I had high hopes for 2021, but it looks like I mighta spoken a touch too soon. This Covid fella isn’t rushing himself to the door quite yet.

Even still, travel IS starting to bounce back and more people are hitting the road. It may not be as grand and free as it was before, however, planes are flying, borders are opening, and sneezing in public doesn’t net you quite as many dirty looks as yesteryear. Covid or no Covid, travel is bouncing back, baby! 

But friends, we’re still not in the clear. It’s crucial now that we travel responsibly.

Safe travel and slow travel are starting to become synonymous. Quarantinis have lost their flavour and jet setting around, hither and dither, with your germies in tow is simply not OK. 

If only there was a type of travel that allowed you to stay places for extended periods ON a tight budget while responsibly connecting with communities through meaningful experiences.

Enter voluntourism.

Global voluntourism organisations have taken a hard hit with the rest of the travel industry. And with that, all the projects, communities, and people that relied on voluntourism have taken an equally devastating blow.

Now the need is greater than ever for new, eager volunteers, but is it actually a good idea for you to volunteer in these unpredictable times? 

Can you still volunteer abroad during Covid? Is it safe or is it  irresponsible? How can you get back out there and start making a difference again SAFELY?

Amigos, strap on in, the answer might shock you…

A bunch of volunteers touch hands and ignore COVID-safe procedures
Guys, stahp; all these hands are giving me anxiety.

Volunteering Abroad Is More Important Than Ever!

I lied – the answer won’t shock you. Of course, it’s still possible, responsible, and absolutely CRUCIAL for those of us who can still get out there to volunteer our time, energy, and willing hands to worthy volunteering initiatives.

You might be a little hesitant to travel abroad now. Fair cop – the world has gone bonkers over the last year-plus.

But here’s the ugly truth: this is life now. Even with everything opening up again, it will be a whole lot of time (I estimate the end of 2022 at the EARLIEST) until true herd immunity is achieved and the world can return to something a bit more “normal”. And even then, that normal will not look like any normal you’ve ever experienced.

The truth is – and I do hate saying it – but for now, this is normal. We just gotta get used to it. Because the other truth?

Life goes on.

A tunnel in Seoul with a neon lit sign: 'Life Goes On'
There’s always a light, but there’s always more tunnel.

While 2020 was busy flinging shit at the walls, life was going on, except for a lot of people, it was getting worse.

  • As Nepal’s booming tourism industry crumbled, shopkeeps and guesthouse owners packed up shop, debt looming, and went home to their villages to grow rice.
  • Myanmar’s never-ending stream of policitical unrest didn’t improve. Actually, it just got a whole lot worse.
  • And Latin America and Africa got knocked back about two decades (or more) of economic growth and devolopment. The world hungers statistics are harrowing.

The world kept going and people kept suffering.

Travel restrictions are certainly making travel a bit more of a hassle than it used to be, but there are reasons to start travelling again and people ARE out there doing it. There’s also a lot of people out there judging the hell out of anyone who dares to even dream of travelling right now. But (say it with me)… life goes on.

The world needs tourism. Countries need tourist dollars. People are going to return to living their lives because that’s how it works, no matter how much you rage against the machine. And if we’re going to be travelling again, we sure as shit can be volunteering again.

Maybe all those starving families, crumbling businesses, underfunded schools, struggling conservation projects, and understaffed farms will freak out about the germies that you’re lugging in your baggage? Or maybe, they’ll just be desperately grateful for the helping hand and to know that the important work they are trying to do has not been forgotten.

Because while the comfy side of the planet was feverishly charging towards herd immunity, zero transmissions, and normalcy, the other side realised they’d lost something that they might never get back. However much we think this has set us back, we’re still only a fraction of the whole.

So yes, volunteering during Covid is responsible. The world needs voluntourism, now more than ever. The world needs volunteers.

YOU Are Needed

As international travel circled the drain last year, it wasn’t only traditional tourism businesses that got their lights knocked out. Many organisations that rely on international volunteer forces are struggling against the bell. 

I mean, entire paid work industries that rely on foreign employees took a beating, so that’s only going to go double for free work industries.

Wildlife centres filled with abandoned animals and too few people to care for them… Farms struggling to harvest their crops with a minimal workforce (and leading to a rather ironic food wastage)… Usually, these spots could rely on volunteers to lend a helping hand – not in 2020.

The heart of voluntourism should always be on helping local communities. Volunteering is about putting something good back into the world. It is an enriching experience for you for sure, but for countless people and organisations across the world, your help is VITAL.

Street art portraying a frontline worker flipping off a COVID virus
Someone’s gotta stick it to the fuckface.

That’s the worst part about the criticisms of voluntourism from the Before Times: they focused on the few bad eggs while ignoring the untold good done by millions.

These communities still need your help, now more than ever. Volunteers always have a chance to make an impact. But now? Now, you can REALLY make a difference.

Can you save the world? Probably not. But you’re gonna fucking try.

You’re just gonna keep your hands clean while you do it. 😉

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    How to Volunteer During COVID (Responsibly)

    Amidst the stormy seas of the pandemic, voluntourism is still sailing strong. Heaps of awesome work exchange platforms are still doing all the good they do. And utilising these platforms is hands-down the BEST way to volunteer during the pandemic.

    They act as a middleman. In the regular times, they filtered bad eggs (on both the volunteers’ and hosts’ sides) from the delectable ones. And not only do they still connect all these perfectly-timed creamy softboiled eggs together, but they’re also ensuring that everyone is operating above board, abiding by Covid-safe procedures, and, of course, keeping dem filthy hands clean.

    A volunteer working in permaculture holding a sapling with dirty hands
    Except when they should be dirty.

    Finding cheap ways to volunteer abroad is a snap, and in the blurst of times, it’s a necessity. For now, sadly, gone are the days of rolling into a new town or village and just asking around, checking notice boards, and waiting for people wearing tie-dye harem pants to approach you in the park.

    Nay, for now, using a reputable online organisation is the best way to connect to meaningful volunteering opportunities.

    So then, the next question becomes… what’s the top organisation for finding volunteering opportunities?

    Enter Worldpackers!

    Easily Worldpackers. Worldpackers is one of the leading sites offering help exchange worldwide, and they rock your proverbial socks off. (And your literal socks too!)

    They’ve got volunteering leads in droves – thousands of hosts connecting thousands of working travellers all over the globe – but where they really stand out from the competitors is with their focus on community.

    Worldpackers is not just like any other work exchange site. Their main focus is creating an open and welcoming place where both travellers and hosts can meet, swap stories, connect over commonality, and just generally be rad humans. Together!

    Worldpackers’ blog features real stories from real travellers about their real experiences (including on volunteering amidst the New Normal). The academy section is smashed with EPIC tips and advice on volunteering, planning for budget travels, and even becoming a digital nomad!

    All in all…

    Promo banner image with copy plugging Worldpackers
    You’ll learn a lot.

    Oh, and one last thing I actually didn’t know until writing this post but Worldpackers both personally vets hosts to make sure they’re not buttheads-in-disguise AND they insure your trip with their own insurance. If shit hits the fan, they’ll:

    1. Offer help and support to relocate to a new host.
    2. OR reimburse you for your mishap by putting you up – free of charge – in a hostel for a few nights! That’ll give you a chance to recalibrate, make some new travel friends, and decide what’s next for the nomad in you.

    Worldpackers gives you a sincerely enriching cultural experience while helping you genuinely support locals, communities, and worthwhile projects around the world. Volunteering through Worldpackers doesn’t feel like just another opportunity to succumb to the curse of voluntourism – volunteering for photo-op and karma points to help you pick up easier at the dive bars back home.

    With Worldpackers, you’re really making a difference. You might STILL not be saving the world, but it’s a big step in the right direction. And at the end of the day, maybe the very best we can do with the tools at our disposal?

    A very happy kid to receive the rains in Kenya
    Well, maybe that’s enough.

    So What’s a Worldpackers Trip Really Like?

    Dayum, son! That’s a lot of talk-talky, but how ’bout some action?

    Presenting:

    A broke backpacker volunteering in vietnam with worldpackers
    Roaming Ralph: The Broke Backpacker Alumni

    We sent Ralph onna volunteering mission to Vietnam through Worldpackers so we could get the honest review of what a Worldpackers trip is REALLY like? Were the results tantalising?

    Guess you’ll just have to read the insider report to find out? 😉

    Read the Post!

    So, How So You Get Started Volunteering With Worldpackers?

    Signing up with Worldpackers is super easy! It’s easy for just about anyone, but it’s even easier for fellow broke backpacker because you saucy minxes score a BONUS DISCOUNT on the annual membership fee.

    Use our special Worldpackers referral link (that one right there!) or just throw the promo code BROKEBACKPACKER in at the checkout to nab $10 off the signup. That means that instead of $49/year for the basic package, you only pay $39!

    That’s a mothertrucking steal, especially considering all the money you’re saving by volunteering. Travelling for basically free is certainly NEVER the core reason to volunteer, but you damn well sure can’t pretend it’s not a grade-fucking-A cherry on top!

    PLUS (yes, there’s more ?), sign up BEFORE the end of July (2021) and you’ll receive a bonus of 3 months on top of your usual 12-month subscription. That’s 15 months total(!!!) for 20% less the price!

    But you quite literally do actually have to sign up RIGHT NOW so hurry yo’ wonderful booty up!

    If you’re even partially interested in the world of voluntering abroad, signup for Worldpackers. What have you got to lose? $39?

    That’s like, what? Four hamburgers?

    Or y’know… the fortnightly food costs for an Indian family of five. Makes ya think, hey?

    Worldpackers: connecting travellers with meaningful travel experiences.

    Why You Should Still Be a Voluntourist

    Because of the two big reasons, and it isn’t just about helping people (believe it or not). Helping people is good, but that’s just good at a localised level. The truly amazing things that we do on this planet are the things we never get to know we did.

    When you do something right, people will think you’ve done nothing at all. Perhaps you won’t even get to know.

    That kind of ego-less generosity… Those moments of humility… That’s for the greater good.

    Reason #1: Voluntourism Connects People

    Let’s be honest here: many volunteers start use work exchanges as a way to travel cheap as chips. Habitual volunteers soon realise, however, that saving a few dollars is just the bonus that comes with the experience of volunteering.

    Saving some dollaridoos should NOT be the only reason to give your precious time and energy away. On a deeper level, volunteering abroad is about finding real connections with real people and with the country that you’re exploring.

    You can visit a country or you can travel it, and volunteering is the latter. You live – generally somewhere pretty far removed from the tourist bubbles – and spend lengthier stretches integrating into local communities. Sometimes, it might just end up being a matter of family.

    Voluntourism is one of the most authentic ways to experience a country: it’s the definition of offbeat travel. It lets you witness a totally different aspect of the country more than just any regular old tourist. And those locals?

    They witness you.

    Will volunteering in India with kids hanging off him like a tree
    So smile. 🙂

    The truth is that in many places in this world, communities don’t have contact to outsiders and foreigners. Kids grow up without knowledge of what’s really out there and how much potential they truly have. Local men form skewed and unhealthy opinions of Western women through the media alone. We separate ourselves with synthetic religious and cultural tides.

    But if there was only one lesson we could all learn from the pandemic, I’d want it to be this: we actually are all in this together. We all bleed the same; we all cry the same when we lose the ones we love.

    Voluntourism brings people together that would NEVER meet otherwise. It creates conversation, understanding, and more open minds in a world that’s rushing to close them.

    Critics of voluntourism often lay blame on volunteers for their interactions with children – that they form attachments with kids before “abandoning” them. But they don’t know the full story, and neither do you.

    Maybe those kids who met foreign volunteers were inspired? Maybe they decided to become teachers, or learn English and unlock powerful career pathways, or maybe they themselves became travellers… or volunteers.

    A volunteer at an eco-project in Hokkaido plays with the children
    But I like to think the story had a happy ending. | Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar

    Ultimately, the tourist bubble and hostel life will bring you closer to other backpackers, and there’s merit in that. But if you want to connect with locals – the people you are visiting the home of – then you’ll need to actually go out and meet them. Work with them, live with them, and become a part of something bigger than yourself.

    Who knows? You might learn a thing or two. And so will they.

    Reason #2: It’s Rewarding for YOU

    There’s growth in that reward, and part of being a bonafide broke backpacker is chasing growth, even when the roads get dark.

    Y’know, sometimes, volunteering is challenging. You’re far from home – often far from people that speak your language – alone and working daily.

    As with all things, there’ll be down days. And hard days. And persevering through those rougher moments will bring reward.

    And on the days that everything’s excellent, you’re laughing in the dirt, and the sun is soaking your skin, warm in the knowledge that you’re doing good for the world. There’s reward in that too.

    BUT, as awesome as it is to feel like you’ve made some little kiddo’s/old lady’s/fellow vagabond’s day with your charitable activities, volunteer work is also a huge gift for YOU.

    By volunteering, you learn a lot of new skills, from tending permaculture veggie patches to milking goats (be firm but tender). Maybe you’ll even get good use out of the banana bread baking skills you self-taught during lockdown!

    It also teaches you about other cultures, ways of living, and standards of living. It sure as hell gives you a new perspective on both the world and what YOU are capable of. And that right there… That’s reward.

    Will volunteering in India swing two kids on his arms
    Making mad rewards AND mad gains.

    At best, volunteering gives you a sense of purpose and some sweet, sweet empowerment that many of us surely have been missing while staying in cryostasis for the past however-the-fuck-long-it’s-been. Volunteering abroad is an epic way to kick off your travels again while helping you make worthwhile use of your time.

    And if getting back out there and facing the new world scares you, good. That’s all the reason to do it more.

    Do the things that scare you: that’s how we grow.

    But Be a Responsible Voluntourist (Because COVID)

    The last year has definitely proven that we can’t take travel for granted. When you’re jetting off to new international adventures now, make sure to be a responsible traveller so that we can keep having nice things.

    Street art of two peopl "kissing" during COVID
    Photo: pobel.no
    • Don’t travel if you’re sick. Get a Covid test before getting to your placement (and make sure it’s negative, duh). Carrying the virus to small and vulnerable communities is the last thing you want to do!
    • Isolate after arrival. Some countries don’t require you to self-isolate anymore, but if you want to ensure you’re spreading love and not germs, self-isolate for a few days after arriving in a new country. At the very least, don’t go traipsing into the villages straight away and get another Covid test 72 hours after arrival.
    • Take care of good hygiene. At this point of the pandemic, this should be easy peasy… Wash your hands, use hand sanitiser, and wear a mask (when social distancing isn’t feasible.)
    • Follow country guidelines. No matter what your own opinions are, it’s crucial you follow the country’s recommendations and regulations that you’re in. It’s cool that so many countries are letting us travel at the moment – the least we can do is respect what they ask us to do. You’re visiting someone else’s home: visitors show respect.
    • Be a responsible volunteer. This is not Covid-specific advice – this is just your everyday reminder to be a good human. Vet out your prospective work exchange and make sure it’s a good place (things get especially ethically iffy when you’re working with kids or in anything animal tourism adjacent).
      And make sure you’re up for the task as well! You’re not expected to do a lot of work in exchange for housing, but it IS still work, and it’s not a great look if you peace out after a few days because you started feeling lazy.
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    Voluntourism During COVID: Spread Love, Not Germs

    With the trickles of dawn light finally breaching the horizon, it’s time to strap on your travel boots and start planning for your next trip! International travel might have become a tad trickier with extra hoops to hop through, but it is by no means impossible. If you’re willing to travel responsibly, there’s no reason you shouldn’t start planning to volunteer abroad.

    It’s downright epic that we get to travel again! I think the last year has shown all of us that you can’t take travel for granted. Shit, man… you can’t take life for granted.

    You can’t take people for granted.

    This is the lesson that you MUST keep at heart as you jet off on your new crazy adventures. Appreciate the opportunity to be able to travel and connect with new people like in the Before Times. But don’t forget everything we had to sacrifice to get here.

    Placing out the words 'We Will be Ok' with scrabble tiles on a world map
    Hold strong.

    If you’re travelling to volunteer abroad, it’s good to remind yourself why you do it exactly. Ethical voluntourism during Covid doesn’t revolve around you having an Insta-approved travel experience. It’s about who you’ll help.

    If anything good came out of this damn virus, it’s that people have become kinder and really taken it in their hands to make a difference. The amount of (local) volunteers in many countries has increased exponentially during the pandemic. The UN details this as a “surge in volunteering” with tonnes of people having taken initiatives to keep communities connected and informed.

    This humanity and kindness is an attitude you can pack in your backpack alongside your shirts and smiles. Just remember the solidarity: we ARE all in this together.

    So, yes, voluntourism during Covid is possible. And responsible. It’s the bare necessity. So get out there, be all you can be, and find those…

    A volunteer hugs a brown bear at a conservation project
    Bear necessities.

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