Updated: 03/31/19 | March 31th, 2019
Travel is an amazing platform for personal development. It’s a life-changing set of experiences, opening your eyes to different cultures and new (sometimes challenging) ideas.
Just as you learn about the world, you also learn about yourself.
And that’s priceless.
But just as important as personal development is, sometimes it’s equally important to give back to those places that you visit.
Volunteering internationally is one of the best ways to do that. Volunteering abroad lets you see the world while giving back to people and places in need. It’s enriched both my life and my travels over the years, and it’s something I encourage every traveler to try at least once.
Here are nine reasons why you should make volunteering a part of your next backpacking trip:
1. You Can Get Involved in the Local Community
As a volunteer, you’ll often find yourself well off the tourist trail and immersed in a world that a traveler passing through would never experience. You’ll be able to have a much deeper cultural experience, one far beyond anything offered by your standard travel guide. This might entail invitations into people’s homes, to weddings, trips to beautiful spots that aren’t in the pages of your guidebook, and getting to participate in local events as the only foreigner in attendance. It may be challenging at times, but it will be equally as rewarding if you take the plunge!
2. It’s a Great Way to Make New Friends
As a typical budget traveler, chances are you meet lots of other travelers during your adventures but not as many locals as you’d like. Volunteering is a great way to fix that. Spending a bit of time volunteering will allow you to meet all sorts of people — including tons of locals — you would never have otherwise crossed paths with. When you’re working together towards a common goal it’s easy to make friends.
3. You’ll Become More Socially Conscious
Often volunteering will be done in parts of the world that wrestle with extreme poverty. it’s not uncommon to see people living on less than you might spend on a coffee back home. While it will likely lead to some culture shock, living differently from your day-to-day life at home could help you to reassess your priorities and become more socially conscious.
4. You’ll Gain Work Experience
Volunteering of any kind looks great on your resume and international volunteering looks great for anyone interested in development work, disaster relief, teaching, social work, and many other careers. Sure, it’s not paid work experience, but it will give you something to pad out your resume, which is especially helpful for students or recent graduates.
5. You Can Learn a New Language
Spending time immersed in a foreign community is a great opportunity to pick up the local language. If you’re volunteering in a remote area, you’ll have plenty of people who can’t speak English to practice with. Forced immersion is the fastest way to improve your language skills, and while it might sometimes be frustrating, you’ll improve your skills in leaps and bounds!
6. It’s a Great Way to Save Money
While this is more of a selfish reason, it’s definitely still worth mentioning. If you’re able to find a volunteering opportunity where living expenses are covered, you probably won’t spend much money during your stay. Volunteering for weeks or months at a time could allow you to live more cheaply than you would at home, giving you a chance to extend your travels much longer than the average budget traveler.
7. You’ll Get Fit
Not all volunteering opportunities involve physical work, but there are plenty out there for you if you’re interested in getting sweaty. Disaster relief work and farm work are both great for getting fit and challenging yourself physically.
8. You Can Have a Base for More Traveling
Volunteering isn’t all hard work, and often you’ll be given evenings and weekends off. This will give you plenty of time to explore the region and see everything it has to offer. Having a base for slow travel is a great way to get the local experience travelers so often talk about. You’ll be able to go deep and get a much more nuanced picture of the destination.
9. You’ll Be Helping People in Need
With all the other benefits you get from volunteering, it’s easy to forget the biggest one of all: the satisfaction that comes from helping people in need. While people have varying motivations for volunteering, one thing they all have in common is that they’re helping people in need, and that brings a great sense of satisfaction.
Tipsand Resources for Volunteering Abroad
If you’re looking to volunteer abroad, here are a few helpful tips you’ll want to keep in mind:
- Learn some of the language before you go. Even if people there speak English, you’ll want to minimize the language barrier as much as possible. Use an app like Duolingo to give yourself a head start.
- Do a trial run. If you’re not sure if volunteering abroad is for you, try volunteering closer to home. You won’t have to deal with the culture shock and you’ll get a bit of a sense of what volunteering on a regular basis is like.
- Find a project you’re interested in. If you hate gardening, don’t volunteer on a farming project. If you love to be outdoors, don’t volunteer to do office work. Try to align your interests with the projects you volunteer with. This will make them much more enjoyable for you.
- Do your due diligence. Unfortunately, there are many groups and charities out there that do more harm than good. Do your research and talk to people who have done what you’re about to do. Make sure the project you’re wanting to work on is ethical and legitimate.
- Make sure you have all your shots and vaccines. Visit a travel clinic before you go to make sure all your shots are updated. Many countries need proof of certain vaccines (like Yellow Fever) so make sure you’ve prepared accordingly.
- Buy travel insurance. While the odds of something going wrong is slim, it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
If you’re looking for a way to travel slow, save money, and give something back then volunteering abroad is for you. There are lots of people out there who need your help and plenty of local organizations to volunteer with.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to pay thousands to volunteer somewhere as long as you’re willing to do your own research. It may be challenging, but it will be incredibly rewarding.
Make the effort to make volunteering a part of your next backpacking trip. You won’t regret it!
How to Travel the World on $50 a Day
My New York Times best-selling paperback guide to world travel will teach you how to master the art of travel so that you’ll get off the beaten path, save money, and have a deeper travel experience. It’s your A to Z planning guide that the BBC called the “bible for budget travelers.”
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- SafetyWing (best for everyone)
- Insure My Trip (for those 70 and over)
- Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)
Want to travel for free?
Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation. They are what keep me traveling so much for so little. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.
Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.