Traveling can be one of the most enjoyable things in life. Making the decision to spend some of your time volunteering whilst traveling can make the experience even better. The most obvious positive of volunteering is that you have the chance to make a real and tangible contribution to the cause you choose. But there are so many other benefits that you might not have thought of.
Here we’ve highlighted 3 of the top hidden benefits for volunteer travelers, and they will hopefully inspire you to give something to a worthy cause. So if you’re planning a trip and are looking to make it even more exciting, read on.
You won’t be a normal tourist
Being a tourist can be great. Getting out of your usual routine, traveling to new exotic places, staying in luxurious hotels and visiting the big-hitting sights can be a wonderful experience.
However, traditional tourism can also have its downsides. Those new exotic places might turn out to be very inauthentic. The luxurious hotels might end up being overpriced clones of every other in the area. The big-hitting sites are all too often filled with hordes of other tourists, shuffling their way around and elbowing their way to the viewpoint, just to get the same picture as everybody else.
Unfortunately, tourism can also fall woefully short when it comes to improving under-privileged areas, with much of the money that is generated often leaving the country immediately to line the pockets of foreign business-people.
Volunteer travel can offer an escape from this.
Yes, it is a different experience, and you won’t be able to lounge by the pool drinking cocktails all day, but it can be so much more rewarding.
You can visit a country you’ve always dreamed of seeing and have the opportunity to truly get off the beaten track. You can bond with the local community, who will happily welcome anybody that is there to help them. And of course, your money and time will go directly towards improving the communities you are staying with.
Learn a language
Learning a language is never going to be a walk in the park. Volunteering in a country that speaks a different language can make it a whole lot easier, though.
Imagine living among native speakers, interactive with them all day, every day. You will find yourself picking up words and phrases without even trying. There are very few things that can give the same degree of satisfaction as having a conversation, however basic, with somebody in a language that isn’t your own.
The best part is, you may even find yourself enjoying the learning process. When you compare that with hours of sitting in a classroom or studying books in your spare time, it becomes pretty obvious which learning method is superior.
I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that it’s perfectly feasible to go from knowing 1 or 2 words to being conversational in a matter of weeks. All it takes is the willingness to get out of your comfort zone, surround yourself with native speakers, and simply go for it. Yes, you will have to resort to hand signals at times. No, you won’t be fluent in a couple of weeks. But by making mistakes and having the confidence to carry on, you will learn fast, surprise yourself and develop a valuable skill.
There are some great opportunities to teach English, if that’s something you’re interested in, offered by organizations like the uVolunteer.
Make lifelong friends
The social benefits of volunteering are something that can be easily overlooked. The entire time that you are working on your chosen volunteer project, you will be surrounded by like-minded people, who like you are socially-responsible, love traveling and want to contribute something to a good cause while experiencing new things.
You will be living with, working alongside and spending your leisure time with your fellow volunteers, which can help to form strong bonds of friendship between you. It is not uncommon for volunteers to go on to travel together, meet-up when they get home and even remain friends for years beyond their shared volunteer placements.
Besides meeting fellow volunteers, by integrating yourself into communities and helping them, it becomes easy to build friendships with local people too.
The nature of volunteer work means that you are most likely going to be living amongst people who haven’t had the same advantages in life as you. They probably won’t ever have the option to travel abroad, and so you will have a unique opportunity to interact and build friendships with people that you would never be able to meet in day-to-day life.
If you choose to or are in a situation where you have to travel alone, or if you just love making friends, then what better way to guarantee meeting other people than to volunteer.
The only way to really find out is to do it!
At the end of the day, everybody’s experience of volunteering will be different and nobody can tell you exactly what you as an individual will get out of it.
You can get a good idea of what to expect by seeing what uVolunteer’s past volunteers have to say. But the only way to really see what the fuss is about and truly understand the benefits that volunteering can bring is to get out there and see for yourself!
Nicoleta Radoi is the resident content blogger for uVolunteer.net. Nicoleta is an avid linguist, speaks fluent English, Chinese, French, Spanish and native Romanian. She spent a decade working in China in the education sector and working with major international development institutions. She currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. Nicoleta is passionate about volunteering, sustainable travel and has a soft spot for ethnic food. Connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.