Summer is traditionally a time to take a much-needed break from the textbooks and spend it lounging in the sun with friends. But, now you want to see the world, get hands-on experience, and make new friends who are passionate about making a difference, just like you. If you rather spend your summer doing something meaningful, volunteering abroad over the summer is an opportunity of a lifetime.
Whether it's wildlife volunteering or community development, get ready to leave the classroom or cubicle behind for an epic summer volunteering trip abroad.
Although you can volunteer abroad at any time of the year, there are plenty of programs that are exclusively run during the summertime. Plus, it's a great opportunity to participate in meaningful seasonal projects, like summer youth camps or environmental conservation projects.
Volunteering with Children and Youth
During the summer, volunteers can assist with youth development programs such as sports and leadership camps and summer school. These programs range from sports (e.g. soccer) camps to English language camps. Keep in mind that if you're teaching English, you might be required to have a TEFL certificate.
As different as rural areas are from dense urban areas all around the world, the need for housing and other buildings such as schools is equally strong. And the summer time, when regular classes are not in session, are a great time for upgrades to classrooms or new buildings on school grounds. Some programs, such as the REACH summer build program have students focus on raising funds necessary to support the project during the school year and then assist with the project during the summer.
If a destination makes our summer volunteering list, it's a good time to be there weather-wise and therefore a perfect opportunity for spending time outdoors contributing to the conservation of the environment. One of the most popular forms of conservation volunteering is volunteering with wildlife. In South Africa you can do everything from volunteering with great white sharks to volunteering at a wildlife sanctuary -- though, keep in mind that a Northern hemisphere summer will be winter in South Africa. Bring a coat.
Where to Go
Central / South America
From Brazil to Mexico and many other countries in between, South and Central America make for a great summer volunteer destination. Spend time coaching kids soccer in a favella or volunteering in the Amazon.
Central American destinations, like Costa Rica, are particularly great in the summertime. Unlike South America, they won't be experiencing much of a winter (just a rainy season) and tickets from North America are relatively affordable. Costa Rica is also well-known for its dedication to the environment, so there are opportunities to volunteer abroad with a conservation program like Maximo Nivel to preserve its beaches and cloud forests.
South Africa is one of those countries everyone should visit one day. From the beauty of its natural landscapes to the vibrant culture and poignant history best embodied by Nelson Mandela, it's not hard to comprehend why it's a must-visit destination. And summertime in the U.S., which is winter in South Africa, is one of the best times to visit. Particularly for those interested in wildlife volunteering, it's the ideal time to be there as far as the weather and wildlife activity.
The same goes for other popular volunteering destinations in Africa, like Kenya, Tanzania, and Ghana.
Take advantage of the warm weather and summer vibes while volunteering abroad in Europe. Especially if you've been eyeing a program in Eastern Europe, the summertime will allow you to see its most beautiful (and least gloomy) side. Volunteer in a summer camp, an animal shelter, or restoring old architecture. Then, head off to the beach on the weekends.
Planning Your Trip
How to Choose a Summer Volunteer Program Abroad
With so many options for summer volunteer programs, it's hard to narrow down your choice to just one. However, a good first step is to decide what activities you prefer to do (teach kids, conserve wildlife, build schools, work on a farm etc.) and where. Many volunteer programs tack on a few days of tourist activities, so if there is a country you want to visit or an activity you want to do, this can help you narrow down the location.
And, sometimes, you may not know what you're looking for until you see it. Peruse through summer volunteer project databases to see what's available. You can start with reading reviews of volunteer abroad programs below.
For more tips, read our comprehensive guide on planning a volunteer abroad trip.
How Long Should You Volunteer Abroad for During the Summer?
Summer, or otherwise, most programs will require you to commit to at least one week of work. Two weeks is even more common. Although a week or two from home may seem daunting if you've never traveled abroad, the time will go by quickly. Be sure to plan your trip accordingly to match up with your work or school schedule.
If you're a student, taking advantage of the longer stretch of time off by volunteering for 1 - 3 months. A longer stretch of volunteering will provide you with insight into daily life abroad that you won't get during a week-long volunteer project. Plus, it will be much appreciated by the organizations and the community you're helping.
Costs of Summer Volunteer Programs
Another factor of planning your trip is how much your summer abroad will cost. Although you can volunteer for free at home, when going abroad, there are a few more costs to consider such as the program fee and flights. Many volunteer programs use the program fee to pay their staff that helps with your pre-departure, visas, safety and running the program on the ground. It also usually covers your housing, meals, and transportation to and from the airport or around the country.
For a full run-down of costs associated with volunteering abroad for the summer, read: where does the money go when you volunteer?
Summer Volunteer Abroad Programs
Can I volunteer abroad for free?
A free volunteer program means there’s no participation fee. Usually, this means volunteering directly through an NGO or organization, but you may still need to pay for housing, food, airfare, and in-country transportation. Some organizations and projects offer housing and/or food as part of the volunteer arrangement, so it's possible to find a situation that’s essentially free except for transportation costs.
Others get funding from local governments that allows volunteers to participate without paying any program fees. In some cases, you even receive a small stipend in addition to health insurance, food, and accommodation. Keep in mind, though, that these tend to be longer-term projects, so you’re less likely to find a trade-for-work deal if you only have a week or two to spare.
On that note, if you go for a free or no-fee program, don’t expect your host organization to be able to sponsor your housing or food. Although some organizations definitely will be able to help you with this, not all have the extra funds to do so, particularly as their priority is dedicating money towards the project itself. By expecting volunteering programs to cover these costs, you may well be redirecting resources from the project you’re supposed to be helping -- and doing more harm than good as a result.
Why should you volunteer abroad?
People volunteer abroad for three primary reasons: to experience culture, to help others, and for adventure. While some of these reasons might seem selfish, we know that what makes meaningful travel like volunteering abroad so powerful is that it impacts the traveler and the community they visit.