If reducing travel costs while helping those in need and immersing yourself in a new culture sounds appealing, then seeking out affordable volunteering options may be right for you. In exchange for your help, the standard tangible benefits you will receive are food and lodging — but you may find that your experiences can enhance your travels in many other ways. By working just a few hours per day you can meet locals, make friends and experience locations that may not otherwise be possible.

It is easy to find numerous volunteer opportunities around the world — just do a quick Google search. However, volunteering is in demand and many of the organisations you’ll come across charge hefty fees to participate in their programs. If you follow this route, make sure to do your research, as your money and time could be supporting an organisation that’s only interested in turning a profit.

If you are looking for a more affordable way to volunteer, websites that connect volunteers directly with hosts are a great option: we recommend workaway.info and helpx.net. While these sites do charge a small fee of around US$25 for a two-year membership, they boast thousands of placements around the world — from renovating a castle in France, to working at a scuba dive shop in Australia or helping to protect the natural habitats of elephants in Malaysia. You can find opportunities in almost every corner of the world, that are perfectly suitable for people of all ages, interests, abilities and timeframes.

Locals playing soccer at sunset in isolated Santa Catalina, Panama
Locals playing soccer at sunset in isolated Santa Catalina, Panama

With several successful experiences under our belt, these are our tips on how to get the most out of volunteering your way around the world.

Write a good profile

The first impression that hosts have of you as a prospective volunteer is your profile — so create a profile that stands out! Include as many pertinent details as possible, including recent photos of yourself doing activities you love. Be sure to incorporate detailed information on your skills, such as practical abilities, languages spoken and interests.

Make sure you match

Send out requests only after you have read a host’s entire profile. Some charge a small fee per day while many others do not. They may have room for only a single volunteer while others take in large groups at a time with dormitory-style accommodations. Still others require a specific time commitment of two weeks or more. Read all reviews from past volunteers and have a good understanding of your host and what they are offering so that you can choose an option that is a good fit.

Theresa bottle-feeding a fawn at Rio San Juan, Nicaragua
Theresa bottle-feeding a fawn at Rio San Juan, Nicaragua

Communicate

Contacting more than one host at a time is completely acceptable, as some hosts won’t respond, some already have volunteers and others may be looking for a specific skill that you don’t offer. If a host informs you that they have availability and are interested, a placement is only solidified once both parties mutually agree on the terms of the stay.

During your initial communication make sure to get the information you need to fill in any holes in the prospective host’s profile. Clarify what will be expected of you as well as what you will be given in exchange for your time volunteering. Besides food and lodging, you can at times negotiate additional benefits depending on what services the host offers, such as language classes.

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver

When making commitments, ensure that you can keep them. This means that you must be able to fulfill your end of the bargain with regards to the skills that you have offered, your arrival date and time commitment. This is not only important for the relationship between you and your host during your stay, but also for building good travel karma down the road. On top of that, the reviews that hosts leave on your profile page will have a great effect on the ability to gain future volunteer placement. Let your legacy be a positive one that will help build a volunteer résumé with great references.

Volunteer in beautiful locations such as Valle de Bravo, Mexico
Volunteer in beautiful locations such as Valle de Bravo, Mexico

Be respectful

Typically four to five hours of work, five days a week is what is expected of volunteers, however this can vary based on needs of the host and the skills that the volunteer offers. Additionally, you should remember that you are a type of guest. It is very important that you treat your hosts and their homes with respect, share in standard household duties and always clean up after yourself.

Our final tip for getting the most out of your volunteer experience during your travels is to be open to new experiences, and to have a great attitude and a true willingness to learn. Opportunities to have amazing experiences and make a difference in incredible ways surround us as we travel this beautiful world. Keep your eyes and mind open and you may be surprised at what doors will open for you!

Your thoughts on "Volunteering: an affordable way to see the world"

  • I think the most important thing on your list is at the end....be respectful. If you are volunteering in another country it's very much about "When in Rome...". Respect the culture, the language, the people, the customs.

    on June 22, 2012 at 12:22 pm Reply
  • Love to hear more on if people have done this and any comments on planning such a trip. I need to store my current house contents and rent out my house, then travel and volunteer

    on September 2, 2012 at 9:26 am Reply

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