Volunteering abroad is not just about jumping at the first opportunity that arises and boarding your international flight. It should be a carefully considered decision that takes into account the ethics of what you are doing, your budget and the overall experience you want to have.
So to help you plan an unforgettable adventure, we’ve put together some volunteer resources to set you on the right course. If you want to read more, be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to Volunteering Abroad.
Educational Volunteer Resources
Before you go out and hand over your cash for a volunteer abroad placement, it’s really important to have an understanding of international aid and the ethics behind it all. Unfortunately, not all volunteer abroad organizations are supporting the long-term, sustainable development of communities, with some contributing to a dependency on international aid that can be detrimental to local people and their dignity. There are also sometimes issues at the local government level that can hinder programs or prevent money from getting where it’s needed.
It’s worth reading some educational resources about volunteering abroad and international aid to understand what kind of programs work and which ones don’t. “It doesn’t take a village,” which is featured in the Economist, is a great article to read as it outlines some of the issues that can impact well-intentioned international aid programs or look for Michael Newman’s “Humanitarian Intervention: Confronting the Contradictions.”
Find Organizations That Suit Your Interests
Once you have a grasp on the ethics of volunteering abroad, you can start looking for organizations that offer programs in your interest area and adhere to the morals that you want to uphold. Volunteer resources like Go Overseas are a great first port of call as they let you compare different programs side-by-side. If a program interests you, then follow up by doing some research about the organization itself and reading reviews from previous participants.
Flight Finder Volunteer Resources
So you’ve decided on a program and destination and now you need to find the most affordable flights to get you there. The good news is that there are lots of different search engine resources that compare flight costs and airlines. Even if you prefer to book directly with the airline themselves, you can often find the best deals through a search engine, then check if it’s available on the airline’s website.
Momondo is a good place to start as they search some of the small flight booking sites that no one else does or head to Skyscanner if you want to include the budget carriers that some other websites miss. If you’re departing from the United States, Kayak searches a wide variety of airlines and flight brokers, while Airtreks is among the best if you want to construct a round-the-world itinerary using multiple airlines.
Perhaps your volunteer abroad program involves a meet-and-greet at the airport and transfer directly to organized accommodation. But if it doesn’t, you might need to find a bed for a few days before or after your program. While this used to mean scouring hotels and hostels in the area yourself and laboriously comparing prices, there are now heaps of hotel and hostel comparison websites where you can easily find a room that fits your budget and requirements.
Expedia, booking.com and hotels.com are just a few of the places you can head for hotels, while HostelWorld and HostelBookers are dedicated to dorms and cheap rooms. AirBnb has totally transformed the holiday rental market and is the preference for many travelers wanting a unique and personalized experience. But they’re not the only one linking independent hosts and guests, with websites like HouseTrip and Stayz moving into the market.
Other options include websites like Couchsurfing where you can bunk down in someone else’s home for free and connect with like-minded travelers and locals. Keep in mind that this shouldn’t just be treated as a free place to crash, but an opportunity to experience a destination with a local and share your culture with them.
If you want to stay in one destination for an extended period, you might also consider signing up to a website like TrustedHousesitters where you’ll be looking after someone’s home (and maybe even their pets) while they are away on vacation.
While travel insurance may seem like an unnecessary expense, it’s a valuable investment if something does go wrong while you’re abroad. The travel insurance that’s right for you will depend on where your home country is. But if you do a simple “compare travel insurance” search, you’ll find websites that will do the hard work for you to help you make an informed decision.
If you’re planning on doing some sightseeing or even joining a tour before or after your volunteer placement, Viator is a good resource to help you compare what’s out there. They feature everything from half-day excursions to multi-day tours, with the option to search based on what your interests are in the destination of your choice.
Once you’re all booked and ready to go, you might want to invest in a new backpack, a camera or the latest travel gadgets. Most travel bloggers have a section on their website dedicated to gear they love and recommend, although you should keep in mind that some of these may be affiliate links, with the blogger receiving a commission for advertising for the brand.
That being said, travel gear reviews by bloggers can be a good source of inspiration. But if you want a backpack that’s going to last you for years or you’re thinking of investing in an expensive camera, then it’s important to do your own independent research and read multiple reviews before purchasing.