Deciding to leave your 9 to 5 job to travel the world and be a digital nomad can be super exciting… and scary! Especially if you are freelancing, you are never sure what income to expect each month or how to balance your expenses.
I have only moved to this lifestyle a few months ago, after 8 months of traveling through South East Asia. I initially thought that, since I would be working, money would be less of a problem than it was when I was only traveling.
However, after your first few projects, you will realize that you are probably looking for a more stable lifestyle that you had while backpacking through Thailand. Unfortunately, nobody starting a freelancing career will be rich in the first few months, and this is where Free Volunteering abroad comes in handy!
Check out how to use Free Volunteering abroad to make your dream come true, be location independent and a successful digital nomad.
Free Volunteering can be hard to define and, depending on the definition you have looked up, it can take different meanings.
Whether you are genuinely involved in a project or you are only looking for a mean to be location independent, free volunteering can be extremely useful.
After over 8 months of travel, I decided I was not ready to go home, but the funds were running low. I have always had a passion for writing and I would do it to earn extra pocket money, so I decided to make it my career and keep traveling.
However, with such scarce initial earnings, I had to find a way to survive as a digital nomad.
This is how I got into free volunteering!
It can save you money on food and accommodation and, if you have picked the right project, it can represent a fulfilling hobby to carry on.
Since I did struggle in the beginning, this is a guide for any novice or expert digital nomads to save traveling funds while enjoying time in the best nomadic communities in the world.
Here we will have a look at what your priorities should be when looking for a free volunteering project.
Then, if you are about to leave Canggu and you are not sure what to do next, we will offer you some inspiration! Have a look at the best places in the world for digital nomads and at how to afford living there with Free Volunteering.
What should your priorities be?
If you are looking at free volunteering abroad to make your nomadic lifestyle sustainable there are some priorities that you should aim at getting covered. These are often different from the primary concerns of normal travelers.
In fact, for me was incredibly important that the project I picked agreed with the lifestyle, workload, and passions I had.
This is mainly because here you are looking at long term projects to balance along with your growing career. Moreover, you should consider that your traveling patterns from now on will be different from the backpacking you might have been doing.
For example, you will not be able to hop from a hostel to another every second night or change location every week. As a digital nomad, you will most likely spend at least a month in each location, preferably longer.
Therefore, some items included in your free volunteering project will be predominant over others. Let’s have a look at what you should consider when picking a project.
Accommodation and Meals
As we have mentioned, you are looking at undertaking long-term projects, especially at the beginning. Having your full-board included in the package can help you save the most, especially if you have moved to a European city.
Here the cost of living can be high, and having to pay for accommodation and food can cut your trip shot.
Free volunteering packages are likely to offer basic accommodation and meals in their offer, in exchange for fixed hours of work per week. If you have been backpacking and sleeping in a cheap hostel, it won’t take you long to adapt to spartan accommodation.
However, now there are a few pieces of information that you have to be aware of as you probably won’t be able to do much work in a dorm.
Why not looking for a project that includes flights or visas?
It is more difficult to find a project that will include flights in this case. Usually, the organizations that are willing to supply flights require a higher level of involvement or intensive daily activities. While taking up such projects can be extremely interesting, it can make it very difficult for you to adhere to your work schedule.
Visas are often not a huge problem, as the hotspots for digital nomads are often so because of the accessibility of tourists or work permits. However, it could be a good idea to check with your coordinator to see if they are willing to help you throughout the process.
Another main difference that you will notice when you move from a traveling lifestyle to a digital nomad one, is how essential planning ahead is now.
While going with the flow took me to amazing places during my backpacking days, now I have to plan in advance to be able to have all the facilities I need to be productive.
Therefore, when you are applying for the free volunteering project you are after, check that they offer high-speed WiFi. Alternatively, scan the area on Google Maps to make sure there is at least one cafe nearby with free access to the internet. It is suggested to get in touch with the cafe as well, especially if you are teaching online or you are dealing with multiple clients.
If your association does not offer any working stations or connectivity (yes, it can still happen!) a great solution is to find the closest coworking space. These can be expensive, but if you are not paying for your accommodation, the two costs will balance themselves out.
Moreover, they are open 24 hours, which gives you more freedom to balance your physical and online jobs. These are great places to meet like-minded workers and travelers and maybe a good cooperation deal can come out of it!
Here is where it all gets tricky!
To get at least free food and accommodation included, you will need to work a certain amount of hours a week. If your project is natural conservation-based or humanitarian, you might find that it can even help the creative juice flowing.
However, other options such as Workaway might be easier to get into but you might have to attend a late or early bar shift. I can guarantee you that it can be difficult to juggle all of your tasks and the awkward hospitality shifts!
Yes, you will need to be a seriously hard-working person, but we would do anything to stay out traveling one more day, right?!
Nonetheless, if you have just started your career, don’t underestimate the importance of finding time to improve your skills, taking courses, and applying for better jobs.
If you overwork yourself with low paying jobs and you are too tired from your volunteering tasks you might find it difficult to improve your career.
Find an opportunity that fits within your career
Learn from my own mistakes here and pick a project that helps you save money while bettering your skills and knowledge.
Just because you are trying to spend less on this adventure, it does not mean that you have to agree to a project that you are not happy with. This could be the case if you are only covering your traveling expenses, but when you are a digital nomad you should also be aiming at creating a future career.
I personally decided to opt for helping rebuild a village in Malaysia and taking care of stray dogs in Bali. For me these activities were inspirational and, while they could be hard work, I would leave my shift refreshed and ready to achieve my daily goals.
Alternatively, if you have been stuck in front of your laptop for hours, it will be refreshing to leave your room and spend some of your time with the local kids or wildlife.
Lastly, try to pick a project that can help you out in your career and make it a win-win situation!
For example, if you are an online English teacher, head for a teaching volunteering job. You will already be qualified and you can have fun and improve your CV at the same time. All while not spending anything out of your own pockets.
Alternatively, content creators could take up an environmental project which will give them the chance to write about or take photos of unique experiences. Not many travelers can get so close to the local life without being part of it themselves!
The best digital nomads places and how to live here for cheap with free volunteering
If you have just started your digital nomad career, don’t be fooled by the “working with my laptop at the beach” photos that are populating Instagram. A location independent lifestyle can be very hard work!
If you have just started working online or you have seen the number of your project rising, planning your stay properly is essential to be able to perform well. When I transitioned from traveling to a digital nomad lifestyle, I was surprised by how many factors I had to take into consideration to be able to work productively.
However, the number of cities and locations that offer everything you need is on the rise, especially as there are expected to be over 1 billion digital nomads traveling globally by 2035.
So let’s have a look at what are the costs involved in some of the best locations for digital nomads and how you can reduce them with free volunteering.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
This alternative destination is becoming more popular among digital nomads every passing day. The easy regulations and laws make it easier for anybody looking at funding a start-up or business to be successful here.
The great weather and vibes of Buenos Aires, as well as the high number of activities you can try out in your free time, make it an inspirational place for any digital nomad.
Buenos Aires is famous for its low cost of living. If your organization does not include free accommodation, you can rent an Airbnb for a month for as low as $400. Public transportation is one of the lowest costs you will be facing here.
However, the cost of food can be as high as $13 for one day. Considering all these costs, you might be facing a monthly expenditure of $950 – $1,600, depending on your lifestyle.
Moreover, if you are in this large city on your own, you might be looking into paying for a co-working space to meet other digital nomads and travelers.
Moreover, if you are in this large city on your own, you might be looking into paying for a co-working space to meet other digital nomads and travelers. While Buenos Aires offers a number of state-of-the-art co-working and co-living spaces, such as Urban Station and HIT, the cost of these facilities can reach $200 a month.
Free volunteering opportunities in Buenos Aires
In Argentina, the concept of volunteering is slightly different from the European and American ones. While there are many free volunteering projects, if you are looking at reducing your expenses you might find it hard to come across a program that is willing to pay full board.
If you are looking at moving to this charming city, your research should be deeper than the one for other areas, as you will be looking for local grassroots organizations. However, don’t lose hope just yet!
Concepts such as Estancia La Margarita will provide food and accommodation in exchange for looking after the horses or the grounds. A complete list of small organizations that are looking for volunteers can be found here.
You might be required to take up Spanish lessons before your trip if you are planning to volunteer here.
This is arguably one of the largest digital nomads hotspots in the whole of South America. Medellin is called “the city of eternal spring” due to the perfect climate from which it benefits all year long.
The city has long ago left the chapter of Pablo Escobar behind and turned itself around to be one of the most prevalent cities in the world. The investment in technology, the inexpensive but high-standard medical care, and cheap public transportation have made this city one of the first choices for a nomadic lifestyle.
Medellin offers a really low cost of living for expats. Here you can live comfortably for $1000 a month, including accommodation, meals, and transportation.
However, be aware that if you are living in a shared flat, it is recommended to rent a desk in a nearby coworking space. While new establishments are created continuously, you might struggle to find a place to work later at night. Bear in mind that this could be an issue, especially if you are juggling your volunteering and online jobs.
If you prefer more privacy, high-end cafes offer a cozy space to work and excellent wifi. However, consider that buying products from these venues daily can increase your cost of living.
Free volunteering opportunities in Medellin
Medellin is literally a paradise for English Teachers, online and not. The opportunity is always on the rise and you will always have a team of like-minded nomads ready to help you out.
If you are an English teacher and you already know the basics of the job, head to the Marina Orth Foundation. They believe that learning English is essential to become a global citizen and they made it their mission to support children and parents in their learning path.
In exchange for 30 hours of work per week, you will get free accommodation, three meals a day and a private room. The facilities offered are great and they accept couples or pairs. Moreover, if you have just started your career as a teacher, they provide training and certificate at the end of your 12 weeks there. With that on your CV, nothing can stop you!
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
The heart of bustling Vietnam is also one of the most entertaining and cheap cities in the world. However, you will never be short of opportunities here. This has been a global hub for digital nomads for a while, as travelers have always been attracted by the friendliness of locals, crazy nightlife, and delicious food.
The facilities compete with the ones in Europe or America, but you can still get a bite of the real and exotic Vietnam here. I have absolutely loved Ho Chi Minh City, especially as I have started off as a digital nomad here myself.
Let’s be clear, there is no chance of you going anywhere without renting a scooter. This, along with rent, will be your main cost in the city. Meals can be bought for less than $0.60 on street corners at any time of the day (or night, if you don’t mind feeding on Banh Mi).
If you start being homesick and you really feel like some cheese and crackers, be aware that shopping at a supermarket can turn out very expensive. Moreover, you will always need to find an indoor area that offers WiFi and air conditioning here. Temperatures can be extremely high all year round.
Free volunteering opportunities in Ho Chi Minh City
While Ho Chi Minh City is the ideal location for nomadic English Teachers, the capital of Vietnam holds surprises also for the mindful travelers!
Personally, making a positive impact on the environment and educate other travelers to do so was the reason why I have decided to start working online during my travels.
Ho Chi Minh City has a number of social projects for which you can volunteer for free. They offer free private accommodation and three meals a day. In exchange, they require you to work around 20 hours per week. Tasks include cleaning up the capital city, inform other citizens and tourists about the impact of plastic, and limit the footprint left behind by tourism.
This opportunity does not cover your visa or flight costs but it has incredible perks if you would like to explore Vietnam more. In fact, your host will supply free city and hiking tours, a bike to explore the city, and included Vietnamese lessons.
I am only sad that I was not aware of this while in Ho Chi Minh City!
Who said that you have to fly to the other side of the world to find a digital nomad-friendly city? Budapest boasts an extremely rich culture and history and can be of great inspiration if you have just started your nomadic career.
Especially for solo female nomads, this city is super welcoming and definitely does not lack nightlife and entertainment. The museums and stunning architecture will keep your days off busy!
Budapest is still new on the digital nomad locations landscapes. You can still find a few coworking spaces and cafes with all the facilities you need, but there are costs associated with them.
The price of just utilities for a month is around $200 while renting a flat or apartment can set you back between $600 and $1200. For European standards, this can seem fairly cheap, but if you have just come back from Southeast Asia, you have to make sure you have enough funds to support your nomadic lifestyle, especially at the beginning of it.
Eating in restaurants or cafes can require an expenditure of $20, even for smaller meals or snacks. The public transport is around $30 for a month. Which, again, is not expensive but you will have to really start looking into saving here!
Moreover, don’t forget that Budapest is one of the most touristy cities in Europe. Especially during the summer, it can be flooded with tourists …which means that prices will go up!
Free volunteering opportunities in Budapest
Budapest offers a great deal of Workaway opportunities and hotel work. You will be able to live in a dorm and save on your monthly rent. However, be aware that this kind of hospitality work can include late shifts and up to 40 hours of work a week. Moreover, in Budapest, meals are often not included. This can really take a toll on you!
If you are looking for an opportunity that leaves some space for your online career and you speak English fluently, you will not be short of work here. Taking up a free volunteering job as an English Tutor in Hungary will supply meals, private accommodation in a hotel, and city tours.
If you are a night owl, you can easily find a free volunteering position to cover night shifts in hotels and hostels such as Aventura Hostel Budapest. If you are used to working overnight or you have international clients, this can just be the perfect place! Just find yourself a quieter hostel and bring your laptop to work.
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Mexico really has it all! There is always something to do for mountains, beaches or big city lovers. Playa Del Carmen is situated only 70km southwest of the famous Cancun. Obviously, as a novice digital nomad, you want to stay clear of such a party place, but you don’t need to say no to Mexico altogether.
While there are only a couple of coworking spaces, the wifi in cafes and restaurants is great. Moreover, we all know how cheap and delicious Mexican food is!
I was planning on only staying only two weeks here, but I ended up staying for over 2 months. It is difficult to leave beautiful beaches, great people, and (really) good food behind.
This location is extremely convenient if you have clients in America, as the time zone is similar. However, this is not the cheapest area in Central America.
Being such a touristy spot, you should be aware that prices can be much higher than you expect. 1 month rental through Airbnb can add up to over $1,500. However, if you are happy to stay further from the coast, you can get yourself a flat for just $600.
The great shopping centers in the area and the grocery stores of Playa del Carmen can help you out if you like to cook. Here the average cost for food shopping for a month is just over $200. The prices of coffee are average, you might be paying around $4 for a latte.
Free volunteering opportunities in Playa Del Carmen
With the famous nightlife that will trap you in Playa Del Carmen, free volunteering opportunities if you are a DJ or bartender are never short. Moreover, many bars and hostels are in need of graphic and interior designers. If this is your online job, you could decide to dedicate some hours to your hostel to have free accommodation and meals in exchange.
However, if you are looking at volunteering for an organization that acts towards the wellbeing of the community and environment, check out the opportunities created by Educativo Humano. This charity requires 18 hours per week of work in exchange for a private room, meals, and insurance. You will be required to teach English and sports and help the kids of the community realize what they are passionate about.
Sounds inspirational right? Best of all you will be immersed in nature, the perfect environment to get that work done!
Estonia has had one of the best turnarounds of all European countries. They have made available a Digital Nomads visa that covers all the needs a traveler might have when there. They will be able to supply your healthcare and other social needs, which can open a number of incredible opportunities.
Moreover, they provide free WiFi in the whole territory, even in beaches and forests. Tallinn is a small city, with just 400,000 inhabitants and boasts a rich culture. It never gets particularly busy, but there is always something to do, especially at night time. The city center is a UNESCO World Heritage, offering the best setting for your online job. The climate is reasonable and the country benefits from 4 different seasons.
An Airbnb apartment in the center of Tallinn can set you back around $700 – $1000 per month. This is cheap compared to other cities in Europe, but definitely more expensive than Ho Chi Minh City. Prices can get much higher in the old town which is the most touristy part of the city.
The town is walkable and public transports function perfectly, but if you have to reach your coworking space daily, prepare to pay up to $30 a month.
The prices of the state-of-the-art coworking spaces that you can find here are much higher than in Southeast Asia and South America, and it can set you back over $200 a month.
Free volunteering opportunities in Tallinn
If you are looking for free volunteering positions in Estonia, you will quickly realize that most of the attractive ones are in the countryside. Large manors or wildlife projects such as Projekt Kodu are always looking for help and you will be set in one of the spare rooms or tents. These are great opportunities, but it can be quite taxing to not have any other digital nomad around for a prolonged period of time.
If you are determined to stay within the city center, some of the best opportunities are offered by hostels and hotels in the Old City. This will guarantee you to be in the center of the action at all times, but hospitality work can include longer or night shifts.
Alternatively, you could apply for grassroots associations that operate in the area. EstYES International Youth association will provide your meals and basic accommodation in exchange for social work. Their aim is to promote cultural exchanges through their work camps and activities such as renovation and tree planting.
What digital nomad has not once dreamed to live and work in the Island of The Gods?! It really has it all: surfing, jungles, yoga sessions, cheap and delicious food, and, of course, Bintangs! I have been in Canggu for over a month now and it really holds a special place in my heart.
Berawa is the ex-pats area and it is situated only a short scooter ride to Berawa Beach, where you can learn to surf in all safety and enjoy a cold beer at sunset. The town center and the beaches can get very busy as there is a constant influx of tourists in the area.
I have rented an ensuite double room in the center of Canggu for around $300. The cost of a bike per month is roughly $50, but petrol is only $1 and can easily get you through a week.
The wifi in the area is very good and everybody here is some sort of digital nomad. You will always be surrounded by developers, editors, social media managers, and IT experts. Renting a coworking space such as Dojo and Tropical Nomads is not necessary, but recommended if you are looking at expanding your network. However, this can set you back over $100 a month.
Moreover, if you have been traveling through South East Asia, you will be surprised at how high the cost of living here is, especially when compared to Java or even Medewi, in the North of Bali.
Free volunteering opportunities in Canggu
Bali’s free volunteering opportunities have been decreasing as it was a victim of its own success. If you can get away from the crowds, you will be able to volunteer in the center of the Island and in local villages. However, if your plan was to head to Canggu, you should be aware that you might have to compromise on one or two factors.
International Humanity Foundation is only one of the few associations that offer meals and food provided, but, if you are staying for less than 6 months, they require a payment of $150 a week.
Volunteering for free can really help you out when you are just starting out your career as a digital nomad. You will be able to meet other like-minded nomads that will be ready to help and, who knows, you might end up with a new job opportunity out of it.
However, while you are volunteering to lower the expenses of your trip, you should be aware that you will be effectively be working twice as much as anybody else. This is okay, especially if you are paying your duties, but picking a free volunteering project that works around your schedule is key. This will allow you to put enough effort into your career to see it taking off while enjoying the work you are doing for the community.
Anywhere you are going, you will have an amazing time, and even if your career has not made you rich yet, don’t give up!