Travel the world: take the volunteering route

Travelling doesn’t always have to be about exploring cultural sites, taking part in full moon parties or just propping up the local bar. You may be looking for a holiday with a difference. An easy way of fulfilling this notion is to get involved with a worthy project that could do with your help. Yep, you guessed it – volunteering your way across the globe.

From conservation schemes to restoring ancient buildings, volunteer holidays are a wonderful way to see the world and engage with it at the same time. In this piece by the inimitable Celina Bledowska, we take a look at how best to combine the spirit of adventure with learning new skills and doing some good.

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Grainy photo of a house I once helped build!

Definitely not barking

If your interests lie in exploring the benefits of an organic lifestyle and learning more about sustainability, then head on over to the WWOOF International website and sign up. WWOOF is an acronym for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and the organisation really does deliver what it says on the tin. You’ll have to stump up for your expenses and fares, but as you’ll be staying on a host project and volunteering for them for between 4-6 hours a day, accommodation and food are free. There is a small participation fee that varies from country to country.

Simply decide which country you would like to live and work in, click on the list on the website and then find your ideal farm. It’s up to you to liaise with your hosts, but the whole process is very straightforward. You could even decide to stay at a WWOOF farm in the UK before venturing overseas – this branch of the organisation has been in existence for 45 years, so they must be doing something right.

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Albania Image: Rob Hogeslag

In the country of Zog

No, this isn’t a new Sci Fi character. Albania’s last king was called Zog and after he was deposed in 1946, the country went into shutdown until 1989. Visitors were neither welcomed nor encouraged. There followed several years of corruption and power grabbing between different factions until the civil war in 1997. Modern Albania now welcomes visitors with open arms, and after so many years of neglect the country has numerous projects for the enthusiastic volunteer. Check out the list of opportunities here.

The Balkan Peace Park might be a good place to start, especially as it’s free and you may want to learn more about the environment in this beautiful region. For those with some cash, then there are several projects where you can pay to join up, and then find work through a local NGO. You might find yourself looking after abandoned animals or working with disadvantaged children.

The length of time that you spend on the project can vary, though all of these schemes incorporate an airport pick up and your stay at a volunteer house. Albania is stunning, exciting and still relatively unknown, so go ahead and immerse yourself in a wonderful adventure.

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Mama Laadi’s foster home (from my 2012 Ghana expedition)

Conservation is global

You don’t have to be an avid news hound to realise that many parts of the globe are slowly being destroyed, or some communities are simply in need of your time and help. Global Vision International (GVI) has offered volunteering opportunities and internships for 15 years the world over, and if you want to make a difference to a community, then this website is a great place to whet your appetite. GVI suggests that if you take part in one of their schemes you can, ‘make a sustainable impact, discover new countries and engage in a meaningful cultural exchange.’

Pick one of their volunteering holiday options  you can match your dream holiday with available projects. Work on wildlife conservation in Latin America, or support children in rural Nepal – the easy to use filters on the website will help you track down a programme that suits your interests and budget. Pick a volunteering holiday rather than just volunteering, and you’ll have cultural and adventure activities inlcuded in your time away.

There are 100s of different opportunities around the world,and you know that the money you’re spending goes straight into the hands of worthwhile causes that really need it.

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Me + the coolest little lady in Ghana

Not always cheap – But sometimes free

Even though you won’t be spending money on accommodation, volunteering isn’t always cheap. If you want to spend 12 days looking after wildlife in Borneo, you may have to stump up over £1,000, and the price won’t include the cost of your flight. Though you’ll learn so much about orangutans and their plight that the fee may seem desultory.

Alternatively, should you have a passion for bears, then £895 for seven days working in a sanctuary for abused animals in Romania will be fulfilling. Check out https://www.responsibletravel.com/holidays/volunteer-travel for this and a great list of similar volunteer opportunities across the globe. This website is comprehensive in that not only does it state the cost of each holiday, but also stipulates exactly what you’ll be doing, where you’ll be staying and what you can expect.

Not all of the opportunities you can find are eye-wateringly expensive, though. The longstanding site Workaway.info operates similarly to WWOOF in that you pay for your travel and expenses, but can connect with all manner of global opportunities without paying a fee to be there. Some hosts just offer free accommodation, others offer things like meals and use of pushbikes and canoes too. Just like GVI you can filter by country, type of volunteering and so on, to find the opportunity that’s right for you, whether that’s building houses in Cambodia or working with wildlife in Australia.

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Obligatory ‘me & the gals building a house in Cambodia’ shot

Give to the community – and have fun

You probably won’t want to spend all of your time away on your volunteer project. It’s fun to choose an option in a destination that you’ve always wanted to explore, so you can spend your free time in your particular version of heaven. This type of holiday has become so popular that there’s even a phrase for it: ‘voluntourism.’

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Celina Bledowska is a freelance copywriter, author and former journalist, and if her brilliant article has inspired you to do some voluntourism of your own do let us know in the comments below! While you may not be in one place long enough to start teaching English or helping with childcare (both things I feel require a long-term commitment to make a real difference) it’s possible to do great things in short times if you’ve caught the bug.

Soon, with a little help from a friend of mine who volunteers there regularly, I’ll be bringing you some information on Raksha Nepal; an organisation that helps sexually exploited girls, women and their children in Nepal. If you’ve volunteered anywhere and feel it’s a great cause that deserves some attention, please do get in touch – I’d love to help you share them with the world.

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