The images in this article were taken pre-COVID-19.
Deciding to volunteer and travel to a new country for the first time is an exciting decision, but it can also be overwhelming. So, it helps to know how to prepare so that you can enjoy every moment of your first volunteering trip abroad.
Here’s ten of the best tips on how to prepare for and embrace your first time volunteering abroad.
Things to do before you leave
1) Do your research
When you travel, you become an ambassador for your country and this is a big responsibility. Before you leave home, make sure that you read up on your host country, and community, so that you can interact with the local people appropriately and respectfully. Be sure to:
- research the cultural norms in the area where you’ll be staying
- read up on location-specific information online
- talk to travellers who have been there before.
And, of course, any volunteer would want to get involved in various activities in their free time.
But, before jumping into any extracurriculars, make sure that these activities are ethical and environmentally friendly. This way, the positive impact you make while volunteering abroad can keep going, even when you’re enjoying your free time.
Also be sure to read through the volunteer organisation’s COVID-19 policy so you’re clear on what protective gear to take with, what’s allowed and what’s not. This can also help you pick which destination you’d like to travel to since some locations may not be open to visitors just yet.
2) Pack with intention
Keep in mind where you’re going to volunteer and what you’ll be doing. Look into what types of clothing are best for the destination you’re travelling to – keeping in mind what’s appropriate for the climate as well as the culture.
It’s also important to think about the environmental impact that your toiletries may have while you’re travelling. Try to purchase plant-based options that are low in parabens, and use minimal packaging materials.
3) Learn what you can about your project
It’s important to prepare for what you’ll be doing on your volunteer project abroad.
If you know you’ll be teaching English, think about activities that you might be able to do with students. If you’re going to volunteer on a women’s empowerment project, read up on the experiences of local women to get a sense of the challenges they face. If you’re going to work on a marine conservation project, read about the work being done at your chosen hub on the GVI blog, or hub-specific Facebook page.
And, since the best volunteering projects abroad address the needs of local communities, activities can, and should, change as the need changes. So flexibility is key when you volunteer abroad.
You can get all the details you need on any of our volunteer programs abroad by getting in touch with our support staff.
4) Know how you’re going to communicate with family and friends
It’s important to be present while you’re volunteering abroad, but you’ll also want to keep in touch with your loved ones.
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 – or money – trying to get in touch.
By sorting this out before you leave, you’ll be ready to get in touch as soon as you reach your destination abroad.
And if you’ll be staying in a more remote area, or a location where connectivity is inconsistent, be sure to let friends and family know how frequently they can expect to hear from you.
5) Make a reasonable list of personal travel goals
Time may fly on your volunteering trip. Between daily activities, group meals and meeting new folks from all around the world, you’ll want to be sure that you also get time to tick off your own travel abroad bucket list.
Taking the time before you leave to write down a few practical things that you’d like to get out of your travel experience will make it easier for you to keep in mind your own personal travel goals. Think about:
- the skills you want to learn
- what you’d like to see and do
- who you’d like to meet.
Also find out if there are any travel restrictions within the country you’re volunteering in and factor these into your travel goals.
Check in with your travel goals every now and then so that you don’t lose sight of achieving them.
Things to do while you’re there
6) Talk to anyone and everyone
Volunteering can involve a great deal of personal growth, learning, and exploring. If these are key goals for you, make sure you put effort into connecting with the people around you.
Talk to your fellow volunteers, strike up conversations with store clerks and engage with the staff who work alongside you on your project. The more that you open up, the more you will learn about the world around you.
7) Remember to be flexible
You’ll have set your goals and expectations for the project you are joining, but each day will be its own experience.
While some days may be everything you hoped for and more, others could be slower and vary from what was expected. .
Remember that every real-life experience has its ups and downs. But each moment is still an opportunity to learn more about the people you are working with, the community that’s hosting you, and even your own capabilities.
8) Take care of yourself
This might sound obvious, but when you’re caught up in the excitement of a volunteering abroad experience, taking care of yourself can sometimes slip your mind.
Make sure you eat well, drink lots of water, sleep regularly, and shower daily. This won’t only benefit you, it will benefit those around you too!
9) Take some time to experience things on your own
You’ll have ample opportunity to meet and get to know new people when you volunteer abroad. But, don’t forget to take time to process things by yourself too.
Take a walk, or sit solo in a coffee shop and watch the world go by. Let your thoughts brew without interruption, and make sense of your own experience.
10) Document your experience
You can capture your favourite moments abroad by writing, painting, taking a photograph or a video. Whatever your preference, what matters most is that you keep a record of your trip, and process what you’re experiencing.
And, take time out after each day to reflect on what you learned and experienced in your day-to-day activities. You could even write these thoughts down in a travel journal for a keepsake.
This can make for a more meaningful and memorable volunteer trip, and will help to jog your memory when sharing your experience with your family and friends back home.
Following these simple suggestions can take your volunteering experience from mediocre to magnificent, and make for a smooth trip abroad.
Find out more about GVI’s international, award-winning volunteering programs and internships. Choose from our community development, teaching, women’s empowerment or conservation projects worldwide, or start your journey online.