Many people have asked me how I could just leave my job and seemingly travel perpetually. How can I afford it? How do you find places to stay for free all the time? How do you find places to volunteer? All questions I’ve received by email, and now I’m sharing the secrets in a series of posts about how The Happy Nomad Tour Rolls and what things are like behind the scenes.
Finding Free Volunteering Opportunities
In many ways, volunteering is what The Happy Nomad Tour revolves around. It can be difficult to find free volunteering opportunities. Many organizations in developing countries fund their operations via fees charged to volunteers. Below are my tricks to finding volunteering opportunities.
Couchsurfing – About a month before I arrive in a new country, I post a message in that country’s couchsurfing forum introducing myself, my project, and I ask them for help in finding a great organization to volunteer for. As I do with housing, I try my best to outsource my volunteering opportunities search. Sometimes this works, as in the case of the finca in Costa Rica and the Mayan cooperative Honduras, often it doesn’t.
VolunteerSouthAmerica.net – This site is a great resource for FREE volunteering opportunities in Central and South America. There are too many volunteering organizations here that charge volunteers money for the opportunity to volunteer. I avoid them as I can’t afford to pay to volunteer. This method brought me to Maya Pedal in Guatemala and the organization that blew me off in Nicaragua. Again, this website applies to the part of the world I am currently in. When I’m in Asia and Africa, this won’t be much of a resource. But I’ll revisit this topic periodically with new resources applicable to other parts of the world.
Google – Yes, good old fashioned hunting online. This is obviously the most grueling method. It can be hit and miss since I often search in English and most organizations I’d volunteer for, if they even have a website, would be in the local language. Still, this method brought me the wonderful experience at an NGO in El Salvador, for example.
Just Show Up – This method is the one I like the least. If I fail to find something after I arrive then I’m out of luck. Similarly, since I’ve arranged free housing through many volunteering opportunities, using this method I have to find my own housing separate from the organization. Still, doing this gave me wonderful opportunities like the dog shelter in Mexico, the nursing home in Mexico, and the orphanage in Costa Rica.
The Peace Corps – I have three good friends currently in the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps is a two-year volunteering assignment that Americans of all ages, though usually they are fresh college graduates, agree to in developing countries. Assignments could involve teaching English, small business development, sustainable agriculture education, and more. It’s a great program.It wasn’t until I visited my friend in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua for fun that I realized this would be a viable method of finding opportunities. The Peace Corps Volunteers know their areas well and can point you in the right direction for volunteering where it would count the most. In my case, in Panama I had an impossible time finding volunteering experiences. Seriously, I put hours into it and came up dry. So I found some active Peace Corps Volunteers who are blogging about their experience and reached out to them. Jessica answered my call and I visited her budding culture/eco-tourism group in Panama. I will try this method some more going forward since Peace Corps Volunteers are often in remote areas truly plugged into the communities they live in – exactly the kinds of off the grid experiences I cherish.
Friends – This method, which I hazard to call a method, is to reach out to your own personal network in search of opportunities. Having worked in a very international environment in the Middle East and having studied with people from all over the world during my MBA, I am fortunate to have a network of friends across the world. This method gave me the indigenous women’s cooperative experience in Mexico via a friend of an aunt of a colleague from my business school. In Bogota, my friend Justo put me in touch with friends working at NGOs and took care of a lot of things. In Peru I’ve had a similar support network from friends. My friends have helped put me in touch with numerous organizations. Though things often they haven’t worked out, it’s still been a tremendous resource! Gracias mis amigos!
- Microloans – A recent idea I had was to give microloans via an established platform and then visit the people I loan the money to and offer them free “consulting”. I’d get to use my MBA skills, I’d get to travel to remote places, and hopefully I’d be able to help a family secure a better economic future. The most well-known microloan platform doesn’t offer the ability to get in touch with the recipient, so this is still untested and under investigation.
If you have any more questions, put it in the comments below and I’ll either answer your question there or write a new post covering it.