Everybody has at least once dreamed of traveling abroad for months.
Maybe just to explore different cultures or break up a monotonous 9 to 5 routine in an office job.
However, taking the leap and leaving everything behind can be a scary commitment for most, especially as this often involves detaching ourselves from the comfort of a steady income.
Even so, today there are increasing opportunities for anybody at lowering their traveling costs. Free volunteering abroad programs are the perfect option for anybody planning the unforgettable trip of their lifetimes or for the half broke backpacker trying to do good on a low budget.
However,I understand that it can be difficult to go find the perfect free volunteering opportunity. I went through that process too! I could never decide which project take on or what destination to explore.
This is why I wrote this guide, to help you decide the right one for you and reduce the costs of your travels.
I always found it difficult to define what free volunteering abroad actually is. In fact, it can takes different meanings depending on how you look at it.
Generally, free volunteering associations are the ones that will not charge you a fee to take part in their projects. Sometimes they also offer a few included perks. And this is where you can really reduce your travel costs!
How to pick the right Free Volunteering project that helps you reduce your travel costs
While free volunteering is per se an amazing opportunity, there is more to consider.
As you can imagine, leaving for a conservation project on a remote island has many other costs involved. Suddenly this trip could become more expensive than you thought!
A quick search on Google will confirm this and often put off even the most committed of travelers.
However, some NGOs, charities and smaller associations will offer free food and accommodations and/or Visa expenses. Sometimes even the flights are free or included in the package.
It’s true, the volunteering organizations that offer a combo of all these are rare. They are difficult to find, but they are out there!
However, depending on your plans and budget, sometimes this all-inclusive unicorn might not be the right one for you.
Alternatively, for example, you might choose a free volunteering project that won’t include flights. In fact, if it fits your plans better, it will still reduce your traveling costs.
With all this to consider, it is also important to keep in mind what volunteering abroad for free is NOT. Understanding this will help you undertake this journey with the right frame of mind. As it is not a free vacation, it might require you to learn a new skill or get a little training. Sometimes it might even test those problem-solving skills you are so proud of!
How to reduce your travel costs with Free Volunteering abroad
Everything starts with the right host!
In choosing the right free volunteering project that will help you reduce your travel costs, one of the most important decisions is to pick a host that will be happy to support your efforts.
Often the chances are that they are as involved as you in the projects. They will be very happy to have you with them and they will try to reduce your costs.
A good communication process is key to build a rewarding relationship with your host!
1. Show your dedication to the project
Applying for a number of different opportunities is definitely a great way to start. However, try to focus on the ones you have the greatest interest in.
Deciding to volunteer during your well-deserved vacation is a big and noble step, however, your host will most likely be able to tell whether you have a passion for the cause or not.
Remember that he or she will be reducing your expenses and giving you a great opportunity. Being able to guarantee full involvement in the project on your part will create the best first impression.
Try to share the experiences that led you to that particular organization or why you believe you have picked is the best country for you to volunteer in.
2. Communicate your skills and plans
You will be spending most of your day with your host (or colleagues, depending on the size of the organization). It is natural that they will want to know more about the person they are bringing in the community.
Don’t create false expectations about your skills and abilities. Be honest and put an emphasis on your willingness to learn if your CV is failing you. Everybody is a good candidate for free volunteering positions.
Also, usually some level of training is provided. Your host will be happy to fill in the gaps and get you ready for the tasks ahead if they believe you have the right passion and interest in the project.
If you are already on the road and looking for a short-term free volunteering opportunity in hostels, make sure you communicate your travel plans and availability. Your host will be grateful to be able to write an effective bar staff rotation weeks in advance.
Create a realistic budget
If you are determined to spend your time abroad volunteering, you are now probably thinking about your budget.
This is potentially the biggest concern of all travelers across the world and it is difficult to get right.
However, while many volunteers pick free initiatives to offset their costs, it is possible to reduce your on-the-road expenses even more with a bit of planning and some tips.
Remember that a budget is not a static figure as plans always change while you are traveling.
However, deciding in advance a rough itinerary and length of your trip will help you determine either your daily budget or an overall expenses limit.
1. A daily budget for a long trip
If you are thinking about volunteering during a long trip (3+ months), you will need to decide what fraction of this time you will want to volunteer for.
Calculate your budget by dividing the part of your savings you have dedicated to travel by the rough number of days you planned to stay abroad for.
While there are different ways, such systems would give you an indication of how much you are allowed to spend each day on food and accommodation.
Picking a volunteering project that supplies your meals and accommodation for the length of your time there will increase the daily budget for the non-volunteering days.
By multiplying your daily budget by the days you are volunteering, you’ll know how much you are saving.
Naturally, planning your volunteering time from home or ahead of the trip might be a key factor that will allow you to stay abroad longer.
2. An overall figure for a set time abroad
If your travel plan is to invest 100% of your time abroad volunteering, your budget will be the overall expenses limit. It will comprise food, accommodation, transport, and flights for the entire time you are abroad.
Finding an all-inclusive package will greatly offset this cost and it is a good option in this case. These packages might limit your freedom of movement if you are planning on exploring the country you are visiting.
Moreover, while it is certainly possible to find an all-inclusive free volunteering project, it might be in a country with a high cost of living. Adjust your budget on the destination’s prices and length of the project.
Determine your travel plans
Planning to go directly from your home country to the volunteering station and back? The best chance to reduce your overall cost is to find a project that covers most of your expenses.
Long term projects are the ones most likely to offer free accommodation, food, and Visa support. Sometimes even flights!
This will take care of most of the planning ahead. However, often the programs that offer all-inclusive packages require multiple year experience and expertise skills in the field or are aimed at younger people.
Fitting in either of these two categories can be hard. However, a number of smaller NGOs and religious organizations will usually include food and accommodation and they are happy to help you book your flight.
They might even have access to booking tools and discounts that you aren’t aware of. Always consult your host to get the lowest price for your transport.
2. Country hopping
Many backpackers or gap-year travelers would like to try something that they have never done before during their travels.
Volunteering while moving from country to country every 2 months can be hard.
With any relevant skills, such as a diving certification, you could take part in environment protection activities (like coral reefs cleanups).
Usually not much is provided, but the company will supply equipment and refreshments.
Still, you will get a free dive or hike out of it, which you would have probably paid for otherwise!
A project that seemingly doesn’t offer as much as others might still reduce your costs if you were planning to pay for a number of tours in the area. Instead, this will help you explore and meet the local culture at its best!
3. Short term volunteering while already on the road
Volunteering in hostels is the backpacker go-to solution when running low on money to party and meet people. While this might not be as noble as saving Bornean orangutans, it might help you save just enough to undertake a better volunteering trip later on in your travels.
They often offer food and accommodation.
Also, this is a great option for solo travelers to meet people while on the road. It’s easy for anybody willing to learn or improve their bartending skills to get accepted by a large number of hostels. Workaway is a great website to find these opportunities!
The job usually consists of only a few hours of work a day and will cover your hostel bed and food cost.
Moreover, an increasing number of hotels and hostels are changing to be more environmentally sustainable or getting involved in eco-initiatives. For example, in Sumatra, the Project Wing initiative fills up old water bottles collected from shores and rivers with more plastic. They use the resulting bricks to build their new hostel. They are, as many other hospitality-related eco-initiatives, accepting volunteers and covering food and accommodation.
Pick the right country for your needs
While this seems a minor choice, different countries, or different areas within them, can impact your expenses in various ways.
Three of the main factors to consider are the destination’s cost of living, its Visa’s accessibility, and required vaccinations.
Obtaining a volunteering Visa might not be as easy as it seems. It is often considered a bureaucratic gray area: it is not a working permit but not a tourist stamp. This makes it quite difficult to obtain, even if you have been sponsored directly by the organization you will volunteer in.
Get informed on the Visa situation of the country you will visit. The procedures you have to follow to obtain one are sometimes very different and not easy to complete.
Reading online about the various Visa types can be confusing and frustrating but, if your heart is set on that particular destination, there are ways around it.
Firstly consider the Visa cost and the sponsorship you need (if any).
Then check with your volunteering organization. They might be able to cover the visa expenses for you and/or help you with the process.
Often this is not the case for smaller projects. However, they might either be able to sponsor you or offer tips to speed up the process.
For some areas, you can apply for a volunteering Visa exclusively from your home country. Getting informed ahead of your trip is sometimes decisive for you to be able to take part in the projects.
2. Cost of living
A country’s cost of living and the price of supplies abroad are important factors in calculating an accurate budget and save traveling money.
Northern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and North America, as well as specialized expeditions, will require a higher budget than $20 a day for food and accommodation.
In this case, it is important to apply for a project that covers your daily costs more than other benefits.
Oppositely, zones such as Southeast Asia have a famously low cost of living, but they might not be as easy to reach. In this case, consider applying for a project in a larger organization. Those are more likely to include free or discounted flights. This can avoid a large portion of your budget having to be invested in transport costs.
Vaccinations usually represent a before departure one-off cost.
However, depending on your chosen destination and where you currently are, it can put a strain on your travel budget. If you have been in a certain area of the world and willing to explore more of it, this can reduce your vaccination costs. In fact, just a boost might be sufficient.
While already on the road might be difficult to get the required health treatments for another continent, so plan in advance what your destinations will be.
General tips to reduce the cost of your travels
- Travel with a small backpack. This will help you reduce luggage fees on your flights. Moreover, you will not need much while volunteering as often the necessary equipment and/or uniform is provided by the organization.
- Be sustainable. Take an extra step to protect the country you are visiting and reduce your footprint while lowering your travel costs. For example, bring a reusable bottle with you as your host will have a water refill station.
- Pick the right insurance. Only a few larger projects will provide travel insurance that can cover your medical expenses. Buy the travel insurance that fits your needs and budget beforehand. Your host might have some tips or discounts, especially if you are taking part in a longer-term project. So just ask away!
Volunteering abroad for free has a number of hidden costs that you might not have been aware of. Through some tips and a logical approach to the decision, you can not only avoid these costs, but also reduce your travel expenses even more.
Finding the right program for you can be difficult and intimidating, as there are hundreds of choices on the internet.
If you feel like your research is not going anywhere, check out the list of associations that offer free volunteering abroad opportunities on our website. Then use the tips listed above to pick the right one for you!
Keep in mind that:
- Choosing the project for which you have an interest and passion will help you create a positive impression on the host. In this way, she or he will be even happier to help you lower your costs more.
- Volunteering abroad for free is per se an amazing opportunity for any traveler. However, compare the specific perks that an organization offers with others. Take into consideration factors such as budget availability, personal travel plans, and the right country for you. This will help you pick the organization that offers the right free benefits for your specific situation.