Looking into volunteering abroad as an alternative to the boring beach holiday? You might be intimidated by the exorbitant costs of some programs, with some companies charging thousands of dollars for a few weeks’ stay. In some cases the high costs are justified, as most of the money might go to the project itself, but if you’re on a budget it just isn’t doable.
Volunteering on a budget is possible, and there are a few different ways to do it depending on your preferences. Have a look at this list and find out how you can volunteer abroad for less.
1. Low-Cost Volunteer Sending Organisations
Organisations that aren’t as expensive as you’re expecting have ways of keeping their prices down, like having self-catering programs so the middleman cost isn’t passed on to the volunteers. Often shopping and cooking for yourself can be cheaper anyway (we’ll come to that later) so as long as you find an organisation you’re happy with in all other respects, they can be a very sensible choice.
The benefit of using a volunteer sending organisation is that you have plenty of guidance before you go and staff dedicated to making your transition into your volunteer role as easy as possible.
2. Seek Independent Positions
If you feel confident doing so, seeking a position independent of any project or organisation can be a cost-effective way to go. Asking in hostels if they need an extra pair of hands can be a simple way to get free accommodation. You can also reach out to grassroots community projects to see if they’ll be able to put you up in exchange for a few hours’ work a day.
It’s best to arrange independent positions a few weeks in advance of your arrival. You don’t want to turn up somewhere in the hopes of getting a free bed, only to find out they won’t have you.
3. Workaway and WWOOF
Both of these sites require you to pay a small registration fee, just to ensure you’re a serious applicant, but after that you might only have to pay for your transport. Workaway is a website where people seeking volunteers can post the roles they have available in exchange for free accommodation and food. You can search for a volunteer position by country or use a keyword to find exactly the kind of work you want to do. The nature of You’ll have time to explore the local area but make sure you can get about as some roles can be in the middle of nowhere.
WWOOF (WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is similar in that you can search for available roles in the country you want to visit. The difference is that this organisation is dedicated to organic farming, so all positions will have an element of that to them. If you have a passion for the environment and want to meet like-minded people, it’s worth a look.
4. Long Stay Volunteering
Even the expensive programs get cheaper if you stay for longer. It’s possible that it’ll be a bigger up-front cost but long stay volunteers pay less per week, generally. If you’d consider a few short stays over a couple of years, for example, it works out cheaper in the long term to do it all in one go.
Long-term volunteering has other benefits too.
Getting to know the project means you’ll form deeper bonds with the people you’re working with, you can develop a strong working knowledge of the language … you might even get offered a paid position or asked to stay longer if you show you’re extremely dedicated to the project.
Many volunteers fundraise the entire cost of their trip – and you can too! Find out if there are any scholarships or grants you can apply for from your university if you go to one, or local charities. If you’re a crafty person you could make items to sell, with profits going towards your trip. You could even just ask around friends and family.
Be careful if you’re using a fundraising platform online as some will take a portion of the money you raise as a processing fee. Make sure you’re ok with the fees before you start, and check that the website is secure. “Big name” fundraising sites tend to have good security, which is why they’re popular, for example GoFundMe, JustGiving and YouCaring.
6. Volunteer Close to Home
This one could work for those looking at a shorter volunteering trip of a few weeks. By choosing a volunteering position fairly close to where you live (for example, in Europe if you live in the UK) you could get cheaper flights. Over a shorter stay, a cheaper flight can make the slightly higher program cost or cost of living balance out. It’s worth doing the maths and checking up on average living costs, such as the price of bread and a cup of coffee.
7. Volunteer Far Away
Contradictory to the previous point, it might be cheaper to volunteer further away from your home country (for example, in Asia if you live in Europe). Especially for longer stay volunteering, a cheaper cost of living, such as in South East Asia, might be able to offset the higher flight costs. Again, it’s worth looking around at flight costs, and checking the average cost of living to work out where would be cheaper.
8. Eat Like a Local
A point mentioned often on travel blogs, it bears repeating that the cheapest way to live in a foreign country is to live like a local. That means using public transport rather than taxis, and shopping where locals shop to avoid tourist traps. Of course, while volunteering you can do the tourist tours if you want to. But specifically, eating from local cafes, buying from markets, and cooking most of your own meals is the cheapest way to go.