6 Things You Should Know About Volunteering with Your Children Abroad 

by Jennifer Bangoura

With more and more families picking up to travel the world, a logical question is: what about my family? Is traveling the world and volunteering abroad something we could do? If instilling global awareness and a sense of empathy and understanding for others is a priority for you and your children, then the answer to that question is yes. With preparation, and a whole lot of patience, volunteering abroad with your children is not only possible, but it will be something your children will not soon forget and an undertaking that you, as a parent, will not regret. Finding volunteer abroad programs to participate in with your family has never been easier.

A mom and daughter traveling

It’s not about showing your children how the rest of the world lives. It’s about giving them an opportunity to get to know themselves within another culture, allowing them to draw their own conclusions about how the world functions (with some guided reflection on your part!), and introducing them to what a life of boundless compassion for others can look like.

Before you pack your suitcase full of sunscreen and mosquito repellent, take a few minutes to read through the list below for things you should know about volunteering abroad with children. 

1. Get the whole family involved.

It will take a little more time and focus to find a volunteer program that works for everyone in your family. Involve your children, to the degree you are comfortable, in the program selection process. Is there a part of the world you all have been hoping to visit together? Check out volunteer abroad programs by region. Do you want to expose your children to your field of work or hobby in a first-hand way? Look into anthropology, education, or tree planting volunteer programs. Would your kid cry at the first sign of dirt on his hands? Probably best to steer clear of certain projects.

Involving your children in the process gets them invested and excited from the get-go. So in a few weeks, when they’re complaining about how their feet hurt or that there are bugs in their eyes, you can remind them of their initial excitement.

2. It’s going to take longer than you think.

Think back to this morning when you were making your coffee, packing your lunch, and trying to corral your children to get everyone out of the house to get to work and school on time. If everything was a piece of cake then you are one of the lucky ones! Please leave a comment below with your secret.

A parent showing the kid the map of the world

For everyone else, the idea of coordinating an entire international volunteer experience for your family probably seems like an insurmountable task (you find it hard enough to find matching socks and a clean pair of underwear!). But don’t worry. There is a program out there for you!

While it will take longer to choose a volunteer program as a family, it will also take longer to get around as a family unit once you arrive at your final destination. Be patient as you have to ask where the bathroom is one more time for your tiny child with a proportionally small bladder. Look at the experiences that may seem more like annoyances as opportunities to practice your language skills and as parts of the journey.

3. You’re all going to get sick.

Maybe it’s the water. Maybe it’s because your child cannot walk past a person, place, or thing without giving it a lick. Maybe it’s the food. Whatever the cause, it’s very likely that you, and/or your children, will get sick when you volunteer abroad as a family.

While this reason alone may make you want to close this article and start looking for a local weekend activity - hear us out! There are ways you can prepare for the inevitable that will still allow your family to have a memorable experience. First, bring enough medicine from home for the inevitable diarrhea, colds, and minor cuts and scrapes. Make sure to do your research and to consult with your doctor before your family volunteers abroad to see if there are shots you need or prescription medications you can get in advance in case something goes wrong. Bring emergency candies or treats to help make their boo-boo’s go away.

Remember, while the sicknesses you all encounter may cause momentary discomfort, you will have a great story when you get home about how you navigated the local restrooms or pharmacies!

Kids in Thailand

4. There will be laughter, and lots of it!

What are some of your favorite memories from your childhood or with your own children? Think how those memories felt, sounded, and looked. We can almost guarantee that some of the best memories included laughter. Volunteering abroad with your family will not be any different!

Volunteering abroad with your children will leave a lasting impression on your entire family and if you don’t laugh while you volunteer (we can’t guarantee it but it’s highly likely!), you’ll at least laugh at the memories! Whether you’re in the Philippines or New Zealand, there is bound to be loads of laughter or mishaps that turn into humor once the dirt is brushed off your pants!

5. There will also be tears.

You missed a flight. Someone forgot their favorite (insert previously inconsequential) item from home. Someone is hungry. Someone is tired. Someone is bored. This list could keep on going.

Traveling abroad can be a tiring, frustrating experience. Volunteering abroad with your children elevates it to a whole new level!

Keep in mind that traveling to wherever your family is volunteering abroad is part of the experience and a learning - and growing - opportunity for you and your family. Take deep breaths and make sure to keep hydrated and have snacks on hand. Being upset, tired, and hungry on top of it all will only compound your tears, so do what you can to avoid those situations!

6. You will want to do it again!

While volunteering abroad with your children will take (lots of) time and may or may not involve falling ill, laughter, and tears - we can assure you that once you return home, you are going to want to do it again.

What better way to strengthen your family’s bonds than to serve another community as a unit? Volunteering abroad provides an opportunity for you to work alongside your children and for you all to get to know one another in a new setting - as global volunteers. It allows you to show love to strangers and to expose them to the lives of others.

A boy inside a train
It helps them gain context for the world at large, incites curiosity, and will challenge your children to be more independent, compassionate, and empathetic.

Just because you have children does not mean you have to forego volunteer opportunities abroad. In fact, their participation can enhance your experience and deepen your connection to wherever you volunteer abroad.

If you want to make a real difference while volunteering abroad with your children, you will need to put in a little more effort than if you were flying solo. Traveling to the grocery store with your children may seem like the greatest accomplishment of your week, but volunteering abroad with them will change your life.