A quick Google search for advice on volunteer travel will result in thousands of articles that leave your head spinning and maybe a bit more confused than when you started. You may read phrases like, “The world is waiting for you!” or “When in doubt, travel.” that leave you thinking, “But how?” We are big proponents for volunteer travel, and we believe that everyone can do it if they want to, but over the years we’ve heard some pretty bad advice about volunteer travel.
The Worst Advice We’ve Ever Heard About Volunteer Travel
“All volunteer organizations are the same, just pick one.”
We have the privilege of interacting with some of the greatest nonprofits and volunteer organizations on the planet (you know who you are!) and we know for a fact that there are vast differences between them. When you’re considering volunteer travel, don’t close your eyes and pick the first one your finger touches on a list. Do some research: Consider what your interests and passions are, what you want to get out of your volunteer trip, and what your strengths are. You should also look for a volunteer organization that fits within your budget and is affordable for your lifestyle. Don’t be afraid to ask prospective organizations what is included in your trip and how they use your donations and program fees.
“Don’t worry about the money, just travel.”
Wouldn’t that be nice? We think that volunteer travel can be a reality for many people when they determine that it’s a priority in their life. However, we would strongly advise that volunteer travelers also do their best to plan for the unexpected. That may mean that you can’t just pack up and go at your heart’s first whim, but perhaps you instead plan, set a budget and get a quality travel insurance policy to help cover unexpected travel and medical emergencies.
“You have to buy your volunteer travel experience.”
You can buy an airplane ticket. You can buy an exceptional meal. You can buy access to the best volunteer programs in the world. But what you can’t buy is a genuine experience, friendships, appreciation of different cultures and worldly insight.
“You have to drop everything in order to participate in volunteer travel.”
Some travelers choose to leave everything behind and live the nomadic volunteer lifestyle, and that is lovely, but it’s not for everyone. If you have a family, a career, schooling, or anything else that ties you to home, then you’re not automatically excluded from participating in volunteer travel. All you have to do is find the best type of program that fits your lifestyle. Here are three options that you may consider:
- Volunteer abroad programs are perfect for those with basic savings but not enough to fund long-term travel. Trips can last from one week to several months. Find a program that fits your lifestyle and interests and you’ll be one step closer to living your volunteer travel dreams.
- Work in exchange for housing, food, and a small living allowance is a good option for volunteer travelers who have a small travel budget but still want a unique, interpersonal experience.
- Student travel programs are vast and you can find one in almost any field of study. If the study abroad program at your school is not an option for you, search for student travel scholarships or travel bursaries. Often times you don’t even have to be enrolled in a university or college to participate.
Have you received any “bad” volunteer travel advice? If so, how did you overcome it?