If it weren’t for volunteering, I don’t think I’d be the long term traveler I am today. My time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon opened up my eyes to living abroad for the long haul. That’s why I’m making a case for volunteering as a gateway for long term travel. And even better, volunteering is great for solo travelers too.

Why volunteering is the gateway for long term travel

Volunteering has significantly impacted how I look at traveling and has been a gateway to long term travel for 3 main reasons: cultural, financial, learning new skills.

Connecting with people and working on a local level is a major draw of volunteering. While I have mixed feelings about sustainability in developing countries, volunteering can be a positive experience and gives an outsider a unique chance to connect with people. Volunteering allows you to connect on a cultural level which might be difficult to do as a typical tourist.

Secondly, the option of trading one’s labor, skills, and knowledge for room and board can allow a traveler to seriously save money. Had I not been a WWOOF volunteer in Ireland during 2013, there’s no way my finances would have allowed me to stay there for 3 months. Paying for room and board for over 70 days without income coming in would have wrecked my savings in a country like Ireland.

And finally, volunteering allows a person to learn new skills as well. From farming and gardening skills to learning how to make the best espresso in Italy, volunteering can help pave the way. Not only will you learn a lot, you can share you skills and hard work along the way. And because you can work in a variety of settings from farms to bed and breakfasts, you can pick and choose where you want to work.

What does this mean for you?

If long term travel feels overwhelming or financially impossible, give volunteering a chance. It’s the perfect introduction to traveling long term. Volunteering in a new place can give you a sense of home and a community in a short amount of time while saving serious cash along the way. Not only will you “give back”, you’ll most likely get more in return in terms of new skills learned, friendships, and a bundle of irreplaceable memories.

With various volunteering outlets like WWOOF, HelpX, and WorkAway, you can pick and choose the type of work. I wrote this post awhile back comparing the HelpX and WWOOF options based on my experience of volunteering in Western Europe. Another benefit is that you can set the duration of your volunteer stay and most likely extend it if you’d like. Other volunteering options like Peace Corps are worth looking into if you’re ready to commit for an longer timeframe.

Make the effort.

Sure, saving some money on the road, having a place to stay, and putting in some work while learning new skills doesn’t sound too bad. Agreed, but it should be known that you’re there to work. Too many times I’d heard hosts say that volunteers didn’t put in the effort or were just there for the room and board. Depending on the work you’re doing, volunteering can be physically demanding and tiring. Battling an Irish winter working outdoors sure tested me somedays, but I’m glad I did it.

I recommend only go into volunteering if your heart is in it. After volunteering for nearly 5 months in Europe I totally hit my limit in Italy and stopped volunteering. Then I went to a Greek Island on a 5-day holiday, which wasn’t half bad!

That being said, make sure you’re going in for the right reasons and are willing to contribute. Another piece of advice? Try to leave a place better than you found it.

Next Up: Volunteering in New Zealand

Although I have income from my online work as the Marketing Manager for FinishLine Software, I am going to gear up as a HelpX volunteer once again. Why? I’m yearning for more local connections, in addition to feeling more productive as a traveler. And despite meeting some really lovely people in Sydney, I’m growing tired of hostel life. I have about 5 weeks remaining in New Zealand before my flight is set to leave from Auckland and I can’t even fathom renting an AirBnB apartment, camping, or staying in hostels during that whole time.

So with that, I’ll venture to the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand next week to start a short homestay with a family where I’ll be helping them with various projects. I’m looking forward to using my real world skills, building relationships, and finding new adventures.

Stay tuned as I’ll be sharing my experiences and lessons I’m sure to learn as a HelpX Volunteer in New Zealand.

Volunteering: The Gateway for Long Term Travel         
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