Whenever I hit the road I try to find a place to settle down for a few weeks and get involved with a local project. I find that volunteering abroad is a great way to learn more about the local culture and it’s also an effective way to cut down on your costs whilst travelling.
Hold on, Volunteering can be good for your budget?!
That’s right. Volunteering for a week can actually cost less than an average week of travelling if you’re smart about it. Many of the big companies out there such as Madventurer, Raleigh International or World Challenge charge ridiculously high fees for just a few weeks volunteering. I have numerous backpacker friends who have volunteered with companies such as this before and have come away shocked at the lack of resources on the ground considering the fees being charged.
Luckily, there are plenty of options for backpackers interested in volunteering abroad which won’t break the bank. One of the best value companies around is Love Volunteers which provides volunteering placements complete with room and board starting at $175 for a week, considerably less than many of the big names out there. The benefits of going with a company are that you will receive more support on the ground and your accommodation and food are taken care of. It’s relatively easy to find reviews online from past volunteers enabling you to get a feel for what your placement will involve so I recommend doing some research before you dive straight in.
Alternatively, you could consider signing up with one of the many volunteering placement databases online. These are a great way to find really cheap volunteering placements all around the world.
Workaway is probably one of the best online volunteering databases and certainly one of the biggest. Once you have paid a small fee to join the site you are able to contact thousands of hosts all over the world who are offering all kinds of projects from training falcons to building barns. It is always worth checking out your host properly before deciding to visit them, like Couchsurfing this website works on a reference system so if a host has multiple bad references they should probably be avoided.
Help Exchange is an excellent little site that I have used successfully on a couple of occasions. Most of the projects are free to volunteer although some projects in poorer countries ask for a donation to cover your rent and food.
WWOFFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is all about volunteering specifically on organic farms. I have done it a couple of times and really enjoyed. Both Workaway and Helpx have organic farming opportunities listed as well and I would suggest checking those out first as they are cheaper to join. If you are keen to try and make some money whilst volunteering, perhaps consider getting an Australian working holiday visa.
It’s important to note that when you arrange a volunteering placement through an online database such as those above there is a certain element of risk. I have heard some tales of volunteers rocking up to find that the host is unreachable, the project is not as described or accommodation is not included. You do need to be careful with Workaway and Helpx projects as some unscrupulous hosts have worked out that they can get paying volunteers to work for them. This happened to me in India where I made a small donation to a project which I am now almost certain went into the ‘directors’ pocket. If you choose to arrange your project through Workaway or Helpx be sure to do your research thoroughly. If you are keen to just get stuck in then you might be better off sticking to a reputable company such as Love Volunteers.
When choosing a project, ask yourself the following questions;
Q: What do I want to get out this?
Q: What skills do I have to offer?
Q: Is there a certain cause I am passionate about?
Q: Is it possible to choose a project which enhances my career options?
Q: Where in the world can I do the most good?
In general I tend to steer clear of volunteering projects centred around children in orphanages. I believe that unless you can commit for a few months it’s not really fair to form a bond with a child and then leave after a week. There are plenty of other projects you can get involved with involving children; leave the actual childcare to the experts.
The are literally thousands of opportunities to volunteer your time while travelling, for further inspiration on volunteering, HelpX and Workaway have a read of this piece by Two Scots Abroad!
If you are interested in teaching English abroad, really getting to know a country and its culture why not consider getting a TEFL qualification and making some money whilst you’re on the road; check out my recent article for further information.
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