So off we went to Nelson BC to start a new adventure. We spent the first night camped out at Cottonwood Lake since we hadn't been very good at keeping in touch with the farms or couchsurfer hosts that we had contacted prior to arriving - normally they like to have a few days notice but our plans changed too often to stick to one. It was nice though, a peaceful little lake with some picnic tables. There were a few groups of people enjoying the sunny day who were all very interested in chatting with us. The next day we found a place with internet and noticed that we got a response from someone who could host us that night in her spare bedroom. We were so happy to meet Gabrielle who cooked us up a delicious dinner and told us about the many hiking trails around Nelson. We were expecting to stay for only a day or two before heading out to Chuckleberry Farm to volunteer for a week or two before my yoga course started, but in the morning Gabrielle informed us that there was a family emergency and she had to take off for a few days. Unfortunate news, but we were very happy to stick around and look after her beautiful little place while she was away.
Before Gabrielle left she put us in contact with her daughter, Vida, and a friend who couch sat with her a year earlier, Peter, who is also a mechanical engineer and now lives in Nelson. After meeting Peter a few times Peter mentioned that he had just bought a house and would be moving in soon. He hinted that it had two extra bedrooms and we took the bait, agreeing that after our time at Chuckleberry Farm we would stay in Nelson with him during the yoga course. It was so funny because we had been getting a little worried that we hadn't planned enough for this trip but suddenly, things were falling into place. Gabrielle's neighbours even invited us over for a very lovely potlach Thanksgiving dinner. Nelson was slowly but surely taking us in.
Let’s face it; volunteering our time and effort to a worthy cause is a nice, feel-good thing to do. For many of us, however, the idea of doing work when we could otherwise be relaxing on a beach or exploring the jungle just sounds … crazy. We travel to enjoy life, not to waste our precious time milking cows or digging trenches. Well, not only can volunteering let you to contribute directly to a cause you’re passionate about, it can also be a great addition to your travels, providing unique and rewarding experiences as well as a means of stretching your travel budget. Remember, too, that volunteering is an exchange, meaning that not only is your host benefitting from your hard work, enthusiasm and great ideas; you’re also honing a new set of skills while gaining a different perspective on life.
If simply helping to make the world a better place isn’t reason enough, here are five completely selfish reasons to give volunteering a try on your next trip.
To Save Money
Volunteering can be a great way to save some money and let you stretch out your travels. In exchange for just a few hours’ work a day, you can score delicious home-cooked meals and a comfortable bed, letting you hang out and explore a new place for weeks without spending a dime. This can be an awesome deal, especially when you’re working with a fun group of people on something you enjoy. Unfortunately, depending on where you are in the world and what kind of volunteering gig you’re looking for, this isn’t always the way it will work. In some situations, the value of your work (despite the fact that you’re giving it your all) just can’t cover the full cost of keeping you around. Because of this, many volunteer hosts will ask you to contribute a small fee during your stay. This may sound unreasonable at first, but if you consider the host’s point of view you may understand.
We spent a few weeks volunteering at a family-run organic farm in Costa Rica, working our butts off for five hours a day AND paying $12 U.S. per day for the right to do it. It took a while for us to swallow this, but once we’d learned more about the local situation (and found the awesome experience made it worthwhile) we quickly came to terms with it. Part of the issue is the fact that a local could be hired to do the work for the equivalent of two U.S. dollars per hour, and could do it a heck of a lot faster, at that (no matter how hard-working and well-intentioned you are, after an hour of cutting grass with a machete, you’re soaked in sweat with a sprained back and wrist while the local worker has cleared three times the area and hasn’t slowed down a bit). The other problem is the relatively high cost of living in Costa Rica; we would’ve spent a small fortune to stay in a hostel or eco-lodge in a similar area. On the bright side, the fee you pay can go straight to work helping out the local economy, providing your host with the means to employ a local worker (hopefully saving you from machete-mowing duty in the first place).
Don’t be afraid to pay a small amount, as long as it seems reasonable – if they’re asking for way more than it could possibly cost to host you, however, either ask them to explain where the money goes or simply steer clear. If completely free is a requirement, though, be persistent and you’ll find something. Countries with a lower cost of living will offer more affordable options, as will volunteer gigs with more profitable ventures (hotels or restaurants generally make more money than independently-owned organic farms). Also keep in mind that many hosts will be willing to work out a special deal if you prove especially useful or are able to stick around for longer. Bonus points if you’ve got some relevant skills from your past life – even if it’s just rewiring a couple light switches in your friend’s apartment back at home, you may find you’re the most experienced electrician in town. On a related note, try not to touch the exposed wires on your electrically heated showerhead…
Imagine a volunteering gig where your only job is to spend your days hanging out with a couple good friends while walking a cute and cuddly dog through the Bolivian jungle. "Sounds great, sign me up!" you say? Not so fast... replace that cuddly dog with Balu, a fully-grown male Andean bear with a serious addiction to coca leaves and backpacks. Next, swap those good friends with a couple dudes you've just met, neither of which are in any way qualified to be working with a bear. Finally, factor in Balu's cunning and constant desire to catch you and engage in a very one-sided wrestling match. Still sound like fun? Glad to see that great minds think alike!
Before you slip into your rubber boots and plunge headfirst into the jungle, check out the following survival tips:
Check your common sense at the door