Do you dream of packing a bag, heading off to Europe and roaming around, exploring all of the many cultures, people, and places the great continent has to offer? To many people, it sounds like a far off dream but it can become reality. Volunteering in Europe is a great way to explore the European way of life and to immerse yourself in different cultures. A quick search on the Internet will yield numerous and varied opportunities. Living and working with families, in hostels, animal sanctuaries, and even farms are all types of placements.
Will Work for Travel
Volunteers are often given free, or fairly inexpensive, room and board in exchange for performing some sort of work or chores for a set number of hours each week. For example, a hostel may ask you to work the front desk and perform light cleaning for about 20 hours a week in exchange for a free bed in a dorm room in the hostel. Or, you may find yourself living with a family and teaching English to their children. Downtime allows for exploration of the sights and surroundings.
Where Do I Start?
Are you thinking, “This sounds great, but how do I find these volunteer opportunities? Where do I start?” On GoAbroad you are able to search by the country, type of volunteer experience, and duration of time. Even if you have no previous experience traveling abroad and the thought of a big adventure seems somewhat intimidating, don’t let that stand in the way of the opportunities out there. Many providers guide participants step-by-step through the process. They will assist with visa applications and requirements for each country, screen a host placement, and be there for support throughout the journey.
This may be the right fit for someone with little to no travel experience. Choosing a third party provider provides confidence and security in your placement. Most third-party providers will have testimonials, blogs, photos, and may even be able to connect you with travelers who have participated in previous programs. Reaching out for all the available information will ensure you find the perfect placement.
Planning an Independent Placement
There is also the option of searching on your own for a volunteer opportunity. This can be a daunting task but it can be done. There is something for everyone. There are numerous hosts with profiles explaining what they offer and what they expect in return. Placements can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. This site and others allow “helpers” and “hosts” to leave reviews about one another.
How you will get to all these various locations is a great question. Transportation options are plentiful in Europe. Trains, planes and buses are all great ways to travel. Prices vary but buses tend to be fairly inexpensive and there are a few budget airlines that fly throughout Europe (budget in this case means fees for checked bags, no beverage service and flying into smaller airports at destinations). As for trains, often times there are high-speed options that cost a bit more but get to a destination in a fraction of the time.
Obviously time will play into your decision on which mode of transportation to use but you should consider all the options available and what each has to offer. Certain areas of Europe, such as the Swiss Alps, offer beautiful scenic views on train rides and the views may be worth the extra time a train ride takes rather than a plane ride.
Do I Need To Speak Another Language?
Although it is definitely beneficial to have some common phrases to use, there are a lot of volunteer opportunities available with no foreign language requirement. If you are uncomfortable with the thought of being immersed in another language, look at placements that do not have a language requirement or are located in an area where English is widely spoken.
On the other hand, picking up a new language is much easier when completely immersed in it while abroad. It is a great opportunity to learn an amazing skill. Learning a new language can leave you feeling a bit uneasy at first but is definitely a great addition to the overall experience. It also opens even more doors for volunteering and getting to know people along the way.
Is It Safe?
With all of these exciting ideas for volunteering filling your thoughts, keep in mind safety comes first. It is imperative to keep safety in mind when traveling. Research the places you are looking to visit. What are the visa requirements? What is the culture, etiquette, traditions, and way of life like? Are there any political situations to be aware? Although you may not agree with some traditions, visitors should respect these traditions and values. It is important to be open-minded. Do not assume that life in other countries abroad is similar to life in your home country. It is important to be respectful of the social norms in each location and don’t spend all your time comparing the place to the US.
Communication Back Home
Another point to make when discussing safety is to keep in touch with those back home. With Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and even international texts, it is easy to maintain a connection to friends and family. A lot of places offer free WiFi which will allow for a quick email to mom and dad letting them know where you are and what you are up to.