You are not alone.
There are thousands of volunteer opportunities available; the GoEco website alone boasts over 150 projects, so I can understand how it can be overwhelming to start clicking and have your heartstrings pulled around the world. This, however, is something that every volunteer will experience and you should take it as a great opportunity to learn to really listen to yourself - ‘what do I actually want to do?’
The following are steps that you should spend a decent amount of time working through, as they will help you to clarify what your options realistically are and how you can make the most out of your volunteer trip. I also recommend you start a good ol’ spreadsheet where you can add links to the projects that are of interest to you and then slowly eliminate them as you narrow down your list.
Where can I afford to volunteer?
The truth of the matter is that traveling will inevitably put a dent into your piggy bank and the question is, how big of a dent can you afford to have.
Before even looking at the volunteer programs (and being enticed by the amazing pictures), take a quick peek at how much international flights cost to a few of your dream destinations.
Are there direct flights between your local airport and the continent that you are wanting to travel to?
Will the flight itself take over a day to reach the destination?
If you only have a week off is it worth it to spend so much time and money to be in the air and then have to make the same trip back only a few short days or weeks later?
Alternatively, you can look at what flight specials are available at the time that you want to travel. This is a nice way of leaving your decision up to fate and also adding a bit of spice to your adventure. Once you have an idea of how much the flights will cost to certain continents, you can start exploring country pages for volunteering options.
You should also know that certain regions will be more expensive than others i.e. the cost of food and touring in Europe and Australasia, will almost certainly be more expensive than in Africa and Asia. Have a look at GoEco’s most affordable volunteer programs, if you are on a tighter budget.
What is the purpose of my volunteer trip?
Next up is the purpose of your volunteer trip.
Here are a few examples; all are valid and equal and will help you decide where you want to volunteer:
- I want to learn about other cultures (or one specific culture)
- I want to learn another language
- I want to learn about and engage in environmental conservation projects
- I want to improve my resume or college application
- I want to have lots of free time where I can enjoy the beach and make new friends while doing some volunteer work on the side
You’ll notice that I left out the ‘I want to do some good in the world’ type reason because all volunteer projects will achieve that and it is not a specific enough reason to help you narrow down your list.
Be honest with yourself and really dig down: why ARE you wanting to volunteer?
You should also know that certain regions will be more expensive than others i.e. the cost of food and touring in Europe and Australia, will almost certainly be more expensive than in Africa and Asia. Have a look at GoEco’s most affordable volunteer programs, if you are on a tighter budget.
Where can I volunteer?
Now that you’ve done some research on flight prices and came up with the purpose of your travel, you can start looking into specific destinations.
Want to enjoy soaking in the sun every day at the beach? You can probably cross Zambia off your list and add Thailand.
Is seeing the African Big 5 wildlfie species the reason for your travel? Well, I guess you won’t be booking your flights to Spain.
Are you prepared to live in a country that doesn’t have running hot water and seeing people living in poverty? If you’re not, it’s okay.
Sometimes it’s easier to cross out what you don’t want to do and then be left with a much shorter and more practical list of options. Just remember, be honest with yourself - this is YOUR volunteer trip, and you are going on it for YOUR reasons.
What am I interested in?
Yay! We made it! I am now officially ready to ask you if you prefer to work with animals, people, plants or if you want to learn Spanish and eat tapas every night.
Now before you jump into it and start a scrapbook collection of cute animals that you want to see, take another breath and consider the work you’ll be doing.
Here are some words of wisdom:
I’ve always loved animals and people were a somewhat nuisance that existed in my world. When I got the opportunity to see several projects I couldn’t wake up fast enough for the days that included sanctuary trips. When I got there, it was all very cute for a few hours, but by the end of the day I shovelled more poop than I anticipated to be doing every day. Don’t get me wrong, I found it very therapeutic, but I realized that I prefer to take a quick snap of the animals and then get on with my day.
The other project that I got to experience was offering food to the homeless. Had I been looking through the website, the pristine beaches and orphaned animals would definitely have stolen my heart, the homeless unfortunately would not have ranked highly on the list. But, I can now proudly say that I am a people person. Those few hours, giving away cups of coffee and seeing as the homeless shyly accepted another dash of milk and a Christmas cookie, was more rewarding for me than all the sanctuary poop put together.
But that’s just me, based on my experiences and my being honest with myself.
You might find working with African big cats to be a lot more meaningful than volunteering with people affected by HIV, and that’s ok. Pro tip: you will always be able to contribute better to a cause that you are actually interested in.
So start chopping your list further:
- Do you actually want to be in a wetsuit all day doing coral research?
- Do you even like children?
- Do lion’s kind of scare you?
- Do some countries have views that oppose yours and you aren’t ready to hear the other side?
How long should I volunteer for?
If you’ve reached this far then hopefully you have narrowed down your list to just a few countries, or even projects. Your final strikes may come from a logistical point of view as some programs require longer than a week commitment, while others have a maximum amount of volunteer time.
You can also look at the season that you are travelling in and limit your volunteer time to avoid monsoon season, or choose to combine two projects in different countries, that will allow you to travel with the optimal weather.
If time, money and weather aren’t of concern, then the recommendation is always to spend as much time as possible on a single project. This will allow you to acclimate to the culture and country that you are volunteering in, learn the ropes of the tasks so you can be independent, and really get an understanding of the project and its contribution to society. A few months is better than a week, but 1 week is better than none.
Where should I volunteer?
The above steps should prepare you for the soul searching that you need to do in order to choose the best volunteer project for you. Subscribe to the GoEco newsletter for weekly emails on GoEco’s most popular projects, have a look at our YouTube and Instagram channels for inspiration, or talk to our support team for more information.
So, where are you going to volunteer?