Back in 2016, we faced a dilemma. Ian and I were involved with a project that wasn’t due to start for another couple of months, while the apartment lease was coming to an end. We had to decide whether we want to commit to renting another place (with no definite start date of our new project) or to find an alternative.
Turns out, it was cheaper to spend six weeks travelling across France and Spain than to stay in Birmingham. One of the reasons we were able to do that is because we spent a portion of our trip doing some volunteer work.
How does it work?
In essence, you can offer your labour in exchange for accommodation and food. Specifics may vary from one host to the other, but most hosts expect no more than 16-20 hours of work per week.
The nature of the work varies. Depending on your desired location, you can end up working on a farm, volunteering at an animal rescue, helping out at a yoga resort, looking after children, teaching a skill you possess, and more! In fact, many volunteering opportunities encompass more than one activity.
Reasons to Volunteer While Travelling
Budget-friendly travel. In the traditional travel model, accommodation and food make up a hefty chunk of your travel budget. Even cheaper options, such as staying in a hostel, add up when you travel for a while. What’s more, it often limits your ability to prepare your own meals, resulting in spending more money on restaurant meals and take-out.
With volunteer travelling, you can save a significant amount of money, as both accommodation and food are usually offered as part of the deal.
Skill exchange. Volunteer travelling is a great opportunity to learn new skills, both from your host and your fellow volunteers. As well as learning the skills necessary for the “job”, you can learn or practice your language skills, play a musical instrument, or master a new craft. And if you possess any such skills, you can share them with others.
Cultural exchange. Unlike stereotypical tourist activities, volunteer travelling enables you to learn about the culture of the place you are visiting directly from the people that live there. This allows you to experience things such as family customs, lifestyle, and local cuisine in an authentic way.
Great for remote freelance workers. Freelancing can be quite stressful in normal circumstances, and many freelancers end up working a “day job” to make ends meet. Volunteer travelling makes it possible for freelance artists, musicians, writers, designers, and other professionals to continue pursuing their passion without worrying about rent and bills. It comes with the added bonus of working from a beautiful location.
Further your career. Nowadays, many employers expect a certain amount of experience from their candidates. Sadly, most internships and placement programmes are unpaid, making then inaccessible to people without saving or alternative income. Volunteering while travelling is a great way to gain work experience, often in a relevant field.
How to Get Started
There are several platforms that enable travellers to find volunteering opportunities worldwide, usually for a reasonable membership fee.
WWOOF - Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. As the name suggests, WWOOF is a worldwide work exchange movement that connects travellers with organic farmers, and promotes a cultural and educational exchange.
Workaway. Workaway identifies as a community for cultural exchange that facilitates working holidays and volunteer travelling. With Workaway, you can volunteer with individuals, small businesses, and non-profit organisations in 170 countries across the globe.
Worldpackers. Using a similar principle as Workaway, Worldpackers connects hosts and volunteers to promote safe travel, encourage cultural exchange, and make a positive impact on the world.
HelpX. HelpX takes after WWOOF. It’s an online database of organic farms, farmstays, hobby farms, lifestyle blocks, homestays, ranches, lodges, backpackers hostels and even sailing boats that invite volunteers to stay with them in exchange for food and accommodation.