When I made the decision to quit my job in the UK to head out and experience life in other countries it was difficult to know where to start. But there were some key things that I felt were important.
Firstly, I didn’t want to just “travel the world”. The thought of backpacking round East Asia or South America for a year didn’t excite me. I’ve met a few people who’ve done that sort of thing and had a great time, but it seemed too conventional for me. Too much time spent around other foreign travellers and only seeing the usual tourist sites. The fact that I am not an outgoing person and I am affected by social anxiety, I knew that I would struggle to push myself outside my comfort zone and to tread my own path. I needed to immerse myself in local culture wherever I was so that I could really get under the skin of a country, rather than just passing through.
The other thing that was important to me was to contribute something meaningful to the country I was in. I love charity work and have had previous experience in international community development. So I wanted to be able to use my skills to benefit local projects and give my travels a greater sense of purpose. And maybe I’d find something that I loved doing and would want to dedicate myself to.
So volunteer work seemed to be the right option for me. But finding the right volunteer work was not particularly easy. I spent a long time researching options online. There were many organisations offering exciting sounding volunteer trips, but they often came at a high price. And my skills and experience probably aren’t best suited to helping in a chimpanzee rehabilitation centre or a children’s orphanage for 6 weeks. I was also wary as I knew there were some organisations being run like a business, having international volunteers pay to work on a project only to keep most of the money for personal use.
However, I was lucky enough to find 2 great volunteering opportunities. I joined the amazing charity GlobalGiving on their Field Evaluation Programme which is run once a year. This role came with professional training and support from their UK office which equipped me with the tools and confidence to make a real impact when I visited their local partner charities in Kenya.
And for some less formal volunteer roles I found the website Workaway to be very useful. It is not limited to charity work and includes many different types of volunteering roles. I was able to find small non-profit organisations in Tanzania and India where I could offer my help in exchange for food and accommodation.
Both of these allowed me to live and work with local people in areas where there were no other foreign travellers. It opens doors for experiences that you wouldn’t have got if you were just travelling through. And through working with local people you have a chance to see real daily life and get to know the culture. I really recommend considering these type of volunteer roles if you like the idea of travelling but want to give the experience a greater sense of purpose.