One great way to combine adventure travel with helping to make the world a better place is do go volunteering overseas. These kinds of trips can be done through an intermediary organization that places you in a volunteer position; although these often don’t come cheap and you actually have to pay for the chance to volunteer. The benefits are that you have a support network, you don’t need to find a placement yourself, and often you’ll be somewhere where they’ve had volunteers before so they know what to expect. The alternative is to get in touch with potential places where you would like to volunteer and try to set it up ahead of time. In this scenario you would have more of a responsibility with managing paperwork, visas, and perhaps you might be one of the first volunteers the place has had. This option definitely comes with more legwork and uncertainty, but you don’t need to pay for the intermediary’s services so that’s a win.
Volunteering options could include teaching English, tutoring, helping build homes and schools, working in an orphanage or school, helping provide medical care (usually for people with the right training), or helping teach skills in a specialized area like marketing or journalism. If you’re considering combining living in a new place with doing something good, here are our top tips on volunteering abroad.
Photo By: DFAT
Figure Out How You Can Really Help
Perhaps you’re good at building things, or you have the patience to teach English, or perhaps you have experience working with kids. Maybe you have a medicine, engineering, marketing or journalism degree and could help out with your technical knowledge as you volunteer. Consider your strengths and try to align with a place where you could really contribute your time in a meaningful way. You don’t necessarily have to have past experience, for example maybe you really like being outdoors and getting hands-on so you could help with planting crops or picking fruit and learn the required skills from the locals.
Find Natural Links
Perhaps you learnt Spanish at school, or you learnt about Middle Eastern history at university, maybe you’ve traveled to Asia many times and know what it’s like there? Find out natural ways you could slip into the local culture or use your knowledge so that you can be off and running straight away. Having some local language will help you a whole lot, as will having a good understanding of the local cultural and/or political situation. None of this is absolutely essential, but having these would make you a more *useful* volunteer.
Do Your Research
Try to be prepared for the culture-shock, if you’ve never been to a really poverty-stricken place, or seen hospitals in 3rd world countries, or seen how under-developed many regions in the world are you might be very surprised about some of the conditions. However, you should never make people feel bad about the places they call home. Not only will it make them feel bad, you’re not helping. Try to treat everyone with respect and be aware that it’s not your place to talk about how *good* things are where you’re from in comparison to where they are. It’s best to remember that most places have good and bad elements, and that you too could learn from the positives of the place you are visiting. Perhaps the people there are especially friendly and welcoming, perhaps they have family and community networks to envy, perhaps they make do with what they have like no one you have ever met, perhaps they appreciate the small things your life better than your friends do. All in all, do your research before you head off about the conditions you can expect, and try to go in with clear eyes and an open heart.
Don’t Pay Top Dollar
There are many organisations that will help set you up as a volunteer abroad; you can easily find them online and you’ll find organisations that can align with your interests. As we mentioned earlier many of these intermediaries are useful and helpful but they often don’t come cheap. Some can be thousands of dollars for short two week stints. If you don’t have that much money, you can still volunteer but you’ll need to put in the time to set up your own program, organize visas and so forth. You’ll be a little more “on your own” but this can be an excellent growth experience in itself!
Don’t Expect to Change the (Whole) World
Don’t be disillusioned by your time volunteering. You won’t be able to change the whole world, but you will hopefully be able to change – in a positive way – the people or community you’re volunteering in. Remember that this is a worthwhile contribution too, and that contributing something small and meaningful is better that not doing anything at all! While you might not change the whole world, you’ll be changing the world of the lives you touch even if just for a moment!
Remember You are a Volunteer
While certain things might be frustrating and you might wand to make bigger changes, do more work, or take on more “important” jobs remember that you are a volunteer. And while you should never be forced to do anything you feel uncomfortable with, try to help out in the ways that you’re needed most. That could be the mundane, boring tasks but remember you’re there to help! If you’re staying a longer time, it could be more worthwhile for them to train you up and give you more responsible jobs, but if you’re staying a short time or haven’t made it clear what expertise you could really contribute then it’s best to just help out where you can. Adapt to your host country, try to be helpful but try not to push your ways, your way of life onto others. This could mean adapting to a slower pace, or different work routines. Go in with the right attitude, a positive spirit, an open mind and a willingness to help however you can and you’ll be right!
Take the Right Stuff
Have appropriate shoes and clothes for where you’ll be, have a first-aid kit, have any medicines you take along with additional supplies, have travel insurance, and have enough money for unexpected emergencies. These basics apply to any type of adventure travel, and going on a volunteering abroad trip is no different but these could be the difference between spending your time volunteering and spending your time trying to buy stuff and sort stuff out.
Learn the Lessons
Volunteering abroad can be an amazing learning experience both in technical areas as well as spiritually and socially as a global citizen. You’ll learn more about the issues facing the world, you’ll grow sensitive to different ways of life, all going well you’ll also leave a positive footprint where you’ve been volunteering as well. It will be an inspiring experience where hopefully you’ll gain as much as you give; and that old saying is true the more you give of yourself the more you stand to gain!
Congratulations for thinking of volunteering; it’s a great thing to want to give back. As long as you listen our tips on volunteering abroad, you’ll probably have an amazing volunteering experience. Good luck!