Many of you (travellers or travellers to be) might have heard of this not-that-new travel mode: volunteering for a couple of hours a day in exchange for food and accommodation. This may be the perfect way to travel cheaper and for longer periods of time, and in a way it is, but the truth is… volunteering isn’t a good idea for everyone. There are many aspects to consider before enrolling in an experience such as volunteering abroad.
First of all, you have to be (or become) a flexible and a very responsible person, you have to be understanding of other cultures, habits and ways of living, respectful and eager to learn new skills.
Imagine you’ll be living for a couple of weeks with other people in a new place for you and you’ll have to do the tasks you’re asked as long as you stay in that place. Sometimes the work will vary and sometimes it’ll be the same routine every day. So, you’ll have to be flexible and adapt to the routines, customs and habits of the people around.
The first aspect to consider is to choose the right website to look for volunteering proposals. You can find some websites in my previous post: Volunteering Abroad. But since I’ve been using Workaway and I really love the way it works, I’ll use it as my model.
Let’s assume that you already created an account on this (or other) website. Next, you’ll have to make yourself some questions in order to clear your mind and decide which options are more suitable for you:
Where do I want to volunteer? Which country, which city, which region, etc. You have to be sure that you know the place where you want to volunteer, by this I mean that you did a little research and you chose the place based on your interest and preferences: Spain, Colombia, a big city, the countryside, near the beach, on the mountains, etc.
For how long do I want to stay there? It’s important that you organise your trip carefully so as to arrange the dates of your stay with the hosts. Bear in mind that each host will require a minimum stay, which could be from only one week to one or more months.
What does the host want from me? You should ask yourself this question when you find a volunteering proposal that you like very much, that you find it matches your requirements, but… will you be able to match the host requirements? Do you have the skills he or she is looking for? It’s important that you be honest in order to avoid uncomfortable situations when you get there and find you can`t cope with what you’re asked to do.
What do I want to learn? (Very important question indeed) Remember that a volunteering experience isn’t just a way to save some money on food and shelter, it’s a great opportunity to learn new things and skills. When you search for a volunteering proposal think carefully about your interests, motivations, think about those things you’ve always wanted to learn. I’ll give you a clear example: My husband and I are very interested in learning about ecological building and organic farming since we’d love to be able someday to build our own sustainable home and grow our own food. That’s why we always focus on volunteering proposals that are relevant to our interests. Try to avoid proposals involving tasks that you loathe or simply don’t enjoy at all.
Once you’ve considered all these questions you’re ready to start your search.
A Quick Sample…
The image above shows the search engine of the page, here you’ll type the continent in which you’re interested to do the volunteering.
Then you can be more specific with your search, type the specific country and then the region, province, state, etc. You can even fill the space which says “Search word or phrase” to be more specific on your search. You can specify the location or even the type of volunteering you want to search for.
Once you click on Show Results, you’ll see how many volunteering proposals show up within your searching parameters.
Let’s assume you’re interested in the above volunteering proposal. First, you should check the host rating and if he/she has feedbacks. Feedbacks are very important as they give us an orientation on what the volunteering is going to be like. Pay special attention to that, but do not prejudge, different workawayers can have totally different experiences on the same volunteering.
Remember to pay attention to the minimum stay requested and see if it meets your needs, and your calendar. And also pay attention to the availability, be sure that the charts are green on the months you want to go, if they are red it means the host is not available those months, and if they are yellow, it means that you should contact the host to see if he/she is available on the dates you want to go.
Check what type of help the host needs so as to know if you’re suitable for that volunteering proposal. Read the description thoroughly.
Check what kind of cultural exchange you could be part of if you chose that volunteering experience. Pay attention to the accommodation the host will provide you with, some hosts request workawayers bring their own tent. Be sure you speak any of the languages on the description.
In case you do need an internet connection, check where it says a little more information, but just to be sure, ask the host about that when you first contact him/her. This is important if you need an internet connection to work on your computer.
In case you share your profile with a partner or a friend, be sure that the host is able to receive both of you. Also, check the hours of work the host requires from you.
Remember to read the feedback from other workawayers.
If you liked the description of the volunteering proposal and agreed on the conditions of the host, you are ready to contact him/her. Keep in mind that the host may write you back or may not. We wrote many messages to different hosts before we were accepted in our first volunteering. Don’t be discouraged and keep writing, sooner or later a host will message you back. Remember to specify the dates of your arrival and departure, and also remember to state if you’re flexible on those dates or no.
Now you’re ready to start. A positive and proactive attitude and good vibes are all that it takes to have a great volunteering experience. I hope you enjoy volunteering as much as we do!