These days, the internet is flooded with sites that are designed to allow willing volunteers to connect with people that need some extra help all over the world. The idea is that volunteers work for roughly 5 hours a day, 5 or 6 days a week in exchange for 3 meals a day and accommodation. This can be anything from working in a hostel to painting someone’s house; from looking after animals to building a tree house; from improving a business’ online profile to picking fruit. You name it, you can probably do it, depending on the skills you have to offer and where you want to go!
There are millions of opportunities in all corners of the globe and you can volunteer for a week, a year or anything in between. Some of the best and most well known sites are WWOOF, Workaway and Help Exchange. What’s in it for me I here you cry? Well, it’s funny you should ask…
- Save Money
As students, money is never far from our thoughts. If I had a penny for every time someone told me they couldn’t afford to travel, I could fund a luxury round the world trip. Many people think that going travelling (or on an extended holiday) is going to cost the earth, but a work exchange is a fabulous solution.
The expensive part of a holiday is most often the day-to-day, but with a work exchange you needn’t spend any money at all. Your accommodation and food are covered, and if you find the right opportunity you can stay away from any temptation to spend money. I, for example, spent 3 weeks on a sheep farm/fishing and surfing hotspot in Australia 300km from the nearest town, so there was no chance of popping to the shops! I was right on the beach so I spent my afternoons snorkelling on the reef and soaking up the sun, all without spending a single penny…
- Travel for Longer
The more days you can go without spending, the longer your trip can be! If you’ve always dreamed of disappearing for the whole summer, or even a year, this could be the answer! Interspersing your travels with a few weeks on a farm here or in a hostel there means that you can get maximum prolonged enjoyment out of those hard earned pounds!
- Practice Languages
If your French is a bit rusty, there’s no better way to improve it than holing yourself up in a French vineyard for a little while to practice. If you really want to immerse yourself, try and find a host that is advertising the position in the language you want to learn and that English won’t be spoken.
- Use your Skills for Good
If you are a social media whiz or handy with a hammer, you could help a small business trying to get off the ground or a family trying to build an eco-friendly house. There are also countless hosts looking for people to help them with their English. Find what looks like a worthy cause and do some good whilst holidaying! Win win!
- Learn a New Skill
There’s no better way to learn how to do something than, well, doing it. If you sign up to work in a hostel, chances are you’ll be checking people in using their management system, helping with social media… who knows. All this experience looks great on the CV, and any experience volunteering abroad will without doubt provide you with an answer to everyone’s favourite interview question: ‘Provide an example of a time when you have use your initiative to solve a problem…etc etc.’ Your initiative will most definitely be required repeatedly working abroad, so there’s no need to lie in interviews anymore!
- Meet New People
It’s not just the hosts you might bond with; your fellow workers will probably be from all over the world and from all walks of life. You might make friends for life, find a travel buddy or just learn a lot about how to deal with ‘tricky’ people, but either way you’ll take a lot away from the experience.
You should be working half days and have plenty of days off, so you can use this time to explore the local area on the cheap! If you’re lucky your hosts will give you insider tips about the best places to visit and you’ll have experience you would never have had if you’d just travelled on through.
- Live Like a Local
Living and eating with your hosts means you’ll be completely immersed in the local life, eating local food and learning a lot about the local culture. There’s no better way to really get under the skin of the country you’re visiting.
- Leave Your Comfort Zone Behind
Living and working alongside people of different nationalities in a completely foreign context will definitely require you to drop your preconceptions and go with the flow! Pick something completely out there and challenge yourself, you won’t regret it.
A word of advice: Make sure you agree on the hours you’ll be doing before you arrive and stick to them! You’re a volunteer, not cheap labour!