Whether you're on winter break from college, or just fed up with the deluge of snowstorms and want to escape, why not consider taking some time to volunteer abroad this winter?
Obviously, we here at Go Overseas think this is an awesome idea. At the same time, it's long been our answer to some of the most common excuses people have for not going abroad during the winter.
Why not consider taking some time to volunteer abroad this winter?
"I don't have the time." Well, you get time off around the holidays, right? Volunteer in the winter.
"It's too expensive."Winter is the low season in a lot of places, which means discounts! Heck yeah, volunteer in the winter!
"I'm too busy." Really? You're too busy watching Modern Family re-runs and drinking hot cocoa while snowed into your apartment? C'mon, get out there! Volunteer abroad this winter!
Now that we've got you on board, it's time to start thinking about where you want to go. Naturally, we've got you covered with the following seven great destinations for a volunteer abroad trip in winter.
1. India: Immersive & Impactful
Over one billion people call India home, and a huge part of this population relies on volunteer programs for food, shelter, and other basic necessities. There are plenty of non-profits in India that you can volunteer directly with, or you can choose a volunteer abroad program to go through.
We're especially fond of India in the winter for its burst of color and greenery in post-Monsoon Kerala; warm, time-warped, coastal Goa, and the stunning snow-capped mountains in Kashmir.
Winter is also a fantastic time to experience Indian culture, with Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations throughout the country, as well as being the peak season for weddings. (Ever seen a Bollywood film? Yeah? Then you know you want to go to one of these...)
But the beauty of the country and its myriad traditions and cultures aside, development needs in India are complex and volunteering projects here are best suited to those looking for a challenge. There are plenty of ways that you can make a difference, such as joining projects that support women's rights or helping to increase access to education for vulnerable young people.
2. South Africa: Wildlife & Warm Weather
Say the words “South Africa” and the parched earth of the savanna plains of the Kalahari Desert punctuated with roaming giraffes or elephants probably springs to mind. But if going on a safari to appreciate the country’s most majestic wildlife seems a bit too "mainstream" or voyeuristic for you -- you want to make an impact, not a great Facebook album -- then working with animals in South Africa may be just the alternative for you.
So, if caring for and tracking endangered species, such as leopards, elephants and rhinos sounds like a great way to spend your winter break, go to South Africa. There are plenty of ways that you can support animal conservation projects on reserves and sanctuaries as well as in the wild and it’s an excellent spot for volunteering abroad with primates.
You’ll be working with some of the most fascinating creatures on the planet and might even be involved in efforts to raise population numbers of many species. If that’s not enough of an incentive for you, just do a quick Google image search of South Africa and just tell me you don't want to be in those beautiful landscapes right now.
And oh yeah, winter in North American and Europe means it's summertime in South Africa. So peruse your options for volunteering in South Africa and promise me you'll take a break from your volunteer work to sunbathe with some penguins in Cape Town.
3. Haiti: Huge Opportunities Close to Home
Haiti has long been a common place to volunteer abroad. With one of the highest poverty rates in the world (60%) and a tendency to be rocked by natural disasters, there's a clear need for international aid and volunteers within the country.
However, Haiti is best visited in the winter (specifically, between November to March), when hurricane season has passed and the weather is (just a little) less hot and humid.
As for the volunteer projects themselves, organizations in Haiti tend to focus on construction, disaster relief, childcare, and healthcare. While some of these projects are best done by volunteers who can commit to a little longer, some of them lend well to volunteers who can only commit to a couple of weeks (although if you plan on doing this, make sure you read up on ways to make the greatest impact on a short-term volunteering placement.)
What’s more, Haiti is still in the process of recovering from the devastating series of hurricanes that battered its shores back in 2016 and volunteers looking to support hurricane relief efforts, such as providing hot meals, first aid, or reconstruction of damaged buildings, can make a profound difference.
An added bonus? For North Americans, flights to Haiti are short and won't break the bank. So go ahead, take a look at all of the volunteer programs in Haiti.
4. Thailand: Temperate Year-Round
Between November and February, when we're bundling up in coats and bracing ourselves for winter snowstorms, Thailand is also experiencing a bit of a cool season. But trust me, this is a very good thing and quite frankly the most pleasant time of year to visit this tropical, delicious-food-filled, friendly nation.
And of course, Thailand has a large number of established non-profit organizations and volunteering providers to pick from.
Whether you're interested in teaching English as a volunteer to Buddhist monks, volunteering with an elephant sanctuary, community development or working with a project that’s eradicating prostitution and trafficking, there's guaranteed to be a project in Thailand that will be able to make use of your skills.
We know that Thailand has long been on your bucket list, so book a ticket this winter and volunteer in Thailand.
5. Australia: Where Winter is Summer
If you dream of going Down Under, why not volunteer there while exploring Australia’s famous Great Barrier Reef, culturally captivating cities, and scorching outback? Especially in the northern hemisphere's winter months, Australia's glorious summer weather and laid-back vibes can be a great appeal for prospective volunteers who want to make an impact while also enjoying a little chillax in the sunny evenings after work.
But what can you do as a volunteer in Australia? After all, unlike some of the other countries on our list, it is far from impoverished (in fact, you may find yourself cringing at your bar tab more than a couple of times on your trip). Even so, its fantastic landscapes, both on land and under the sea, provide opportunities for volunteers to work within environmental conservation, including helping to restore Australian national parks and protecting the Great Barrier Reef and its endangered critters.
Another perk? A fair amount of volunteer providers working in Australia will pair your project with some adventure activities, so you can get the best of both worlds while exploring and volunteering in Australia.
6. Peru: Mountains & Communities-in-Need at Altitude
Peru is probably best known for its Inca civilization and the historic remains left by these people in the city of Machu Picchu. It’s also home to the Andes Mountains where hundreds of tiny, remote villages and a surfeit of untouched archeological ruins are to be found.
However, despite its striking history, modern Peru faces plenty of struggles. Throughout the country, poor access to healthcare mean volunteers are needed at clinics in both cities and rural areas.
Other organizations focus on promoting gender equality and community development, indigenous rights, education, and environmental conservation. Again, some of these projects prefer volunteers who can stay for longer, but with the huge variety of projects and organizations working towards development in Peru, you'll be sure to find a project that fits your timeline and skills. There are even plenty of opportunities to volunteer for free in Peru.
Do note that a level of Spanish may be required for some projects (particularly as we rank it as one of the top Spanish-speaking places to volunteer). But hey, you won't know until you flip through your options for volunteering abroad in Peru, right?
7. The Philippines: Ongoing Recovery
Although November 2013 might seem a long time ago, the Philippines are still struggling to cope with the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. So, if you’re a hands-on person, you can make a real difference by building homes, hospitals and schools to replace the thousands of buildings that were wiped out and where efforts to rebuild lives continue to this day.
Before this disaster, there was already a problem of children living in the streets; after the typhoon, this grew exponentially, meaning it's easy enough to devote your volunteering experience in the Philippines to helping street children, although projects promoting community development or where you can work in healthcare are common too.
Do keep in mind, however, that winter is peak tourist season in the Philippines, which does mean higher prices. Also, typhoon season runs up until early December, so the Philippines makes a better destination for a mid- to late- winter volunteer program. If this sounds like just the ticket for you, start exploring the wonderful volunteer programs in the Philippines.
Ready to Shed Your Winter Coat?
Instead of spending your winter break as you normally do, why not create memories to last a lifetime and leave a positive impact along the way? No matter where you go, your volunteer experience will be more fun and rewarding than hanging out at home, waiting for the second semester of college to start, that winter snowstorm to pass, or shivering with friends as you bring in the New Year. Make it your resolution to give back this winter and volunteer abroad!
This post was originally published in November 2014, and was updated in May 2018 and May 2020.