How to Volunteer Abroad for Cheap
You can get a meaningful, affordable travel experience by volunteering your time and your talent for projects around the world. Here's how to pull off a trip as a foreign volunteer.
I want to travel and see the world. Who’s with me?
Unfortunately, my budget often begs to differ. I know I’m not the only one in that situation. Many young people want to travel, and most millennials put a high value on experiences, according to a study by Eventbrite. We want meaningful, life-changing travel experiences, and these come with a real price tag.
So what’s a budget-minded traveler to do? Becoming a foreign volunteer might be the best option. When you volunteer abroad, you can travel and see the world for cheap — even free, in some cases.
Why Volunteer Abroad?
As a foreign volunteer, you aren’t buying into some cookie-cutter, whiz-bang tour. You get to see what it’s actually like to live and work towards a noble goal in a foreign country. Megan Lee from GoAbroad, a popular alternative travel directory, agrees. “It makes the culture and those learning opportunities come alive more and not feel so forced or textbook-like.”
Volunteering abroad is also good for solo travelers. A great option, for example, is to go early; work for a bit and get your bearings in the country; and then ask your fellow volunteers for good recommendations on fun, safe things to do next.
“You don’t really feel alone when you sign up for a volunteer program,” Lee says. “You show up, and there’s four other wide-eyed people. And you’re like, ‘Oh, we’re both experiencing this crazy thing together.’ It creates really tight bonds.”
And last but not least, volunteering abroad can be cheaper than a regular vacation. Just how much cheaper depends on what country you’re going to and whether you’re going through a volunteering agency or not. I looked up how much I should budget for a DIY trip to Portugal, and I could expect to spend up to $1,295.77 just for a one-week trip, not including airfare. But if I chose to become a foreign volunteer at, for example, a wolf conservation program, I’d only shell out about $375!
Further Reading: Learn what determines the price of your plane ticket.
Ways to Volunteer Abroad for Cheap
When it comes to volunteering abroad, you have two options: connect with a volunteer outfit yourself, or go through a volunteer-coordinating agency.
Connecting with a volunteer outfit yourself has one notable advantage: it’s likely to be cheaper. In some cases, it can even be free. And if you’re lucky, you might even get your airfare paid for. There’s no one central database of people looking for foreign volunteers, so you might have to get creative. The Texas A&M College job board, for example, has a lot of animal-related volunteer opportunities. And you can also directly contact an interesting international charity to see if they have an in-country volunteer program.
Be prepared, though: each of these programs operates on its own. You might have a dedicated manager to help you along, or you might be on your own to figure things out — from visa requirements to necessary vaccinations, and even in-country transportation. Make sure you have a full understanding of what’s required of you before you sign up.
It’s also up to you to vet the program. Is it legit? Is it safe? You do not want to end up alone with a creeper in the middle of nowhere in a foreign country. GoAbroad has great resources for vetting a program, whether you want to work in education, with animals, or in a medical field.
Further Reading: “What Happens When Financial Education Meets Small-Town Guatemala?”
Go Through a Volunteering Agency
Going through a volunteering agency has several advantages, but is likely to be more expensive (though it’s probably still cheaper than a DIY resort vacation). But rest assured: If you sift through GoAbroad’s directory, all programs have been checked out. You can rest assured that your money is going to support your own living expenses and the program itself.
You’ll also receive more support. Each program has a dedicated program manager (usually in-country, and sometimes even on-site) to assist you with things like travel requirements and in-country transportation.
Furthermore, a volunteer agency vets its programs, so you know it’s a socially responsible arrangement. For example, volunteers working with children should have a background check, and programs should place an emphasis on supporting the local economy rather than large multi-national corporate conglomerates.
Final Thoughts on How to Volunteer Abroad for Cheap
According to Megan, that’s a worthwhile investment on its own. “It’ll really change how you see yourself… [and] how you understand the world. It starts to diminish that fear of us versus them. I think that at the end of the day, that is an investment that will have dividends for the rest of your life.”
Further Reading: “9 Ways to Give to Charity Without Spending Any Money”