Travel the World with a Purpose: Vacation While You Volunteer


                                                    Team of volunteers gardening together on a sunny day


Seeing the world is on most bucket lists, as is doing good. With trips that combine both vacationing and volunteering, you can achieve these goals in one fell swoop, saving money and conserving your precious time off. Whether you choose to teach English in Asia or build homes in the Caribbean, take part in disaster relief in Nepal or share your medical expertise in Africa, volunteer vacations allow you to soak up another culture while giving back to the human race.

Common Misconceptions

Before we get started on the nitty-gritty of how, where and when you can volunteer, it will be helpful to clear up a few misconceptions. The first is that volunteer vacations are long-term assignments. In reality, however, they usually only last a few weeks to a few months.

The second is that you will be paid to travel. Usually that’s not the case; instead, you pay for your own ticket, and often room, board and transportation. As these are things you pay for on vacation anyway, however, most people aren’t put off by this and still choose to take the trip.

Types of Volunteering

Depending on your background and expertise, you will find many types of volunteer positions to suit your interests. If you are an architect, for instance, you might find Habitats for Humanity to be up your alley. With this international organization you can travel to countries as far-flung as Jordan, Malawi, Tajikistan and Paraguay, and several states.

Although organizations such as Doctors Without Borders have many full-time employment positions, those looking to make a shorter stint can also volunteer with them. Don’t feel left out, nurses: you can join Nurses Without Borders.

Is helping wildlife more your speed? You should check out the global sea turtle volunteering job board, with opportunities to work in coastal locations throughout the world protecting this rare species. A huge range of other opportunities exists, from teaching English to repairing park trails to farming organically in other countries. Run an online search with your interest and the words “volunteer vacation” and you’ll get some great ideas.

How to Get the “Job”

In order to land the opportunity, simply follow the instructions for sending in your application well ahead of the deadline. Most places will tell you when you’ll here back, but if you do not you can follow up. Normally you will not need to because humanitarian and environmental organizations are often so short-staffed and happy to have volunteers that they will take you up on your offer right away.

Setting Up Your Trip

Like any vacation, you’ll need to buy your ticket as well as set up room and board. Although some volunteer organizations offer food and lodging, few pay for your ticket too, but you can find budget tickets on sites like Expedia or Kayak.

Some opportunities, such as World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, do pay for your room and board in exchange for work. Others, like Conservation Volunteers, can set you up with a weeklong stay for a minimal fee (around $100). Do your research to see who will compensate you for your volunteer work. If you are interested in a more local volunteer experience, you can always try Workaway, a site that sets up host families with volunteers who work for that family for a few hours each day. This is a great way to see more of the place you’re visiting, because you have much more free time.

Well before you plan to leave, order your passport and ensure all your information is correct. Buy traveler’s insurance and alert your bank that you will be traveling abroad so they will not shut down your credit cards.

Countries in Which to Vacation/Volunteer

Although the list of countries in which you can vacation and volunteer is numerous, the majority of opportunities are in underserved countries along the equator, in South America, Asia and Africa. You can travel to several parts of Europe and North America as well, however, and many options also exist in New Zealand and Australia.

When combining vacationing and volunteering, it’s important to still have some fun! You can either set time aside for pure vacationing before or after you volunteer, or you can choose a volunteer opportunity that leaves you enough time during the day to see the sights. Whichever way you do it, have a blast and enjoy doing good in the world!