Hello again, how are you? How’s your week shaping out? Is the weather good where ever you find yourself in this time and place? Today, we talk about volunteering. More specifically we’re going to talk about some tips to help you pick the best possible fit for your next , or first, volunteering experience (and by “we’re” I mean I’ll ramble and you’ll patiently listen).
But first let’s do a quick overview. A couple of months ago I wrote a post talking about how I used volunteering as a form of affording to travel. By volunteering I don’t mean going through a big company where I pay to “help” out poor kids. My preferred type of volunteering is very different.
When I volunteer while traveling I go through a website that connects me directly with the local farm/family/hostel (If you want to know more about the specific websites I use check out this post). I then communicate directly with the family. This process evolves a lot of sorting through and reading posts. So how to do find the best fit for what you’re looking for?
1. Realize it’s never as good as it say it is.
Unfortunately, this is just something that you have to be prepared for. Only once in all my traveling has the actual work and situation been exactly what it claimed to be (If you ever want to volunteer on the island of Eigg lmk and I can connect you with this amazing host). Remember that hosts are trying to stand out from hundreds of other jobs posting. In my experiences, most hosts put their ideal situation/outcome/vision in their job description. What does this mean? This means that put their place is a highly functional Eco-lodge, because that’s what they want it to be. When in reality, it’s more of a lodge acting as a tax shelter for a rich lawyer, and has yet to see any quests (true story). If you go into your impending experience expecting it to be worst than the post/idea, then you’ll be ready to land on your feet and make the best of what you got.
2. Know your priorities
Ok, so here’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned while traveling: not everyone likes the same thing. This may seem super obvious but I can’t count the number of times, when I first started traveling, that I would go somewhere because so and so highly recommended it only to think it was a shit hole. Here’s what I learned about myself: I don’t like tourist locations, I prefer being by the water, I want to be in a place where I will have others to talk to, I love authentic experiences, I don’t need fancy. As you are getting ready to pick a volunteering place you need to think about your musts and your must nots. Can you go without wifi/service/consistent electricity? Do you need central pluming? Are you ok with pooping in a bucket? Are you ok with cleaning up animal poop? Do you mind getting muddy? Do you like dealing with people? What type of experience are you looking for? It’s important to remember that you are working. This is not some free place to stay. And as volunteers you don’t have much of an opinion about the type of work the boss man asks you do to. If you need the modern comforts then looking for an established hostel or restaurant will probably give you the best changes of a positive experience.
3. Look at reviews and google potential choices.
I know, I know I just told you not to listen to other people, but what I actually meant was listen to them, but only selectively. Once you’ve done your research and made a short list of places you would like to go, look at the reviews and google the name of the farm/hostel/house. You might not find anything. OR you might find some blog post with a great or horrible review about your perspective location
4. Know how to ask the right questions.
Alright, now you’ve found a couple of places, you googled them, and want to reach out to beginning communication. Now you need to know what are the best questions to ask. This will vary from person to person, but here are the questions I’ve learn are important for me (Note: some posts will include some of this information in their post)
- How far away are we from town/ the nearest store? Will I have access to transportation?
- How do the volunteers get fed? Do we have to buy our own food? Will we have to cook and will I have access to a kitchen?
- Will there be other volunteers there during my stay?
- What are the lodging accommodations? Will I be in the same room as other people? Will I have a bed?
- How much free time will I have?
- Can I travel on the weekends/free time or do have stay?
- During my stay what type of work will I be given?
- How will I get to/from?
This by no means a comprehensive list, but I hope it helps you even a little. And with that I will leave you a bit of food for thought: for me, as long as I’m in a good location, I can make it work. No matter how shitty (literally) the work has gotten the better location of where I was. meant the better experience for me.