People travel to see places, meet people from around the world and expand their minds. There are those who believe that this wasn't all that travel was ever supposed to be. To them, it's important also to give something back to the world when you travel. They make volunteering a primary part of their travel planning.
There are thousands of organizations both in the US and around the world that are set up to accept help from passing travelers. If you're willing to make volunteering an important part of your travel plans, it can both enrich your travel, and take something off the final bill -- they offer free board and lodging in return for the help that they receive. There are many organizations to turn to, each one specializing in a different kind of volunteer tourism.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms
The concept is simple. You pick one of dozens of countries around the world where WWOOF operates, and sign up to work on an organic farm. You get free board and lodging in return for a 6-hour workday. Certainly, there's hard work involved, and there are no luxuries available. But it can be a fascinating way to see the world on a minimal budget.
Conservation Volunteers and BTCV
Both organizations help protect wildlife habitats and promote environmental tourism in different countries. Conservation Volunteers specializes in Australia and New Zealand, and British Trust for Conservation Volunteers offers opportunities in the UK. Their opportunities aren't free, however; it costs about $100 a week to cover your board and lodging.
Sudan Volunteer Programme
While there are plenty of developed countries out there where you could volunteer, it's the helpless, Third World areas that need help the most. This program places volunteers with schools and universities to help teach English to locals, and to help with community projects. While your stay is covered and you get a small monthly stipend, volunteers need to pay their own airfare.
United Nations Volunteers
The UN deploys volunteers all over the world on natural disaster sites to help with economic development projects, rescue projects and so on. While the UN usually only takes on volunteers with professional skills, many NGOs and quasi-autonomous NGOs associated with the UN do accept all comers.
The Peace Corps
The Peace Corps is well-known for its myriad projects in developing countries worldwide. Volunteers help with healthcare and environmental projects among other work. However, the Peace Corps only accepts Americans, and requires a 27-month commitment. The Voluntary Service Overseas Project works on similar lines, and accepts everyone.
This organization places volunteers with poor families in need of a little help, or villages looking for assistance building local infrastructure. Here too, board and lodging are taken care of in exchange for work done.
The Red Cross
The Red Cross responds to tens of thousands of disasters around the world each year. More than 90% of the humanitarian work done by the Red Cross is carried out by its volunteers -- some 25,000 untrained hands and 15,000 nursing students. It can be an exhilarating experience volunteering with the Red Cross. It's also an excellent chance to see the world, and spend time in new places.
The Great Projects
For those who don't feel in touch with the natural world, it can seem hard to understand why it should be important to work to protect animal life in far-off lands. Such work is important, though, and is capable of changing the course of nature. Organizations such as The Great Projects help place volunteers with conservation projects in different locations around the world.
Here's what you need to know before you sign up
It's important to understand that except for organizations such as the Red Cross (which takes you to disaster-prone areas, rather than pretty places), you do need to arrange for your own travel. Other than food and lodging, you will also need to arrange for your own living expenses -- local travel, clothing, healthcare and so on.
Before you sign up, it would make a lot of sense to carefully ask about everything pertinent. There are many middlemen who attempt to help, trying to match volunteers with the right kind of program. They do often accept a sizable fee, though. With the Internet putting all the information of the world at your disposal, middlemen are not really necessary. All you need to do is to pick a great opportunity, and pack your bags to travel for free. As long as you don't mind roughing it, and doing without many modern conveniences, it's the most creative way in existence to know the world.
Michael Starbuck has been Managing Director of The Great Projects since 2011. It was in 2013 that his work in increasing volunteering projects with animals work was recognized as The Great Projects was a finalist at the World Responsible Tourism awards in the category of Best for Responsible Wildlife Experiences. It has since become the world leader in the provision of volunteers to aid orangutan conservation and now works with 2 of the biggest charities in this field, International Animal Rescue and the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, something which Michael is extremely proud of.