Volunteering Abroad Programs – The Best Way To Travel

Volunteering Abroad Programs – The Best Way To Travel

Volunteering Abroad - The Best Way To Travel
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Volunteering Abroad Programs – The Best Way To Travel

As a high school sophomore, I was offered than chance to volunteer in a day of service for a project called “Christmas in April”. My high school had organized a group of students to lend a helping hand and work to fix up an elderly woman’s home, which was in desperate need of repairs. To be totally honest, I had absolutely no desire in committing to a day of labor in the sun and to be even more honest, the only reason I ended up signing up in the end was because the cute senior I had a crush on asked me if I’d be there.

After my Christmas in April day of service, I didn’t feel any different about volunteering. I spent the whole day thinking about myself and the cute senior, flirting with the girls and horsing around with the other guys. I didn’t give volunteering much thought after that – until 4 years later when I was sitting in the Dublin airport watching tsunami coverage on TV and knowing I had to help.

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“Finding yourself in the flooded kitchen of an elderly Philippino couple, clearing out their life belongings while only communicating with them through body language and eye contact is an amazing experience…”

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During the next few years I found myself volunteering in Thailand, Bangladesh, the Philippines and in the US, lending a hand after various typhoons, earthquakes and hurricanes. I had never experienced the feeling of selflessly giving, helping complete strangers and donating my time and energy towards anything else besides myself.

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Below are the top 5 reasons to volunteer abroad – the best way to travel!

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1) See the World – Pretty obvious but its true. There is no better way than volunteering to see the world. With so many people needing a helping hand around the world, if you are set on volunteering there are entire sites like Projects Abroad and Go Abroad, which offers over 6,000 volunteer programs world wide. While there are always ongoing communities around the world needing help, there are also a number of amazing organizations which deal with disaster response and are on the ground almost immediately after a storm, quake, etc. I first volunteered abroad with Hands.org, which started in Thailand after the Tsunami in 2005. Since their start they have helped thousands around the world after natural disasters, all while giving free housing and meals to all volunteers, a feature not many organizations offer.

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Volunteering Abroad - The Best Way To Travel2) Make New Friends – Some of the most unique and interesting people I have ever met have been on the road while volunteering. There is an amazing bond that you make with people when you are helping others, which allows all the little things we think set us apart to fall away in place of true connection. Finding yourself in the flooded kitchen of an elderly Philippino couple, clearing out their life belongings while only communicating with them through body language and eye contact is an amazing experience, and creates amazing friendships. I am still in touch with almost all of the people I volunteered with for the first time nearly 10 years ago and they are all still doing amazing things all over the world.

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3) Really See a Country – I have good family friends who went to Thailand on vacation the year after I had volunteered in a village very close to where they were going. I sent them a long list of amazing hole in the wall places to visit, friends of mine who would show them around and all the off the beaten path places they should visit. Upon their return, I asked them how it had been and then replied “Ohh, yea we just stayed in the hotel and didn’t make it to those places.” By volunteering, you can not only go to amazing places all over the world but peeling away the layer between you and the culture you are interacting with. There is no better way to see a country than through the eyes of those who live there and it would be a true shame to miss that by only staying in a hotel.

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4) Save Money – The number one excuse people give when asked why they don’t travel, is that they don’t have the money. While not an excuse we agree with, many people do not think that seeing the world will fit into their budget. Some volunteer groups try to charge insane amounts of money to give you the chance to volunteer for a week, but there are some great ones, like Hands.org, that give you a free place to stay and free meals in exchange for your work., which seems like the right thing to do. I was able to live in a tiny village in Bangladesh for over a months while spending less than $50 and have done the same in multiple locations world wide. It’s no coincidence that one of the cheapest ways to travel is giving back to those around you, brilliant really.

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Volunteering Abroad - The Best Way To Travel5) Helping Others – The points above really have no place without the underlying theme of helping others. “Volunteering” is a term which seems to now stand for a weekend activity or a service those who have the time provide when they can afford to. Volunteering is one of the core elements of the human nature, the desire to help other around you, help those who need a hand and lend a hand to people desperate for it. As a cocky high school kid I never knew the joy that helping a stranger could bring, and I will never forget that feeling. I see holidays or breaks in work as volunteer time and am always seeking out opportunities to see the world through a different set of eyes.

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But don’t just take my word for it! I couldn’t write this post without highlighting the thoughts of one of the amazing people I worked with along the way. Tim Fudge is one of the down right best people I have met on the road, and he continue to inspire me to this day. I first met Tim when we volunteered together in Thailand and have since worked with him in Bangladesh and the Philippines. Tim says “I first volunteered in Sri Lanka after the tsunami with money sent from friends. It really stunned me how vast and total the devastation was and how quickly things can change forever. I feel lucky that I am able to spare the time to help others. I enjoy the challenges of living and working in different environments and cultures and learning how things are done locally. I also get to meet some of the worlds most generous and easygoing people. I have learned more about what’s important in life. Material things have become less important. The resilience of people and how they make the best of the worst situations is a true lesson as is the generosity of people who have lost everything.”

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Volunteering Abroad - The Best Way To TravelSo there you have it, plain and simple, volunteering can and will change your life. It is the single most important and valuable way to interact with the world around you, and you feel amazing while doing it. You might not feel like you can make a difference, and there is so much suffering that your small contribution won’t be felt, but trust me it will. Rebuilding a small fishing hut might not seem to make a difference in an entire country torn apart by disaster, but to the family who just lost everything it means the world. I only wish I could have given more time, energy and help along the way, as I know that no matter how many houses I’ve helped to build, debris I’ve cleaned or buildings I’ve gutted, the profound connections and experiences I have had volunteering have given me more than I will ever be able to repay.

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jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all.

A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh.

Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast!


2 COMMENTS

  1. It’s heartening to see so many travelers who volunteer. Even when your trip isn’t a dedicated “volunteer abroad” trip, you can still give back. At our favorite resort in Cabo San Lucas, for example, many guests take the local rescue dogs for a walk – exercising both the dogs and themselves, having a little fun and helping out the local shelter.

    • I’ve been lucky enough to volunteer in some pretty remote place across the globe but one of my favorite volunteer jobs of all time was while volunteering in Mississippi after Katrina and taking one day a week off from gutting houses to walk to dogs at the local animal shelter. So important not to forget our 4 legged friends too!

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