7 Hacks to Volunteering Abroad for (almost) Free
Volunteering abroad can be a great opportunity that will allow you to experience new countries and cultures in a way that is vastly different from regular travel. Apart from allowing you to do some good in the world, you’ll get to share your skills, knowledge, and enthusiasm, and in return meet new people while beefing up your resume.
Unfortunately, many programs are so pricey it will deter even the most committed volunteer. There are, however, plenty of options available when it comes to volunteering and many of them are low-cost, or even “free”. As these are often more difficult to find, you’ll have to do detailed research and put in the effort to find them.
As free projects are often run by smaller organizations, they also tend to be less organized as there will likely not be enough hands and resources available to run the work that they’re doing. To get as much as possible out of the experience, you have to go in with realistic expectations and be prepared to take the initiative.
You may be expected to teach English to small children or take care of the garden. Would you be able to start working immediately based on these directions, or will you require more support?
Chances are that you’ll encounter cultural and language barriers, and free projects won’t be able to offer orientation and training as ones with a fee often provide. Also, no-fee projects are actually more realistic for skilled volunteers rather than unskilled ones, so keep that in mind when searching for free programs.
How to Volunteer Abroad for Free, or Close to It
There are a number of websites where you could go to find many overseas volunteering opportunities, with Idealist and GoOverseas being two of the major ones. Another site that offers many programs at little cost is Volunteers for Peace. Once you find a program that looks like it might be a good fit, do research to determine where the money is used. While some organizations donate all the proceeds to local organizations, others simply spend the money they make on marketing and administrative costs.
Be sure to check out forums and reviews, and, if possible, talk to individuals who have volunteered for the specific organization before. A good place to search for reviews is GoAbroad. They will be able to offer you an honest account of their experiences, and might be able to provide you with tips and insight you won’t be able to get elsewhere.
2. Know What You Want to Get Out of the Experience
If you know what you want to get out of the experience beforehand, it will narrow your search considerably. Apart from doing good, you may want to improve skills in a foreign language, or improve your resume. If your goal is for example to learn more about sustainable agriculture, have a look at WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). The more you know what your goals are, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to find an opportunity that will benefit you.
If you’re interested in working with your hands, learning some basic engineering and construction skills, while helping communities get clean water, check out the BLUE Missions Water & Sanitation Programs.
3. Choose Where You Want to Go
Like most things in life, planning beforehand is much more likely to get you better results. Although simply winging it can sometimes work out, it’s much better to first work on at least some type of outline. If you know where you want to go, it will help make your research so much more effective, and this will ultimately save you money. Rather than picking a specific country however, it’s better to select a region of interest.
If you’re for example thinking of planting trees in Senegal, this may not be possible as the only tree-planting program available might be in Mali. If your highest priority is to travel to a French speaking West African country, it’s best to be open-minded when choosing the type of program you want to volunteer for and the country.
4. Utilize Your Specific Skill Set
One of the best ways to volunteer abroad for free is to find an organization that needs your specific experience and abilities. Although there are many people able to hang out with kids, build houses, or teach English abroad, organizations are often looking for specialized skills.
An almost certain way to volunteer abroad at virtually no cost is if you have skills in the medical field, from dentistry to nursing, while IT is also a high demand skill. Although these fields are in high demand, there are many opportunities in other fields such as language experience, construction, administrative, among others.
If you want to volunteer abroad free, treat the application process as if you were applying for a job interview in a competitive field, by highlighting what makes you stand out.
5. Your Comfort Level
When you’re thinking about travelling around the globe, you need to ask yourself some questions regarding how comfortable you would be in new situations, whether you’d be able to live without your smartphone, and even if you would manage to cope in an environment that has no flushing toilet.
You need to be absolutely honest with yourself when answering these questions, as it will assist you in highlighting or eliminating specific locations and programs. Although one of the reasons people volunteer abroad is to get out of their comfort zone, taking it beyond your limits may well prevent you from having a good time.
6. Getting on the First Plane Out
Some individuals prefer to cut out the middleman completely and simply want to hop on a plane to their destination. Once they arrive, they book themselves into a hostel and simply start asking around at medical missions, schools and wherever they can find that may want volunteer assistance.
This option is not recommended unless you have extensive experience traveling, are familiar with the country you’re visiting, have plenty of time, and can afford to hop on a plane home when you need to.
If you have the personality, determination and drive, you can ask other people to help pay for your volunteering trip abroad. Promise to give something small in return for financial aid. This could be something like letters, travel / experience blog posts, or holding a talk on your experiences once you return.
I know of a number of people who have funded their trips to volunteer abroad by setting up an account on Kickstarter. Kickstarter allows its users to write a description of what they want to do, and how much money will be required. Family and friends then post the link to the project on Kickstarter on social media, and anyone who wants to support the mission can donate $5 or more, whether they know the individual or not. Kickstarter has been used to raise capital required to release albums, do scientific research, and publish books.
At BLUE Missions, we have created a custom fundraising platform for all of our volunteers. This custom platform allows you to manage all your donations from one central place. It’s a great way to keep your fundraising organized. If you’re a potential BLUE volunteer, we highly encourage you to take advantage of the fundraising platform.
If you have specific talents, or know people that are talented, you can increase the funds from your online campaign by hosting your very own fundraising event. You or your friends can break dance, recite poetry, play songs, or do whatever you love doing. The venue does not have to be fancy either, but could simply be in your own living room, or in a coffee shop.
You’ll be surprised at how quickly entrance fees to a simple event can accumulate. People often approach organizations and companies for donations as well. There are endless possibilities - all you need is a little creativity, determination and the drive to see it through.
Network extensively by talking to people everywhere - at work, on the bus, in class, and at church. You’ll be surprised at how simply telling everyone you come into contact with will open unexpected doors, not only in terms of potential funding, but also in finding the program that’s perfect for you.
If you manage to talk to people who have experience volunteering abroad, they will be able to provide you with special insight into what the program they’ve volunteered for does and what it expects from volunteers. It is even possible that you’ll be able to find a great volunteering opportunity that is not listed online.
Volunteering abroad is seldom completely free. Even if you manage to find a gig that pays for your room and food, many programs will still require that you pay for your own airfare. If you are a novice and are not familiar with another country’s culture, or have not been overseas before, it might be a good idea to actually pay a little extra.
This might just provide you with that bit of extra support other, cheaper programs may not have. By using a little creativity, passion, and drive, you’ll however be able to make your volunteering abroad experience very affordable, albeit not necessarily completely free.