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Volunteering abroad is a great way to get work experience while seeing the world.

For budget travellers, volunteering while travelling can save a ton of money on accommodations and food while making memorable connections.

2019 is said to be a big year for ‘voluntourism’ but there are some pros and cons to consider before venturing out.

I’ve spent months doing some volunteering myself, and I’ve broken it all down for you so you can decide if it’s the right option for your travels.

How to Volunteer Abroad

volunteering abroad

Volunteering abroad can be a great way to save money while travelling, and it can also lead to some amazing experiences. But where do you start?

It’s best to think about the following before deciding to volunteer abroad. This way, you’ll have a better idea of where to look for volunteering opportunities.

Pick the Destination

When it comes to volunteering opportunities, you can find one almost anywhere on the globe.

It can help to decide on the destination you want to volunteer or at least the country or the region.

If you plan on volunteering in more than one destination, be sure to plan ahead and plan out your route to get to your other locations. You wouldn’t want to have to find your way to Cambodia from France in just three days.

If you’re new to volunteering abroad, it helps to pick a location that’s easy to get to, or one that’s frequently travelled to, like Europe.

What Volunteering Abroad Opportunities are Available?

There are a variety of opportunities available in every location. You’ll be able to find volunteer activities in a wide variety of niches too.

Building, farming, and landscaping opportunities is usually what comes to mind when people think volunteering abroad, but it doesn’t end there.

There are volunteering opportunities in childcare, web design, teaching, activity instructing … the list is almost endless.

Language exchange opportunities are widely available too. No matter the language you speak, you’re likely to find someone looking to learn.

Au Pair opportunities are also common, and a popular way to volunteer abroad.

volunteering abroad opportunities

Match Your Skills to the Volunteer Opportunity

With so many volunteering choices available, which one do you pick?

The easiest answer would be to pick opportunities that match your skills.

For example, if you’re a musician, you can find opportunities that involve teaching music to children or classes. Or, if you have experience in childcare, try a babysitting or au pair opportunity.

While you’ll find a lot of opportunities in labour work, you don’t have to stick to lugging building materials around if that’s not your thing.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t reach for activities outside of your comfort zone. But don’t try to commit to jobs that you don’t see yourself enjoying. It can make the experience all the more daunting.

Where to find Volunteering Abroad Opportunities?

So where are all these volunteering abroad opportunities that I’ve been going on about?

There are a ton of organizations that can help you find volunteering opportunities.

Most of these organizations connect you to opportunities for a large fee (setting up everything for you), while others can be found through schools and universities.

I’ll focus on online volunteering abroad resources. The ones below are easy to use and some cost a small fee while others are free.

These sites may be more time consuming and will take more planning, but I find them to be much more suited to the budget traveller.

how to volunteer abroad

Workaway

Workaway is my number one go-to when it comes to finding volunteering opportunities.

Hosts all over the world post a variety of opportunities from building projects to hostel help. The website is simple, and easy to navigate, costing a small annual fee.

Workaway costs are $42 USD for a solo traveller and $54 for a couple or two friends.

Once registered, you’ll be able to reach out to hosts all over the world and plan your trip. If you don’t register, you’ll still be able to browse the website for opportunities.

This is also the chance for you to share your culture with your hosts. Chances are, they are just as excited to hear about your side of the world, as you are to experience theirs.

You’ll see options based on location, and each option will include a job description, room and board description, host description, and any feedback from past Workawayers.

You can also filter your search based on types of help, host feedback, and host availability.

I used Workaway as a first-time volunteer, and I’d recommend it to other first-time volunteers.

WWOOF

WWOOF is similar to Workaway in the sense that it connects volunteers to hosts all over the world.

Unlike Workaway, WWOOF is centred around organic farming and sustainable projects.

Their website is similar to travel booking, but you can find all the same relevant information like the length of stay, type of work, and volunteer feedback on WWOOF listings.

Unfortunately, there isn’t just one international membership for WWOOF. You’ll have to purchase a membership for each country you’ll be volunteering in.

For Canada, the membership cost is $50 (Single) and $65 (Duo). In this case, it’s best to decide on the country you’ll be travelling to first to avoid spending a ton of cash.

tips on volunteering abroad

Other Resources

Help Exchange

Help Exchange is another website made to connect volunteers to hosts around the world.

It’s free to join, but in order to contact hosts of your choosing, you’ll need to pay 20 euros for a Premier membership. If not, only hosts can contact volunteers and this can take some time.

HelpX may also have less host options than WWOOF and Workaway.

Au Pair World

Just as the name suggests, this site helps to connect au pairs with families.

Just to be clear, this type of volunteering is mostly childcare and housework.

This website is free if you’re an au pair, and I personally know some travellers who have had great success with this website.

House Carers

Into housesitting or pet-sitting? This is one of the websites that will cater to you. This website connects hosts to house and pet sitters all over the world.

With homes all over the globe, you’re sure to find the perfect housesitting gig. I really have no idea how else this works beyond that.

how to workaway

Finding the Right Job

If you’re still on board with volunteering abroad, I’m probably not making the task of picking an opportunity any easier with all the options above.

Don’t just jump at an opportunity because it’s there. There are some things to consider before contacting a host.

Consider the Job Type

The task that you pick is something that you’ll likely being doing most days if not everyday. You don’t want it to be something that you’re not sure you’ll like.

I’ll admit that I’m not the best with gardening tools, so instead, I geared my opportunity search to more childcare, media, and social positions like hostel work.

It takes a certain type of person to accept strangers into their home, and hosts on these sites are usually warm, welcoming, friendly, and thoughtful.

If you enjoy being in the company of furry ones, look for pet-care, animal care, or farming opportunities.

If you rather spend your days cooking up fresh ingredients in the kitchen, look for opportunities that include a lot of cooking like home care or restaurants.

The opportunities out there are endless – there’s no sense in limiting yourself to something you won’t like.

Think About the Location

Location is super important when choosing an opportunity. The destination you choose can depend on a variety of factors.

Looking to escape the Canadian winter? Somewhere warm might be appealing.

Or, if you’ve never been to Europe and have a love for all things historical, now may be your chance to choose a location in France or Italy.

Most importantly, the destination you choose has to make sense for you. Obscure locations will take longer to travel to, and may be more confusing.

That being said, if you’re looking for a location with less tourists, plan how you’ll get there beforehand. It can be as easy as a flight, or it can mean an extra three hours on a train and a bus after landing.

volunteering abroad

Type of Accommodations

Whether you’re volunteering for weeks or months, where you’ll be staying can play a huge factor on your decision.

If you prefer being one with nature you may be excited about staying in a tent or cabin. Or, if you prefer to be social, staying in a dorm with others may be more up your alley.

Most hosts will have pictures or at least a description of the accommodations they have for their volunteers. It’s best to check this before applying so you know what you’re getting into.

Everyone’s comfort levels and experience levels are different. If you rather peace and quiet, it’s best to skip the dorm room and opt for options with a private room or apartment.

Access to Transportation

Will there be a bus route nearby? Metro or taxis?

You won’t be working the entire time you’re abroad, so access to transportation may be important if you’re looking to get out and explore on your downtime.

Transportation will differ from location and host. If you’re staying in a city, you can expect to have a variety of transportation options available. However, rural and suburban locations can be limited.

Some hosts will mention that they give volunteers access to their vehicles or bicycles, but some have no extra transportation beyond themselves.

volunteering while travelling

Pros of Volunteering Abroad

See the World from an Insider

The best way to experience a destination is with a local. And when you’re volunteering, you’ll have the ultimate guide(s) by your side.

I was able to learn so much about the locations I was in from my hosts, which made me fall in love with each place.

Your host is likely to show you (or at least tell you) about some awesome hidden gems in their area as well as their favourite spots. It’s like having a personal tour for free!

Most of the time, it’s a sharing, caring, and social environment that doesn’t leave you with too much alone time. But it does leave you with a bigger heart and unforgettable moments.

Unforgettable Connections

The people that I’ve met while volunteering are surely considered lifelong friends. Memories with them are forever stamped in my mind.

It takes a certain type of person to accept strangers into their home, and hosts on these sites are usually warm, welcoming, friendly, and thoughtful.

Chances are, your hosts will share a passion for travel with you, and you’ll have plenty of chances to create a lasting bond.

It’s hard not to get close to the people you see and work with everyday.

Saves You Money While Travelling

Food and accommodation take up the brunt of travel expenses, and as humans, we do have to eat and sleep.

Since most of these volunteering opportunities include food and accommodation, you’ll be saving a ton of money on these costs.

volunteering opportunities

Learn New Skills

Even if you’ve signed up for a job that you’re familiar with, chances are, you’ll be presented with a number of chances to try new things.

For example, I tried surfing while volunteering in Spain, and woodcarving while volunteering in France.

You can never tell where your tasks will take you, and oftentimes, it’s to an opportunity to try something new!

Exchange Cultures

Since you’ll be staying with a local, you’ll be immersed in their culture; much more so than if you were staying in a guesthouse or hostel.

Hosts have taught us so much about their culture from the way they cook, the events we go to, and the celebrations that come up during our time volunteering.

This is also the chance for you to share your culture with your hosts. Chances are, they are just as excited to hear about your side of the world, as you are to experience theirs.

Cons of Volunteering Abroad

Minimal Privacy

Since you’ll be spending most of your time on someone else’s property, you won’t be getting much privacy.

Even if you have your own room, it can feel daunting to not have your own space. Depending on the job, it can also be daunting to have to adhere to someone else’s schedule for the majority of your time.

volunteering jobs

It’s Not a Vacation

Volunteer opportunities abroad are not free vacations. You’ll be required to do work.

If you’re thinking of lazing on the beach all day, these opportunities may not be for you.

Depending on the job, you’ll likely have plenty of free time outside of volunteering to enjoy your surroundings.

Feel free to request a day off if there’s an event or special occasion you want to attend. Hosts are usually flexible.

There Are Costs Involved

Even if you were hoping for this to be a free vacation, there are still expenses to be paid on the volunteer’s end.

While you’ll be saving money on food and accommodation, there are other factors like the cost of your plane ticket that will be left up to you.

How Much Does Volunteering Abroad Cost?

On that note, how much does volunteering abroad actually cost?

Transportation is what you’ll be paying for most, so it all depends on where you go.

While flying to Australia from Canada would cost quite a lot, flights to Europe are getting much cheaper.

You can even stay within the country if you wanted to, it’s all up to you!

You will also have to consider extra transportation costs that might be included in getting to your destination. Should you need to take a bus from the airport, be sure to budget for that as well.

If you’re travelling just to volunteer, your costs will be lower than those who include volunteering as a part of their adventure.

You should also consider the cost of any extra documentation needed to enter your destination, and your departure ticket if you haven’t purchased a round trip flight.

Things to Ask Your Host

Talk About Food

While food is usually provided, there are cases when it isn’t. The host will usually mention this on their profile but it’s best to confirm so you can budget for any loose ends.

gap year jobs

Another important thing to note to your host is your diet. If you’re allergic to anything, you’ll want your host to know, so they can exclude it from any meals.

If you don’t eat meat, only eat fish, or are vegan, you’ll want to note this to your hosts as well. Some may even be excited to learn new ways of cooking.

Confirm the Length of Time

Each opportunity is different. Some hosts are flexible and let you pick when you’ll be available, while others have a set time in mind.

The length of your volunteering can be days, weeks, or months on end so be sure to make it clear how long you’ll be available, or how long they need a volunteer for.

Arrival

Will your host be meeting you at the airport? Or will they greet you at a bus station across town?

Confirm with your host where you’ll be meeting them when you first arrive to avoid confusion. In any case, be sure to have their contact information handy.

Visas and  Travel Insurance

Do your research on if you’ll need on a Visa or other type(s) of documentation for your destination.

If your destination requires a Visa, be sure to handle all of this way before departure.

Travel insurance is great to have and is often cheap for short trips abroad. It’s not required to get into many countries, but good to have, especially if you’ll be doing outdoor and labour work.

how to gap year

Should You Volunteer Abroad?

Volunteering abroad is a unique way to travel. One that not only saves you money, but that opens you up to some amazing experiences.

Volunteering isn’t for everyone. Most of the time, it’s a sharing, caring, and social environment that doesn’t leave you with too much alone time. But it does leave you with a bigger heart and unforgettable moments.

Would you or have you tried volunteering abroad?

Thinking of France? Read my local guide on Paris – perfect for budget travellers.

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