If you’ve ever thought of volunteering while you travel, now’s the time! There is an ever growing number of opportunities to give back to the communities you visit. Responsible travel is becoming more popular and according to a new “Good Travels” study by non-profit Tourism Cares, Millennials are amongst the most aware and generous travellers of all generations.
A lot of people worry that volunteer holidays are too expensive and lengthy. They don’t have to be! For beginner “voluntourists”, there are many simple ways to contribute while still having a fantastic holiday. For those who dare to give volunteer travelling a try, the rewards can be rich and meaningful. Here’s a look at a few ways you can add a little heart to your next holiday…
1. Teaching and Youth Support
What are you passionate about? Do you love music, dance, books or sports? Use your skill to inspire and educate others for free. In Asia and further abroad, there are lots of opportunities to teach. Teaching English is a popular choice. It’s a highly useful skill for young people and for many programs, volunteers don’t need to have special teaching qualifications. If the facilities are available, training people in hands-on skills like computer proficiency can also be very valuable.
Not sure what you’d like to teach? That’s OK too! When I first volunteered at a Children’s Society, I didn’t know what my special skill was or if I had one at all. I didn’t have a teacher’s certification or experience with childcare. After spending time with the children there, I realised that the most important thing was, I was there! To help them with their homework after school, to joke around with them and listen to them too.
2. Wildlife Conservation
If you love nature and animals, you might want to try your hand at environmental conservation. Conservation programs are located all over the world and often in beautiful natural environments. From tending to turtle hatchlings in Sri Lanka to getting your hands dirty planting trees in Cambodia, this work is bound to lead you to some unique experiences.
If you enjoy scuba diving, try combining a beach holiday with volunteer work for marine conservation projects on lush islands like Krabi or Koh Tao in Thailand. There is often budget accommodation available on the islands to keep down the cost of your trip.
You’ll get the chance to learn more about the problems affecting our environment and communities, as well as coming together with passionate people who are working to fix them.
3. Soup Kitchen
Whip up a hot meal for those in need of nutritious food. Most cities will have at least one soup kitchen or homeless shelter where a helping hand might be needed for food preparation or distribution. As well as testing out your culinary skills, you’ll get to meet and work with people from different backgrounds. Some groups take to the streets to dish out food to the homeless. As this could involve a bit more risk, there might be age restrictions for volunteers planning to do this.
In many European cities, there are usually Christmas soup kitchens. If you’re splashing out on a winter break, try to find a soup kitchen in the area where you can volunteer your services for a few hours or a day.
4. Visit an Elderly Home
You might not speak the language of the country you’re visiting, but you can still brighten someone’s day at one of the local old folks’ homes. Gather your friends and spend a couple hours interacting with the residents. You could bring them flowers, little gifts or even better, organise an activity with them. The nursing home staff might welcome some help too. You could ask if there is anything to assist with for the day, such as simple chores around the facility.
5. Farm Stays
Farm visits or stays are a great way to learn about different lifestyles, eco-living and the food we eat. Organisations like WWOOF, originally an acronym for Working Weekends on Organic Farms, now offer flexible stay dates and a global presence with farm hosts on every continent. Prepare for a less-than-luxurious time though. At a farm stay you’ll have to muck in with general farm work on the land and perhaps even with animals. Accommodation might be basic too. It’s not all hard going. Imagine finishing the day with a cup of hot organic tea fresh from a tea farm and the warm hospitality of a friendly host family.
6. Beach Clean Up
Head to the beach and get involved with one of numerous organised beach clean ups. The Hong Kong Clean Up Challenge has been running for 16 years. Last year the organisation received a record number of participants who together collected over 8 million kg in trash! Trash Hero World is another organisation that is growing in regular volunteers. The group which first started in Thailand now has chapters in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and even New York. Apart from weekly clean ups, Trash Heroes also help with community waste management and local school education initiatives.
Volunteer travel can be organised by yourself or through a company. Whatever you choose to do, make sure to stay safe. Always research and get into contact with the organisation you will be working with. Find out more about the location of the work as well. Mixing volunteer work with travel can be an uplifting and satisfying experience.
Here’s to Voluntourists, who make new friends, expand their worldviews and help make a difference, all while on holiday!
*This article was originally published for Tripzilla Magazine.