with a range of work exchange, volunteering, and jobs she picked up along the way, life of never ending travel became a reality! Today she writes for us about why volunteering is an awesome way to travel.
I’ve been travelling around the world for 4 years now and I don’t think I could have done any of it without volunteering. Furthermore, I don’t think I would have had half the amazing experiences that I have had if it weren’t for volunteering.
Volunteering has so many benefits
So many people think that the benefits of volunteering only really lie in the fact that you’re helping people less fortunate than you. When people think of the words ‘volunteering and travel’, they usually see visions of malnourished orphans in deepest darkest Africa and picture people building a school for them.
Whilst these placements do of course exist and helping people is a serious benefit of volunteering, there are so many other things that can be considered great about using volunteering to travel.
One serious perk is that if you find free or low cost placements, it can save you a lot of money on the road, keeping you travelling for longer. Many of these kinds of placements that you find through websites such as HelpX or Workaway work on a subscription basis. You pay around $20 for a one- or two-year subscription, then flick through the worldwide opportunities and email the placements directly once you have chosen them.
The placements are work exchange programs, so you offer whatever work they’re asking for in exchange for a free bed and food. Some of them ask for a donation towards food costs – in most cases this is very minimal, and this tends to only really be the case in the poorer countries where they really can’t afford to feed extra mouths. However, there are thousands out there that don’t charge a penny, and projects can range from working on organic farms, to buzzing city hostels, animal shelters, community living projects, and almost anything else you can think of.
When I first heard about these placements I thought they sounded way too good to be true. How can some volunteer companies charge thousands for 2 weeks, and these charge absolutely nothing for the same kind of thing? Well, the reality of that never ceases to amaze me, and has no logic whatsoever, but that’s just the way it happens. Having gone through work exchange websites for all of my volunteer placements, I can very happily testify that there really are no catches or hidden fees, which makes it such an affordable way to globetrot.
Aside from that, the benefits on volunteering keep rolling in. You can learn some amazing new skills through specific projects, see the real side to a country instead of the cookie-cutter version, meet likeminded travellers instead of the same backpacker over and over again, and even use volunteering for something as simple as getting into shape. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of voluntourism.
Finding a volunteer placement you’ll love
Once you’ve decided that you want to volunteer around the globe, it’s pretty overwhelming knowing where to start. In terms of where you want to go, that one is completely on you as there are placements all across the globe. Some areas are better than others for certain types of volunteering, such as poorer countries for very powerful humanitarian work, or areas where the land is plentiful for intense farming work.
If you have an idea of where you want to go, start thinking about where your interests lie and the kind of things you’d like to gain from a volunteer project. Perhaps there’s one skill that you already have that you want to develop whilst you’re on the road, such as an artistic skill or more experience working in hostels. Maybe you feel like trying your hand at something completely new to you, which is also fine as many placements will take on anyone as long as they seem to have a genuine willingness to work.
Sometimes it can be pot luck with work exchange programs. From the profiles on these websites you should be able to get a pretty good insight into what the people are like, and most will have pictures and reviews from previous volunteers. Email the placements and ask as many questions as you like to get to know what you might be letting yourself in for. A good host will encourage someone to ask as much as possible, as they’re after reliable volunteers and much as you’re after a reliable host.
One word of caution – there are dishonest volunteer placements out there that are not what they say they are. Always make sure you do as much research as possible into a placement; if their profile on the website has no picture or info it could be an alarm bell, and never be afraid to email with questions. If their answer is vague an uninformative, I would skip over that placement altogether. Once you do more volunteering, you’ll recognise these bad signs much quicker and steer clear of shoddy placements easily.
Volunteering abroad gets your travel experience out of the guidebooks, off the beaten path, and out onto a road of indescribable adventure. There are very few ways in the world of travel nowadays to blaze your very own trail through a country or continent, a trail that no one else has followed ever before, but volunteering is one way you can do just that.
You can hop from placement to placement, discovering hidden gems so off the tourist trail that the locals don’t even know what a backpack looks like, so far from the hostel lifestyle that no one even knows what the hell beer pong is. Get out there into the volunteering lifestyle, and just let the world reward you, time and time again.