Updated: Oct 13
Everyone dreams of travelling the world. Few of us leave a lasting impact to help the world while we travel.
It was in 2011 that I decided I wanted to volunteer abroad, but it was only after many years of attempting to go that it finally became a reality. In June 2018 my parents and I set out on a journey of a lifetime to Fiji, where we volunteered in a kindergarten for 2 weeks whilst living with the most wonderful host family. We travelled around Fiji using the local buses and spent our weekends and some afternoons exploring the islands.
If you have been following my journey so far, you’ll know that I fell in love with travel because it allows me to connect with and experience different cultures. For me, the ultimate goal when travelling is to relate with the locals and really understand how it is to live in said destination. Volunteering abroad provides the best experience possible to achieve all of that and more!
However, the process can feel somewhat perplexing if you don’t have a set vision. Below I have compiled some handy tips to help you begin planning your trip of a lifetime.
First of all, ask yourself why you want to volunteer abroad. If the answer is just to use it as an excuse to travel around a bit, I’m sorry to take break it to you, but you’re not doing it for the right reasons.
Rather, you should think about how it will help you grow as an individual, as well as whether you are ready for the responsibility that comes with travelling abroad (perhaps on your own).
The most important passion you should hold within in you though, is the want to help those less fortunate. Remember, not all countries have the privilege of free health care and other benefits (as we do here in the UK). Volunteering abroad is going to open your eyes to the reality of how others live day to day and you must be flexible enough to adapt to any conditions thrown at you.
Some people may be led to believe that volunteering abroad is only for those willing to travel solo, well that is clearly false - as I mentioned at the beginning, I volunteered abroad with my parents. Though, that was not always the intention, when I first set out to volunteer abroad, I was asking all my friends and cousins. There is no rule saying who is and isn’t allowed to experience such an opportunity – although some organisations do have age restrictions, so be sure to check these out before going ahead!
Once you’re certain that volunteering abroad is the right path for you, think about the type of project you’d like to be involved in. What skills do you have, what are your favourite hobbies and what you are passionate about? Remember this is also a learning opportunity, you are not required to have a degree or be an expert in the field you choose. You are there to share and build your skills with other like-minded individuals. You will be given a cultural and safety orientation, along with an induction to the project before you officially start.
Also keep in mind that if you are going with others, that you find a project you all agree on!
A few project options I came across when doing my research:
The number of destinations you are able to choose from can be narrowed down by the type of project you choose. This can be a good thing or a bad thing: good because you have less destinations to choose from, making it easier to select where you will be heading and bad because, maybe the country you had hoped to volunteer in doesn’t provide the project you want to experience. If the latter is the case, don’t worry too much – there are multiple organisations offering these kinds of experiences, one of them is bound to have what you are looking for! My top tip is to have a back-up option just in case, this will become clearer in the next paragraph.
This is the crucial deciding factor on which organisation you are going to go ahead and book with. Be sure to check what is included and what is not: flights, insurance, accommodation, food and transportation are the main and most expensive components of any trip; knowing what you’ll have to pay for in addition to what is included and whether you are able to source these separately for a cheaper rate is well worth researching in advance.
Don’t forget to factor in the costs of visas and any vaccinations needed, as well as personal expenses such as buying souvenirs and booking any other sight-seeing activities whilst you’re away.
While you may feel overwhelmed by the amount of money volunteering abroad can cost, don’t forget that this will more than likely be a once in a lifetime trip that will help yourself, others and the country you go to in the long run. Plus, many of the organisations provide you with options on how to get the funds needed, including fundraising ideas, scholarships and grants – to name a few.
Most projects run for a minimum of 2 weeks, but there is no real limit to how long you can spend volunteering abroad. For example, you could turn it into a gap year, a career break spanning over several months or simply a summer long experience. Just take into account again, all the costs I mentioned above, as the price of the project does increase the longer you spend in a country. Saying that, it can also be cost effective to stay for longer – for example if you are going to the other side of the world. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “But you only went to Fiji for 2 weeks!” This is simply because we had to get back for a last-minute family wedding, if we could, we would have definitely spent longer over there!
No matter how long you decide to go for, once find out how many hours/days you are expected to work for and how much free time will you have to explore the destination. You will then be able to plan your time wisely in order to make the most of it!
The two main types of accommodation you will be offered are a homestay or a volunteer house. Which one you will be placed in will generally depend on your group size, destination and any personal requirements. In a homestay you will live with your host family and usually other volunteers – though they may be part of a different project. If you are placed in a homestay, it is crucial that you respect and engage in any customs or traditions the family may follow. For example, our host family in Fiji would not eat meat for two days per week – though they only enforced this in the house. This can vary upon each family and country, so don’t hesitate to ask if you need anything clarified. In a volunteer house, you will more than likely be sharing a room with another volunteer. Kitchen and dining areas tend to be communal and bathroom arrangements can vary. If you prefer to have your own space, simply talk to a member of the organisation who will do their best to support you so that you have the best experience possible.
Do keep in mind that the destination you choose may not have the same level of luxury you are used to, so be prepared for potential power cuts, bucket baths and the odd creepy crawly.
It is also appreciated that you try local delicacies and learn a few basic words in the native language spoken in the destination you are visiting.
I hope you found this guide helpful for whenever you decide to give volunteering abroad a go! If you have any further questions about volunteering abroad, please feel free to reach out via the contact form located in the about section.
Finally, I will leave you with the names of a few websites that I researched into before deciding which was the right fit for me (us):