5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Treat Your Volunteer Trip Abroad Like A Holiday

    Posted: July 26, 2017

    Volunteering abroad can be exciting, fun, and full of adventure. This doesn’t make it a holiday though — in fact, the two modes of travel are worlds apart. While a vacation is primarily about having a good time, volunteering is focused on making a difference in the world and learning new things along the way.

    Here’s why you shouldn’t treat volunteering abroad like a holiday.


    1. Volunteering is a chance to do good in the world

    Volunteering isn’t about getting cute pictures with children or turtles. It’s about enriching people’s lives, aiding conservation efforts, and generally striving to make the planet a better place. Your primary focus should be on what you can do in the world, rather than how good what you’re doing will look on Instagram. With the rise of social media accounts dedicated to travel, and bloggers who make a living from jetting around the world and posing in front of famous landmarks, holidays have started to become one big photo op. Which is fine, if you are on holiday.

    GVI volunteers making a difference teaching English at our base in Kerala, India.

    However, if you’re volunteering it’s a little different and treating a project like the chance to get that awesome shot is a great way to miss the point of what you’re there to do. Your priority is the work you’re doing in the local community, and any incredible photos you get are just a bonus! By all means, take some great snaps to remember the time you spend there, but as much as possible try to focus on the experience with your own eyes rather than a camera lens.

    Further Reading: 10 Reasons Why Empathy Is Important For Career Success.

    2. Volunteering is hard work

    Even if you plan on volunteering in a beachy destination, don’t go under the illusion that you will be sipping cocktails on the beach and working on your tan all day. Volunteering is primarily a working experience, so you’ll spend most of your time concentrating on your project and the goals you are trying to achieve. You will get sweaty, dirty, and tired as you pour your energy into your work.

    That’s not to say you won’t have plenty of free time to explore and relax, but volunteering involves a lot more effort than your average holiday.

    3. You’ll have to leave your comfort zone behind

    When you go on holiday, it’s entirely possible to go the whole time without learning a word of another language, spending time with locals, or delving into different customs and ways of life. That’s fine if your main objective is to sit by a pool and sunbathe, but volunteering can and should take you deeper than just the hotels and restaurants scene.

    These volunteers stationed in Nepal learn what it means to go outside your comfort zone.

    As a volunteer, you should try to use the opportunity to connect with a culture you’re unfamiliar with. You’ll be working alongside local people so grab the opportunity to learn what life is really like in their country; make an effort to learn the lingo, or engage with locals and make friends. This can mean getting outside of your comfort zone as you meet new people, eat new foods, and go where you have never been before, but this is what makes the volunteering experience so rewarding.

    A key component of volunteering is keeping an open mind and embracing the opportunity to learn new things. We promise you that most of your most memorable experiences will be when you ditch the tourist trail and immerse yourself in local ways of life.

    Further Reading: The One Philosophy Every Volunteer Should Subscribe To

    4. Volunteering is an opportunity to learn new skills

    To get the most out of your time spent volunteering, you should try to work on as many skills as you can. The more you learn and grow during your time volunteering abroad, the more opportunities will open up to you in your career.

    Volunteering could help you land your dream job, but only if you make the most of it. If you treat your whole trip like a holiday you may have a great time but you won’t be doing anything to boost your resume.

    A GVI volunteer working in Mexico learns some of the essential skills she’ll need in her future wildlife conservation career.

    Further Reading: The Value Of International Work Experience 

    5. When you’re volunteering, you don’t put yourself first

    Holidays are a time to shamelessly indulge – in sleep-ins, desserts every day, and not having to think or worry about real world problems. Volunteering, on the other hand, doesn’t revolve around you.

    You will have to put the needs of other people before your own, and that could mean putting up with being uncomfortable and grubby, living in very unglamourous conditions. Your willingness to help and make yourself useful in any way is what will set you apart as a volunteer and not a holiday maker. It’s also what will help you gain a broader perspective on global issues and the thing that matter most in life, which is why you’ll return from a volunteering trip wiser, as well as tanned!


    If you’re ready to embrace the challenges and rewards of a volunteering trip abroad, check out GVI’s international, award-winning volunteering programs and internships, and choose from community development, animal care, teaching, women’s empowerment, and wildlife conservation projects worldwide.