You’re going overseas on vacation, but a part of you wants it to be much more than a vacation. You don’t want to be just tourist – you know you can make an impact on the local community. But how?
Volunteering while you’re traveling can seem a little daunting.
There are so many organizations out there, so how do you know which one to volunteer with? You may have heard stories of sketchy places or plain out scams, so how do you find the good ones? And you have your time and skills to give, but not necessarily a lot of extra cash, so why do organizations charge to volunteer?
You have a good heart and you are needed in this world, so this guide is going to help you navigate the waters and connect you with a great nonprofit where you can serve.
Related Read: 7 Easy Steps to Live a Social Good Lifestyle
What to Look for When Wanting to a Volunteer
When you’re looking for an organization to volunteer with, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
- Try to find local organizations that work directly within their community. You’ll be able to do the most work and have the most impact.
- Make sure the organization has a specific list of things you would be doing. Organizations that have vague descriptions of how you could help usually end up making things up to keep you busy so you can have the “volunteer” experience.
- Look for transparency. Look for reviews from people who have volunteered with that organization.
- Make sure the organization has a solid reputation when it comes to financials, and that they are not wasting money. Charity Navigator provides a good checkup, though they only have the bigger organizations.
How to Find Organizations to Volunteer With
Now onto actually finding an organization to volunteer with. There are 2 ways you can go about this:
1 – Organizations That Facilitate Volunteering Overseas
There are many organizations that are connected to local nonprofits on the ground around the world. These organizations help facilitate volunteers. They’ll usually make the connection and provide the itinerary. Many times you pay them directly and they handle all the costs, including airfare, lodging and food. You’re able to browse and find opportunities by location or work-type.
This is a good option if you prefer having all the details taken care of for you and you just how up. However, you may end up paying more than you expect, as these organizations will charge fees for managing the logistics.
Here are a few to check out:
2 – Volunteer Directly with an Organization on the Ground
Another way is to get in touch directly with the organization to volunteer with them. You would have to figure out your own means of getting there, and sometimes they provide meals and lodging, but sometimes not. So it requires more planning on your end, but it may end up cheaper as you’re not paying a management organization.
Here are a few good places to browse through volunteer opportunities with local organizations:
If you know of a specific organization you like, reach out to them directly and see if you can help. Many times they’ll be glad to have your help, even though they may not be publicly advertising volunteer positions.
How to a Help a Local Community While at Traveling
Whether you’re volunteering or not, there are ways to make a difference in wherever you go.
- Shop and eat locally from small independent businesses rather than international chains. Those communities rely on tourism as income, and spending money there ensures it goes directly to the local people.
- Keep it clean and throw away your trash. Even if the community is already dirty, don’t make it worse. Hold on to your trash until you can find a place to dispose of it.
- Don’t take pictures of people in poverty. It can be really tempting, especially when you’re volunteering, to take photos because you want to show your friends and family how poor a community is. It’s really demeaning to people. If you want to take a photo, start up a conversation with them first and get to know them. Then ask for permission to take a picture.
- Talk to locals. Don’t just go in and out. Have conversations and get some perspective by understanding their way of life and view of the world.
Important Questions to Ask Before Volunteering Overseas
1 – Are you helping or hurting the community? It’s easy to go in and do work with the illusion of helping. But sometimes it actually takes away jobs away from the local community or puts added stress on the nonprofit to accommodate you.
2 – Where is the money going? When volunteering abroad, you pay money to the management company or to the local organization itself. Where is the majority of that money going? Is it benefiting the community, or is it all going to overhead?
This article has some really good points to think about when it comes to the ethics of volunteering:
Volunteering abroad adds such a deeper dimension to life, and if you’re already traveling, it’s an incredible way to leave a good, lasting footprint wherever you go.
Though there can be a lot of challenges with finding a good place to volunteer, it shouldn’t stop you. And hopefully this article provides you with enough information to find an organization that your heart connects with.
If you have that burning inside you to do something that matters, don’t smother it. The world needs it.
Have you volunteered abroad? What organization did you work with, and what tips do you have?
Be well, travel safe, and do good.