What if I told you that you could travel the entire world for next to no money at all? Sounds too good to be true right? Well, actually there is an incredibly reliable way of not only saving a ridiculous amount of money on your travels but also a way to extend the length of your trip! How is that possible? Easy, while you travel, you become a volunteer.
In this article, I will show all the ways volunteering can improve your travels and more importantly keep you on the road for longer. I’ll also show you all the different ways you can volunteer and how to find opportunities in countries all over the world!
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Why Can’t I Just Work?
Sure, you could work. It’s possible to get working visas for practically any country under the right circumstances. Many countries even offer working holiday visas which allow you to make some money to fund your travels. However, it’s not an easy process to get one.
For one thing, there are 101 loops you have to jump through to get a work visa, and you’ll need to find a job before you’ve even applied for it. As for the working holiday visa, if you’re like me, and you’re not in your home country, then you can’t get one.
Of course, this doesn’t stop some people. There are plenty of examples of travellers working without the proper visa (maybe even yours truly). These jobs range from part-time work in bars or hostels to a regular 9-5. BUT, this is very much illegal. Getting caught by immigration will result in fines, deportation (after waiting in a jail cell for some time) and most probably a ban from entering the country again. Not good.
So essentially if you’re already deep into your travels, you have no real way of making money legally while on the road. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s a solution, volunteer while you travel.
Don’t Be Fooled!
Volunteering isn’t a new concept, there are so many amazing sounding opportunities online: Work with turtles for 2 weeks in the Bahamas or Come help elephants in Thailand. Who wouldn’t want to volunteer for these, right? That’s until you find out the extortionate prices they charge for it!
We’re talking thousands upon thousands, just for a week or two. Plus you’re hardly a volunteer if you need to pay a few thousand before you’ve even started to travel. Though I’m sure a portion of the money does go to help (how much is up for debate), it’s not really viable spending months worth of budget on a week or two.
Where Can I Volunteer?
There are several websites out there but it’s hard finding ones that fit your needs. Ideally, you want opportunities abroad without a long-term commitment. Luckily there are still a few websites that fit this need. My personal favourite will always be Workaway, which is easily the best and most extensive website of the lot. With more than 40,000 potential hosts across 170 different countries, there’s plenty to choose from.
To contact hosts on these websites will require a small fee, then you’re free to volunteer to as many places as your heart desires. The prices range for each website. Workaway would is the cheapest of all, costing roughly £20 for a 2-year subscription. If you’re still not 100% sure, then you’ll still be able to browse the different hosts for free, which will quickly grab your interest!
Why Would I Volunteer?
Obviously, you won’t receive money for your work. That is enough to put many people off the idea. Plus a lot of people aren’t into the whole tree-hugging brotherly love kind of deal.
BUT before you turn up your nose at the idea, there is a vast spectrum of different opportunities to fit your personal taste. Not to mention the incredible benefits of being a volunteer when you travel! There are three clear advantages:
1. Extending Your Trip
If you’re just planning a weeks holiday then it wouldn’t apply to you. However, most backpackers dream of spending as long as they possibly can on the road, squeezing every last day out of that visa. Unfortunately, that’s not always that easy.
Usually, you would have to restrict your time in a city or region to a couple of days, a week at the most. Anything more than that would be another £5-20 a night for a hostel (or hotels if you’re a money-wasting baller). By being a volunteer, you can travel for longer!
You can extend your stay for 2 weeks, a month or even several months! And even after a couple of months, your expenses would be equal to a week or two in a hostel anyway! Which brings me to my next point…
2. Saving Money
We’re talking a considerable amount of money here! Accommodations will always be your biggest expenditure when travelling, and it’s where the most savings can be made. That’s why we stay in bargain-rate hostels. Yet if you volunteer, you get a place to stay for absolutely free!
During your time volunteering, your spendings could potentially be absolutely nothing! The only real expense during your time would be attractions you’d want to see during your time there and food. Even then, most hosts provide food for you! Either they give you your own food to prepare, give you an allowance to buy some or if you’re really lucky, you’ll get daily home-cooked food! This all means that on a daily basis you could be spending nothing!
3. A Cultural Experience
Just as important is the completely unique experience you get during your time with these hosts. You’ll be spending time with locals, often in their own homes. They’ll share their cultures and their customs with you, as well as being very curious to learn yours.
There’s no better way to experience a new place than with the help of a local. They’ll know the must-go places, take you to see and experience things you wouldn’t have known about otherwise. The places that are left out of the Top 10 Highlights lists.
You’ll have a much richer experience, especially compared to just staying in a hostel. Don’t get me wrong, I love the hostel vibe just as much as the next traveller. However, it can’t give you the authentic up-close-and-personal look at the areas culture, people and lifestyle compared to volunteering.
“But I Won’t Have Time to Travel”
Not necessarily. Sure, your time is nowhere near as free as if you were just travelling, but that’s the sacrifice you’ll have to make. That being said only a fraction of your time will be spent working. The amount of work depends on your host. They usually range from 20-25 hours per week, which can be spread between 3-5 days.
It may sound like a lot but in reality, it isn’t, as long as you’re not a lazy arse. The workload is usually spread out in a way that ensures you should have plenty of time to explore. For instance, in some places, you’ll work in the morning which frees up your afternoon. In other places, you might work longer hours on your workdays so you have more days off. Though you don’t have all your time able to travel, you get a fair amount.
It’s best to divide your time between travel and being a volunteer as it suits you. It ensures you get all of the benefits, as well as still being able to experience everything you wanted to. It’s also nice to be able to set up camp somewhere for a while and regroup after spending weeks or months on the road.
What’s the Work?
There are a vast variety of opportunities across the globe that suit your different preferences. Volunteering doesn’t have to be a dreadlocked-hippie organic kind of experience, it can be anything you want it to be!
It would be impossible to list all the different kinds of places, but there are some common types of work that pop-up regularly. These are types of volunteer work that can be found almost anywhere as you travel:
A very popular form of volunteering used by travellers for decades! These can range from your high-production farms to the more humble family-run ones and have a variety of work you’re expected to do. Either way, expect to get your hands dirty!
They include things tending of the fields, which could be harvesting, planting or ploughing, depending on the season. If the farm has some life-stock then you’ll also be expected to tend to them. Other tasks could include general maintenance around the farm; building fences, fixing structures and the like.
The prime website for this type of work is found on Wwoof, which have a vast supply of organic farms across the world which are willing to take on hosts. The unfortunate aspect of this website is having to pay for each country you wish to volunteer. Workaway doesn’t have this problem.
Practically every country in the world has hostels, many of which you can volunteer in! You might have already noticed that the majority of people who work in hostels are travellers themselves and there’s a simple reason for it. The hostel gets some free staff, you get a free place to stay, win-win.
As a traveller you’ll be well experienced with hostel life and how they generally run, it’s not rocket science. The work is usually broken down into two categories; cleaning and reception work, which generally speak for themselves. It’s my personal favourite and the all-round best option for backpackers.
Another hugely popular avenue for travellers The term schools here is very generalised as it can vary wildly on what kind of establishment it is. You could be working with children all the way to full-grown adults. There’s an incredibly high demand in foreign countries for English-speaking teachers!
You could be in a normal children’s school, a language club or a language cafe where people come to interact with different cultures! These are all sorts of places that want your English knowledge! For instance, in my experience, I’ve volunteered in classes for university students as well as a school specifically for students who want to work on cruise ships.
As you’re a volunteer, you won’t be made to work a strict 9-5. For most of these places, they just want you to interact with the students, answer questions and help them practice their conversational English. You won’t even necessarily have to be a native speaker and no qualifications needed.
Working with Kids
How about working with a bunch of adorable children? Again this is quite a broad term as there are many different avenues. Many families are looking for volunteers to help with their children in some way. It could be to help look after their children or pick them up after school, while others want you to babysit.
Many families just want someone to expose their children to English or a different culture. Therefore all that’s really expected of you is just to hang out with a couple of children and having fun, hardly work at all.
Sadly for this one most families seem to only comfortable with female volunteers (somewhat unfair in my opinion). Naturally, as you’re dealing with children the selection process is much more strict and select. Some families might even require an interview over skype or something similar beforehand.
Help Around the Home
This could almost go in hand with the last category. Some families will be willing to give volunteers a place to stay in exchange for a bit of help around the house. This could involve your typical house-work, such as cleaning, cooking and general household chores. This could also involve helping out with their kids in some ways.
For these kinds of tasks, the work would be much more relaxed. What house has 5 solid hours of chores for 5 days a week? The work will be much more spread out and finished quite easily.
Good news for the creative amongst you, some hosts require help with some of your deepest passions and favourite hobbies. There is a vast array of creative avenues which you could assist with. Some hostels or businesses want assistance with running their website, their social media accounts, or even need you to write some blogs and help create videos for them.
On the other end of the scale, some places want the help of artistic folk to help design their place, be it a hostel, cafe or whatever it is they want a creative touch with.
Again, if these are something you truly have a passion for, how could it even be considered work? These will be places of like-minded people who rather than expecting you to work truly just want your help.
Just Want a Good Time
Now we come to the ultimate lazy-bastard kind of work: no work at all. There are just as many people out there who simply want to meet fascinating people and experience different cultures and lifestyles, and for this, they’re willing to give you a place to live! These people want to learn about your culture, to learn or practice a new language, and hopefully get to teach you a bit more about their culture and way of life in the meantime.
These are all just the average type of volunteering opportunities you can find. It would be near impossible to list all potential hosts, but rest assured there are some quirky, unique mind-blowing ones thrown in. Such as working in a dog shelter, helping out in temples, working with camels in the deserts and helping with the hatching of baby turtles. All real, all free.
Where Will I Stay?
Every single host will provide you with a place to stay. The type of place depends on the type of work and the hosts themselves. For instance, if you worked on a farm or in a family’s home, naturally they would provide a room in their house for you. If you’re working in a hostel you’re most likely going to stay in the hostel itself, most probably a separate room just for the staff. Other places might provide separate accommodation away from their house and place of work.
I truly believe that your backpacking experience will always be improved by mixing travel with being a volunteer. I’m not suggesting you go from one host to the next endlessly. This way you won’t get the most of your travels, you need to be able to enjoy your time.
However, volunteering is the difference between having a 1-month trip and a 3-month one. It’s a way to truly delve into the culture and the people of the place you’re in, one that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
A Welsh university drop-out on a mission to travel the world for as little money as possible.
My adventures have taken me through over 30 countries across Europe, Asia and Oceania, and the list keeps on growing! From classic backpacking to working and volunteering, I have found all sorts of ways to maintain a life on the road.