Volunteer Travel is a great way to see the world while also doing good. A closer look to this alternative way to travel, what it is, how it works and why you should give it a try!
You know me by now, you know travel is my biggest passion, it’s what gives me joy and my favorite way to learn. I’ve been blessed to made travel a full time job, working as a photographer in the tourism and travel industry. But the more i traveled the more I understood tourism is a very sensitive and delicate thing, it can be incredibly beneficial for developing countries and yet incredibly destructive at the same time.
Today traveling to remote places is so much easier and approachable than it used to be years ago; mass tourism is spreading fast and largely on every corner of the globe, bringing McDonalds, double-decker buses, luxury resorts and fanny packs and fucking selfie sticks everywhere along with it. So many people travel in sterilized, sealeed, pre-heated routes experiencing very little of what a country really is and that’s just not what travel should be like…Travel to me is not about seeing UNESCO sites and checking boxes on a list; Travel goes far beyond fancy hotels and instagrammable places. Travel is all about life and people and cultures. It’s about living something good behind and bringing something new back home with you.
So I decided I want to make it a mission to show you that that are many much more meaningful, conscious and sustainable ways to travel than just go somewhere to get pretty pictures to post on your social media. One of these ways is volunteering while traveling. I’m absolutely no expert on this but recently I worked with an NGOs who specializes in volunteer travel and I want to share what I’ve learned with you.
WHAT IS VOLUNTEER TRAVEL?
To volunteer abroad means to do unpaid work in a foreign country to help and support local communities or the environment. A volunteer trip is a great way to see a new country while immersing yourself in the local culture and having a positive impact on people and places.
There are many different types of volunteering organizations and an overwhelming variety of programs around the globe: education; community building; wildlife & marine conservation; women’s health, welfare, & rights; relief & Emergency; Public Health and more. There are both long term and short term programs, you can volunteer for a week or for years, obviously the longer you stay the bigger your impact will be.
HOW TO GET STARTED WITH VOLUNTEERING
With so many options available choosing a program can be hard. First you need to decide what kind of program is right for you and what destination offers that kind of program, once you have that locked down it’s time to consider a few other things, starting from understanding how ethical the organizations really are.
DO YOUR RESEARCH & ASK QUESTIONS
There are many controversies about Volunteer travel and Voluntourism, it can be a tricky subject. Even if there are a ton of NGO, governments organizations and businesses doing amazing work out there, there are also many other who operates in scammy and shady ways. That’s why it’s incredibly important to do your research before choosing who you’ll be volunteering with.
Contact the companies you think you like and ask them as many questions as you can to understand if they are the real deal or not (i.e:Where is the money going? What is expected of volunteers? etc, etc.) If you still feel uncertain ask if it’s possible to get the contact information of former volunteers and ask them directly what they think about their experience with that organization (or, stalk the organization’s tag page on instagram, and find the contacts yourself!)
PAID OR FREE?
Most volunteering program come with a price tag. When people go somewhere to volunteer there are expenses involved for the organization hosting them (food, housing, airport pick-up, staff that trains volunteers etc) so part of the money goes to cover those expenses and the rest usually goes back into the projects (if they are non-profit).
There are also many low-cost opportunities and, although it’s a lot harder to find them, free volunteering programs do exists. ‘Free’ is always a relative term, when we talk about ‘free volunteering programs’ usually it means there is no participation fee but you may still have to pay for your plane tickets, housing, food and transportation within the country. Sometimes, especially if you have specific skill the organization needs, they could offer housing and food on a bartering based agreement.
Figure out what works best for you and then find the most appropriate organization.
Once you decided what organization to volunteer with, book your trip! Start daydreaming about all the beautiful places you’ll see and the amazing people you’ll meet, and of course, as always, it doesn’t hurt if you learn a bit about the country you’ll visit and its culture prior to the trip!
Good luck and I hope you’ll have a wonderful and meaningful experience!
Have you ever volunteered abroad? share your experience below!
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