10 Things You Need To Know For Your First Volunteering Trip
Deciding to volunteer and travel to a new country for the first time is an incredibly exciting decision. However, as we all know it can also be a bit overwhelming to jump into the unknown, especially when you have never taken such a leap before. Here we give you our expert advice on how to best prepare for and embrace your first time volunteering abroad.
Before you Depart
1. Do Your Research
When you travel you become an ambassador for your country and this is a big responsibility! Acting culturally appropriate when abroad is of the utmost importance, and requires a bit of effort on your part. Before you leave home, make sure that you study up:
• Read the cultural norms section in your travel guide.
• Research articles online.
• Talk to travellers who have been there.
It is also quite common for volunteers to want to get involved in a range of activities in their free time. However, before blindly jumping into extracurricular options, like elephant riding, it is important to look into which tour providers and types of activities are both ethically and environmentally beneficial.
2. Pack with Intention
First off you will want to look into what type of clothing is appropriate for the destination you are traveling to. You will want to think about both weather conditions and cultural norms. It is also a good idea to pack clothes that you might not mind leaving once your time on the project is up, lightly worn shirts and pants make great donations to the communities that you have been working with. In addition, you will want to think about the environmental impact that your toiletries will have. Try to purchase plant-based options that are low on parabens and use minimal packaging materials.
3. Learn What You Can About Your Project
Of course, when it comes to your volunteer experience flexibility is key. Most volunteering projects are determined by the needs of the community at the time and these can change quite frequently. With that said it is also important to prepare to a degree. If you know you will be teaching English, learn a few activities that you might be able to do with the kids. If you are going to volunteer with a women’s empowerment project make a list of what skills you can share that might be relevant to the women’s life. If you are going to work on a marine conservation project look into some of the current issues that marine conversationalists are facing.
4. Download Whatsapp or Skype for Both You And Your Loved Ones
It’s important to be present while you are volunteering, but most likely people back home will also want to know a bit about what you are up to. Before you leave, make sure that some sort of communication tool is set up so that once you are abroad you won’t have to worry about wasting time trying to get in touch. This way you will be ready to jump on your phone quickly and tell people back home the details of your adventure!
5. Make a Reasonable List of Goals for Yourself
Volunteering will sweep you off your feet in a completely exhilarating way. Days will fly by, jam packed with daily activities, group meals, and meeting new folks from around the world. Taking the time to write down a few things that you personally want to get out of the experience means that you will stay present with your own intentions as well.
• What skills do you want to learn?
• Where do you want to go exploring?
• Who do you want to meet and get to know?
Take a moment to check in with these from time to time so that you don’t lose sight of why you came in the first place.
During the Experience
6. Talk to Anyone and Everyone
Volunteering is all about growing, learning, and exploring. The best way to accomplish these goals? Connect with the people around you! Talk to your fellow volunteers, strike up conversations with the local store clerks and engage with the staff who also work alongside you on your project site. The more that you open up the more you will learn about the world around you, which is the whole reason that you stepped outside of your comfort zone in the first place.
7. Remember to be Flexible
It is inevitable that you will have goals and expectations for the project that you are joining, but each day will be its own experience. Some days will present you with experiences and conversations that far exceed anything you could have expected. On the flip side, some days will be slow and plans might fly out of the window. Remember that your experience is comprised of all these ups and downs and that each moment teaches you a bit more about the culture that you are working within, the challenges that they face, and your own list of capabilities.
8. Take Care of Yourself
This might sound obvious but when your external world is so stimulating it can be hard to remember to take care of your internal world. Eat well, hydrate frequently, sleep regularly, and shower daily (both for your benefit and those around you)!
• Eat well.
• Stay hydrated.
• Get enough sleep.
• Mind your personal hygiene (both for your benefit and those around you)!
9. Take a Bit of Time to Experience Things on Your Own
Volunteering means meeting new friends, it’s inevitable, and these will be the kind of people whose soul sings the same song as yours. You will want to spend a lot of time with them, and you should. However, don’t also forget to go on walks by yourself, to take time to process things on your own accord, to sit solo in a coffee shop and watch the world go by letting your thoughts brew completely uninterrupted.
10. Find Your Own Way of Documenting the Experience
Some of us write, some paint, some of us are photographers, some make movies. Whatever your style is, make sure that you take some time to record and thus process what you are experiencing. Not only will it help you interpret your experience but it will also make for a great way of explaining your adventures to friends and family when you are back home.
Follow these simple suggestions and the transition into your volunteer experience is sure to be a smooth one! For all past volunteers, we would love to hear your best tips for those new to the game, share your suggestions in the comment section below.
Find out more about GVI’s international, award-winning volunteering programmes and internships! Choose from over 150 community development, animal care, teaching, women’s empowerment and conservation projects worldwide!