In many countries, tourism is the biggest contributor to the economy and employs a large percentage of the working population. For young professionals looking to volunteer overseas, tourism is one of the easiest industries to find opportunities in.
Volunteering in tourism and hospitality can be a great way to add value to your slow travel experience while you experience life overseas and immerse yourself in the local culture. In exchange for your work, usually a couple of hours each day, you might also get accommodation, travel allowances, and meals.
As the industry grows worldwide, there are plenty of opportunities available across a range of positions. Whether it's as a diving instructor on an island, a social media coordinator for a resort, or in eco-tourism in a remote village in Asia, there is an opportunity out there that’s right for you.
Photo credit: Dalibor Tomic.
Where to Go
The African continent has plenty of opportunities in nature and wildlife conservation, tourism, and volunteer programs that combine the two to have the maximum impact on local communities.
In countries like South Africa and the Seychelles, you can volunteer as a diving instructor while also helping in marine conservation and research. You can volunteer as a guide, adventure specialist or safari expedition leader in South Africa and Namibia.
Other opportunities include volunteering at lodges, hostels, or glamping resorts. Some programs in Kenya offer the chance tolimb Kilimanjaro, gain a scuba diving certification, or learn how to kite surf while working in community development, combining the chance to travel across the country while making a difference.
With low accommodation and travel costs, Asia has been a firm favorite of international tourists for decades. Tourism favorites include countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos show no signs of slowing down with the number of young travelers they attract each year.
In recent years, other destinations like Bhutan, Japan, and South Korea are also now part of the travel aspirations of thoseho’d like to explore outside of the regular tourist trail. As such, there are many opportunities for volunteers to work as tour guides and staff (social media coordinators, front desk, kitchen, and housekeeping) at hostels, resorts, and boutique hotels.
Australia and New Zealand
Volunteers with the right experience and a love for the outdoors can find many seasonal opportunities in Australia and New Zealand working a couple of hours each day or week. Some examples are working in horse-riding centers, as guides at adventure and tour companies and ski-resorts, and as staff at hostels or resorts, in exchange for accommodation or travel perks.
Volunteers can find opportunities with tour companies, language and cultural immersion schools, hostels, resorts, and hotels in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru, especially if they are fluent in Spanish. The cost of living and traveling is low in this part of the world compared to many major European cities, so most tourist-driven businesses would be happy to provide accommodation or perks in exchange for your skills.
It’s worth looking for volunteer opportunities around major festivals and celebrations, such as the annual Rio Carnival in Brazil, as organizers need extra support staff during these busy periods.
You might be expected to lead walking tours around a city or town, focused on a certain aspect such as food, street art, or history. This would be a good fit for someone who has a relevant qualification. For example, a chef could be asked to volunteer to lead a culinary tour, and an art student could be asked to lead a tour of the art museums in a city.
Adventure and Outdoors
If you have a passion to help people experience life-changing outdoor adventures and have some prior experience and certifications in the field, you could volunteer at an adventure tour operator. Some examples are working as a diving instructor for a few weeks or leading horse-riding or hiking tours in the area.
Hostels, Boutique Hotels, and Resorts
Those looking to volunteer for a couple of weeks or months while slow traveling across a country can find plenty of opportunities helping out at hostels, small family-run hotels, and resorts that will be happy to have an extra pair of hands in exchange for accommodation during the busy months.
Planning Your Trip
Before you decide on a volunteer program, ensure that you’re clear on the terms of the arrangement. You should know exactly what kind of in-country support you can expect so you’re well-prepared. Here are some things to consider:
Choosing a Project
While you should definitely consider the sustainability and legitimacy of your prospective program, also ask yourself if you're a good fit for the volunteer role. To be able to make a real contribution to the objective of the organization, you need to ensure that your own skills and experience are aligned with the requirements of the volunteer position.
Destination-wise, if this is your first time in your host country, it’s a good idea to do some research on the local culture and general etiquette in business and social situations so that you’re always respectful in terms of attire and behavior.
Are you responsible to arrange your own accommodation? If that is the case, you need to find something that is affordable, comfortable, and reasonably close to the location of your volunteer program.
Living arrangements can vary from a single bed in a hostel to rooming in a volunteer house. In case accommodation is provided as part of the program, you need to ensure you’re comfortable with the arrangement.
What are the core working hours? Some volunteer programs are flexible and allow you enough free time to explore the country on your own. Others may be seasonal and more demanding in terms of working hours, in which case, they would usually provide accommodation or other perks.
Will you be volunteering as part of a group? If you enjoy working as part of a team, you may prefer a program where you can team up with other volunteers rather than work on your own. A group volunteer program helps you meet other volunteers from around the world and enjoy a sense of community.
On the other hand, if you’re the only international volunteer in an organization, it’s a great opportunity to meet locals and gain some real cultural immersion.