Voluntourism is the latest exciting way to travel the world while really getting to know about the areas, issues, culture and people of the places you travel to.
Voluntourism is all about give and take: you give your time, enthusiasm and commitment to a project overseas but you take home new skills, friends, lifelong memories and a much deeper understanding of the country you have visited.
With more and more possibilities all over the globe for voluntourism – and the chance to work for as little as two weeks or as much as a year – it has never been easier to be more than just a tourist passing through the countries you choose to travel to.
Pick your country and pick your field
Organizations such as Projects Abroad can arrange placements in more than 28 countries in fields as diverse as marine conservation, archaeology, journalism, human rights, teaching, care, ecology, medicine, nursing and many others.
So you could be protecting endangered Rothschild giraffes in Kenya, teaching Costa Rican street children football, excavating ancient Incan sites near Machu Picchu or diving with a purpose in Thailand.
The choice of a voluntourist project, however, is not just about picking a country and a field that interests you. To answer which project is right for you it is essential you understand your reasons for volunteering.
It is not just method actors who should worry about exactly what their motivation is. The same is true for voluntourists. When choosing international volunteer programs for your next trip abroad it is important you find ones that match your goals. Here are some possible reasons you may have to volunteer.
- To give something back – maybe you are passionate about a place or a cause that you wish to do something for.
- To gain access to unique tourism opportunities – maybe you wish to stay where other tourists do not or get involved in a way other tourists can’t.
- To see a culture from the inside – it could be that you wish to really get under the skin of a culture and experience it in more than a superficial way.
- To grow as a person – to become more resourceful, resilient, adventurous or independent are amongst many of the areas of personal growth that lead people to volunteer abroad.
- To gain new career skills – whether you are looking to gain experience in a new field or consolidate skills in one you currently work in voluntourism can help give your CV the edge.
- To learn new things – the learning curve of voluntourism may be steep but it is rewarding.
Your motivations to volunteer abroad should guide your choice of project if you are to make the most of the experience. Make sure that if your main goal is to learn a foreign language the project offers support for this. Find out exactly which skills you will pick up that could benefit you career.
Enquire what the travel opportunities are both during and after your volunteering. Ask whether you will work with locals or just international volunteers and whether you will be housed with a local family if understanding the culture is important to you.
Make the most of it
Those who make the most of their voluntourism experience are those who are clear about what they expect to take home from their time abroad. Think about what you want rather than just about what you can give and you will have the time of your life far from the well-trodden tourist trail.