How to Volunteer Your Way Around the World

0 Posted by - July 13, 2010 - Life

Today’s guest post is from Kirsty from Nerdy Nomad and besides earning her income online, she dedicates much of her time to volunteering in various countries.  She’s an inspiration to me and I hope this post inspires more traveling volunteers.  (That’s Kirsty in the photo below – top/left, volunteering in Haiti).

volunteering, guest post, how-to, inspiration travel

When people imagine what their life would be like if they earned a passive income and were able to live anywhere in the world, their vision probably doesn’t look anything like mine. My guess is that most people would picture their days spent in paradise pursuing their hobbies, sunning themselves on the beach, exploring their new home and tapping away on their laptop from time to time.

I would bet that these paradise locations probably never include Haiti or Bangladesh and I also doubt that waking up at 7am to shovel rubble for eight hours a day, six days a week in the blistering sun in Sumatra probably doesn’t rank as an ideal way for a digital nomad to spend their time. It certainly wouldn’t have made my list back when I was dreaming of living this lifestyle but, now that I am, I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

I have spent almost 12 months our of the past two years doing disaster relief volunteer work and I’m hooked. I want to share my experiences with as many people as possible so this post is meant as a short guide to including volunteering as a part of your next trip.

Choosing a Volunteering Experience

There are lots of options for giving your time in many different areas with all sorts of organizations operating within each. Take some time to consider what type of work you would like to do but also consider what sort of organization will be a good fit. Consider your skills and where they would be a good fit. If you are an unskilled volunteer you will have more options but be less in demand.

There are opportunities in several fields but the main international volunteering opportunities fall into one of three categories: development, conservation and wildlife and disaster response. Development work includes things like education, health and nutrition, construction and working with children. Conservation work includes environmental conservation, farming and working with animals. Disaster response work is where my passion lies and this will see volunteers helping out after major disasters either in a first-response role (searching for victims) or in the months after working to help those affected.

The early planning stages take more than deciding what type of work you would like to do and where. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What cause do you want to help?
  • How are you able to help?
  • In what part of the world do you want to volunteer?
  • When and for how long o you want to volunteer?
  • What do you want to get out of the experience?
  • Do you require support at home or in your home country before you leave?

Once you have a good idea of the when, where and what you will want to take a look at different organizations. Just because there are places out that there will accept you as a volunteer to do the work you want, it doesn’t mean that they’re the right fit for you. Check to see what they will ask of their volunteers: specific skills, work hours, days off, language abilities, etc. Also consider whether they have a religious or political agenda and, if they do, make sure if fits with your own ideals. Transparency is important so if they’re secretive about their operations, you might want to reconsider. Also take note of any rules or curfews they may have in place and whether they are okay with you.

Finding a Free or Cheap Volunteering Opportunity

The main reason I have found for people not volunteering on their travels is that they can’t find opportunities that don’t cost a crazy amount of money. The good news is that there are plenty of free and cheap volunteering opportunities out there. The bad news is that finding them can be time-consuming and frustrating. Just do a Google search for anything with the word ‘volunteering’ in it to see what I mean. You’re likely to be presented with what seem to be a lot of promising results but, when you take a closer look at each, you will find that they are likely to cost a lot of money. Volunteering is big business and loads of middleman-type companies have popped up over the years that promise to pair volunteers with experiences of their choice – for a fee. Most people I have met would love to volunteer but they aren’t willing to pay thousands to do it.

So how do you find these free and cheap volunteering opportunities? Word of mouth is the best way to find opportunities that have been tried and tested. Take note of opportunities mentioned by friends or people you meet on your travels but note that word of mouth doesn’t need to happen in person. Ask for recommendations on online message boards as well. Blogs are another way to get first-hand accounts and it’s how I found my first volunteering placement with Hands On Disaster Response. I was looking through Travelpod blogs for ideas for what to do in The Philippines, the first stop on my trip, and I came across someone who volunteered with them. The project in The Philippines was over but I bookmarked their site and took a bit of a leap of faith when I followed them to Bangladesh a month later.

Google and the other search engines have been saturated with the pay-to-volunteer companies but that doesn’t mean you can’t still use them. Instead of searching for terms like ‘volunteering in Kenya’ or ‘volunteering with children’, try to narrow your focus and go for something like ‘working in orphanages in Nairobi’ and so on. Be creative with your searches and you should find a few gems.

Good hostels usually have their finger on the pulse of the city or area and their bulletin boards are often filled with interesting experiences. If you want to do some research from home, gather a list of hostels and contact them to see if they know of any local volunteering opportunities.

There are also loads of websites claiming to offer free and cheap volunteering opportunities. Some charge a fee, some are cheap, some have a few listings and some have many. True Travellers is one that has a great reputation and around 150 free or cheap listings all over the world. Volunteer South America is a simple but excellent resource if you’re heading to that part of the world and the same goes for Real Volunteer Thailand.

Just Do It

Volunteering has added so much to my travels and to my life that I sometimes feel as though I get more out of it than I’m able to give back. It’s a great way to get really involved in a community in a meaningful way and learn so much about yourself, the place you’re visiting and you will probably even come away with a variety of new skills.

If you go into a volunteering placement knowing your own motivations, without too many expectations and with a bit of preparation then you are bound to come away having had a remarkable experience. I can’t imagine a trip without a stint as a volunteer and I encourage everyone I meet to give it a go. You won’t regret it!

About the author

Kirsty is the author of the blog Nerdy Nomad and she’s recently released an ebook called The Underground Guide to International Volunteering.  You can read more about how to volunteer in other countries by visiting her site.

  • http://www.uncorneredmarket.com Audrey

    Kirsty, I’ve referred a lot of people to your website and ebook for help on where to get started with volunteer work. I really like the practical approach you take so people have tools to find the right opportunity and how to manage expectations. As you know, sometimes going to a place and finding something locally is the best option.

  • http://www.ramblingtart.com/ Krista

    I love this so much! :-) I’ve done pleasure travel and volunteer travel and they are both treasured memories. I’m so glad you’re doing this, investing in your life AND the lives of others.

  • http://www.trippingwithkids.com Lora (Tripping with Kids)

    Great timing, I have been looking at finding opportunities to do this as a family. With two little ones, I’m not sure how to make it work yet, but I love the different ideas that Kristy has. I’m a new fan, Kristy!

  • http://MonkeyBrewster.com Cornelius Aesop

    It’s nice to hear that their are plenty of cheap and inexpensive opportunities out there. I’ve been disheartened while browsing through volunteer opportunities that cost in the thousands and that doesn’t include flight cost there and sometime the cost of living there either.

  • http://www.noplacelikehere.com Cris Campos

    Coincidence or not, your post arrived at the moment I’ve been looking for this.
    I can tell, it’s not easy to find good information about this on the internet, when you do a search most of the results are companies trying to sell expensive packages.

    Thank you so much, Kirsty and Christine.

  • http://www.lifestyleignition.com Mark Lawrence

    Volunteering has so many positive attributes that these commercial interests diminish. It can be disheartening in a search to see that it costs thousands to go volunteer somewhere. I mean really?! I think these experiences are more catered to the “vacationer volunteer” or someone who wants to have a specific experience and know everything up front beforehand. This post is great as it highlights another way to volunteer without the middleman. This provides for a more rewarding experience along with another way to travel and experience life without having to shell out thousands.

  • http://www.lahoredesign.blogspot.com Shana

    Hi,
    The UN Volunteer site also lists opportunities, both online and onsite.

    Here’s a link:

    http://www.onlinevolunteering.org

    God Bless,
    Shana

  • http://www.nomadicchick.com/ Nomadic CHick

    I’m about to volunteer in India – in November. Just came back from an intensive orientation on what to expect. I truly think this experience will alter my perceptions in ways I can’t even fathom yet. My motto? Just go with it. Great article!!

  • http://www.mybeautifuladventures.com Andi

    Definitely inspirational!!! I wish there were more people in this world like you. Keep up the amazing work!

  • http://www.nerdynomad.com Kirsty

    Thanks for all the positive feedback, guys! I’m glad this post has come at a good time for some of you and I hope it helps you find a place that needs your help without shelling out ridiculous amounts of money.

    Thanks for the UN link, that would be a great one for people to check out.

    Nomadic Chick I would love to hear how your time in India goes.

  • http://www.budgetyourtrip.com Bryan

    This is really terrific, and will hopefully inspire a lot of people! Traveling teaches us that there are so many people out there that don’t have the luxurious lifestyle that we have, and it is important to give back.

  • http://www.myvacationrentalguide.com/USA/Alabama.aspx?Id=5&Level=2 Alabama condo Rentals

    Hi friend this is your most important post.I really like the practical approach you take so people have tools to find the right opportunity and how to manage expectations.

    Thanks
    Coddy

  • http://www.theqfamilyadventures.com Amy @ The Q Family

    You definitely inspire me to do more. I think you have hit the nail on the reason most good intention to volunteer doesn’t turn up. It’s very time consuming and hard to find a great organization that doesn’t require a lot of money. Thanks for the resource!

  • http://scottnordquist.wordpress.com/ Scott

    I just finished a seven month volunteer experience with Quetzaltrekkers in Guatemala and can´t say enough great things. It´s a way to live in a country and experience through a different perspective. I´m working on updating more opportunities on my blog http://scottnordquist.wordpress.com/job-resources/

  • http://www.traveljunkiejulia.com Julia Dimon

    You’re so right, finding volunteer opportunities that don’t cost an arm and/or leg can be a problem, so thanks for pointing the way to some other options!

    I actually wrote my own guide to volunteering abroad; you can check it out at http://www.traveljunkiejulia.com/a-how-to-guide-to-volunteer-vacations/#more-22

    If you get a chance, please stop by my site…it’s got a lot of information about how to get the most out of your travels!

  • http://www.footprintsofabackpacker.com/blog Sarah

    Thanks for this Kirsty. It’s great to finally have some guidance as to how I could volunteer without it costing me thousands to do so. I was particularly interested to hear about hodr as it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but was always under the impression that you needed to be particularly skilled to be of interest to them (i.e. a doctor). I’ll definitely be looking into how I can incorporate some volunteering into my next trip.

  • http://www.vossdufourworldtour.com Johanna

    Kristy–Thanks so much for your inspiration. Just got back from an 11 month RTW trip with my boyfriend and the next one will include way more volunteering opptys.

    Keep up the great work.

    Johanna
    http://www.vossdufourworldtour.com

  • http://restorationnation.org/ Beth Partin

    I just want to say that I admire both Kirsty and Christine for how they’re living as travelers. I hope someday (maybe next year, traveling around the US) to emulate them. Also, thanks for the volunteering websites. I’ve bookmarked them for future reference.

  • http://www.Travel-Writers-Exchange.com Rebecca Travel-Writers-Exchange

    Volunteering your way around the world is a great idea, especially for recently graduated high school and college students. Before starting college, recently graduated high school kids can see the world and help out at the same time. It would also give them time to think about what it is they really want to pursue in college. And, maybe they’ll learn something about themselves along the way.

    College graduates would benefit from volunteering because it could complement their chose profession or help them discover themselves along the way.

  • http://www.bookitnow.com Ralph

    This is so great of you guys to be doing volunteer work all over the globe. If you want to spread more information, join us at World Wide Travel Blog Party and you might meet other people who would be interested with what you do. Kudos to all of you! :)

  • http://www.TravelingGreener.com Sonya

    Amazing resource for volunteering around the world! Thanks so much for sharing these helpful tips and website.

  • Advocacy Through Filming and Screening Uganda (AFSU)

    This is so good for us mostly new local Non gov.ernmental organization(NGOs) in Uganda since we volunteers at no cost so that we can share with them to make a change in our local community.
    We love all volunteers to work with us throughout the year

  • http://www.awanderingsole.com Laura

    Kirsty,

    I love following along on your site with your travels. As a fellow traveler/volunteer I’m glad to see you posted a link for Thailand volunteers, as I haven’t planned anything for SE Asia yet. Thanks!

  • Pingback: Travel Deals and News – August 3, 2010 – Free Tours Around the World, Learning Language from the Internet, Scariest Airports — NoDebtWorldTravel.com

  • Cecília

    We have some opportunities for volunteers. It’s not necessary any tax, just a very cheap help with the cost of lodge, food and local transport.
    We are located in Sao Paulo – Brazil.

    • Basil Konyuy

      I will really love to be a volunteer in any part of the world.I am really interested in been part of the program-me.
      thanks

  • http://www.truetravellers.org Andrew Wahba

    Thanks Kristy. There is a lot of useful information in this article.

    For me, I often like to just wing it. If you have the time and a sense of adventure you can always find something to do when you get to a location you like. This gives you the opportunity to get a better feel of what you are committing to.

  • http://www.fmacolombia.weebly.com Mariposas Amarillas

    As a tiny grassroots organisation in Colombia, we at Mariposas Amarillas rely completely on our volunteers – we literally could not exist without them. So we’d like to say a huge thankyou to all the travellers who take the courageous step of volunteering abroad, it is very much appreciated!

  • http://www.heeals.org/ Gagan

    Dear All ,

    Explore INDIA as a Volunteer .
    We have Volunteer & Gap Year Opportunity in INDIA .

    Those who want to join our Projects for social causes, can visit our web : http://www.heeals.org/volunteer

    or mail us at : communications@heeals.org

    with best wishes from India
    Gagan

    • Basil Konyuy

      I will really love to be a volunteer in India or any part of the world.I have always dream of Volunteering some day.please give me this opportunity.
      thanks