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Tips for Volunteering in Exchange for Free Travel

Volunteering abroad presents opportunities to not only see other parts of the world, but to really immerse yourself in a new culture while making a difference and learning new skills. It is also an option for anyone who wants to explore the world but doesn’t have funds to go very far. Volunteering is often a more emotional experience than traveling for fun, so read the following tips for lessons from experienced volunteers.

Research the organization. The best way to get a feel for a volunteer organization is to speak with others who have already worked with the organization. Don’t be surprised if there are costs to volunteer; many organizations charge fees, including room and board. Before you agree to anything, ask for a written breakdown of the fees, as well as the departure and return schedule, transportation, accommodation, and meals.

Culture shock is common. First-time volunteers often feel overwhelmed and depressed by the dire circumstances they suddenly find themselves in. The change one person can make is limited, but don’t get caught up in the idea that your effort is futile. Remember, all change begins with small steps, so don’t get lost in the big picture. Instead, focus on the small, positive changes you are making.

Keep an open mind. Mentally prepare yourself to adapt to the circumstances, rather than trying to enforce your own way of doing things. Learn the language, adopt local traditions, and embrace the mindset of the people you are helping. Also, don’t step on the organization’s toes by assuming you know best. Accept that they have more experience than you do, so stick with their procedures.

Record your experience. Don’t lose the unique perspective gained from volunteering abroad once you return home. Writing in a journal is a cathartic way to deal with the conflicting and extreme emotions that are bound to come up during your volunteer experience. Recording the daily events of your adventure will keep the entire experience vivid in your memory long after you sink back into your daily routine.

Low Cost Worldwide Volunteer Opportunities: 

WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms: Volunteers help organic farmers in exchange for food, accommodation, and the opportunity to learn about sustainable lifestyles. WWOOF organizations usually charge a small fee to hosts and volunteers. In order to get the most from your volunteer experience be sure to ask your host the following questions: How many hours will I work? What kind of work will I be doing? Do I need to speak a different language? How long is the position available for?

Help Exchange: HelpX brings together hosts who offer food, lodging, and work to travelers that would like an in-depth cultural experience gained by staying with locals and learning practical skills. Work opportunities range from farming, fishing, and bed and breakfasts. The volunteer typically works an average of 4 hours per day in exchange for free accommodation and meals.

Peace Corps: The Peace Corps requires a commitment of 27 months to the volunteer placement and is only open to U.S. residents. Based on individual skill sets volunteers choose from six program areas: education, youth and community development, health, business and information and communications technology, agriculture, and environment.

United Nations Volunteers: The UN offers positions ranging from healthcare and economic development to assisting communities after natural disasters. Many volunteer opportunities are open only to experienced professionals, but the UN also provides links to hundreds of international NGOs and QANGOs that are looking for help in similar fields on a less formal basis.