Volunteering overseas, sometimes called voluntourism, is all about giving something back while you travel. Overseas volunteer programs can run for anything from one week to a year. Voluntourism is the perfect way to gain an in-depth understanding of the places you visit, while helping people, communities or the environment. A good place to start is to think about your skills, interests and abilities.
Volunteering to help the environment usually requires you to be in good physical shape. Earthwatch Institute offers volunteer opportunities for people who wish to be involved in environmental scientific research and education. You can assist scientists with their field work, and many of the projects do not require any previous experience or specialist knowledge. If you want to stay closer to home Conservation Volunteers offers environmental conservation projects in Australia and New Zealand.
If trekking through national parks or tagging turtles isn’t your cup of tea, you might want to take a look at the Australian Volunteers International website. Australian Volunteers International looks for people with skills, from business professionals to qualified trades-people, so mature volunteers are always welcome. It offers projects which put your skills to use, many of which are based in building communities and helping individuals. Australian Business Volunteers (ABV) is an organisation where most of the volunteers are either retired or self-employed people who have the time to share their expertise. You apply with your resume, and ABV will place you in a volunteer position where your skills can be put to the best use.
Something more adventurous
If you are looking for a project off the beaten path, and you are in good physical shape, then International Volunteers for Peace might be the organisation for you. They offer over 1000 projects in all different areas, but many are in remote locations. The website is geared more towards younger travellers, but they are very happy to have mature volunteers apply.
Things to think about
Different volunteer organisations will offer different facilities and extras. Some projects will come with meals and accommodation, others won’t. Some projects can offer you pocket money, others can barely afford to keep themselves running. It is also important to look into how much the position will cost. Some organisations ask for a token administration fee, others request a larger donation to the project before you can help out, and very few will cover your travel to and from the volunteer position. Taking out travel health insurance is also important, as most volunteer organisations can only offer you basic cover, if any, and if you get hurt or sick you may wish to be able to return home without mortgaging your house.
Volunteering overseas can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but it is important to research all the options first. If you have already done something like this, why not share your insights below?