Anyone who has known me over the past year will be aware that I am constantly on the hunt for low cost or free volunteering opportunities around the world. Volunteering is such a great way to travel – it enables you to meet local people, learn their trade or skill, meet other travellers working on the same project as you and, most importantly, give something back to the country you are visiting. The help you provide whilst volunteering becomes invaluable to the people you are working with. A lot of these important projects would not survive without the help from people like you and me just looking for a different way to travel. Aside from the orphanages, disaster relief, and conservation positions which look to change the wrong in the world, there are also opportunities to work on smaller farms, where you can directly contribute to someone’s livelihood. How’s that for sustainable tourism?
Nothing angers me more than seeing people paying thousands of pounds for up to eight weeks work, all orchestrated by gap year companies and the like. I can’t pretend that I haven’t looked into these before. Back when I was 18 and didn’t know much about all the alternatives out there, I flicked through a gap travel magazine with the hope in my heart that some day I’d be able to have enough money to go and save sea turtles in the Caribbean. As it turns out, I had enough money to do it right then and there but just didn’t have the sense to Google ‘free volunteering opportunities’ and make it my mission to find the free stuff.
I realise that in terms of security and safety, some people out there do like to go through a trusted company to volunteer, no matter how much it costs. If you’re giving someone your money, they then have an obligation to give you everything they offered, and make sure your experience is successful. But just because they promise to do that doesn’t mean that they will; I have heard of plenty of travel companies falling short of what they originally proposed. Make sure you do your research and check out any reviews about the company online – if someone had a bad experience it is more likely that they shouted about it somewhere on the internet than kept it to themselves.
On the other hand, there are some incredible companies out there who work on a yearly subscription basis and nothing more, to allow you to volunteer abroad. These subscriptions vary but cost from nothing, up to somewhere in the region of 100 euros, maximum. Once you’ve paid this, you are then able to volunteer for free. No, seriously, for free. And for as long as you like. For free. Sounds too good to be true, right? Wrong – it’s reality and I’ve lived it.
In my section on volunteering and budget travel, I hope to smash those misconceptions that thousands of people out there have – that helping the world will empty your bank account. When in fact it will cost you no more than an air fare, a taxi ride, a lot of enthusiasm and a whole lotta love, which you will get back in return a million times over.
With the exchange of just a few emails and 20 quid or so, you could be working on an Icelandic horse farm in Canada, diving in Mexico, teaching children English in Peru, or working on a huskie farm in the Finnish arctic circle.