The pros and cons of being a volunteer

Adventure Pursuit | Douglas Tompkins

The first volunteering I’ve done came to me by chance. I spent a month looking over some horses and ponies and being a tour guide in New Zealand, in exchange for a delicious farmer’s meals. That time it served me well, I was running out of money and my winter job was starting only in a month time. It was hard work, full days in fact. But I was free to ride by favorite ex-racer named Willow and run with four ponies on leashes, two in each of my hand, was so much fun. It was a true farm life experience and I’m grateful for that.

Adventure Pursuit | pros and cons of volunteering
volunteering as a horseback riding guide

Other volunteer jobs I’ve tried were building a trail in Patagonia National Park – nature in its absolutely pure state, with wild animals and condors flying overhead, rivers to drink from, hunger to eat big sheep steaks and evenings chatting with my companions over a shared maté cup. This one came to me by accident as well, when I was hitch-hiking in Carretera Austral and my lift – Douglas Tompkins – offered me to see their newly built National Park, then still in progress.

The third volunteering by chance was a hostel in Pucón which brought me a month of being part of one Chilean family a going on tourist attractions for free (just to be able to recommend them to the guests in our hostel).

Adventure Pursuit | pros and cons of volunteering
on the top of Villarica volcano as a part of free tour, of the perks of working in La Bicicleta hostel

All three came in a perfect time and offered unique experiences. So you’d think that I totally support a volunteer style of traveling, right?

But everything has its pros and cons. And I learned about them while volunteering my way across the globe. I think most of the backpackers who do the same would agree with me on those.

To volunteer or not to volunteer?

Adventure Pursuit | pros and cons of volunteering Do you have a cause you truly believe in? Why not take time of and – while exploring a new country – add a working hand to save animals, educate children, plant trees or build trails?

Adventure Pursuit | pros and cons of volunteering Some volunteering jobs are not that noble. Maybe you end up helping someone to get even richer without spending much money on you. Remember, there should be something in it for you too.

Adventure Pursuit | pros and cons of volunteering It’s a huge money saver. It allows you to extend your travel time. Especially when you work for both, accommodation and food, you really don’t need much more when you travel.

Adventure Pursuit | pros and cons of volunteering But if you work only for accommodation and still get to work a few hours, you might as well consider camping in the wild and do whatever you like to do with all that free time. Is it really worth to go for this one?

Adventure Pursuit | pros and cons of volunteering You get to live and work with the locals, experience their daily lives, that makes you more than just a tourist passing by.

Adventure Pursuit | pros and cons of volunteering Some of that can be pretty overwhelming, especially in the poor countries, like Perú. You’ll see the poverty, you make friends who don’t really have many chances to change the way they live.

Adventure Pursuit | pros and cons of volunteering You will learn new skills, will get to work jobs that you never thought you wold, that are absolutely out of your profession … and who knows, you might actually enjoy those.

Adventure Pursuit | pros and cons of volunteering Let’s be honest, some places you might as well do the crappiest jobs available. It’s understandable, you are the new one, you won’t probably be staying long either and … especially in businesses, some people pick volunteers because they don’t wanna pay anyone for jobs they don’t like. Select wisely.

Adventure Pursuit | pros and cons of volunteering A volunteering place can be your home far away from home. A place where you feel safe, a base camp for your trips and hikes, somewhere to return to, while still feeling like an explorer in faraway lands.

Adventure Pursuit | pros and cons of volunteering It can as well turn into a no privacy place where orders for next jobs can come anytime and you end up sharing your room with tons of other volunteers or sleep in a tent or in a common area. Once again, select wisely and ask a lot of questions before heading to your next volunteering place. Work hours should not be more than 4 – 5 hours a day.

Adventure Pursuit | pros and cons of volunteering
lunch with a family I was part of for a while as a volunteer in Mendoza, Argentina

How to find volunteering jobs?

Many can be really found just by googling and sending e-mails (and as a matter of fact, those were the best for me!). But if you like to go the easy way and have a list of places to go through and choose, here are three popular volunteering sites:

WOOFING: It’s mainly about farm work. You can spend some time taking care of farm animals or taking care of the garden, learn to drive a tractor even, remember, it’s fun and useful to learn something new, as long as it’s something that interests you. Learn more or subscribe …

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If traveling for example in Spanish speaking country, try to write your volunteering hosts in Spanish or at least mention that they can reply in Spanish (usually the further conversation continues in Spanish from my own experience). This will increase your chance to be hired as a volunteer.

Workaway: Yes, you will find many farms on this site as well. But also hostels, tour operators, language schools, animal rescue centers … the good thing about Workaway is that you get to peak at the hosts before signing up, including all the comments form previous volunteers. The membership fee is 29 dollars and is valid for two years. Search your future volunteering hosts and sign up …

Worldpackers: Designed by hostel owners. Hostel work is easy, gives you an opportunity to meet people from all around the world. Here you can actually select which skills you want to help with. Find out more and subscribe …

Adventure Pursuit | pros and cons of volunteering
volunteering on a surfers’ beach in Perú

You have some spare time? Are you thinking of breaking free and going traveling? Wand a longer travel to clear your head but don’t really have the cash? Give it a try, and volunteer your way around the world. It can be a wonderful experience. Look up the options you have before taking just any job you find. And have fun!

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