Volunteering: The Key to Budget Travelling
For any long term traveller, the goal is to stay on the road for as long as possible. One major factor in that is being able to find ways to save a considerable amount of money while doing it. Very difficult perimeters to meet, and often trips are cut way shorter than one would want as a result. However there is a reliable way of both extending your time in a country while at the same time saving a ridiculous amount of money: volunteering.
Why Can’t I Just Work?
Sure you very well could work. Its possible to get a working visa for practically any country under the right circumstances. Additionally a handful of countries are open enough these days to provide working holiday visas for the express purpose of making some money to fund your travels. However this doesnt necessarily make it easy.
For one thing there are a 101 loops you’d have to jump through in order to get a work visa, and will effectively need to have found a job before you’ve even applied for it. As the working holiday visa is concerned, if you’re like me, and you’re already on the road, then its nothing but a teasing prospect. These visas can only be applied for back in your home country, so fuck all use if you’re already on the other side of the world.
Of course this doesn’t stop some people. There are plenty of instances where travellers on an improper visa end up working (perhaps even yours truly). These jobs can range from part-time work in a bar or hostel to a regular 9-5. This is however very much illegal. Getting caught by immigration will result in fines, deportation (after waiting in a jail-cell for some time) and most probably a ban from entering the country again. Not good.
So essentially if you’re already deep into your travels, you have no real way of making money legally while on the road. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Volunteering is your friend.
Don’t Be Fooled!
There are so many amazing sounding opportunities online: Work with turtles for 2 weeks in the Bahamas or Come help elephants for a week. On the surface of it, who wouldn’t want to volunteer for these, right? Until you find out the extortionate prices they charge for it! We’re talking thousands upon thousands, just for a week or two. Plus it can hardly be considered volunteering if I need to pay a couple of thousand before I’ve even started helping. Though I’m sure a portion of the money does go to help (how much is up for debate), its not really viable spending months worth of budget on a week or two.
Why Would I Volunteer?
As for the very definition of the word, you will not receive money for your work. That in itself is enough to put people off the idea however consider the benefits, which we’ll get to shortly. And you can relax in knowing that it’s not all just a tree-hugging brotherly love kind of deal, there is a vast spectrum of different opportunities to fit your personal taste.
There are three clear benefits to volunteering:
1. Extending Your Trip
If you’re just planning a weeks holiday then it wouldn’t be applicable to you. However most backpackers dream of spending as long as they possibly can somewhere, squeezing every last day out of that visa. Unfortunately that’s not always that easy.
Usually you would have to restrict your time in a city or region to a couple of days, a week at the most. Anything more than that would be another £5-20 for a hostel (or hotels if you’re a money wasting baller). By volunteering you can extend your stay somewhere for 2 week, a month or even several months! And during that time, your expenses would be as much as you’d have spent on a couple of nights in a hostel anyway! Which brings me to my next point…
2. Saving Money
We’re talking a considerable amount of money here. Accommodations will always be your biggest expenditure when travelling, and it’s where the most savings can be made. We all understand that by staying in bargain-rate hostels, but this way you’re getting a free place to stay.
During your time volunteering with these hosts, your spendings could potentially work out to absolute 0. The only real expense during your time would be attractions you’d want to see during your time there and food. And even then, most hosts provide food for you. Either they give you your own food to prepare, give you an allowance to buy some or if you’re really lucky, you’ll get daily home-cooked food! This all means that on a daily basis you could be spending absolutely nothing!
3. A Cultural Experience
Of course the act of volunteering is not all about selfishness (though its a big motivating factor). Just as important is the completely unique experience you get during your time with these hosts. You’ll be spending time with locals, often in their own homes. They’ll share their cultures and their customs with you, as well as very curious to learn yours. Plus there’s no better way to experience a new place than with the help of a local. They’ll know the must-go places, take you to see and experience things you wouldn’t have known about otherwise. The places that are left out of the Top 10 Highlights lists.
Once you do spend time volunteering with these hosts you come to realise how much more of an enriching experience it really is compared to just staying in a hostel. Don’t get me wrong, I love the hostel vibe just as much as the next traveller, however it can’t give you the authentic up-close-and-personal look at the areas culture, people and lifestyle.
Where Can I Find Hosts?
There are a number of volunteering websites but its difficult to find the right one to fit your particular needs. Namely one which lets you find volunteering opportunities abroad and not necessarily a huge long-term commitment. Luckily there are still a few websites that fit this need. My personal recommendation will always be Workaway, which easy can be considered the best and most extensive website of the lot. With more than 40,000 potential hosts across 170 different countries, there’s plenty to choose from.
Another popular recommendation is Wwoof, much the same concept but limited to working on organic farms across the world. Other such volunteering websites include Working Traveller, MovingWorlds and Worldpackers.
To contact hosts on these websites you will require a small fee, then you’re free to volunteer to as many places as your heart desires. The prices range from each websites, however workaway would be considered the cheapest at £20 for a 2-year subscription. If you’re still not 100% sure, then you’ll still be able to browse the different hosts available free of charge which will quickly give you a desirable thirst.
But I Won’t Have Time to Travel
Not necessarily. Sure, you’re time is nowhere near as free as if you were purely travelling, and that’s the sacrifice you’ll have to make. That being said your entire time won’t be dedicated to working, just a portion of it. The length and frequency of your work depends on your host. They usually range from 20-25 hours per week, which can be spread between 3-5 days.
It may sound like a lot but in reality it isn’t if you’re not a lazy arse. The workload is usually spread-out in a way which ensures you should have plenty of time to explore. For instance some places will get you working in the morning which frees up your afternoon. Others will spread the workload between the morning and the afternoon. Some places might make you work longer hours on your workdays to ensure you have more days off. Though you don’t have all your time able to travel, you get a fair amount.
I wouldn’t recommend solely volunteering during your time somewhere, then you’d be left with the feeling that you hadn’t truly the made the most of your time there. It’s best to divide your time between pure travelling and volunteering. This is an ideal way to ensure you get all of the three benefits mentioned before, as well as still being able to see everything you had hoped to during your time somewhere. Always remember that when you’ve spent weeks or months on the road, its always nice to be able to set up camp somewhere for a while and regroup.
Plus the longer you stay somewhere the more time you’ll have to explore. You may only have a couple of hours a day while working but if you’re staying somewhere say for a month, then you’ll have plenty of time to knock-off all the worthwhile places off your list.
What’s the Work
There are a vast variety of opportunities to volunteer across the globe, and its up to you which preference you have. Like I said, volunteering doesn’t have to be a dreadlocked-hippie organic or nothing kind of experience. It can be anything you want it to be, and it’s easy to find places that suit you best.
It would be impossible to list all the different kinds of places you could choose from, however there are common types of work that pop-up regularly. These are types of volunteering work which can be found almost anywhere
These are a classic forms of volunteering and one which has been well established for years. These can range from your high-production farms to the more humble family run one. Depending on the farm will depend on the type of work you’re expected to do. The safe prediction is that you’re bound to get your hands dirty. The work will most likely involve the very predictable tending of the fields, which could be anything from harvesting, planting and ploughing, depending on the season. If the farm has some life-stock then you’ll also be expected to tend to them in whichever way they must. Other tasks could include general maintenance around the farm; building fences, fixing structures and the like.
The prime website for this type of work can be found on Wwoof, which have vast supply of organic farms across the world which are willing to take on hosts. The unfortunate aspect of this website is having to pay for each country you wish to volunteer. Workaway doesn’t have this problem.
As a traveller you would know, practically every country in the world has a hostel in one form or another. These volunteering opportunities are in abundance worldwide. You might have already noticed that the majority of people who work in hostels are travellers like yourself, and there’s a simple reason for it. The hostel gets some free staff, you get a free place to stay, win-win.
As a traveller you will be well experienced with hostel life and how they generally run, it’s not rocket science. The work is usually broken down into two categories; cleaning and reception. As well as the obvious tasks it involves, cleaning will also involve you sadly being those annoying fucks at 11am who vacuum each room as you’re trying to sleep and also involve changing bed-sheets. Reception work (which I prefer) involves dealing with the guests directly; checking-in/out, renting whatever they need, answer their questions and generally be the go between for the guest and the hostel.
Another hugely popular avenue and very keen on receiving volunteers. The term schools here is very generalised as it can vary wildly to what kind of establishment it is. You could be working with children all the way to full grown adults. There are also a huge number of different establishments that require your services. It could very well be a normal children’s school, a simple language club or a cafe people come to interact with different cultures and languages. These are just the basics, it can still vary wildly from there. For instance in my experience I’ve volunteered for a class attended by students outside of their university as well as a school specifically designed to teach students English to prepare them for work on cruise ships.
Bearing in mind that you’re a volunteer, you won’t be made to work a strict 9-5. For most of these places they’re more grateful to be able to expose their students to the English language. Often you’re just required to talk to them, answer questions and help them practice their conversational English. You won’t even necessarily have to be a native speaker. If it was genuine work the case would be different. However a decent level of English is all these places will really need and be happy with. Oh, and no qualifications needed.
Working with Kids
A surprising opportunity will be working with children. Again this is quite a broad term as there are many different avenues to which you can volunteer with kids. Generally I’m talking about kids within a family. Some families will want you to help look after their children, or pick them up after school, perhaps as the parents work long hours. Some others will require you to baby-sit their children for the same reasons. Most families however simply want someone to expose their children to the English language as well as different cultures. Therefore all that’s really expected of you will mostly just be hanging out with a couple of children and having fun, hardly work at all.
Sadly for this one most families seem to only comfortable with female volunteers (somewhat unfair in my opinion). Naturally as you’re dealing with children the selection process is much more strict and select. Some families might even require an interview from you over skype or something like that.
Help Around the Home
This could almost go in hand with the last category. Some families will be willing to give volunteers a place to stay in exchange for a bit of help around the house. This would involve your typical house-work, such as cleaning, cooking and general household chores. This could also involve helping out with their kids in some ways.
For these kinds of tasks, the work would be much more relaxed. Typically what household has 5 solid hours of chores for 5 days a week? The work will be much more spread out and easily finished.
Good news for the creative amongst you, some hosts will require you to help them with some of your deepest passions and favourite hobbies. There is a vast array of creative avenues which you could assist with. One would be technologically, as perhaps some hostels or the owner of a company needs assistance with running their website, their social media accounts, or even needing you to write some blogs and help create videos for them. On the other end of the scale some places will want the help of artistic folk to help design their place, be it a hostel, cafe or whatever it is they want a creative touch with.
Again, if these are something you truly have a passion for, how could it even be considered work? These will be places of like-minded people who rather than expecting you to work truly just want your help.
Just Want a Good Time
Now we come to the ultimate lazy-bastard kind of work: no work at all. There are just as many people out there who simply want to meet fascinating people and experience different cultures and lifestyles, and for this they’re willing to give you a place to live! These people want to learn about your culture, to learn or practice a new language, and hopefully get to teach you a bit more about their culture and way of life in the meantime.
These are all just the average type of volunteering opportunities you can find. It would be near impossible to list all potential hosts, but rest assured there are some quirky, unique mind-blowing ones thrown in. Such as working in a dog shelter, helping out in temples, working with camels in the deserts and helping with the hatching of baby turtles. All real, all free.
Where Will I Stay?
Every single host will provide you with a place to stay. The type of place that is will depend on the type of work and the hosts themselves. For instance if you worked in a farm or in a family’s home, naturally they would provide a room in their house for you. If you’re working in a hostel you’re most likely going to stay in the establishment, most probably a separate staff room where all those would stay. Other places they might provide you with a separate accommodation away from their house and place of work.
I truly believe that a your backpacking experience will always be improved by intertwining it with volunteering. I’m not suggesting you go from one host to the next endlessly. This way you won’t get the most of your travels, you need to be able to enjoy your time there. However volunteering is the different between having a 1 month trip and a 3 month one. It’s the difference between hopping from one city and hostel to the next while quickly finding yourself in a similar routine. It’s a way to truly delve into the culture and the people of the place you’re in, one that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.