In this age of rapid, proliferated, and uncensored information, you can pretty much find anything by googling. Before you go and celebrate this amazing information access, consider this — it may be a double-edged sword — you get the quantity but how is the quality? You get tons of information instantly — often more than you can handle, but then the real work begins when you have to sort through them for reliability and revelance. As a traveler, Google will provide you no shortage of volunteer travel organizations and programs to consider, but how do you begin to evaluate and how do you select the best program for you? After all, volunteer travel programs are not one size fits all. These 10 key questions will help you select the BEST program for YOU:
Where do I want to go? Is there a particular continent I want to travel to? Do I want to go to an English-speaking country or one where I need to learn a new language?
What voluntary work would I want to do? Projects can range from community development, to conservation, working with children, and research expeditions. What are my strength and interests?
Do I want to be on my own or with a group? Am I looking for some solitude or do I want to meet new people?
How long do I want to go for and what time of the year? There are programs lasting from one week to 2 years. Many programs have set dates, while others allow volunteers to determine their own start and end dates. The shorter-term (1 to 3 week) opportunities often entail a specific project such as building a medical clinic or repairing trails. In longer-term programs, volunteers live and work side-by-side with the local people, becoming a part of the local community.
What type of organization do I want to join? Are my values and objectives in line with those of the sending and host organizations? Does the organization promote mingling with locals or prefer volunteers to stay among themselves? Does the organization contribute part of the program fee to the long-term sustainability of a community and its resources? How are the funds used?
What skills do I need to have? Many of the opportunities don’t require volunteers to have specific skills. A willing spirit and an open mind are often all that’s required. Those with professional experience in a certain field (medical, technical, business, etc) may want to choose a program that will allow those skills to be used.
What language abilities do I need to have? Some programs require conversational ability in the local language, but many don’t. Some offer language training before volunteer work begins or as part of the program. Either way, volunteering abroad is an excellent way to practice or learn a new language. Want to practice a new language, look for a program that offers a home stay or a cultural immersion experience.
What does the cost or program fee cover? The costs of volunteer abroad programs vary widely. Most include food and accommodation (generally homestays with locals) while on the project, but do not cover flights, insurance, vaccinations. Others only arrange placement in a project abroad. Ask the program representative what the fee covers. Will any of it go directly to the project or community being served? Are any other benefits included, such as language training, pre-departure and re-entry orientations, health and accident insurance, emergency evacuation, a living stipend, travel within the host country, special tourist excursions, or academic credit?
How much support or structure do I need from the organization I’ll worked with? Have I check on the organization including speaking with former volunteers, and not just read testimonials on websites?
For more essential tips on planning your trip, browse through our traveler’s guide.
photo by piers brown