It is the start of a new year. To me, that means new plans, new travels, and new experiences. A clean slate. One of my favorite things to think on when the new year hits is TRAVEL. If you are a follower, you probably could have guessed that. ;)
My other favorite inclusion of traveling alone, is working abroad. Volunteering for something that may be different from anything you have experienced before. This subject has been getting a lot of flak lately. So I wanted to put my two cents in, talk about why I love it, and also give some tips if you are thinking of joining a project, or are already on one right now.
In my mind, Voluntouring is an opportunity to gain new perspective, try a new task, acquire experience in something and meet new people from different cultures. The various projects I have wired on have been extremely rewarding for me. They have helped point my path to wherever I am headed. Where am I headed? Who knows?? As they say "Life is about the journey, not the destination", and I am loving this ride.
These projects I go to are just that, a journey for me personally. I love to think I am changing the world with them, but I probably am not. Truthfully, you may not be there long enough to really make a massive impact, BUT what you are helping with, even for short time may be bigger than you think.
Maybe you are helping a small business that needed the extra hands to make it through that week. That bathroom you helped build could enrich someone's day-to- day life. Those artifacts you found that will educate people for years to come.
All of these things matter. The point is, choose a project for the right reasons. Choose it for yourself to have an enriching experience. Show up, put in the work, don't be a doosh.<- Technical term.
Do's and Don'ts to Voluntouring
Don't pay an arm and a leg- There are a lot of companies out that that are making BANK off of this concept. It is a new trend. When I started back in 2004, I found my first one on page 15 of the internet, and I had to translate it. There wasn't much going on in the way of volunteering, and I probably paid $300 for a month of rooms and board. Since then the prices have sky rocketed, so be wary of projects that have that high price tag. For example, if you are looking to set sail and save some turtles. Don't pay over $1,500 for it. Believe me, you can find a better experience somewhere else, and not break your bank account.
Don't pack like a diva- Please guys, you have heard me talk about the benefits of minimal packing. Do not show up to these places with 8 large bags. Nobody will care what you look like, I promise. If you are showing up to get a date, you are showing up for the wrong reasons. Plus, I am sure you look just fine. If you are working on an overseas trip, their idea of space is very different than ours. Meaning, they may not have much of it, and prefer that you don't have a ton of stuff with you. Relax, travel lightly, don't be that "Bag lady" or bag man. That being said, if you need medications, have some sort of ailment, of course this does not apply. Just use good judgement in what you bring with you. There is an extra tip I talk about on the podcast for this episode! Check it out!
Don't explore at night alone without letting folks from the project know- I am a worrier, I can't help it. I know I love to travel alone, and I try to spare my family and friends as much worry as I can (Usually by not telling them what I am up to until I come home lol) When you are part of a group, just show some respect for others and let them know you are heading out, or a rough idea of what you are up to for the night. It will give you and them piece of mind.
Don't leave your important documents where you are staying- Sometimes you share a room with 15 people, sometimes you will get your own room. You just never know. I always make copies of everything when I travel. Passport, Credit Card, Flight information and contacts. I stuff a copy of that into the lining of my bags. The rest of the items, if you are heading out, take with you and do not lose them. If you are a person who tends to misplace things while out, hide them well in your luggage, or ask the project if they have a safe. This goes without saying, but don't mess with other people's stuff either.
Research where you are going, and build a trip around it.- I love adding on to my volunteer trips. Sometimes I will meet a friend afterwards, or catch a new town. If you are going the distance, you might as well make the most out of it. Starting with a project and ending with an adventure as well!
Do help out whenever you can- I have to repeat this many a time. IF you decide to sign up for these experiences, people expect the work to stay ratio. Don't go in thinking it is a free ride. Do the work, show up, and be reliable. There is nothing worse than someone that doesn't chip in. Most of these projects really do need the extra hands, so pitch in.
Do learn some of the language- I love the app Duolingo for this. It always helps to know before you go little things to help you get around, and also be more social able and polite. Check out my interview with the CEO of Duolingo to hear more about this app, and why I love it!
Do explore the area you are set in- You may be "stationed" in a sleepy town that you think has nothing going on. Here is a little secret for you, THOSE ARE THE BEST. With technology at every corner, and distractions a constant, I actually prefer to be camped out in the smallest town I can find. Think of every movie you have seen that stars a small town. Oh hey! Guess what? Put your damn phone down, you are living it!
Ask others their favorite projects- Word of mouth has always served me best. You ever think of that? It always seems the best of everything is word of mouth. an event, a handyman you need, a great restaurant. Trust this, and ask your fellow friends in the project their past experiences. Don't be afraid to ask for a connection as well. :)
Those are just some of my favorites. I will be publishing an episode on some of my favorite companies to go through as well! Need advice? Hit me up on Twitter @icantfindmarta or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like me to do some research for you.
This episode is sponsored by Levity. Pittsburgh's premier sensory deprivation experience. All listeners get $5 off with code "Marta"