7 Most Popular Volunteer Travel Opportunities in the World

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There are many types of volunteer placements around the globe, so choosing the right type for you can sometimes be even more difficult than choosing the location. It is important to find the right kind of placement, so you will be able to enjoy your volunteering stint to the fullest. Here are our favorite ways to experience volunteer work and travel at once.

Survivor kids of typhoon Haiyan

Kids who are victims of the supertyphoon Haiyan. Photo by Ian Delgado

1. Working with kids

Volunteering in childcare is one of the most popular volunteer placement choices in both developed and developing countries.  frequently deal with the issue of understaffing and need more people to help supply the daily needs of the children and perform general tasks required to maintain a home full of children.

These projects often involve day care and youth development, as you will be working closely with kids who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, who may not have parents or who don't have anyone else to look after them. 

[Important: Here are 23 questions to ask before volunteering with children abroad]

If you intend to volunteer in these types of projects, you absolutely must have a heart (and the energy) for children. You must be prepared to care for children physically and emotionally, tasks may include changing diapers, teaching basic life skills, and organizing special activities. Childcare volunteering can be highly stressful work, as the kids you handle may have had poor parenting, be behind in development, or have emotional issues because of their life experiences, so you will need a good amount of patience to pull the job off successfully.

A January 2017 study by researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found that 80% of children in Cambodian orphanages indeed have at least one living parent.

Volunteering with children is a good project for you if you are majoring in social work, education, family and child development, psychology, or community development. Given the vulnerable nature of children, it might not be a good project if you are not trained in childcare, and especially not if you are planning on volunteering abroad short-term (less than a few months). Be leery of orphanage scams and critical of your own ability to make meaningful difference in broken childcare systems (which are oftentimes perversely incentivized by western demand to create institutions for children that don't necessarily need them).

Who knows where your volunteer work and travel will take you, but we Tibet it'll be somewhere cool! ;-)

2. Community building

Community building often involves working with adults, particularly those supported through grassroots organization and living in rural villages. The main purpose of community-based volunteer work is to help particular populations establish a stable source of livelihood, enhance their skill set, encourage unity, and contribute to the construction of community spaces.

Community development volunteering usually takes place in rural areas. Tasks involved may include building structures, holding seminars or workshops, and conducting health or medical missions. What your placement entails will depend greatly on the organization you volunteer with. Aside from local community leaders and general community members, you may also find yourself working with researchers, architects, and NGOs officials to coordinate development projects.

3. Education

Another popular type of volunteering is in the field of education. In this type of volunteer work, international volunteers typically handle students of all ages and backgrounds. Volunteers might work with orphans, out-of-school youth, or even adults, and teach them a wide array of subjects, from English and art to life skills and disease prevention. 

Unlike professional teaching jobs, teaching abroad as a volunteer will allow you to conduct lessons in a variety of environments, such as academic institutions, clinics, orphanages, and rural community centers. While education volunteering abroad cannot always be converted into academic credit, international teaching experience can benefit your resume greatly, especially if you decide to pursue a career in education.

Volunteer nurses helping the community.

Healthcare volunteers helping the community.

4. Public health awareness

Public health awareness is popular in countries where health problems are rampant, including many countries in Africa. Health education volunteer programs often place volunteers in communities that are plagued with various health issues such as HIV/AIDS, where volunteers are needed to teach disease prevention as well as educating locals on how to overcome the disease and keep it from spreading.

When volunteering in public health awareness programs, volunteer tasks may include conducting seminars, providing treatment, supplying feedings to locals, and assisting in other health related work. This type of volunteering abroad is ideal for individuals who hope to pursue medical-related careers or are established health care professionals.

5. Wildlife & marine conservation

Perhaps one of the best types of volunteering abroad,  wildlife and marine conservation volunteer placements are highly coveted due to their adventurous nature. Volunteers will get to travel to unique places, work with exotic species, and usually live close to the beach or in a naturally beautiful location.

The project is a great place for non-scientists as well as people with a scientific background. I found the staff to be very knowledgeable, able and willing to explain/discuss things, and there is a wide range of scientific books and reading materials. Camp is located in a great place and there is an abundance of wildlife all around! —Review, Frontier Conservation Program

Rather than focusing on the care of humans and communities, wildlife conservation programs focus on caring for wildlife, both in the wild and in the sea. Your tasks will include surveying wildlife and marine reserves, rescuing animals, and assisting researchers in various other aspects of their studies. Some conservation volunteer programs also include diving trainings or certification, so you can learn how to explore life underwater too!

[Want to volunteer with animals? Ask these 27 questions first]

6. Women's health, welfare, & rights

Volunteering with women has become increasingly popular as groups focused on the well-being of women are beginning to to create more and more volunteer programs. Similar to placements in community building, women focused volunteer placements most often allow volunteers to work with in rural areas or in protective shelters.

Most of the women volunteers engage with through volunteer program will want to learn more life skills, such as setting up their own income generating activities. Local women may also be victims of domestic violence, therefore volunteers may be tasked with helping them overcome the trauma they have experienced through teaching them coping techniques or new skills to build their confidence or self-esteem.

indian woman smiling
Support women's developments and empowerment projects on your travels.

7. Multi-country volunteering

Multi-country volunteering is among the most exciting types of placements today, mainly because you get to travel from one destination to another throughout the program. In these volunteer programs volunteer get to settle in multiple countries and conduct unique projects in each location. 

If you have a knack for traveling then this is one of the best types of volunteering programs to apply for. At times it may be tiring, but the overall experience you will gain will be extremely rewarding at the end of the program.

Your volunteer abroad toolkit

Before volunteering abroad, take a gander through the following links to better prepare your mind, heart, and body for the intense experience that is international service work:

Find ways to combine volunteer work and travel

paint brushes
Dirty hands, happy hearts

The notion of giving some of your vacation time "back" by doing good in the world is indeed a noble venture. However, it is imperative that volunteers do legitimate assessing of the organizations they are working with to coordinate their volunteer project placements. Is the work sustainable? Do they incorporate locals into the projects and are they teaching those locals how to manage projects independently? Have they given serious thought to the short and long term impacts of their work?

As you go deeper into the rabbit hole of finding meaningful volunteer travel opportunities, remain conscious of where you money is going, who is really benefitting, and how you intend to connect your experience abroad with communities in need in your own backyard.

Find volunteer travel opportunities now