Most of us go on vacation so we can take a break from our day-to-day, see and experience something new and to relieve some of the stress we build up over the past months or year.
Volunteering has also been shown to reduce stress and increase happiness since it gives you the feeling of being useful, making a difference and giving back to those who are going through difficult circumstances.
It also gives you the chance to meet like-minded people and get better acquainted with the culture of your travel destination.
In the past few years, volunteering while traveling has become quite popular which, sadly, has led to a proliferation of programs that charge high-fees to join, turning it into something only the upper classes can undergo.
But it doesn’t have to be that way and with the proper research, anyone can do a bit of volunteering while on vacation.
How to Find the Right Volunteering Opportunities for You
Let’s say you’re planning a trip to one of the Gran Canaria resorts. The same way you would search for vacation activities you can look for volunteering opportunities for a day or two, even for a few hours. Another option would be to participate in a work exchange program which would also help you reduce the cost of your trip.
Most volunteering programs take place in developing countries and you can use online platforms such as Workaway or GivingWay to find something suitable before you arrive at your destination. This sort of online services also filters out any scammers who are just trying to make quick money by tugging at your heartstrings.
Another path to finding a program is to contact the biggest NGO’s in that country and ask them what options they have that would fit your time frame and areas of interest.
Consider Your Skills
Volunteering can mean something oriented more towards simple, manual labor like helping to clean a beach, delivering supplies to people in need or providing unskilled work for an animal shelter. These are all valuable activities that are very much appreciated both by the organizations trying to recruit volunteers and by the local communities.
However, if you have more specialized skills and experience, your time would be put to better use doing something that falls into your area of expertise. You could provide medical services, teach at a school, collaborate with NGO’s in campaigns directed towards raising awareness on various topics or participate in repairs after a natural disaster.
You can ask your company if they know any volunteering programs or if they collaborate with any NGO’s and they can help you organize something.
How Much Time Do You Want to Invest?
The time frame for volunteering abroad can range from just a few hours to a year. You could simply find an organization online or through your hotel and dedicate just one day of your holiday or you can travel specifically in order to volunteer.
Activities that take one to two weeks are typically geared towards farming, disaster relief, construction, environmental issues or building recreation centers for kids.
Projects from three to six weeks will involve teaching, animal welfare, caring for senior citizens, reforestation, conservation or medical care. For example, many nursing, pre-medical and medical students participate in such programs to gain experience.
Some travelers will go to a country with a warmer climate in winter and spend two or three months there, engaged in projects that focus on computer training, education, marketing, public health and childcare.
Programs that take between three and six months are popular for more experienced travelers who want to see a project to completion. They’ll work in areas such as human rights, services for orphans or people with disabilities, community development, microfinance or business in general.
When it comes to projects that take between six months and a year, these are more common among students that want to spend their gap year abroad or medical volunteers.
Gap Year Volunteering
In the past few years we have seen more and more students who choose to take a year off before they start college or before entering the workforce and spend that time abroad, participating in various volunteer projects.
This happens for several reasons. One of them is simply that they’re young, and like most young people they want to have some adventure in their lives, some interesting stories to tell when they come back. They want to meet different people from all over the world, immerse themselves in a different culture and get to know themselves better, who they are and what they want by spending a longer period of time in a place than is far removed from the familiar.
Another reason is that this kind of experience enhances their college application or makes their resume more competitive. If they’re trying to join a prestigious school, most applicants will also have high grades, just like them, so they need something that sets them apart. Likewise, if they’re trying to get into a highly regarded company.
Spending up to a year abroad also gives them the chance to learn a new language that they might be interested in and which will can help them in their career later on.
Medical volunteers usually partner with prominent NGO’s to find unpaid positions in clinics or hospitals located in regions with a lack of public health resources, mostly in developing countries.
While this might sound like a very demanding commitment, for them it’s an opportunity to improve their skill set and acquire valuable hands-on experience. Most of them also feel strong impulse to help others so it makes sense that they would want to invest their time and skills in the places that need it most.
As with students from other fields, some pre-med students are interested in spending their gap year in a volunteer program abroad as it helps them with their application and they get to experience the kind of procedures they’ll perform in their careers as medical practitioners. It also helps them decide on the specialization they’re most interested in.