Voluntourism: See the World. Meet inspiring people. Do good.

Maasai villlage

Welcomed into a Maasai village with traditional songs and smiles.

As a creative person working in this industry, I’m always looking for ways to stay inspired. Voluntouring is a unique way to get juiced and to hit the reset button. It’s also a great way to see the world and get immersed in a culture (while earning a few karma points). It involves volunteering abroad to give your time, skills and energy to community-led initiatives. In your “off-time” you can do the tourist part – enjoying and exploring all that another country has to offer.

Here are some key things you should know about voluntourism:

1. You pay to volunteer.
Call it a working vacation. You’ll get up just like you’re going to work. Your schedule is set because the placements where you volunteer need you as a real and dependable resource. Each international volunteer organization is different but generally, your fees cover accommodation, food, transportation and administration costs.

Working with kids in Tanzania

During breaktime with my nursery school students in Moshi, Tanzania.

2. There are different types of volunteer work.
For example, some organizations focus on humanitarian efforts, putting you in the community to work side-by-side with locals. You may help by teaching English to enthusiastic primary students in Ghana or as an extra pair of hands constructing a home in the Andes mountains of Ecuador. Other organizations may place you with leading scientists as part of research expeditions. Imagine working with scientists to save leatherback turtles in Costa Rica, or excavating cultural treasures in Italy. There’s something for everyone.

3. There are different levels of field conditions.
Some organizations like Earthwatch Institute will actually rank the level of fitness required for their expeditions so that you can really choose one that’s right for you. It can involve camping in tents to staying in hotels or doing deep water dives to keeping notes from a jeep.

Butterflies in Costa Rica

At a student's butterfly farm in Puriscal, Costa Rica. Dozens of flapping silent wings around you - it's magic.

4. You’ll meet people and interact with them in ways you might not otherwise be able to if travelling with a tour group or booking through a travel agent.
You’ll meet volunteers from different parts of the world and locals who can give you insights into their culture. While voluntouring in Costa Rica, I’ve been lucky enough to be invited by a student to see his family’s butterfly farm (imagine being surrounded by beautiful butterflies in flight) and while in Tanzania, I’ve sat under the stars and had drinks with a Maasai warrior by the light of a kerosene lamp. You just never know where you’ll find yourself.

5. Your length of stay can vary depending on how much time you can give.
Some stints are as brief as one week while others can last months. Whether you’re working fulltime (and can only spare a couple of weeks) or whether you’re a student/retiree and can spend an entire summer abroad, you can stay as long as you can manage.

Learn the art of batik painting in Tanzania

As part of its cultural immersion activities Cross Cultural Solutions in Tanzania gave its volunteers a class in batik painting. Here's my attempt! Not bad.

6. You’ll learn new skills.
Most organizations will also train you while you’re on site. It will either be something related to your volunteer work – such as construction techniques in Ecuador or something related to the culture itself – such as batik painting in Tanzania. Cross Cultural Solutions offers cultural activities as part of the program including language lessons, dance lessons and even art classes.

7. You will come home a different person.
Nothing beats travelling to another part of the world to be integrated into the day to day life of a country. You will experience the culture in a very special way and if you’re lucky, you’ll take home some amazing stories and memories to share with the folks back home.

It’s hard not to be inspired after seeing the often unseen parts of the world and meeting real people. If you’re going to give it a try, be open – all the variety in the world is there for you to benefit from. Be flexible – you’ll learn things about yourself when things don’t quite meet your expectations. Come out of your comfort zone – what you’re truly capable of will surprise you.

Have you ever voluntoured or are you thinking of voluntouring?

Tell us where and through which organization.