Volunteering overseas on a shoestring

South American schoolchildrenAs the academic year approaches its half-way point, final year students will be thinking about life after college; for many this will involve some overseas travel. Voluntary work overseas has long been popular with gap year students and graduates keen to immerse themselves in and support other cultures. Not surprisingly it is big business for travel companies.

Gap year organisations offer virtually every kind of voluntary experience you can imagine – from teaching, conservation or adventure trips, to work experience, community and care projects. Many people find it reassuring to book placements and programmes through large companies that can offer 24-hour support to the young traveller, but many others are put off by the big price tags that often accompany such projects.

If you are keen to do some voluntary work as part of a gap-year trip but balk at the costs, then don’t despair – for confident and sensible would-be-volunteers then there are plenty of opportunities that won’t break the bank. If you shop around (don’t just sign up with the first organisation you come across on the internet) you can find huge variations in price for all manner of volunteer activities. Websites such as Volunteer South America list free or low-cost volunteer opportunities for independent travellers in Central and South America that bypass agency fees completely (True Travellers Society and IndependentVolunteer.org offer the same for those looking to volunteer in other regions, including Asia or Africa).

And if you are happy to organise things as you go along, then this is by far the cheapest way to do it; by waiting until you are already in the country you’d like to volunteer in before officially signing up to a project, then you immediately cut out a great deal of the cost. Some institutions, such as NUI Galway, offer advice on selecting voluntary placements, both at home and overseas, via their own dedicated websites, which can be a great way to start your research.

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