There are many ways to volunteer abroad. Tons of wonderful organizations out there work to bring together potential volunteers and volunteer projects around the world. However, some travelers look for a different volunteer experience. If you are looking for a flexible, cheap experience, volunteering without an organization may be right for you. This option is usually best for the more experienced travelers and those who don’t rely on a lot of planning as well.
Benefits of Volunteering on Your Own
Flexibility and the number of options available are important benefits for those planning a volunteer trip without the assistance of an organization. Whether it's part of a big, year-long trip around the world, a gap year, a study abroad, or you simply want to help somewhere for a few days during your one or two-week vacation, you do have options - you just have to keep your eyes and ears open and search for that perfect opportunity.
Deciphering the ins and outs of volunteering on the road is not an easy task. As with any business, there are good ones and bad organizations out there (be sure to leave reviews!).
The price sticker shock is also a difficult thing to get over when you first start doing your research. Yes, if you go with a company, you'll most likely have to pay. Yes, that figure is often rather high. But you have to remember that you will most likely be getting room and board wherever you go, and they do need money to pay for their expenses to be able to help out. Figuring out where your money is going; however, is important and worth the digging.
By volunteering without an organization, you can be confident in how you're spending your money and where it's going. Additionally, this option usually allows for local institutions to earn more money and donations in the end. Volunteering directly with a local school, organization, orphanage, etc. will ensure your money and time goes directly to those who need it most.
Fortunately, not every volunteer opportunity has to cost a lot of money or be set up before you leave. There are always schools, churches, and nonprofit organizations that are all too willing to let travelers lend a hand, even if it's only for a day or two. Remember that every little bit helps.
Real Life Example: Volunteering Without Preparation in Laos
When my wife and I were on our round the world trip, we took advantage of a few of these opportunities. Because we didn't have a clear cut plan and our budget was rather small, we simply didn't want to set anything up before leaving. But opportunities just arose when we were on the road.
On our way from Thailand to Laos, we were reading about Luang Prabang in our guidebook and came across a short little blurb about an organization called Big Brother Mouse. The main goal of Big Brother Mouse is to translate English books into Lao. Up until recently, there were very few books in Lao, so if you lived in a small village outside one of the big cities, chances are you had never even seen a book. Can you imagine having never seen a book as a child?
In order to assist in the translations, Big Brother Mouse hires local high school and college students in Luang Prabang, but they often need them to improve their English skills. This is where the travelers come in. Each day, Big Brother Mouse invites any English speaking traveler to come to the office for an hour and just talk with these local students.
Most speak English quite well, but they are always wanting to improve, and they take time out of their day (nearly all these students go to school and work in order to be able to afford their education, and many do this to be able to send money back to their families in rural villages) to come talk and learn more. Just by visiting for an hour or so and helping these students perfect their English is an extremely helpful and fulfilling way to assist in the community.
Infinite Ways to Volunteer Abroad
Even if we wouldn't have seen that blurb in our guidebook about Big Brother Mouse, there were enough signs around town that we couldn't miss it. So if you want to help out but don't want to go through a big organization, just remember to keep your eyes and ears open, or ask around at your hostel or local restaurants. There is always a need for someone to lend a helping hand.
More Resources for Volunteering on Your Own
Resources that will help you volunteer on your own include: travel forums, blogs, guidebooks, personal networks, word of mouth, and more.
- Directory of NGOs: Connect directly to a local NGO abroad to offer your time and skills as a volunteer. Use WANGO to find NGOs in every country.
- Personal Networks: Have a friend who volunteered abroad? Meet someone on your travels who was volunteering? Ask them what the local organization they worked with was and check it out for yourself.
- Idealist: Should you volunteer abroad on your own? Pros and Cons
- Idealist: Do It Yourself (DIY) Volunteering
- Transitions Abroad: Volunteering Abroad on Your Own: Finding Volunteer Projects on the Isla Mujeres, an Island off of Mexico
- How to Volunteer Abroad for Free