This is it. You’ve finally decided to book your volunteer experience abroad. Congrats! It’s an exciting time. Now that you’re ready to book, there are a few things you should do to prepare before and after you make the final arrangements.
Choose a destination you know you’ll like
Nowadays you can volunteer almost anywhere in the world. You should take the time to choose the perfect destination for you. Think about all aspects of your trip. If you don’t like working outside in the hot sun, then maybe a hot and humid climate isn’t for you. However, if you really want to be able to travel to a beach on your days off, you could choose a hot climate anyways and prepare for the weather. Weather is just one thing you should consider when choosing your destination. There are many other things to consider:
Language: Are you interested in learning a certain language? Or do you already know a language and want to practice? Your volunteer experience could be a great opportunity to do so.
Culture: Is there a particular culture you have always wanted to experience? Do some research on the locals, history of the area, and general culture. If you want a laid back, go-with-the-flow type of volunteer experience, look into Costa Rica’s “Pura Vida” lifestyle. Each location has something for everyone.
Site seeing: This could refer to natural and/or manmade wonders. If you have been dying to see Mount Everest, you may want to volunteer somewhere like Nepal. If you have always wanted to see Machu Picchu, then volunteer in Peru. If you are fascinated by ancient temples, then try Thailand. You can also choose multiple volunteer locations to switch things up!
Travel time: If you have months to spare, then by all means book a trip halfway around the world. If you only have a week, you might want to consider choosing somewhere a little closer to home. If you’re on a budget, booking a trip further away might also increase the cost of the trip due to airfare. Make sure to look at flights before you commit.
Make sure you’re aware of cultural do’s and don’ts
Here at Build Abroad, we always educate our volunteers on cultural norms during orientation. It’s important to know what is and is not acceptable on the job site, in your homestay, and out in public. Things that might seem normal to you at home may be offensive wherever you decide to go. It’s always good to do a little research yourself to make sure you know the basics about where you decide to go.
Come with an open mind
Probably the worst thing you can do is to start your volunteer experience off with preconceived expectations. Sure, some of the trip might be what you expect. However, there will also be things you don’t expect. This isn’t to say that these unexpected things will be good or bad, they just might be different. For instance, if you were under the impression that Costa Rican food is like Mexican food, you’re in for a surprise. And if you expect sunshine all day everyday while you work outside, don’t let a little rain spoil your trip. You also shouldn’t expect a five star hotel when staying at a home stay, especially in a less developed country. Sometimes the internet may be slow, or you may not be used to certain cultural differences, but as long as you keep an open mind and go into it with a positive attitude, you’ll have a great trip!
Bring friends on your volunteer experience
What could be better than traveling with a group of good friends? Bringing friends will make your trip more exciting and also bring a feeling of comfort and added security. Not to mention binging friends will allow you to get more work done on the volunteering portion of your trip. If your friends can’t afford the trip or need an extra push, try running a fundraising campaign together to get them excited and earn some extra cash for the trip. We have some great fundraising ideas in this post!
Make new friends
If you aren’t able to get friends from home or school to join you, don’t let that stop you! Some of our volunteers make lifelong friends during their time volunteering abroad. Think about it – what better way to make new friends then helping others, experiencing a new culture, and traveling together. And the best part is that your new friends may be from entirely different countries! If you’re shy, try anyways. Making friends gives you an excuse to step out of your comfort zone. It is also likely that other volunteers will want to make new friends too, so it should be even easier than normal.
Travel on the weekends
If you really want to make the most out of your volunteer experience you should make a point to get out of your dorm or homestay and travel on the weekends. Traveling abroad can be very cheap, and you don’t have to leave the country to explore new and exciting places. You can even just explore the town or city you’re in. Buses and trains are very cheap in developing countries, even between other cities. In Costa Rica, a 4 hour bus ride to the beach costs as little as $10 USD! It’s also a good idea to check flights to nearby countries. These can vary drastically in price so look at flights a few weeks to a few months in advance if you plan on flying somewhere. Each country is different too and may have other means of cheap transportation like shared taxis or car rentals. Ask your in-country staff or volunteers who have been at your program longer than you what they have done in the past.
Make this trip your best ever!
If you’ve booked your volunteer experience already, you’re on your way. As long as you come prepared, have an open mind and do a little research you’ll be fine! All we ask is that you tell us all about it when you get back 🙂