Volunteer travel is an amazing way to see a place, get to know local culture, and leave a positive footprint. We volunteered while traveling through Argentina. We learned a ton about WWOOFing — World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms — and had an amazing experience at Chacra Millalen. It’s been awhile since we’ve written about volunteer travel and since summer is here (or so it feels in Minnesota today) with summer vacation planning underway, I thought I’d revisit the subject focusing specifically on volunteer travel abroad versus volunteer travel locally.
Local vs. Abroad Volunteer Travel
Whether its sandbagging for a flood emergency in Fargo or picking strawberries on an organic farm in California there are plenty of opportunities to take 1 or 2 days and see a place (relatively) near your home and volunteer the same time.
photo credit: USACEpublicaffairs
You don’t have to travel far to find a place to volunteer. The trick is finding a place you want to visit for a vacation that also has a volunteer opportunity. Generally, there are two ways to search for a volunteer travel program: by place or by opportunity.
For US based volunteer travel I find it more exciting to search for an opportunity and then find out what else there is to do in that city or town. Some of the top sites for finding U.S. based volunteer travel programs include Idealist, VolunteerMatch, WWOOF and Organic Volunteers. For finding volunteer travel programs abroad Kimberly previously wrote a post with 21 Resources for Finding Volunteer Programs. In that post she also listed 5 Reasons to Volunteer Abroad:
Help Others. Whether you’re cleaning up a polluted river or volunteering in a medical clinic, they work you’re doing is making a difference. The people you’re helping will be incredibly grateful. And it will make you feel good, too.
Get Up Close and Personal With a Culture. There’s no better way to experience a culture than by living in it. You’ll see parts of the culture you’d easily miss living in a hostel, especially if you’re living with a host family. Plus, you’ll get to try new foods.
Learn a Language. The best way to practice a language is to be immersed in it. When the people you’re working with are counting on you to communicate and you’re listening to another language being spoken for hours every day, you’ll become proficient before you know it. And you won’t even have to pay for language classes.
Have Fun. When you’re working 12 hour days with someone, you’re going to bond, even if you might never have otherwise been friends. And making friends will take your mind off the hard work, sore muscles, or hot weather. In addition to getting to know other volunteers, you’ll also get to build relationships locals.
Learn a Trade. You may not want to be an organic farmer now, but who knows what your dream will be in 10 or 15 years; you may decide to move to Massachusetts and start your own farm. Even if you don’t, you’ll learn leadership, teamwork, and communication skills that will impress any prospective employer.