Voluntravelling, it’s a Wonderful Thing (2017)

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. 

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I arrived at my temporary home feeling deflated. Not only had the past 10 months been arduous but also when I arrived in Buenos Aires, I knew straightaway that I didn’t want to live/work there (after voluntravelling for a while). A year’s plan fell apart so quickly, yet within a few days of volunteering it really didn’t matter.
  • 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.

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Like a huge, sleeping reptile Cerro (mount) Piltriquitron, hugs El Bolson, a lovely town of 20,000, famous for its weekly hippie fairs and my home for 5 weeks.
  • Feel Empowered

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.  

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The view from a spiritual community I volunteered at between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). Quite a few of my shifts there were spent collecting guavas: hitting them off the trees with a bamboo stick and collecting them in a wheelbarrow to make juice and jam, it was like something out a film set! 
  • Challenge Yourself

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… 

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A phenomenal sunset.
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Thanksgiving 2016 at the Earthship. Before we had lunch on the grass, we all stood in the circle (around 12 volunteers and 12 guests) and discussed the things we were grateful for. It was utterly beautiful. Most of us barely knew each other, yet the sincerity, openness and gratitude was unforgettable. (Thanks to welivewexplore.com for the photo.)

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.

Happy adventuring! 


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/

 

 

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43 thoughts on “Voluntravelling, it’s a Wonderful Thing (2017)

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  1. Voluntravelling, what a great word! You’re so right about volunteering whilst you travel. Yes, it saves you money by sorting out your accommodation and some of your food, but it’s so much more than that. Learning new skills, meeting new people and still being able to “travel” are all part of the package. We volunteered on a farm in California and a hostel in GeorgeTown, Malaysia and absolutely loved it! We’ve also had a fantastic experience with house-sitting which includes either looking after animals or the house/garden! Thanks for sharing and happy #WeekendWanderlust

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  2. “You achieve the things you never thought you could do.” – I loved that phrase! It seems like you had a wonderful time 🙂 I always wanted to volunteer abroad, but unfortunately I can’t due to my work. Looking forward to reading your next post. xoxo, Mariella

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  3. You have a lot of experience with volunteering I see! I´d like to add that for me it also makes more sense to spend a longer time in one place to connect with the people and the culture than to move too fast. Only seeing places and not knowing their people leaves me a bit sad.

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  4. I absolutely loved this post. So many great reasons why voluntravelling is such a great option. We travel with kids and I read a book last year about a family that took one year off and volunteered around the world. I definitely hope to do that with our kids once they are a bit older.

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  5. I’m not sure I personally could do ‘voluntravelling’ (great word!), but having read this it really sounds like theres so much more to get out of it than I thought. Great summary of all the reasons will definitely consider in future

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  6. That’s so cool that you volunteered at an Earthship in Patagonia! We really want to do a workaway at an earthship one day. After visiting (by accident!) the Earthship HQ in New Mexico we’ve really fallen in love with the idea and want to build one of our own some day, so volunteering is the perfect way to learn about them! Lovely post, we love voluntravelling too! =)

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  7. I did some volunteering as well and it can be a wonderful way to enrich your travel experience as long as you look carefully what you are getting into. Some ‘voluntourism’ projects are doing more harm than good. It is not easy to know beforehand, but it is always important to read on the organisation and beware of it looks to commercial. I like how you emphasize in this article how much volunteering is acyually for and about yourself. It will help you grow and learn more about yourself.

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    1. Yeah absolutely Ellis, generally I think the intentions of people looking for volunteers are good, but of course you have to be careful. That’s why websites like Workaway are so great because you get to see feedback from other travellers. And yeah, I think my favourite thing about volunteering is that you get to share and learn from each other, so we’re always growing 🙂

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  8. I think this is my next step in traveling! I’ve been wanting to do it for so long, you just made me want to go even more now! I found an opportunity in Myanmar I just might have to do it! Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  9. What a fun perspective on travel. Honestly, voluntravelling has never really crossed my mind, but it sounds like a great way to help out while experiencing the true culture of a new place.

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  10. This is so inspiring! I have worked for charities my whole life so love helping others and to know I could do this whilst travelling and it not only makes me travelling cheaper but I can get so much out of it and experience so many different things. So great! Also love that you’re into drawing again 🙂

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  11. Interesting. It seems like workaway is really taking off. Have you always volunteered through them or have you used other sources to find projects as well?

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  12. The thing that sticks with me is what someone told you. It applies to much of life: Every day, take a few seconds to look at the mountain, and appreciate it. That is something that can sink in for all of us.

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  13. “Voluntravelling” looks like quite the fantastic experience if you have the time for the commitment! If I ever have a chunk of time I will have to look into some of these options!

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  14. I did an internship in Gulu, Uganda and it was very eye opening experience. Might not be the same as volunteering but has similar aspects. I definitely learnt a lot, and saw a lot of growth. Some organizations don’t really help communities as they should, always important to be careful of who you work with! Looks like you had an amazing experience!

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  15. I simply just loved this post. I can completely identify with everything you have shared here. I volunteered in a remote village at Sikkim in India during January and it was probably the best experience of my life so far. I know we are all bound by social conformities but it is so much more fulfilling to do something for others who are probably not as fortunate as us. Very inspiring post. Thanks for sharing.

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