Volunteering whilst you travel means you can stop spending money for a while (most places exchange work for accommodation and at least two meals a day). It also gives you the chance to slow down and enjoy having somewhere to call home. But what about the exciting stuff?
Embrace your lack of direction
Often in day-to-day life, we feel uncomfortable not knowing what we want to do (career-wise). Money oriented society encourages us to study, start working and that’s it till… regardless of whether it fulfils us. Just months ago, I remember feeling guilty for not being as happy as I should be (in theory, I had it all) but ‘is this it?’ niggled away in the back of my mind.
So 10 months after my first trip and feeling miserable again, it was time for a change. With less money saved than before, volunteering seemed like the best option and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I started looking through Workaway:
… I could be a skipper on a boat cruising around the Caribbean…
… I could work at an animal orphanage in the rainforest…
… I could paint murals on hostel walls…
… I could teach English in remote villages…
… Or I could just work as a receptionist in a fun looking hostel…
Just like that, a world of possibilities opened up and being without a career felt like a blessing.
Revel in your freedom
Most voluntary roles are for 5 hours a day, 5 days a week.
Think back to just before you started working. Perhaps when you just found out you’d got a new job, or when you were moving to a new place for work. How excited were you to make the most of your precious spare time? To try a new sport, or do evening classes, or teach yourself something?
How many of us abandoned those ideas pretty quickly? How many of us have felt too exhausted to do little more than work with these rigid lifestyles?
Now imagine only having 5 hours of work a day. You have time to do all the things you want to do – read, run, swim, learn, lie in the sun and not feel guilty!
I’ll never forget volunteering at Earthship Patagonia (El Bolson, Argentina). The hostel was at the foot of a mountain, and we spent most of our days outside. When I arrived another volunteer said, ‘everyday, take a few seconds to look at the mountain, and appreciate it’. So I did, and soon I wanted to draw it. I hadn’t drawn for about 12 years and I’m certainly no expert, but that afternoon I started drawing and have carried on since.
You achieve the things you never thought you could do.
At Earthship, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with another “chef”. I’ve loved baking since I was a child but there we were cooking just vegan food for around 20 at a time. Of course it was nerve-wracking to start with, but the super positive people and nature of the place made it so easy. No arrogant authority, no judging eyes, just a collective enthusiasm to be sharing such a magical place.
In Colombia, I helped a friend in the run-up to opening his first hostel. I thought I’d just be painting walls / making things look pretty and then he mentioned he was clueless on how to create website. Having set up this blog, and feeling invigorated after volunteering in Argentina, I felt confident enough to help him. And if we surprise ourselves achieving little things, we gradually begin realising how powerful we all are.
Most places ask for a minimum of 3 weeks help and it’s not always flowers & rainbows. Unlike travelling where if you get tired of somewhere / someone you can just leave, when you volunteer you can’t. You’re pushed out of your comfort zone and you just have to be patient.
I worked on a farm in a tiny village in Ecuador a few years ago. It was an interesting experience but as the only volunteer, I felt lonely and the days seemed to pass by very slowly. I was also so hungry I wrote a little story about it (see my post First World Problems in Ecuador.) Yep, on reflection we can laugh!
When I arrived in the community shown above, I’d been partying with old friends at Rio Carnival earlier this year. I was exhausted and the highs of cheap alcohol & non-stop dancing had become one, angry hangover. By contrast, the residents here floated around in a state of what looked like perpetual inner-peace. So oozing toxicity, I found the first week very uncomfortable. Though the volunteers were lovely, I felt totally disconnected from the community: always smiling, so calm and nonchalant about everything, is this normal? Fortunately, as I recovered, I realised what a special place I was in. It resembled a utopia (more film moments!) and of course there’s so much to learn from a place like this: making and spending money as a collective, living in simple homes, having time to do what you love… Inspirational indeed.
Learn about yourself
As I mentioned at the beginning, volunteering lets you live a place and that means your routine has to adapt to wherever you are: You may have to get up and feed the chickens instead of getting straight in the shower or only wash your hair once a week because the water’s cold and the hairdryer ancient.
As a 24 year old, most of the last 8 years has been spent studying / working Monday to Friday then going out drinking and dancing at the weekend. It’s been fantastic fun, but it’s been even better discovering that I can laugh senseless with people (friends and people I’m just getting to know) and dance like no one’s watching, without alcohol. Waking up the next morning without the unease of ‘what did I do last night?’ and no lingering intoxication, that’s been life-changing.
…Walking back to my room after a group meditation, I looked up at the stars and they were dancing around the sky like little fireflies…
So there you have it, 5 reasons why I love voluntravelling (think the word will take off?) Essentially, it’s like being like a child again: interactive, creative, positive and worry-free.
Thanks for reading and if you have any more specific questions please get in touch.
https://www.weliveweexplore.com/ is a blog from lovely travelling couple Mish and Kirk, they’ve also got some great photos on Instagram @weliveweexplore
Recent Inspiration – It’s great sharing material that inspires us. This week I watched a documentary called The Minimalists, a heart-warming doc on how enriching living a less materialistic life can be http://www.theminimalists.com/films/