Many travelers have so much to do with so little time that they never get the time to volunteer abroad. For the longest time I was one of them. There’s always the next location, the next site, and the next project to undertake. However, volunteering opens a window that no other experience abroad can.
When you volunteer abroad, whether it be with a school, orphanage, animal rehab center or some other organization, the benefits are huge. I don’t just mean that the organization itself will benefit greatly, but also that you will. Let me explain.
It feels good to help other people and stand up in what you believe in angle, you can’t overlook that, but I also won’t dwell on it. You will find that if you really give it your all while you are there, many other benefits will come your way. I can’t stress enough that you should volunteer for the cause, (whatever it may be) so choose something that you really believe in, and give it your 110%.
Extend your travels
One of the most important tips that you can learn in order to lengthen your travels with a given budget is to stay longer in places. The more you move around, the quicker your money moves out of your bank account. Volunteering will give you a purpose to stay in one place. Furthermore, many volunteering opportunities will provide food and lodging while you volunteer, so your expenditures are GREATLY reduced. If finances is the main reason that you are travelling for two months instead of 4, then volunteering will help you turn it into the latter.
Enrich your experience
When you volunteer abroad, not only will you stay longer in one location and thus become much more comfortable with the location itself, but the odds are pretty high that you will end up working alongside some locals. This will give you a great opportunity to interact with them in a different manner, one that is not exploitative or based upon purchasing. These new contacts, new friends, that you get to know whilst volunteering will open your eyes to a whole different perspective. You will find that you identify less with the tourists, and more with the locals or at very least, the expats.
Build your resume
There is no doubt about the fact that, at least in North America, employers are looking harder and harder at the volunteer experience that you have on your resume. Furthermore, you can gain experience as a volunteer abroad that you would have to work for years to gain in a ‘real job’ back home. Teachers are the most obvious beneficiaries of many volunteer opportunities, but so is anyone who is looking to get a job in the environment, with kids, with animals, in politics, you name it!
Volunteering in an area that you find particularly interesting will certainly, 100% of the time, introduce you to many others who hold similar passions. You will find it uncanny how quick you relate to many of your fellow volunteers.
If you have even basic language skills as you enter as a volunteer, you will find that you get much more practice in many different scenarios that will lead to massive improvement in the language. Many volunteer opportunities will even offer language lessons. This is one of the easiest, sure fire, ways to put your language learning into overdrive. If you want to get a head start before you get there, than take a look at my 5 steps to learning a new language.
On a personal note, I had traveled to over 20 countries, spending over 3 years abroad before I decided to truly invest in volunteering. I spent 4 months in Salasaca, Ecuador volunteering with SKY Ecuador and Katitawa School and it changed all my future travels. You will find that investing a couple of months into volunteering will be one of the experiences that you cherish for years to come, and provide you with endless stories and anecdotes. The major two things I would impress upon you whilst volunteering are: be there for the cause and take lots of pictures/videos.
If you are looking for a place to start, this site, has many links to volunteer for free/low cost, in South America.