Travelling the world is something that appeals to pretty much everybody. Who doesn’t dream of escaping the rat race, jumping on a plane and starting an adventure in a far-flung corner of the world? Travel can be one of the most eye-opening, educational, and rewarding ways that anybody can spend their time, so of course it has such wide appeal.
Despite this, the majority of people barely leave their own country. Even those who do venture out on a foreign holiday rarely leave the confines of their resort or the touristy areas they are staying in.
If you’re one of the people who has always dreamt of international travel, but you’re feeling a little daunted by the idea, then volunteering can be an excellent introduction.
Volunteers can enjoy all the things that make travel so amazing, such as meeting interesting people, seeing new places, trying new things, and just generally pushing themselves beyond the confines of their normal life. On top of this, volunteering can give you the bonus and satisfaction of being able to help a truly worthy cause.
Whether you’re a student, on a gap year, or just somebody who’s never managed to travel extensively before, here are just a few of the things that make volunteering abroad such a great way for you to dip your toes into the incredible world of travel.
It’s the ultimate introduction to travel
There are a lot of reasons that aspiring travelers might put off, or entirely avoid their first big international trip, even if the idea appeals to them in a lot of ways.
For example, they may be scared about being away from their family and friends back home for an extended period of time. After all, if you’re used to being around people you are comfortable with, then having to spend all your time with strangers can be a terrifying prospect.
If it’s not this worrying them, then they may be concerned about getting into trouble in another country - for instance getting injured or losing their possessions - and not being able to rectify the situation easily.
An excellent thing about volunteering is that you can forget about all these niggling worries. If you’ve chosen a good organization, you will be looked after from the moment you arrive in the country. You will generally be picked up from the airport, given an orientation period to familiarize yourself with the area, and live in close proximity to staff members and other volunteers.
This means you will always have a support network in place to help you, but you can also retain your independence and explore to your heart’s content.
Meet new people
As I’ve mentioned, the fear of being lonely while traveling abroad can be a big deterrent for many people. Joining a volunteer project makes meeting people extremely easy, so you won’t have anything to worry about.
Firstly, you will be working and living alongside several other volunteers throughout the project. You will not only have plenty of time to bond with these people, but they will also be like-minded in terms of their love of travel and helping people. Forming friendships with these other volunteers means you will never be alone, and you will have great company to explore your new surroundings with.
Secondly, with any good volunteer organization you will have a lot of opportunities to spend time with local people, something that is hard to achieve as a normal traveler. You will be staying within their community and your volunteer work will directly impact many of their lives, meaning you will be welcomed as a positive presence, rather than being seen as just another tourist.
Get off the beaten track
If you’ve not traveled extensively before, you probably won’t be aware of the growing issue of tourist traps. More people than ever are embarking on foreign travel, and that has resulted in many areas of popular countries becoming heavily overcrowded with tourists, particularly in high season.
If you try to visit the best-known sites in somewhere like Thailand in high season, such as Koh Phi Phi, then you may be shocked by the sheer number of travelers packed into such a small space. While it’s great to see the local economy being boosted by tourism, overcrowding does inevitably take something away from the charm of a destination, and can negatively impact its authenticity.
However, by choosing to be a volunteer, you can effectively bypass the crowds. Volunteer in Thailand, for example, and you will be likely to find yourself far away from the hotspots, such as the aforementioned Koh Phi Phi, and in much more authentic areas.
Some of these areas may be entirely unknown to most tourists, but they often provide some of the best scenery, and most authentic experiences anywhere in a country. You will be able to explore more freely, tell the best stories, and have a better chance to experience the culture.
Try something different
Volunteering offers everything that traveling does and more. It opens up new elements to the travel experience, and can make a trip far more rewarding in general.
The process of living in a foreign place, giving your own time to help a good cause of your choice and seeing the results in front of your eyes is something that can change you for the better, and could alter the course of your life.
It could just be that it ignites a passion for travel and exploration that will continue for the rest of your life. You may meet lifelong friends, or travel buddies that you can share adventures with for years to come. You may even decide you love a place so much that you decide to move internationally.
Or, you may become hooked on the amazing feeling of helping people. It’s no coincidence that the majority of volunteer organizations are started by people who have been volunteers themselves previously - people who have got a taste for it and decided to dedicate their lives to travel, exploration and helping people.
Volunteer for the perfect introduction to international travel
If you’re looking for a way to try out international travel for the first time, then look no further than volunteering abroad.
All the benefits of travel can be found on a volunteer program, with a massive amount of unique added benefits to boot.
So don’t put it off any longer - volunteer.
Nicoleta is the resident content blogger for uVolunteer. Nicoleta is an avid linguist, speaks fluent English, Chinese, French, Spanish and native Romanian. She spent a decade working in China in the education sector and working with major international development institutions and currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. She is passionate about volunteering, sustainable travel and has a soft spot for ethnic food.