How to Choose the Right Short-Term Volunteer Trip for You

How to Choose the Right Short-Term Volunteer Trip for You

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It can often become tricky to find the right time to go on vacation, whether you’re stuck behind an office desk, or swamped with studies for university. If meaningful travel is something you’re interested in, there are many affordable short-term volunteer abroad programs available that range from 1 week to 24 weeks long. Whether you prefer to travel alone or with friends, you’ll be able to find a short-term volunteering opportunity that suits your schedule.

Volunteer programs are available across the Caribbean and Pacific, South America, Central America, Europe, Asia and Africa. The different types of project opportunities range from social enterprise, community development, wildlife and animal care, conservation, childcare, construction and renovation, and education.

If you’ve already researched volunteer opportunities, you’ll know that there are many options available. While many volunteer opportunities simply need additional help for one or two weeks, some are only available if you are prepared to commit at least a few months. As there is not really a standard definition for short- or long-term volunteering, we’ll consider one week to three months as being short-term.

Short Term Volunteering

Even if you decide to only volunteer for one or two weeks, this time can be very effective. Projects such as wildlife conservation projects and limited construction may only require additional help for tasks that you’ll be able to complete in a short time span.

For most people that are employed full-time, it is only feasible to do a volunteer abroad trip during their vacation time. This makes it impossible for them to volunteer for long term stay. Keep in mind that the duration that you’re able to volunteer may determine how much can be achieved. It is critical to understand this so that your expectations are not set unreasonably high and you go home disappointed at the end of your trip.

Although short-term volunteering can still be of value to both you and the community you work in, it does mean that you’ll have to carefully consider your expectations.

The pros and cons of short-term volunteering are listed below:


  • Various trips to diverse destinations

  • Accessible for students and people employed full-time

  • Reasonable costs that don’t break the bank

  • You can immediately see the effect your work


  • In some projects, the impact will be limited

  • Limited immersion and interaction

  • No time for traveling further

How to make short-term volunteering useful

  • Don’t pick destinations that are too far away. Your help is needed in so many places, you’re bound to find one relatively close by.

  • Select work that doesn’t need much training, such as wildlife conservation or simple construction projects.

  • Try to arrive a few days early to help you get acclimated before starting work.

  • Learn all you can about the culture and the country beforehand to compensate for the lack of immersion.

  • Take time to reflect on your surroundings and what you’re doing to help you maintain a positive mindset.

  • Don’t always wait for instructions, but be proactive, looking for ways to be friendly, open and helpful.

How Long is Short Term?

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Short term volunteer programs can range anything from one week to three months. It’s not so much about how long they are, but rather about how much time you can fit into your schedule.

Even if you can only manage to volunteer abroad for 1 or 2 weeks, you’ll be building on the work of volunteers that went before you and others will continue where you leave off. Working with local organizations will mean that they’ll be able to identify the areas where they need your support most. You’ll also be working together with local people and your contribution will be appreciated by the host community.

What Is Required to Volunteer Abroad?

Below is a list of typical requirements volunteers need to meet in order to join a volunteer program:

  • Some volunteer projects require specific qualifications before volunteers take part in the program. Medical projects may require a Pre-Medical level or higher. Make sure you find projects that align with your skills and qualifications.

  • You need to be 18 years or older for most volunteer programs. There are however select programs available where volunteers younger than 18 can participate with parental permission.

  • Many volunteer programs do a criminal background check before allowing participants to join.

  • For travelling abroad, a valid passport is required.

  • Many volunteer programs require that participants travel with adequate travel insurance.

Choosing A Short Term Volunteer Program

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When looking for the volunteer opportunity that will work for you, it’s important to understand your motivation for volunteering abroad. Do you want to add to your resume, develop a special skill, immerse yourself in a new culture, or simply give back? Knowing your reasons for volunteering abroad will guide you while doing research and enable you to find a program that meets your expectations. It will make your time abroad rewarding and worthwhile for both you and the community that you will be helping.

Whether you’ve traveled often, or this is your first time abroad, it can be tricky to decide on a destination when volunteering abroad. While there are many factors to consider, it is often best to keep things simple while making the decision. Look at things such as what you are passionate about, where your skills can be used best and which destinations you would like to visit. Knowing the answers to these questions will assist you in tapping into what your real motivation is for volunteering abroad.

If you have trouble deciding which short-term volunteer abroad opportunity is right for you, it is a good idea to start off by volunteering in your local community. That will allow you to experience the type of volunteer work you may be doing abroad. Apart from helping in your own neighborhood, it will help you learn more about what you want and what you’re most passionate about. Once you know what type of opportunity you’re looking for abroad, the next step is to visit volunteer websites and select the relevant destination or project.

Booking A Short Term Volunteer Program

Once you’re sure of the details like the date, project and destination, you must submit an application to the volunteer organization of your choice.

If you’re volunteering with a group, some organizations have a dedicated Group Manager who creates customized itineraries for them.

Provided you meet program requirements, you’ll be accepted onto the program. Once you have been accepted, the volunteer organization will typically correspond with you via email to acknowledge your application and confirm your destination, project and dates. They will also send more information about the program you’ve selected. Please note that popular programs are often booked months in advance, so you’ll need to plan well ahead of the time that you want to go.

Once you have been registered for the volunteer program abroad, it’s time to prepare for the upcoming volunteer program. You will now have to obtain all the documentation required by the program. A typical preparation checklist is given below:

  • Read the program guide provided and obtain all the required documentation. The guide will likely also contain details such as vaccinations, visa requirements, local customs, safety tips, packing lists and other crucial information.

  • Obtain a criminal background check if required.

  • Book flights and provide arrival details to the organization so they can arrange for you to be picked up at the airport.

  • Arrange travel insurance if required.

  • Pay all Program Fees due.

The volunteer organization will be there to support you with your preparations, so you’ll be able to contact them if you need any assistance.

Booking Tips for a Volunteer Program

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  • Picking a destination close to home will reduce travel time and keep costs down.

  • Seasonal flight deals are worth keeping an eye on to limit costs.

  • Check what the visa requirements are for the country you’ll be visiting.

  • Many foreign destinations require that you be vaccinated, so make sure you know the requirements and schedule time with your doctor to get these sorted.

Last but not least, have fun on your volunteer trip! Service should be meaningful but also a fun and rewarding experience for all parties involved. Make sure to connect with the local community, make friends with fellow volunteers, and build lasting memories.