Written by Dylan Livingston
Volunteering abroad is a fulfilling cause, especially when you go to support a volunteer organization that is responsible, sustainable, and has an amazing long-term relationship with the community it aims to support and help.
Many good volunteer programs recognize the virtue it takes to volunteer abroad, and can sometimes offer to cover the expenses of your trip in return for your hard work. There are many options for affordable volunteer placements, and there are programs that even fund your expenses. However you are able to find a way to volunteer abroad for free with a reputable, responsible organization, your work is sure to be both appreciated and rewarded further down the road.
1. Find a Trustworthy Organization for your Volunteer Experience
There are not many programs that offer meals and a place to stay for free, but if you do stumble on what looks like a free volunteer program, it’s important to do extensive research on the company. If a volunteer program is accommodating you for your visit, it’s important to know how the money is being distributed amongst the organization vs. amongst its impact projects.
There are, however, many volunteer programs that ask for small fees that help their cause, that can be as low as $200 or less and typically go towards the cause you are working for.
It’s important to first inquire what your costs are going towards before paying them, and any reliable organization will be more than happy to share specifics with you if their cost breakdown is not already listed on their website. As a general rule of thumb, most nonprofit organizations are worth looking into closely; stay away from most for-profit volunteer organizations, where dollars often don’t reach the people you actually want to help most.
2. Apply to Join the Peace Corps
Have the chance to travel around the world, working in a variety of specialized fields, by volunteering with the Peace Corps. While joining the Peace Corps is a 27-month commitment, you will be paid a monthly allowance during the duration of your volunteership that is intended to cover average living expenses in the community you work in.
The majority of Peace Corps work is done in Africa, but there are also programs in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands.
3. Cultural Exchange Programs
The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs offers scholarships in return for the completion of tasks, such as housing an international exchange student or volunteer. After hosting an international student or volunteer, you will then have access to a host family free of charge when you travel abroad. You may also qualify for scholarships by making presentations to local youth clubs or schools.
By sharing your intentions and goals for your volunteer abroad experience with a community, you may inspire the youth to take a similar path for their future. Making meaningful presentations can lead to private donations towards your cause, which can lead to further networking and opportunities for fundraising.
The world of crowdfunding is on the rise, which means there has never been a better time to start a travel fundraising campaign. You will be surprised to find the amount of enthusiasm and support people will give you if you outline the purpose of your trip in a meaningful, educational and inspirational way!
You might make a video or start a travel blog (for example, this site is built on WordPress, hosted by BlueHost for $4.95/month). It also helps if you offer people something in return for their donations, such as an exclusive look at your trip through photos, videos, or journals. FundMyTravel is an excellent site for creating a crowdfunding campaign for purposeful travel!
5. Creative Fundraising
There are lots of ways to fundraise offline too. One method is to organize a community walk, half marathon, or 5K run to bring your community together for a cause you care about. You can request that people pledge X amount of money for every mile that you walk or run. Another option is to host a dinner or cookout series for donations.
The 52-week challenge is also an effective way of saving money that has been gaining popularity amongst international travelers. All you have to do is commit a year to saving up for your trip. Here’s how it works:
During the first week you set aside $1 into a free savings account (many online banks let you open a checking or savings account for free), and for each following week you increase the savings by a dollar. The second week, you save $2, and the twentieth week, you set aside $20. On the 52nd week, you’ll deposit $52 into your savings account, totaling $1,378.
$1,000 or so will usually be more than enough to cover the costs of most short-term volunteer programs and can even cover part of your flight cost. No matter what way you choose to raise money for your volunteer trip abroad, be creative and have fun with it!
6. Social Media
Social media is a great way to share your volunteer goals and get feedback from past international volunteers. Posting regularly about your trip is more likely to get attention and will generate awareness to your cause. (You can also follow popular travel pages like BBC World, GoAbroad, and Lonely Planet to see what different types of posts get the most engagement, and put your own spin on things with original posts that promote your trip, your fundraiser, or any travel blog posts or videos you create.)
All three of these popular pages host regular forums and discussion boards related to affordable travel. Don’t be shy! Post your question and someone will answer you. Social media has made networking within the travel world more accessible than ever.
When you take the time and make the commitment by setting a travel goal for yourself, you have already done half of the work.
The rest of the journey unfolds from making your goal known to the world, and putting in the time that is necessary to achieve that goal. Purposeful work with positive impact so valuable, and by volunteering for a responsible, sustainable organization without expecting anything in return, you’ll gain a fulfilling and enriching experience that is worth more than what money can buy.
Dylan Livingston is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and he hopes to work in the entertainment industry some day so he can share his passions with the world. A passionate writer, filmmaker, and musician, Dylan enjoys traveling because it helps broaden his perspective of the world.