7 Reasons Why ‘Voluntourism’ is the Best Way to Travel

I first caught the travel bug volunteering in Honduras and ever since then I’ve felt the need to get out on the road and experience as many places as I can. But for all the travelling that I’ve done since, I still look back to Honduras as my fondest travel memory, perhaps partly because it ‘popped my travel cherry’, but mainly because I got to live in a small community for a full year and became fully immersed in the Garifuna culture. For me, this style of travel – ‘voluntourism’ as it’s becoming known – is the best kind, and here are seven reasons why:

• You see amazing things – living in a community provides you with the opportunity to experience things you never would if you were doing it as a backpacker and flying through in a couple of days or weeks. Even if you volunteer in a fairly well known place you will still get ‘off the beaten track’ experiences by living the life of a local.

• You’re helping less privileged people – without wanting to appear too heroic, it’s certainly true that the majority of projects that are run (by reputable companies at least) help the local communities develop and provide locals with opportunities to live in better conditions in some way or other, whether it’s getting a better education or drinking clean water.

• You develop yourself – I certainly think my year away changed me and gave me skills that I use every day wherever I am, be it in the office or out on the road. There’s always a risk of living a blinkered existence and travel is a great way of avoiding this by getting out there and exposing yourself to different cultures and environments.

• There are great organisations to help you – There are numerous organisations out there which will allow you to find the right project for you in the right place.

Idealist is one such organisation, providing a wealth of information on all the possible places/jobs/internships that are available to the prospective voluntourist. It has been the place to go to for this information since as long ago as 1995 and you’re guaranteed to get what you need there, whether it’s information on the costs involved or just an idea of how to get started.

Voluntourism.org is also an excellent resource which aims to bring together all the information that someone thinking of volunteering may need, ranging from voluntourism tips to weekly podcasts which keep you up to date with the latest, relevant news and advice.

• It’s cheap – Whilst this isn’t always necessarily the case, on the most part you get to go and experience a different part of the world for the fraction of the cost of constantly backpacking on the move. There’s obviously a huge variation from company to company but you will always avoid the main costs inherent to constantly moving around such as travel tickets and accommodation.

• You choose how long to go for – Volunteering can be as long or as brief as you like. You don’t have to leave home for years on end to get the benefits and can almost certainly find the right project for you as there are so many out there. Whilst I believe a longer stay is better and allows you to become more immersed in the community you are staying in, you will always be accepted by communities if you are helping them out, even if it is only for a few weeks.

• You can become properly immersed in another culture – As a backpacker it is difficult to get fully involved with a community when you are just passing through. You can look from afar and take a photo or two, but you will never get to the bottom of what makes those people tick. Volunteering allows you to do this. It gives you the opportunity to gain the trust of the locals and for them to let you in to their way of life and this is when you really get to embrace another culture. For me, this is the most satisfying reward of the volunteering experience – I still have friends who I met when I did it and they allowed me to see a different way of life, one which didn’t revolve around watching TV and sitting in an office!

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