The first step to saving money while volunteering abroad is to find a low-cost program or, better yet, your own volunteer opportunity abroad. Yes, it is possible to volunteer abroad for free by finding your own organization to volunteer with or getting a scholarship for your volunteer abroad program! (Psst! Go Overseas gives $500 away twice a year to help fund volunteer programs. Check out the deets here!)
But even if you're volunteering abroad for free, there are still going to be expenses. Whether it's the basic necessities or a little fun on the side, you're going to have to spend money. Once you've read reviews of various volunteer programs and picked the perfect opportunity, it's time to start thinking about your budget. There are ways to save up and spend less - follow these tips if you're trying to volunteer abroad on a budget!
QUICK SAVINGS TIPS BEFORE VOLUNTEERING ABROAD
- Keep track of your savings and spending - create a daily/weekly budget and stick to it.
- Focus on making memories - take photos and keep a journal rather than buying souvenirs.
- Forget buying expensive gifts for all your friends and family - send postcards instead.
- Live like a local - luxuries should be treats, not for everyday.
- Make connections - making friends will enrich your experience, but can also help you save money. You’re more likely to avoid tourist scams and may end up with a free meal or place to stay.
1. Choose your destination carefully
Certain places are going to be more expensive than others, it's as simple as that. But there are different things to take into account when choosing your destination. To cut costs, choose a country with a low cost of living. However, be aware that prices may be higher (especially for any extra luxuries or imported items from home) if you are in a more remote location. There's also the cost of getting there to consider - many African and Asian countries might be cheap once you get there, but the flight is going to cost you a pretty penny. On the other hand, countries in the Caribbean or Latin or South America may be less expensive to get to and still low in cost of living.
To cut costs, choose a country with a low cost of living. However, be aware that prices may be higher if you are in a more remote location.
2. Hunt hard (and early!) for deals
Of course, if your heart is set on volunteering with orphans in Cambodia or Ethiopia, you have to go after your dream! As soon as you know where you want to go, start searching for travel deals. Set up flight alerts on websites like Kayak and Airfare Watchdog. Make like a statistician and monitor the trends of prices; do your research on the best times to fly and buy. Lucky for you, volunteering abroad is generally very flexible, so if you find a great deal you can likely mold your volunteer-abroad schedule around the cheapest flight dates.
Likewise, if you're dreaming of taking a safari or visiting the Galapagos while you're abroad, keep an eye out for deals and subscribe to travel deal emails and the email newsletters of tour companies - they sometimes send out last minute deals and discounts. The more open you are, the better. If you have the flexibility, you might be better off waiting until you're in-country to find the best deals.
3. Start saving early
As soon as you know you want to go abroad, go into budget mode. Research, research, research! Find out how much you think you'll need, then add a bunch of padding, then start saving! Take on an extra part-time job or some freelancing work, sell some of your junk, and cut back on splurging. Do you really need new clothes? Do you really need a second coffee? Can you invite your friends over for dinner rather than going out? Make a list of all those things you can do without and follow through. Keep a photo of where you want to go in your wallet, or a post-it note attached to your credit card - this will remind you, every time you reach to spend, what you're saving for.
Volunteering abroad is generally very flexible, so if you find a great deal you can likely mold your volunteer-abroad schedule around the cheapest flight dates.
4. Be frugal while abroad
If you really are on a tight budget, you can still volunteer abroad. Just remember you're on a budget and act like it! Don't splurge. Live like the locals - you'll get more from the experience that way anyway. Wherever you're going there are likely people living on much, much less than even your small budget. They get by, you can too.
Throughout your time abroad keep your eye out for deals, and remember that living frugally will become easier over time. As you explore your host town you'll learn about the restaurants that offer weekly specials and the best supermarkets to shop at.
5. Look for inclusions
Whether you're going to spend some money to volunteer or find your own gig, try to find something that provides room and board in exchange (or even at a very reduced cost). Don't be afraid to ask! Even if you're volunteering with a small organization that most certainly doesn't have a volunteer house at their disposal, you may be surprised to find that someone in the organization, or even just someone in the community, is willing to host you in their home.
In most cultures, even if it's supposed to just be a bed for the night, they will probably cook for you, too! Not to mention the inside glimpse you'll get into the local culture. Of course, you should be sharing some of your own culture and hospitality in return! Another great way to find housing for cheap is to take to the internet. See if couch surfing is possible in the area; if not, look at hostels and guesthouses.
Remember you're on a budget and act like it! Don't splurge. Live like the locals - you'll get more from the experience that way anyway.
6. Don't forget the reason for your trip
It's easy to get caught up in tracking dollar signs, but don't forget what this whole experience is about. The reason to volunteer abroad is to help others, so don't hurt their mission by taking advantage of their hospitality or bartering down to a ridiculously low price just so you can save a couple bucks.
Volunteering abroad is often a worthwhile investment - in the community and in yourself. Volunteering abroad is a life-changing experience. You'll learn about a new culture and come back a more well-rounded person, all while giving back to another community. So while it's great to save money, don't nickel and dime your experience to the point where it isn't fun anymore. Cutting a few corners and sacrificing a few luxuries can definitely help you stay within budget - or maybe just stay a little longer!
Photo Credits: Global Volunteer Network.