Any form of travel can be a wonderful and eye-opening experience, and going on an extended trip abroad is something that I honestly believe everyone should try at some point in their lives.
But if you’re looking for something a little different from the normal traveling experience, you should definitely consider trying a volunteer placement. More and more young people are trying out this form of travel to get more out of their time away. Volunteering abroad offers a chance to bring about change for people and places that desperately need it. In addition, it can give you an opportunity for personal development and allow you to really appreciate the culture of a place on a deeper level than traditional traveling can.
So here are some reasons that everyone should seriously think about volunteering as an alternative to normal travel.
Make a difference
The most important thing to think about when considering becoming a volunteer is the positive impact it will have on areas and communities that really need it. Regardless of what cause you choose, you will be doing something truly amazing by donating your own time and effort selflessly to help others.The options are limitless, with volunteering opportunities existing all over the world, in a huge variety of settings.
You can help to educate underprivileged children in Africa. You can spend time combating deforestation in Brazil. You might want to volunteer in Costa Rica in Turtle conservation. No matter what you choose, as long as you are willing to put in the time, you should be able to bring about constructive change.
Learn to live with less
One of the most common things that people say they gain from volunteering is an improved perspective and awareness of what really matters in life.
Sometimes, seeing real people living with so much less than what we are accustomed to, but continuing to enjoy their lives, can make us realize that maybe material things don’t matter so much.
Other times, something like contributing to the welfare of an endangered animal species, or working in habitat conservation may make people understand that you can draw huge satisfaction just from giving to a cause that matters to you.
This feeling will often continue long after the placement has ended, and many people even find that it can shape their general life philosophy, making then truly content to live with less.
An often overlooked benefit of volunteering as compared with more traditional forms of travel is the financial savings it can offer.
Now this isn’t always the case, as some companies have high fees that can make a considerable dent in any budget, but by shopping around for good value offers, you can save some serious cash.
The fees of any good organization will mostly go towards general living expenses such as accommodation, food, and training, as by their nature, projects that require volunteers will not have the funds to cover these things. Compared to staying in hotels and eating out, though, these fees can be very modest if you choose carefully.
The money saved can be used to volunteer for longer, or to travel around a country after a placement has ended.
Meet all kinds of new people
Besides the rewarding nature of providing much-needed help to a good cause, you should also consider the social benefits of volunteering.
Regular traveling can sometimes be an isolating experience, especially when traveling alone. It can be difficult to communicate with people in a foreign language, and it may also be hard to really bond with other travelers.
As a volunteer, you will be spending all of your time with other people. Firstly, you will be placed with other volunteers, who will almost always be like-minded people looking to make friends.
Secondly, but just as importantly, you will have a unique opportunity to integrate with local people. You will often be working alongside locals, allowing you to share experiences that just wouldn’t be possible otherwise. You can easily break down the tourist/local barrier that so often makes it difficult to bond.
Learn about the culture
By spending time in close proximity to real local people and working alongside them, you will in turn be able to absorb and learn about their culture in a far more genuine way than as a passing tourist.
For example, you can begin to learn a language with relative ease when you are immersed in an environment full of native speakers all day every day. You will also have a chance to sample authentic local food, not just dishes reproduced for tourist’s pallets by a restaurant.
Most importantly, you will start to truly understand how the local people live and interact with one another day-to-day.
Avoid the crowds
If, like me, you can’t stand being in places overcrowded with other tourists, then volunteering is the perfect way to avoid becoming frustrated.
Much of the time, the areas that require volunteers the most are going to be away from the main tourist hotspots, so you will be able to enjoy yourself and see the sights without hordes of selfie-takers and trinket-sellers.
You will also be able to get tips from locals about the best unknown spots to visit.
Try something different
Volunteering is always going to be about helping a good cause, first and foremost. But the personal impact it can have on you is also hugely important, and shouldn’t be underestimated.
So, for an alternative kind of travel, volunteer and see the world with different eyes.
About the Author: Nicoleta Radoi – Nicoleta is the resident content blogger for uVolunteer. Nicoleta is an avid linguist, speaks fluent English, Chinese, French, Spanish and native Romanian. She spent a decade working in China in the education sector and working with major international development institutions and currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. She is passionate about volunteering, sustainable travel and has a soft spot for ethnic food.
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