Any traveler has in mind the bucket list of their dreams. Often, the more we travel, the more this list gets longer and sometimes incredibly expensive.
It is undeniable that some of the most sought after activities or remote destinations come with a price tag that most travelers can’t afford.
However, don’t think that you will never be able to tick off the experiences of your dreams just because you don’t have a million-dollar job!
With free volunteering, I was able to visit expensive destinations that I never thought I could reach.
While I was doing the research to find the perfect volunteering organization, I realized it can be difficult to pick the right one, especially if you are new to the field.
In this article, we will have a look at how to fulfill your bucket list without having to save for years or give up on your dreams!
The concept of free volunteering abroad is not easy to define. However, through mastering the art of using it correctly, it can be an incredible tool for budget travelers to fulfill their bucket list.
At first, I was shocked that somebody would give me the chance to go to my number 1 dream destination without having to pay for anything. Still, I was able to admire the Northern Lights at an incredibly low price. Moreover, this offered me the added bonus of living this experience with a supportive group of travelers to share stories and itineraries with.
Free volunteering can include a number of factors such as accommodation, food, or even flights. Being able to find and choose the right one will reduce your travel costs to a very affordable one. If you are flexible enough with your plans, you will be able to live a totally free experience.
It can take a lot of research, especially if this is your first trip, and flexibility, but free volunteering can really lower your travel costs in many different ways.
Firstly, we are going to have a look at how you should use this great tool generally for the various trips you have in mind.
Then, for the travelers that need some inspiration, check out a bucket list example that can easily be completed by volunteering for free abroad.
Pick the right project for your bucket list
The right organization of free volunteering really depends on the nature of the items on your bucket list. If you are looking at specific activities such as swimming with humpback whales or dive with a great white shark, your destination might not have to be fixed.
If you are willing to visit a general area such as Antarctica, you might need to be flexible on the tasks that you will be doing there.
Sometimes just being open to any available opportunity can help! Let’s have a look at how to reduce your costs depending on the nature of your bucket list.
Ticking off a specific activity
Whether it is cage diving with great white sharks, undertaking a safari or jumping on a Northern Lights chase, the best experiences are always super expensive.
There are a few tricks to tick them off without burning the savings of a lifetime, but this process needs compromise and research.
Compromise on your travel plans
Since many of these activities can be done in a number of different locations, you will have to be ready to fly in the opposite direction than you originally thought. In fact, the most convenient volunteering organization for your needs may be operating in a different country than the one you were ready to go to.
For example, the Northern Lights can be seen from a number of countries such as Norway, Iceland or Scotland. My original plan was to be sipping Highland single-malt whiskey while admiring the Lights. However, three hours later I was booking my flight to Norway.
And bye-bye whiskey!
Don’t let the change of plans put you off, but be ready for a totally different experience than you thought you were going to have. It might even be better, who knows!
Moreover, some organizations might need you for a longer or shorter period of time than you had planned your vacation to be. Be mindful of the duration of your projects before taking the time off or you might have to cancel your holiday altogether.
Conducting your research
With millions of volunteering organizations available, it can be difficult to pick the one that will help you have the best experience abroad.
However, by considering what the packages available are, you will be able to choose the one that will reduce your travel costs the most.
If the experience you are aiming to live is extremely far away from you, you will want to choose an organization that covers your flight.
Long haul flights will take up a larger part of your budget than food and accommodation, especially in areas with a low cost of living such as Asia.
However, if you live in Europe and you want to see the Northern Lights, bare in mind that the cost of living will be your highest cost.
Flying to Norway from Italy or England can only require $30 to $40, but a cup of coffee will be over $10. In this case, it is preferable to pick an organization that includes full board rather than transport.
Ticking off a specific country
Depending on the country that you have in mind, some tricks can help you choose the right organization for you. Again, being able to compromise is a key factor.
Compromise on the volunteering activities
Whether it is for wildlife protection, social responsibilities or education, volunteering is a noble activity to take up.
However, if you are aiming or a specific country, the volunteering project of your dreams might just not be there.
In this case, even if you don’t love working with kids, you might have to teach in a school. I am not a great fan of customer-facing roles, but I had to take up a volunteering bar job while visiting Vietnam. However, that helped me pay for the motorbike I used to cruise through the whole country!
Any volunteering activity is positive to a certain degree, so even if it is not the one that you would have chosen, it is still great that you are helping out!
Pick a project that fits well within your travel plans
If you would like to visit a country that is out of your reach or budget as part of a longer trip, pick a project that will fit well within your travel plans.
When country hopping, I had to leave out one or more destinations because they were too expensive for my budget.
For example, as part of my trip through South-East Asia, I couldn’t afford to visit Nepal. However, there were incredible free volunteering opportunities that could have lowered the cost of my trip, if I had researched it properly.
If you are aiming at reducing the cost of a vacation to a specific country in a specific time frame, there are other options. In this case, applying for the opportunities on Workaway can help you come up with a specific itinerary.
However, you might have to adjust the idea you had about your holiday. If you were thinking about a luxury vacation, this will change quickly.
Even if the project you pick includes accommodation, forget privacy, king-sized beds, and high-end hotel rooms!
Bucket list ideas to tick off with free volunteering
While this is only a suggestion, all these experiences can be done cheaply through free volunteering.
It is inspired by my own bucket list. Some experiences have already been ticked off and some are in the pipeline.
While these items don’t necessarily have to be on your list, I am sure that any traveler would be thrilled by the idea to be able to add them to their future destination at a low price!
1. Admire the Northern Lights
90% of travelers would love to take part in a Northern Light chase. Probably the remaining 10% are not fans of cold weather!
How much should it cost?
The Northern Lights can mostly be seen in remote locations which are difficult to get to and can be quite expensive. Moreover, Norway, Canada, Finland, Greenland, Scotland, and Alaska are all famous for having an incredibly high cost of living.
Additionally, you wouldn’t be able to see the Lights properly in larger cities due to photo pollution. In this case, traveling to remote and unpopulated locations is necessary.
Considered the extremely low temperatures and wilderness, it can be extremely dangerous to undertake this journey alone. Therefore, the cost of transportation, a guide, and equipment needs to be taken into consideration as it will be high.
If this experience is on your travel list, without free volunteering its cost would be around $2000 for 3 days. This price excludes flights, accommodation, and meals.
How can you afford it with free volunteering?
The Northern lights are visible for only 3 months during winter at the top of the Northern hemisphere.
Being extremely seasonal, the visitors’ camps don’t have a fixed workforce but rely on seasonal staff.
While these camps offer the best opportunity for free volunteering, they will be looking to hire personnel to help run the facilities rather than a highly trained team.
They mainly offer accommodation, food, and transport to the volunteers that apply to live in the camps for over a month.
This is a unique opportunity to experience life in -10°C weather, see the Northern Lights often, and take part in the daily activities of a camp.
Volunteer Base has an interesting number of offers for any traveler interested in seeing the Northern Lights. On this platform, camps managers post opportunities for the following year.
Each placement lasts for a season of 2 months and requires 5-hour of work a day. Tasks involve looking after the camp’s facilities, dealing with guests and visitors, and cleaning and maintenance jobs.
Aside from having free full-board and accommodation, you will be able to live in a Sami or Inuit camp, surrounded by huskies, incredible mountains, shining snow and, of course, the Northern Lights!
2. Join a Safari
How much should it cost?
Safari experiences are well-known to be one of the most sought after trips. These are also some of the most expensive adventures out there.
The location for a safari can vary. There are opportunities to see the “big five” animals of Africa or follow the annual Great Migration in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa among many other localities.
Serengeti National Park in Kenya is arguably the most incredible spot for a Safar, but it is also famous for its luxury resorts and lodges. Buying a package which includes accommodation, meals, and a tour guide can cost between $3000 and $7000 for a week. This price is likely to put off even the most committed traveler!
Often this price excludes the entrance fee to the reserve which is $60 per non-resident adult.
How can you afford it with free volunteering?
Africa is a developing continent with large unpopulated areas and a dramatic lack of infrastructures in several locations. However, this is where an incredible number of organizations operate.
Projects vary greatly as they can be humanitarian, social or aiming at nature conservation. While it is important to look at organizations that are willing to pay for both flights and accommodation, don’t forget that, in this case, vaccinations, visas and local transport are just as essential.
Maybe you wouldn’t bother with specific safety measures in Europe but if you are planning to visit Africa they can be crucial and expensive.
If you are highly skilled and have had experience with humanitarian volunteering beforehand, large NGOs such as the United Nation Volunteers have up to 2000 placements open every year.
If your abilities meet the program’s requirements, everything will be included: meals, flights, accommodation, insurance, visa, and often a small stipend.
Moreover, you will need to be ready to commit for long periods of time, such as two years.
If you are not a professional yet and you would prefer to pick the project to volunteer for, there are more local organizations that will work better for you.
Volunteer 4 Africa is only one of the continent-wide institutions that work towards the protection of Africa’s nature and fauna.
Their projects include free food and accommodation and they are currently working towards eliminating their already small application fee.
The schemes are usually 2 to 3-week long and offer the unique opportunity to work directly with the flora, birds, and large mammals of Africa.
3. Become a Dive master
How much should it cost?
Often the beauty of a remote island is not limited to what can be seen above the ground. If diving through some of the most stunning coral reefs in the world or becoming a dive master is on your bucket list, there are cheap solutions for you.
Individual dives are priced between $40 and $100 each, depending on the chosen location. Koh Tao and the Malaysian Perhentian Islands are famous for offering inexpensive dives, but an Open Water or Advanced diving course can still add up to $400.
For passionate divers, this can become a very expensive hobby, especially if the desired dive sites are world-famous, such as Sipadan in the Malaysian Borneo.
Moreover, a full dive master course, while it can be completed in about a month, can cost up to $4000 depending on how much a specific dive school is charging.
How can you afford it with free volunteering?
Diving can be a seasonal hobby in tropical areas. However, during high season, most diving schools are in extremely high demand and often they are not able to cope with the large amounts of visitors.
In this case, it is important to be able to identify what locations will need your help in advance.
The rainy season can vary greatly in different diving locations. For example, the Perhentian Islands are completely inaccessible from December to February. The West coast of Thailand, however, experiences the heaviest rainfalls from September to November.
Picking your spot wisely and getting in touch with the chosen dive school in advance, can help you secure a place for the high season.
The divemaster course can be completed rapidly by paying the high fee that the diving school is charging.
However, if you have a longer period of time at your disposal, you will be able to achieve your license for free in about 6 months of training.
PADI diving schools all over the world will be taking in volunteers during high seasons. Just by applying for the course, you will be able to have free food, accommodation, and equipment included.
You will mostly be helping with the school facilities as well as checking in and out guests and teaching Open Water students. All while focusing on your course.
The things you should be aware of are two. The flights are often not paid for and what is included in your free volunteering package depends on the specific dive school you picked.
While you could be thinking that the flights represent a big expenditure, you will need over 40 dives to just start your dive master course. By volunteering in diving schools you will be able to avoid the course fee and get all the dives you need for free.
Over the 6 months, you will gain a better experience than most dive masters, professionalism, and knowledge. And of course, you will be living on a tropical island!
4. Trekking the Himalayas
How much should it cost?
It might be only for adventurous travelers, but definitely not just for the rich ones!
A journey from Kathmandu to Mount Everest Base Camp is on most bucket lists but it has been ticked off only by a few.
The price varies depending on how much a specific tour agency is charging. However, as a general indication, it can cost between $3000 and $6000 per person for 12 days, not including flights to Nepal.
Through booking your trek with a local Nepalese guide instead of an international agency you might be able to reduce some of your costs, but it is still expensive for budget travelers.
Often there are a number of costs that are not obvious at first, such as the entrance fee, porter fees, and gas showers’ prices.
How can you afford it with free volunteering?
After the 2015 earthquake that hit Nepal, many international organizations and NGOs have been focusing their efforts to rebuild and help this beautiful land.
Taking part in one of the numerous projects can allow you to discover the Himalayas and the true Nepalese lifestyle while helping out.
There are opportunities for nurses, medics, cooks, teachers, builders, DIY experts, IT professionals, and many other skilled volunteers.
Private and local non-commercial organizations such as Free Volunteering Nepal offer the unique opportunity to work for over a month in rural or remote areas of the Himalayas.
While working with a group of passionate volunteers, you will be staying and living with a Nepali family.
Due to the nature of such organizations, you will have to pay for your food directly to the hosting family that is cooking for you. Moreover, while accommodation is free, local transport is not.
However, the sum of these costs is around $7 a day, which is much cheaper than what you would spend daily through a tour agency.
Moreover, projects such as the Third Eye Foundation welcome volunteers for 2-weeks placements, if your time in Nepal is limited. They do currently charge a small fee of $300 for 15 days, but this includes full-board as well as transport and training.
These opportunities are great for any adventurous travelers that are happy to immerse themselves in the local culture. Experiencing Nepal through free volunteering means not only getting off the beaten path but also waking up in the morning with a view of Mount Everest.
Plan B: fundraising
Fundraising is an alternative form of travel that can help you tick off several items on your bucket list with just a bit of planning in advance. It involves collecting funds from the people that are supporting you and your effort. It can be a viable option if you can’t find a free volunteering opportunity in the desired area.
Since you will be raising the funds needed for a specific destination or activity, this strategy would allow you to plan your itinerary more freely. There will be no need to stick strictly to an organization’s program and you will be able to decide the length and specifics of your trip.
Be aware that fundraising will imply planning months ahead of your desired departure date to be able to have enough capital to cover your costs.
There are many ways to fundraise: you can save up while you work, sell some of your old belongings, or collect donations.
If your bucket list includes humanitarian or nature conservation experiences, you will be able to hold an event. This will give to an interested audience the opportunity to donate for your cause.
If you are not sure how to begin to plan a fundraising event, there are websites such as Mighty Cause that can take care of all of the logistics involved and even suggest viable experiences.
If you are an expert diver, for example, you will be able to successfully fundraise for your holiday at the Maldives by dedicating part of your trip to protect the whale sharks population there!
How to further reduce your costs
If the free volunteering project you have picked is perfect for your needs but still doesn’t include either full-board or flights, there are other ways to make your experience even less expensive.
Save on flights.
If not included, this is potentially one of the biggest overall costs of traveling, but it can be reduced. Check Skyscanner regularly for low-cost flights, gather discount coupons, or aim for a destination that is closer to home.
If you are within land transport reach, try to avoid flying altogether. Europe and America offer great bus and train systems that can get you almost everywhere for a cheaper price.
Once I traveled from the South of Italy all the way to London by bus. It does take much longer than flying, but there are definitely positive aspects to it. You will be able to see more of the countries you are traveling through and lower your CO2 emissions.
Save on meals.
If your organization does not include meals in the package, look at the positives! You will be able to choose what to eat and, in many long-term placements, it is a blessing.
It might be exciting to try Nasi Goreng for the first time, but eating fried rice for a month is definitely not! Eating in local restaurants or at street food carts will be cheap anywhere, even in Singapore.
Also, vegetarian meals are always cheaper than meat-based dishes. Avoiding meat will help you save and, if you are in Asia, probably dodge some stomach bugs!
Save on accommodation.
Staying in hostels or homestays is definitely nobody’s idea of a luxury holiday. However, you will be able to meet other travelers and potentially get some good suggestions for your next trip.
Moreover, staying with a local family will give you a unique point of view of the country’s culture and traditions that many other travelers are not able to experience.
If your placement is fairly brief, you can opt for Couchsurfing options. It is free and fun!
Bucket list items can be very difficult to accomplish without the necessary budget. However, for the committed travelers, there are ways to lower the traveling costs to almost zero.
It does take research, compromise, and a good level of adjusting, but it is possible.
Also, free volunteering offers unique opportunities to join a passionate group of travelers and explore a country from an alternative point of view.
Just leave behind the traditional idea of traveling and you will have one of the best bucket list experiences of your life!
Have you ticked anything off your bucket list recently? Let us know how you did it!