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
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…
To learn something new
Remember, too, that your collection of new skills isn’t just limited to the jobs you get thrown at – learning opportunities will pop up left, right and center. After a few hours of harvesting bananas in the jungle you may find yourself lending a hand in the kitchen, learning straight from the experts how to make cheese empanadas from scratch. And what better environment is there to master a foreign language than actually working with native-speaking locals? In no time, you’ll have picked up a whole new arsenal of expletives to work with. Your new line of work will also expose you to a whole new set of vocabulary, including things like caca de vaca and pala (Spanish for cow poop and shovel).
To have an incredibly unique experience
As we continue to travel, whenever we feel the need for a few weeks of volunteering, we just browse the options and let them choose the way. We knew after our week of hanging out in León, Nicaragua, that we wanted to make our way North into Honduras, but had no real plan of what to check out on the way. A couple hours of browsing helpex later, we set off for a forest-preservation project in a town called Jinotega (which hadn’t even been on our map until that point) to spend what turned out to be a couple of enlightening weeks discussing the meaning of life, building a mobile chicken-coop, and baking German strudel in a hand-built cob oven. Volunteering is like a box of chocolates …
To accomplish something
To become a local
A couple weeks working and living amongst the local people will give you a far better understanding of just who they really are – what their lives are like, what issues they have to contend with and what makes them tick. Stick around a little longer and you may even catch yourself feeling like a local, arguing passionately about the ongoing struggle to slow the clear-cutting of the nearby rainforest, cheering madly over a goal scored by your football team, or pointing and laughing at the oddly-dressed tourists passing by. Keep in mind, though, that once your status as a local is official you may find it’s just too hard to leave your new family and friends behind. Consider yourself warned!
Have you had some memorable travel volunteering experiences? Let us know in the comments section!
Keep bein' chili,