Volunteer to Travel: 11 Opportunities for Free or Very Cheap Travel
Short of winning a sweepstakes, a no cost holiday to a foreign country is an impossibility for most people. Of course, there are countless ways to reduce the cost of a trip, but ultimately you must decide if the traveling is worth the money you will spend on it. With growing fears of recession and a dramatically weakening dollar, the scales of reason seem to be tipping more and more in favor of staying at home.
(See also: Secrets to World Travel (and Blogging About It) )
But what if you could travel for free, even be paid a stipend, in exchange for contributing time to help a foreign community as a volunteer?
There are a lot of good reasons why travelers should pay to volunteer, but we are about to see that you don't have to.
Here are 11 options for free or very cheap travel through volunteering:
The Peace Corps is the classic all expenses paid volunteer option that first comes to an American's mind. They offer two-year appointments, mostly in Africa, Asia, and South America, as well as modest stipends. Popular among recent college graduates, the Peace Corps is actually open to people of all ages. It is part of a larger government program called Freedom Corps, which includes the Volunteers for Prosperity (VfP). VfP offers similar benefits and projects as the Peace Corps, but assignment lengths are variable, from a few weeks to several years in duration.
The United Nations volunteer program sends experienced professionals from almost any field to every region on earth. As a volunteer all expenses, including airfares to and from your work site and any pre-appointment necessities like vaccines and visas, are covered. In addition, volunteers receive various grants and stipends that vary in amount depending on the project's local economy. Like most of the groups in this list, they are looking for people with extensive experience in their field. Like the Peace Corps, most appoints are for two years, though they claim to be increasing the number of six-month and year-long options.
The ArtCorps is a program specifically designed for professional artists. The program focuses on using art as a teaching tool, as well as a means of expression, for communities that face pressing social problems. Though the program does require that participants do some personal fundraising, the cost of travel is otherwise fully covered, along with a small stipend. Most assignments last 11 months.
Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) was recognized as the "International Development Charity of the Year" at the 2004 UK Charity Awards. They have placed over 30,000 volunteers, primarily in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe. They provide a stipend, in addition to covering all expenses. While most assignments last two years, there are some special projects for experienced professionals lasting between two weeks and six months.
Geekcorps is a volunteer program that specializes in placing experts from the IT industry in communities with the goal of fostering digital independence. Geekcorps runs projects primarily in Mali, Ghana, and Lebanon. The program covers travel and living expenses in addition to providing a small stipend. Most of the placements are four months in duration, though options range from one to six months.
Winrock International is a non-profit organization that works to build economic prosperity and civil empowerment while encouraging sustainable resource use and environmental protection. They have projects in many parts of South America, Asia, and Africa. They offer to cover all travel expenses including a small per diem and most assignments last two to three weeks, including travel time.
ACDI/VOCA leads projects focused primarily on economic development. They are looking for experienced professionals with knowledge of business, banking and finance, marketing, agriculture, food processing, and community development, in addition to other, project specific, areas. They administer projects all over the world and cover all project-related expenses. Typical assignments are between two and four weeks long.
The International Executive Service Corps (IESC) encourages the development of private business and industry with the goal of increasing prosperity and development around the world. They are looking for volunteers with a background in business or industry and operate in many locations. All travel expenses are covered by the program in addition to a small stipend. Assignments vary from one week to several months long.
The Financial Services Volunteer Corps (FSVC) places business and finance professionals in developing and reforming economies to provide education and guidance. They cover all expenses and operate primarily in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia. Assignments typically last between one and two weeks.
Not Free, But Very Cheap
Willing Workers On Organic Farms (WWOOF) places volunteers on organic farms around the world. While working, your room and board at the farm is free, though volunteers are responsible for all expenses involved in getting to and from the site. Volunteers must pay a small annual membership fee to join the organization in the country they wish to work in order to access the database of farms. This is a great opportunity to learn about organic farming and spend a week or two doing some fun physical work.
Finally, there are a number of "work camps" worldwide that place teams of volunteers on a two or three week project. These can involve everything from farming to construction, education to art, every project is different. It costs about $300 for two or three weeks of room, board, and work. Not free, but not bad for two weeks of traveling. These projects are organized through clearing houses, the most popular being Volunteers for Peace and Service Civil International. As a great deal, Volunteers For Peace charge $500 for an entire family, regardless of the size.
Keep in mind that these trips will not be a week sitting on the beach. You will have to work, but even if you are doing something related to your everyday job, the location and unique challenges will make it seem fresh and new.
Besides a vacation, these opportunities provide an opportunity to learn a new language, take a leadership role, experience everyday life in a foreign country, and make some new friends and professional connections. With experiences like that, maybe it is smart to take a vacation during a recession.
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