How to start travel volunteering

By Ian Carroll
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Most people have traveled internationally at least once. Maybe a week in Hawaii or three weeks touring Europe. You know, the usual traveler, tourist thing. Travel of any sort is excellent for your mind, your body, and your soul. However, I’m here today to tell you, that travel volunteering is the only way to go.  When you start travel volunteering, you’ll realize just how many work opportunities there are all around you.  And it’s really not about making money, although that’s a great benefit and can help to extend your travel budget. It’s not just the money, but often the free room and board that come with travel volunteering positions as well. That’s no small saving too, as accommodation is often the most significant expense on the road, possibly exceeded only by transport.

Beyond the monetary value of travel volunteering, you will have a far richer and more immersive experience. That’s because you’ll be meeting locals, working with travelers, and getting to know the ins and outs of wherever you wind up. When you pass through quickly, you miss so much. But when you dig in and spend a month or more in one place, you can almost feel like one of the locals. Here’s how to do it.

Make a profile on Work Away

Go to www.workaway.info. It’s not the only site for travel volunteering, but it’s the best.

First thing’s first, you’re going to have to find your first travel volunteering gig. It might sound hard, but it’s actually pretty straightforward. The internet is a wonderful tool. Go to the website www.workaway.info. There you’ll find hosts all around the world offering travel volunteering positions of nearly every type and length of time imaginable. If you want, you can explore the site. They have an intro to get you going and show you how it all works. However, if you just want to see what hosts are out there, then at the top, click on the button that says ‘Host List.’

Once you’ve checked out the site a bit, and have a grasp on what it is and how it works, it’s time to make a profile. Fill out all your info honestly. Remember, this is like your resume, but you also don’t want to oversell yourself. Don’t say you can do carpentry if you can’t. Otherwise, you might wind up in a pretty awkward position halfway around the world. Most importantly, remember that as you begin travel volunteering, you are developing a reputation. Hosts on Work Away can see how well you performed at your other jobs and leave feedback about you. So if you’re a lousy volunteer, you might have a short-lived career.

Start reaching out to hosts

There are so many hosts out there, and they certainly have a lot of info on their profiles. However, the only way to start figuring out your options is to start messaging hosts. You don’t need to have a trip all planned out to start some conversations. So find a few hosts that look interesting to you whose work matches your skills. Then message them asking about availability and the basics you should know about their operation. Every host is different, and they are used to chit chatting with potential volunteers about these things.

Travel takes careful planning.

Remember, that any host on Work Away benefits from finding a good volunteer. You’re not being a hassle by asking them questions. But that doesn’t mean you should start spamming quick, little messages to lots of hosts. What you write will be their first impression of you and could make or break your interaction. So take your time, make sure your grammar and spelling are spot on, and try to be as honest and genuine as you can. Those are by far the two most valuable traits in a travel volunteer. These hosts are used to working with all sorts of people from all around the world. They’ve probably dealt with plenty of good and bad qualities in their volunteers. Trustworthiness, candor, and an honest desire to help will get you pretty much anywhere you need to go once you get the hang of travel volunteering.

Once you’ve made travel plans

So hopefully, you found some good hosts, you sent some quality messages, and received at least one or two positive responses. By now, you’re starting to make your actual travel plans. But don’t relax just yet. Although travel volunteering can often feel pretty convenient, it can also be tumultuous at times. Sometimes hosts fall through or aren’t what you’d hoped they’d be. Sometimes things come up that force you to change your plans. After all, it’s hard to get a really accurate picture of where you’re going from just a profile on Work Away. So it’s best to have a backup plan or two in place.

That way, if you arrive at your first host and it turns out to be the wrong place for you, you’ll have somewhere else to go. So message other hosts in the area you will be traveling. Be honest. Tell them you have a place lined up, and maybe ask about their availability a few months down the road. If you build up a small network of hosts in your area, you’ll have made a valuable safety net in case everything goes wrong. Or, maybe your first stop turns out to be everything you imagined. Then, you already have a couple of nearby places to move to whenever you’re ready to move on.

How to be a valuable travel volunteer

travel volunteering
Happy volunteers are the best volunteers.

There are a thousand types of people that volunteer along the road. Each person has their own skills, strengths, weaknesses, and personalities. Being a good travel volunteer isn’t necessarily about having a specific set of skills. Whatever you’re good at, I’m sure you can find a variety of hosts where you’ll be useful. However, what does matter is your personality. I’ve worked with a lot of travel volunteers in my time. I’ve been one, and I’ve been a manager to travel volunteers, I’ve seen enough of them to know what makes a good one. And it’s all about your personality. No one wants to work with a closed-minded, ignorant, rude, quick to anger, or overbearing coworker. It’s really not rocket science. If you’re a good person, you’ll make a good travel volunteer. Just be sure you make a conscious effort to be kind and open-minded.

What you may have to add to your personality is a genuine desire to work. There’s nothing worse than a travel volunteer who doesn’t like working. Basically, it turns into babysitting, and they are like children expecting a free ride. Don’t be that guy. Help out everywhere you can, go above and beyond, and foster the mindset of a person who likes to work. That won’t just make your time more enjoyable, it will make your hosts more likely to go out of their way to help you. It’s also the best way to get a good review on your Work Away profile.

travel volunteering
Pack your bags, the possibilities are endless.

By the time you’re done working for your first host, if you’ve done well and worked hard, you’ll be well on your way to endless trips around the world, working as you go. If it ruins short-term travel for you, I’m sorry. But the fact of the matter is, travel volunteering is the only way to go.

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