5 Ways to Travel Volunteer in 2016

Author: Mackensie Graham

We all need a vacation now and then. We excitedly plot our escapes from the concrete jungle, the hustle, the humdrum, in exchange for a coconut on the beach, canoe on the lake, or provincial European sidewalk cafe. But, sometimes vacation doesn’t fill the void you thought it might; and for the avid traveler, it feels a little self-serving after a while…there should be something more.

This is where volunteer travel comes in! There’s an innate human need to help others. It is in (most of) our bones. When faced with others less fortunate, ill, or struggling, there’s a natural inclination for us to help. Volunteering and donating time or services is a fantastic way to interact locals.

The opportunity to give love and positive energy in exchange for intrinsic clarity and an amazing experience is why volunteer travel should be your next adventure. Here are five resources to start with:


1) WWOOF

The act of WWOOF-ing (volunteering with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a popular way to garner the skills of growing produce and tending animals while visiting a new locale. WWOOFers often exchange hours of work on the farm for a place to stay, such as a tent or private room. Hosts (like super AirBNB hosts), usually invite their newfound help to cook and hang out as well as show them the way they do things in their plot of the world. Volunteers and hosts work out the tenure for work and accommodations ahead of time. Be sure to work out clear details of how many meals to expect and how many hours of labor there will be, prior to your trip.

When booking your WWOOF trip be conscious of the seasons you’re traveling; work during the harvest will be different than planting. If you are not comfortable working with animals, don’t agree to volunteer at that sort of farm, (you don’t want to leave your farm hosts hanging after running away from the horses!). Your hosts will likely have tools for you to use, but arrive prepared with work gloves, bug spray, sunscreen, comfortable work shoes, clothes that can get dirty, a hat…pack for the expected environment and unexpected happenstances.

2) Idealist

Head to the volunteer page of Idealist and you’re met with thousands of global volunteer opportunities. Listings are posted like open jobs and specific info is offered on how to learn more and sign-up or apply. Pick and choose between compelling experiences: like digging a trench for water mains and electrical cables in the northwest of Iceland or volunteering at an orphanage in Granada, Nicaragua. Sort by location, time commitment, area of focus, and language to find the best experience for your traveling logistics.

3) Go Overseas

Find a treasure trove of “volunteer abroad” opportunities through this search and review platform that’s dedicated to “empower more people to spend meaningful time overseas.” The company’s employees have innumerable experiences and are walking testaments to the life-changing aspects these trips can have. Search for open opportunities by location or by program type, ranging from gay and lesbian rights to marine conservation. If you have an area of passion, you can find a supporting organization here.

4) United Nations Volunteer Program

Join close to 8,000 other volunteers from 160 different countries of the United Nations and be sent around the globe to aid different Development Assistance projects and Humanitarian and Peacekeeping Operations. The UN Volunteers’ mission is rooted in peace and development; even if an assignment is short or seems tactically small, the impact on humanity can be large. This is a serious volunteer engagement with traditional assignments lasting a year or more, but short-term assignments are kept at three months or less. This opportunity is not for the faint of heart; the site discloses, ”Be aware that many UN Volunteers work in remote, isolated duty stations where basic comforts are limited. There may be no electricity or running water, there may be no recreation facilities to speak of and work may continue seven days a week.”

5) Workaway

This site offers a number of amazing experiences, a bit like WWOOF, but includes and expands beyond the farm. There is a small annual fee to join the site ($30), which more or less indicates the volunteers on the site are active and engaged, as opposed to empty profiles. Therefor, you can count on the numerous telling reviews and crowdsourced information to help with volunteer travel plans. The site marks more than 18,000 active hosts across 150 countries and volunteers can choose from tasks such as: constructing a treehouse style hostel in Koh Lanta, Thailand or taking on odd jobs in the Scotland highlands. Look into Workaway if you’re interested in learning new skills or building on current ones.

Tips for the volunteer search:

  1. Evaluate the cost to participate as a volunteer. Some organizations charge small to substantial fees to engage with the program, making volunteer travel the cost effective way to go. International volunteer programs can offer meals and accommodations, which is often included in the price. If that’s financially feasible for you, great. If not, search out opportunities with a smaller or no charge programs, however, be prepared to organize all logistics individually. Remember you’ll still have to budget for transportation to arrive at your volunteer destination.
  2. Before you begin your search, identify what type of volunteering set-up you’re interested in.
  • Independent volunteering is great if you want to handle all the logistics and keep it cheap. Usually the volunteer work will be hands-on, down and dirty. This is great for the global, long-term traveller who wants flexibility to go where they want.
  • Utilize a placement company to be matched up with a specific volunteer project that fits your interests. Placement companies often offer some facilitation. This sort of volunteering will work for either long placements or short time commitments.
  • To fully conceptualize a “voluntour” think of a cruise ship of volunteers (without the cruise part). The cruise director takes tourists to where they want to go, tells them how long they have, things to do, and incorporates some amenities. These fees are usually the highest (with most going to the tour company overhead) and travel will be a week or two.

3. International volunteering requires research. Shannon O’Donnell, an expert volunteer tourist, blogger, and author, compiled a list of questions you should ask and find answers to prior to committing to a volunteer project or organization. If you cannot answer the questions through a program’s website, be proactive and call or email.


What sort of volunteer travel have you participated in? Share with the rest of the FlyingYak community on Facebook and Twitter.