Part of traveling is giving back to the communities that teach us so much. Volunteering while you are traveling or traveling specifically with the purpose of volunteering is a great way to be a responsible traveler and give something back to people around the world. As travelers, we take so much from the places we visit. Giving back some of our time is the least we can do.
Volunteering is a unique way to learn about the culture of a country. You’ll get to learn about critical issues and problems facing a region and observe how the locals deal with them. It will give you an understanding of what problems a country prioritizes.
Volunteering can give you a new perspective on many of the crucial issues we often hear so abstractly about in the media. You can learn about environmental issues by volunteering with elephants in Thailand. You can learn about orphanages and child poverty by volunteering in Africa or Cambodia. You can learn about health issues by volunteering in medical clinics around the world. Learn about education by being a teacher abroad. Or help with disaster relief when it occurs. The possibilities are endless.
Generally, volunteering overseas is pretty easy. It simply requires contacting the right aid and volunteer agencies and setting up a schedule to come over and volunteer. Sometimes, especially in Southeast Asia, it’s even easier – you can simply show up and offer your services.
One mistake I often see potential volunteers make when they’re trying to volunteer overseas is that they sign up with agencies like I-to-I or Cross Cultural Solutions. These companies charge you a lot of money to send you overseas, and they usually keep most of it for “administrative fees.” Moreover, you usually have to pay for room, board, and your flights on top of the money you give them. I’m not saying these organizations are deceitful, but why would you pay someone to let you do something for free? Paying to volunteer just doesn’t make sense.
The places you would go to volunteer would likely take you if you just showed up. Organizations that need volunteers don’t turn them away. I’d rather give my money to them directly than hand it over to some company who is going to charge me a “fee”. You can find a million organizations around the world that will let you volunteer without ever paying them anything. They want your time and are more than happy to have you there helping out. In most cases, you’ll still have to get yourself there at your own expense and pay for living costs, but you would have to do that anyways. Take the money you would give to these agencies and hand it directly to the people.
The best and biggest example of a volunteer agency in the U.S. is the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps is a government organization that sends people around the world to do development work in third-world countries. After you complete the application and interview process with the Peace Corps, they will ship you off to volunteer in some exotic country that really needs your help. And you don’t pay anything. In fact, they pay you. If you complete your two-year contract, you can get a portion of your school loans paid off and receive a few thousand dollars.
In Thailand, there are elephant conservation organizations up north that will take you. In Cambodia, orphanages will have you as long as you will stay. Friends of mine volunteer their nursing skills in Haiti and Africa. A fellow digital nomad volunteers her time with the group HODR (Hands On Disaster Response) whenever she is needed. And none of these places ask for money from volunteers. There are no fees involved. These places need the help and will not turn you away.
If you want to donate money and volunteer, go directly to the volunteer organizations themselves, not through third-party businesses.
Volunteering is a great way to take time out from your sightseeing and partying to give back to the communities, countries, and greater world that has given you so much on your travels. One of the excuses people give about why they don’t volunteer is that they never feel like they have time. However, while traveling, you have plenty of time, and plenty of opportunities. It’s something I hope you consider deeply.
If you are looking to volunteer abroad, here are some websites and organizations that can help you in your search and place you in spots around the globe:
It should also be noted that none of these companies will charge you a lot of money or a fee for volunteering.
Still need convincing? Here are 9 great reasons to volunteer on your trip.