Volunteering abroad? How to make the most of your experience

Volunteering abroad? How to make the most of your experience

The Traveler’s Guide

Volunteering abroad
Photo by Zachary Nelson

1. Once you’ve selected your host and location, establish a trial period!

Many hosts require a minimum of a few weeks for a volunteering abroad stay, but I would suggest not to promise more than 3 weeks as a trial period to make sure you and you host get on well. If you want to stay longer, you can tell your host that, if everything works well for both of you, you’re willing to stay. In my opinion, a trial should sound like a good idea to any reasonable host.

Trial Period

This way, if things go wrong, you are free to leave earlier, or in extreme cases, before the end of the trial. Overall, you need to make sure it’s doable, logistically and financially. Be sure to have a plan B that works for you. Imagine what you would do: go back home? Stay somewhere else? Get another volunteering abroad opportunity? Take another flight? Be well prepared!

Volunteering abroad
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

2. Mind what you give and what you get

If you work more, expect more.

It will take you a few days to have a proper grasp on what you’ll be doing and how the facilities work. However after this time be mindful and set boundaries. It happens sometimes that you’ll be asked to work extra hours. Don’t be shy because you are depending on them for a place to stay. If they ask more than once or it is an inconvenience to you, speak to your hosts and figure out what to ask them as a payback for your extra hours.

Extra hours…

I have a good personal example for this: a few months ago, in Canada, I was volunteering abroad in a retreat center owned by a VolksWagen mechanic and his wife. There was plenty of extra work for me- but I took advantage.

At the time, I wanted to live in a van but knew nothing about mechanics, so I decided that was my deal. Getting the technical knowledge from my host in exchange for my work.

When I got my van I asked him to give it a complete check and to teach me the basics: so he did, and we spent an entire day working on the van. It was fun!

He explained me what was what and he even made me take off and put on all 4 wheels, just to make sure I could change a tire by myself.

Road trip…

Later on, during my road trip, I came out of two situations thanks to what he taught me.

Not only did I save money but also had the feeling of capability that was priceless!

The hosts also armed me with matching curtains and blankets, a beautiful sheepskin rug for my van’s bed, clothes, and a little bit of money as a bonus.

Volunteering abroad
Photo by Ben White

Volunteering Abroad, Always be Learning

Learning new skills is always good, but keep in mind if you’re weeding all day, you’re probably not learning anything. Don’t treat your brain as if it were an optional accessory and you could just as well not have it.

Challenge yourself…

Get rewarded for the extra work. Though there is benefit to physical labor, make sure you are challenging yourself and growing in your experience. Many times, the work that is strictly physical labor isn’t doing good but is actually damaging the economy of that country!

In some instances, there are local people who need to get paid, but there are no jobs because the volunteers are doing all the work for free.

Please consider this when you work extra hours.

3. If Things aren’t going as you expected volunteering abroad, don’t be afraid of leaving.

Volunteering abroad
Photo by Tanner Mardis

Golden Rule…

Among all of the advice and precautions in this article, this point is to be taken the most serious. If you’re having a bad experience; don’t waste more time, don’t feel guilty, don’t concern yourself with what’s fair and what’s not- just leave the place and make sure you’ll write a honest feedback for the next volunteers.

It’s your time…

After all, this is your time and effort you are donating. When you are evaluating why you dislike your volunteer program and find that it is a legitimate reason (and not just you being disgruntled from a day’s work) it best suits you to leave and put your passions in a more productive place.

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