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Tips for Traveling and Volunteering Abroad

From broadening your horizons to enhancing your tolerance for uncertainty, traveling has a variety of benefits. While traveling strictly for pleasure is valuable, the benefits of traveling can be multiplied if the purpose behind traveling is to volunteer.

If you have both a desire to see the world and serve others, you could be a good candidate for volunteering abroad. More than just a vacation, volunteering abroad requires you to dive headfirst into the real world. While no one promises it will be easy, volunteering abroad is guaranteed to bring meaning to your life as you help improve the lives of others.

In order to make the most out of your experience, there are some important things to know before you volunteer abroad. To ensure a successful venture, you can prepare to travel for volunteer opportunities with the following tips in mind.

Research Volunteer Organizations

After you’ve decided you definitely want to volunteer abroad and have determined your “why” for doing so, it’s time to research volunteer organizations. Go Abroad writes that researching volunteer organizations is an important part of the preparation period. Unfortunately, not every volunteer organization is reputable, so it’s essential you do your homework.

While some volunteer organizations may seem credible at a glance, their projects might not offer any long-term solutions for the communities they claim to serve. It’s the responsibility of volunteers to ensure they’re joining an ethical program that has goals for long-term change, according to Go Abroad.

To help you in your search, Go Abroad recommends investigating program reviews, effectiveness of projects, health and safety records, day-to-day life and the level of cultural immersion. You don’t want to waste your effort and money on a program that promotes the idea of western saviors. The myth that volunteering abroad is a chance for westerners to “save” locals abroad validates privilege and perpetuates closed-mindedness.

Approach Volunteering Abroad with an Open Mind

There are many items you’ll need to remember to pack for volunteering abroad (don’t forget the bug spray!), but the most important thing you need to bring is an open mind. In fact, your open mind is required before you even set foot in another country. You should have an open mind when choosing where to volunteer abroad in the world.

Go Abroad acknowledges that you can volunteer anywhere (volunteerism is needed everywhere), but some countries need your service more than others. If you’re unsure where to volunteer abroad, you might want to consider lesser-known destinations that are in desperate need of humanitarian aid such as Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, and Bosnia. You should also think about the time of year for your trip. If your project involves physical labor, that can be exhausting in humid areas like Japan.

Choosing to volunteer abroad in a lesser-known destination could mean your efforts have greater results and are more appreciated. But, regardless of where you decide to volunteer abroad, the experience is likely to change your perspective. Not only will your eyes be opened to new cultures and ways of life, but you will discover new passions and come to appreciate aspects of your life you once took for granted.

Connect with Past Volunteers

The people who will best understand the changes you will undergo while volunteering abroad are people who have undergone those same changes themselves: past volunteers. Volunteering Solutions suggests connecting with past volunteers to learn about their experiences. Talking to them about daily life and cultural norms might help you prepare yourself for the challenges of volunteering abroad.

You can also ask past volunteers about their advice on how to fundraise, what to pack, how to deal with culture shock and learning the local language. If you’re going to a humid urban area in the summer, you could even find out if there’s a way to purchase an AC system — it could provide long-term value for your accommodations. Even if you’re an experienced traveler, the more you know about the community where you’ll be volunteering and the type of work you’ll be doing the more likely you are to have a meaningful, effective experience. Go Abroad reminds volunteers that preparation is key. It’s one of the secrets to a trouble-free travel experience

Life After Volunteering Abroad

The past volunteers you connect with prior to your own service trip can continue to be valuable resources long after your return home. Volunteering abroad can be addictive. You may want to make room in your life for more, and past volunteers are people you can turn to for information about future opportunities and support after coming home.

Upon coming home, you can use your volunteering experience to boost your resume. Volunteering Solutions writes that potential employers will appreciate your efforts that, among other skills, show that you know how to manage time and resources.

You might even seek out potential employers that provide opportunities for you to pursue the lifestyle of a travel volunteer. If that’s you, you can explore careers that are similar to a travel volunteer like a travel nurse, flight attendant, or travel writer. If you’ve been bitten by the travel bug, there are a variety of jobs for the adventurous. Even though one volunteering abroad experience has come to an end, you can continue to help people across the globe in a full-time position.

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

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