6 Things to Know Before Volunteering as a Family Abroad

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Learn more about family volunteer trips

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 as a family 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 as a family abroad 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 family vacations and programs to participate in—together—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. International family volunteer opportunities are more than just seeing sights and taking photos. It's planting seeds. Important ones.

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 volunteer vacations for families.

1. Get the whole family involved.

It will take a little more time and focus to find family service vacations that work for everyone in your tribe. 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.

Involve your children in the process of searching for volunteer opportunities for families; it 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 entire volunteer trips for families 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 are international family volunteer programs 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 while volunteering as a family abroad.

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!

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

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 as a family 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!

two pairs of boots from a family volunteering abroad
Make new memories with your children!

6. You will want to do it again!

International family volunteer opportunities will take (lots of) time and may or may not involve falling ill, laughter, and tears, but even still, 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.

Next steps to finding international family volunteer opportunities

Now that you have the inside scoop, know where many people choose to spend their time while volunteering abroad with children, and know common pitfalls that you'll have to prepare for, it's time to choose who you want to volunteer abroad with! Choosing a family volunteer abroad program isn't as hard as it sounds, especially if you follow these steps:

  • Decide where to go. Figuring out where YOU should volunteer with your family is paramount. Have a short list of locations that sound ideal for your family's goals and collective skills. Don't let the lack of braii hold you back—choose a place that's right for you.

  • Pick your project. There are loads of different causes you can work to eradicate or support with your children. Do you want to do some basic construction? Working with animal conservation? Helping plant or restore endemic flora and fauna? Do some reflection on what types of projects are important to your family and what your children could reasonably help with (you don't want them just to watch mom and dad volunteer, do you?!).

  • Choose from the best volunteer abroad programs for families. Pay attention to past participants’ reviews, program/university reputation, location, and how the project's needs match your skills. Some programs may even share contact info for ambassadors or past participants if you want the REAL dirt. Here are more considerations to make as you figure out how to choose the right volunteer program for you. Pro tip: You can use MyGoAbroad to compare programs side-by-side.

  • Plan your finances.  Sort out funding before you go to afford daily essentials and splurge on travel (in addition to program costs and airfare). Be sure to raise a little extra money to donate to the organization that you'll be working with. Learning how to fund your volunteer abroad adventure is essential prior to your travels!

  • Get prepared! Preparing to volunteer abroad is as fun as it sounds (even when you're preparing for multiples instead of just yourself!). With the days til departure number dwindling and your excitement boiling, it can be easy to overlook the details. Lean on us to help guide you through your pre-departure process—that's what we're here for.

    mom and daughter hugging while volunteering as a family abroad
    You'll be surprised how much you learn and grow as a family.

Volunteering as a family abroad is good for the soul

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. 

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