Let’s get this straight– the travel industry will always advertise luxurious resorts with infinity pools looking out over the Caribbean. Some people will spend their entire lives daydreaming over this picture at their work desk and think “That’s so nice, but it’s unattainable.” The travel industry purposely depicts travel as elaborate and expensive… because they want you to spend the money that makes it expensive. Their profit! There is another way to travel that is so much more than a five-star resort, and you don’t have to shell out thousands to get yourself where you’ve dreamed.
One way is to volunteer abroad. The summer before my senior year of college I was dying to “get away from it all. I’d find out later that that was the easiest year of my life and should have reveled in it more, but that’s besides the point. I wanted to go abroad on my own, and already knew that I wanted to spend my time volunteering with kids. I spent hours and hours trying to research my options.
The best and least expensive website I found for volunteering overseas is International Volunteer HQ.
They help place international volunteers in the countries of: Mexico, Bali, Sri Lanka, Morocco, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, China, Thailand, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Cambodia, Vietnam, Nepal, India, South Africa, Uganda, Madagascar, Ghana, Tanzania, and Kenya… whew!
Yes, there is a program fee. There is always a $249 registration fee, and then after that your price depends on how many weeks you stay and in what country.
To be honest, I used most of my earnings from my summer job to pay for this trip. But what might ease your mind is that your fees go to the volunteer program you are helping, and also to your host family. You stay with them for free room&board and three daily, authentic meals. As most of these countries are third-world or in struggling economies, this makes a huge difference for them. My fee also went toward daily Spanish lessons with a private tutor. You also get full support from the staff and your program director to help you arrange transportation from the airport, weekend excursions, orientation, and priceless advice for the country.
I chose to spend two weeks in Ecuador (a cost of $380). I worked half of the day four days a week, and spent one weekend doing excursions with other volunteers and the next taking a solo trip… where I waded to waterfalls, ziplined through a rain forest, and met the girl who told me about the teaching assistant program that brought me to Spain.
If you don’t volunteer regularly, you should know it will change your life. I saw a side of living that completely shamed me for not being constantly grateful for all the privileges I have. That trip inspired me to pack it all up and move to Spain, and helped me decide that I want to work in a school system helping at-risk and struggling students get their education. As you can see, this is a completely different experience than laying on the beach of a resort.
I know there are costs involved, but if this is the type of trip you are looking for, this website is 1/5 of the prices I saw elsewhere. Looking back, I also see it as a stepping stone for me to move abroad. I got a taste of life overseas but was surrounded by help and support. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget!