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A Guide To Choosing Your Perfect Volunteering Adventure

Holidays are coming up, a compulsory internship is part of your course or you might just fancy a career change  – the reasons you may be thinking of volunteering are endless! The journey from the initial idea to being on site as a volunteer is long, confusing at times, and full of pitfalls. It is easy if you just follow simple steps.

Most important to know is that successful volunteering means preparation, which in turn means research. There is not necessarily an order to follow; you can start with the aspect that is most important to you: the place, the time, or the activity.

Depending on how much time you have, you can choose longer or shorter projects. While you can go to a wildlife sanctuary for one or two weeks, teaching and medical projects will often require a four week commitment. You should also think about whether you would like to travel in the country whilst you are there.  If you are going all the way to China to work with pandas, you may want to see some more of Asia!

You may be the type to look at last minute flights and choose the cheapest one – no matter the destination but maybe there is somewhere you have always wanted to go. Do you want to experience La Pura Vida in Costa Rica? Get to know Thailand? Live in a community in Africa? It is important to think about which country or continent you find interesting, whilst considering things like the climate, language, and travel.

Your interests
This may be the make or break of your volunteer experience! Don’t worry, it is not a decision you need to make alone, volunteer advisors are there to help and with some research you can make an informed decision. It is however important that you get your priorities straight.
Do you want to make use of skills or learn new ones? Do you want to work with animals, work in a community or do specialised volunteering in medical care or teaching? Are you ready to live in a camp on an island, sleep in a hammock and make a diving suit your default clothing? Or do you prefer a project with hostel or host family accommodation?
There are a lot of options to mix and match: you can teach English and work with animals or travel around and do different projects, but in order to have a satisfying experience, you need to be aware of what you want to get out of it and then, make the most of your time abroad and take every opportunity possible to explore and see new things.

What do you want to get out of volunteering?
Being a volunteer, working in a community or knowing you have done your part to help an endangered species is very rewarding. It also helps you broaden your horizons and get to know yourself better.
And yet, the list of advantages doesn’t end there. Sure, you have interesting stories to tell, but do you also want to learn a new skill or boost your CV? You may want some work experience, an internship, UCAS points, skills or qualifications. On different volunteering projects you could get a BTEC, TEFL, Field Guide or diving qualification to add to your CV.  Another option is to get a head start on your course and get some experience surveying fish and learning about marine conservation. The possibilities are endless and knowing what you want will help you navigate through the labyrinth of projects available.

Other considerations
You also need to be practical, and that involves giving some thought to health and safety.
Especially when going abroad for the first time, it is good to book with an agency (accredited with British Standard BS 8848 or part of the Year Out Group) to help you find the right project, give you tips before you leave and act as a safety net – having someone to call in case of an emergency is reassuring not just for you but for your family.

Yes, money is always an issue. But it is less daunting if you make a logical plan: How much do you need? Include travel and project costs, insurance, any equipment you will need, pocket money and accommodation should it not be included. Remember that the earlier you book – especially travel, the cheaper it is. How can you raise that money? Do you have time for a part-time job before your planned departure? Other options are with bake sales, crowd-funding websites, sponsored activities and fundraising events – be creative, it looks great on your CV being able to show you were proactive and financed your trip yourself!

Health and Safety
You don’t want your trip to turn to a nightmare, so make sure you stay healthy! Check with vaccines you need for the country you are going to and think about what else could happen: Would you know first aid if you needed it? What kind of medical kit do you need? Also check if you can drink the water or bring purifying tablets or buy sealed bottles of water.

By Claire Herbaux – Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs conservationdevelopmentteaching and adventure travel projects in over 50 countries worldwide - so join us and explore the world!

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