VOLUNTEERING AND TRAVEL

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By Renee Daly

A ‘NATURAL’ PROGRESSION

As we become more conscientious, so too does our idea of travel and the ‘imprint’ we want to make on the world as we go. After a while, taking short vacations to hit up the tourist hotspots, checking places off a list, and skimming the surface of the people we meet and places we go to can feel a little unfulfilling and downright exhausting. We arrive back home and jump into our daily routines, sometimes more disillusioned than when we left.

Long-term travelers have experienced this too, realizing they want more than hostel-hopping with no set purpose. There are more creative ways to travel now. By donating your time and abilities, often in exchange for board and lodgings, you can get the meaningful lifestyle that you have been seeking.

If you are looking for a full cultural immersion, deeper connections, or simply a way of expressing gratitude for your life with the desire to give back to a good cause, read on. After all, what better ‘cause’ than our remarkable planet, her natural wonders, and everything on her which provides sustenance?

DECISIONS, DECISIONS…

There are a myriad of volunteer, intern, teaching abroad, and work exchange opportunities that are available to us. Choose from conservation, construction, healthcare, teaching, wildlife and animal care, or working with children, to name just a few. What should you consider, and how should you choose? Ask yourself the following questions:

What skills do I have to offer?

You might be a medical professional with knowledge, expertise, and access to resources that are highly sought after in remote areas. You might be a carpenter, ready to go with hammer in hand, to build a school for a small village that hasn’t had access to education before now.

What am I most passionate about?

Perhaps animals light up your life and bring you more joy than you feel you can ever give in return (although our hearts swell as we can already hear you saying: I sure will try!) Perhaps the plight of the planet’s pollution and plastic weighs heavily on your heart and you just want to do something, anything to make change and lead by example.

How can I contribute and learn something new at the same time?  

Your dreams may just come true. Use your knowledge of the English language to teach people from all walks of life and learn another language in return. Or make your future plans in life a reality by getting down and dirty on an organic farm, learning about permaculture, and living off-grid.

How far is too far?

Another factor to consider is where would you be prepared to go? How much time do you have to really make the most of your experience? Which places are you drawn to, to see huge sunny smiles, to feel the streets pulsing with life, to hear birdsong and little else, to gaze up at the brilliance of the night sky without the interference of citylights? Where is too far outside your comfort zone?

RESEARCHING YOUR OPTIONS

One quick Google search and you’ll soon realize that you’re spoiled for choice. Try not to get overwhelmed and keep in mind your answers from above. Also consider if you’re open to paying an agent’s fee for peace of mind, or would you rather go as budget consciously as possible.

A key factor to look at too, is reviews for the establishments, hosts, and organizations that you’re considering. A recommended starting point for long-term gigs are sites such as Workaway, WWOOF, and TEFL (English teaching) job sites. When exploring philanthropic volunteering programs, such as nonprofit organizations, animal sanctuaries, and the like, investigate their reputations, what they actually do and where their money goes. Make informed and ethical decisions. Determine what they stand for and know the reality of good intentions versus inadvertent harm caused.

Take your time. There really is no rush to find what best suits you. Make the arrangements and head off into the sunset, and we’ll see you somewhere out there, making new friends and amazing memories, while challenging yourself and reaping the rewards of such service and sentiment.

 

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