A First Timer’s Guide To Volunteering Abroad

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Last year, when I planned for my first volunteering trip to Kenya, I was super-excited about being with the tiny little ones though I wasn’t sure of many things, which I eventually got to learn with time. For all of us, I’m sure it’s the same – while we know what we want to do, we often are clueless about how to begin with. Have you ever wanted to travel and make a difference at the same time? If the answer is ‘Yes’, then here I am, to guide you about everything that will be perfect for you!

If you don’t know where to begin, I am here to tell you that volunteering on your next trip is one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. Volunteering isn’t always what you expect of it, but it can be a wonderful journey if you take the right steps towards your bigger goal. So, it is important to do your research beforehand, and sign up for a project with a trusted organization with your eyes open and to have realistic expectations about what you can achieve.

Here is your beginner’s guide to volunteering abroad – from a girl who has lived through it. Let’s dig into the details and know where to begin, how to plan it, and what to expect once you are there.

Part 1 – Getting Started

Since the thoughts of taking a volunteer trip abroad are already flickering on your mind, here are a few questions that you should definitely ask yourself before you get started. (Get a pen and a notebook, so that you can keep jotting down your reasons as you read through the questions below!)

why volunteer

Why Should I Volunteer Abroad?

While most people opt to get engaged in some local charity work or volunteer in the neighborhood projects, there must be some strong and valid reasons for you to think of taking a step out of your comfort zone and traveling abroad for volunteering. You must be knowing that volunteering abroad requires some sort of financial investment as well as a good deal of your valuable time – so what is it that’s motivating you to set out for this journey?

As you brainstorm to find your unique reasons to volunteer abroad, let me share some valuable information with you in the meanwhile. Volunteering abroad has numerous benefits – it’s like a double-sided coin where both the giver and the receiver are equally benefitted.

If you are looking forward to developing your skills and gain first-hand learning opportunities, then the international volunteer work experience and a formal civic engagement will be apt for you. On top of it, getting some hands-on work with the local community, living in local homestays, meeting travelers from across the globe and most importantly, getting out of your shell should ideally be your motivation to volunteer abroad.

What Do I Want To Do?

We all know what we love to do, isn’t it? So why not give wings to your passion and make good use of it, to spread some happiness? If you are one of those who loves to be with kids (like me!) and can spend hours with them, playing, laughing and telling them stories – then you should definitely sign up for a Child Care program, where you’ll get to do all the above! In case you are an animal lover, what can be better than a wildlife conservation program? No matter whether you are an art lover or a sports enthusiast, a nature lover or an aspiring teacher – there’s a choice for all, and you can pick a program that perfectly suits your tastes and interests.

Think about your skills and what you love to do, and consider how you can share those gifts with the world. These things you love are not hard to find, and most likely people are doing them all over the world. Think about your skills and hobbies now, and how you can help others in the process. Do you have any language skills already, or any you want to learn? Consider all avenues, countries, and ideas in this initial discovery phase. There is no wrong answer here!

When Should I Volunteer Abroad?

If you’re looking for the right time, then I must tell you, my friend, that now is the best time!

But of course, there are various things that we need to consider before choosing our volunteer trip. It entirely depends on your career plans and you need to decide when you want to go and how long you want to volunteer. For example, maybe you want to teach English in Tanzania, but you can’t commit for a long time, so you can rather sign up for a short term volunteer program in Tanzania that suits your other engagements too. Or maybe, you’d love to be a part of conservation work in Australia and figuring out how to spend maximum time in the country, so that your contribution shows effective results.

As I always say, your steps might seem small to you, but they can eventually make bigger impacts on society. Think about the days or months you can commit to, and have that in mind as you begin researching organizations that do the things you love. It will help you narrow down your destinations and programs. And for those who are planning for a gap year abroad, what can be more meaningful than getting engaged with a long term volunteering program?

Where Should I Volunteer Abroad?

That’s definitely an important question that bugged me for the longest time before I finally decided to travel to Kenya! Even though the primary goal of the trip is to volunteer, you should still pick a destination that you are interested in visiting, because there is usually some free time on the weekends for volunteers to explore the land 🙂

If there’s any country which has been there on your bucket list since forever, then now is the time to tick it off! And what can be more fun than getting to volunteer in your favorite destination and live closer to the locals, contributing towards their well being? However, I’d definitely suggest you consider the weather conditions, health precautions, and your finances before you finally choose your destination. Apart from that, also figure out which places you’d like to visit during your free time and things you wish to do – like savor the local cuisine or learn to cook authentic dishes, indulge in learning a new language, attending some local festival, so on and so forth!

This is gonna be one of the best journeys of your life, and choosing your desired destination will surely add more value to the entire tryst. No matter whether you wish to spend your days living in an elephant village in Thailand or at a childcare center in Peru, you’ll get to enjoy to the fullest.

Why Should I Volunteer Abroad With An Organization?

While you can plan a volunteer trip on your own, it’ll be a hassle-free endeavor if you join a reputed organization which has been working in this field for decades. Today, there are so many organizations out there to help you plan your trip, you just need to find the best one, which aligns with all your criteria.

Popular organizations like Volunteering Solutions will help you to have the best volunteer experience abroad, and a place to live, daily meals, 24*7 in-country support and much more. If you consider doing it all by yourself, then there will be a lot more struggle than what you can think of right now!

No matter whether you’re a student looking for a meaningful Summer Break abroad or a gap year traveler, keen to gain some first-hand work experience – Volunteering Solutions will help you to find the best program that suits your interests and ensure that by the end of the journey, you’re happy to be a part of what you’ve chosen for yourself.

We’ve nearly 200+ volunteering and internship programs ranging from Child Care, Teaching, Medical and Healthcare, Community Development, Marine Conservation, Women Empowerment, Food Waste Management and much more. Currently operating in 26 countries across the world, we’ve happily hosted more than 15K volunteers over the last 13 years.

Note: Here’s Why You Should Volunteer Abroad With Volunteering Solutions.

Part 2 – Before You Go

Once you’ve figured out the answers to the above questions and finally convinced yourself to sign up for your preferred program in your favorite destination – it’s time to get some real work done!

Volunteer abroad for budget traveling

Consider Your Budget

Some people find this strange when they get to know that they have to pay to volunteer! Well, I guess it shouldn’t surprise you ‘coz you actually pay to help. In case you’re thinking ‘Why Should I Pay To Volunteer?’, know that your money will be utilized for your pre-departure guidance, program orientation, airport pick-up, accommodation & meals, and program cost, etc.

Before you plan for your volunteer trip, make sure to save up (or fundraise if you can) and also, keep some cash with you to avoid any financial panic interfering with your time. Other than the money that you need to pay for the volunteer program, you’ll have to book your flights, get your Visa, and also for your explorations while you’re there in the host country.

Do Your Homework

It’s very important to do your research before you set sail abroad! Once you’ve finalized your program, destination & organization – it’s time to figure out how you can add more meanings to the program; which all places you can explore in the destination; and what values would you get to add to the organization you’re joining. Make sure you at least find out a little about the history, mission, work, and background of the organization before you commit to working for them.

Learn more about the country you’ll be visiting, know more about their culture as well as Dos & Don’ts, figure our the things to do in the country and also, get in touch with the organization to connect with other people who’ll join your program.

Book Your Flights & Get Your Visa

Now that you know when & where you’d love to go, it’s time to book your flights and apply for your Visa. It’s better to book in advance since that’ll help you to save a few bucks (tickets get more expensive at the last minute!) and also, it takes a considerable time to process the Visa (depending on the country you plan to visit).

Health & Safety Precautions (Vaccinations etc)

Like any other foreign trip, there are safety precautions you should take before you travel, and especially when you plan to volunteer, it becomes essential to get your vaccinations done on time and know what to bring with you. The Center for Disease Control’s website will help you find out exactly what vaccines you need and what precautions you should take for any country you may be traveling to.

Make an appointment with your doctor for a thorough health check-up and get desired advice before you set out for a considerable period. Make sure to let your volunteering organization know about specific allergies/ diseases that you might have so that the country coordinators are aware of it. Of course, if you do take regular medication, make absolutely sure you have enough on hand before you leave.

We know that it’s always better to be safe than sorry! Thus, it’s immensely important that you purchase a Travel & Medical Insurance that would protect you while you’re traveling abroad.

What To Pack?

While the excitement of traveling abroad to volunteer will keep you on your toes, you need to do mindful planning about packing the stuff before setting out for your journey. While certain things would be available at your destination, it is advisable to not take a risk and carry things from home. The trick is to accommodate all the necessary items in a way that you can still travel light, and don’t feel any burden on your shoulders!

Make a list of essentials that you’d need before you start packing. Then keep ticking things off as and when you arrange them. This way, there will be a lesser chance of missing out things and save you from panic attacks at the last minute! It’s important to arrange your travel documents (Passport, Visa, Travel insurance, Vaccination Card, etc) and make photocopies so that in case something is lost, you’d still have proof of them. Next is to pack your clothes (know that it’s not a luxury trip, and you need to carry decent comfortable clothes that you can wear while you’re at the project), slippers & shoes, your toiletries, medicines, etc.

If you get a chance to connect with any past volunteers, you can ask them about the supplies needed for the project and pack them as well. I’ve seen volunteers who take stationeries and clothes for the children at times, and it’s much appreciated.

Part 3 – Journey, Arrival & Beyond

This is it! Once you’ve gathered all the courage and taken this huge decision of making a difference, boarded the flight and traveled to another part of the world, it’s time to live the best days of your life and contribute to change!

carlos-and-Ramon-Cansino,-alex,-alvaro-Thailand

Find Yourself In A New Environment

As soon as you’ll step out of the airport, you’ll find yourself in a different world altogether! Yeah, that’s what exactly happened to me when I was in Nairobi, reading boards written in Swahili and trying to get a cab, negotiating with drivers who knew broken English!

There will be (mostly) a language barrier and cultural differences, but you must know that it shouldn’t in any way stop you from achieving your goals. When you choose to volunteer with Volunteering Solutions, there will be someone at the airport to receive you and guide you throughout your journey. In spite of that, you’ll have your own share of unfolding – to know the authentic vibes of the land and soak in the beauty that would surround you.

Your Volunteering Project

Now that you have made it to the country of your choice, make sure you are assigned to a project that somewhat fits your needs. It may not be exactly what you are looking for, because volunteering is about adjusting to the needs of those around you. Find what you like, but know you may have to do things you don’t love at times.

It is also important to be realistic in terms of what your work can achieve throughout your time there, as in most projects you will not see dramatic changes during a week or two, or even during a month-long volunteer stay. Many projects take several years to show their impact. So please know that in advance, be prepared and don’t be disheartened if you didn’t change the world in one week!

Make New Friends

Who doesn’t love to have like-minded new friends? Ah well, a volunteer trip abroad would you an incredible opportunity to befriend strangers from different parts of the world, as you collaborate together and work as a team for the project you’ve all signed up for.

Making friends with your fellow volunteers is going to be one of the best parts of this experience. So, make sure to shed off your introvert shell and open up! Smile just a little more because these people from all over the world are just as nervous and excited as you are. Connect with them in any way you can, and they will be your lifeline when you start feeling a little homesick.

Explore The Destination

There’s a reason why I mentioned earlier to consider your favorite destination for volunteering. We know that ‘All Work & No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy’ – and thus it’s important that you travel & explore extensively while you’re there in your host country. If you’re in Thailand, you must hop off to some pristine island to spend your weekends by the beaches, soaking in the tropical sun. In case you travel to Peru, you can’t miss hiking around the ruins of Macchu Pichu!

On weekdays, you’ll be free during the evenings, to explore the local markets or go pub hopping, shopping or dine out. Volunteering Solutions offers amazing weekend trips in all the destinations, and you can choose from a wide list of things to do in each place. Whether it’s the thrilling game drives in African countries or cultural tours in Asia, adventure sports or nature walks – we have it all for you. Also, you can obviously plan things by yourself and head out with your bunch of new travel mates!

Document Your Journey

Going abroad on a volunteering trip for the first time would surely be a special journey, and it’s very important that your document all your activities. Whether it’s through photos or hand-written notes, scribbles or blogging, vlogs or art – make sure that you have a record of your journey in the best possible manner, so that you can share it with the world and inspire others, as well as look back at it and cherish the memories. Keep a note of your fears and skepticisms, learnings and adventures, happiness and good deeds – and you’ll have an incredible bundle of amazing things in store for life.

Part 4 – After You Return

Once you complete your volunteering journey and head home back, you’ll receive a Certificate of Completion which will glorify your noble contribution towards a valuable project. And what else?

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Inspire Others

A big change starts with small steps and now that you’ve already taken the leap, it’s time to inspire your friends, family, and colleagues to sign up for volunteering. Tell them about your experience, whatever you faced during your work abroad, little moments of happiness, and how this entire thing changed your way to look at life. You can make a presentation or a vlog, and show it to others while narrating your inspiring story.

Boost Your CV/ Resume

Of course, you’re now ahead of your peers and it’s important that you add your volunteer experience in your CV/ Resume. Talk about your skills and learnings at interviews, mention your struggles and how you overcame them, focus on your high points and show your interviewer/ employers that you didn’t just ‘have a good time abroad’, but also developed applicable & valuable skills that will be of interest to them.

Stay Connected

Whether it’s about being in touch with your volunteering organization or the host community people, or your new friends with whom you worked during your volunteer trip – it’s important that you stay connected with them. By being in touch with the organization. you’ll be able to connect to future volunteers, guide them as and when needed, as well as stay updated about the project, etc.

Being in touch with the people from the host community will ensure the fact that you have a home away from home, and if you ever want to travel and visit them again, they’ll happily welcome you. And of course, you can think of amazing travel plans with your new friends, or visit them in their country at some point in time.

 

Now that you have browsed through this beginner’s guide, it’s time to get started! Check out our wide range of affordable & meaningful volunteering programs and get in touch with our expert Program Advisors to know more. You can write to us at [email protected] and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram!


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