Caring is good for the soul and combing traveling with volunteering has become an increasingly more popular way to donate your time. From looking after elephants to cooking meals for struggling families, there are plenty of great projects and organizations you can offer your help to. Here are 50 Cool, Unusual and Awesome Ways to Volunteer while traveling, and at home too…
What Does Being a Volunteer Mean?
Being a volunteer means donating your time to a not-for-profit organization or individual in need of help. You don’t get paid, and it might even incur a cost to you depending on the project. Most societies depend on volunteers, and they hold communities together.
Basing Your Travel on Volunteer Opportunities
We go traveling to experience different cultures and see new and interesting parts of the world. It’s only fair we give back to the places we visit and have a positive impact while we’re there.
It’s easy to find international projects to get involved in while on your travels, and it comes with some benefits to you, too.
The best way to get involved in local communities
Tourists tend to stick to the tourist trails when visiting new countries, and it’s difficult to experience the true culture. By volunteering your time, you get immersed in local communities and meet people you never would otherwise.
Make new travel buddies
Joining a charity organization is also a great way to meet new travel buddies. You’ll get teamed up with like-minded people while you’re volunteering, and you might just meet a new friend for life.
Become more socially conscious
When we’re traveling, it’s easy to ignore the struggles many people face around the world. We tend to see the highlight reel of the countries we tour, rather than the nitty-gritty.
Volunteering can be a bit of a culture shock in some places, but it will open your eyes to the social issues around the world.
Get some work experience
It’s no secret that long-term traveling leaves a hole in your CV. When you need to get a job, it can be tough with gaps in your experience. Volunteering while traveling fills up your CV and gives you some interesting work experience to add to your resume.
Learn a new language
You’ll be surprised how quickly you pick up a new language when you spend time immersed in a community helping out. Locals are always incredibly friendly and are happy to help you learn. Plus, if you’re in an area where people don’t speak English, you have no choice but to pick up the dialect fast!
Save on travel expenses
Many volunteering opportunities cover living expenses, which means you don’t need to spend money on hostels or hotels while you’re traveling. Many backpackers spend a few weeks volunteering with programs to save money so they can extend their trip afterward.
How to Find Volunteer Work
The best way to find volunteer work is through dedicated sites. These databases ensure you’re working with legit organizations. Here are some of the most popular sites to start your search.
- VolunteerMatch: This is one of the largest databases, connecting over 15 million volunteers with nonprofits worldwide.
- GiveGab: Another huge database that has nonprofit opportunities, community events, family-friendly projects, and even virtual gigs.
- JustServe: This one is good for finding volunteering opportunities nearby if you’re already on your travels and want to dive in.
- International Volunteer HQ: Connects travelers with volunteer opportunities abroad, with active projects in over 40 throughout Europe, North America, South America, Africa, and Asia.
- Catchafire: This one allows you to donate your skills virtually to people in need. Some in-demand skills include writing, engineering, web design, and accounting.
- Idealist: Another huge platform that hosts more than 120,000 nonprofits from around the world. You’ll find volunteer opportunities, jobs, and internships.
- Global Volunteers: A great site for finding short-term volunteer positions that immerse you in local culture in a variety of countries.
- Globe Aware: Helps you plan your travel around volunteering, rather than taking a holiday and fitting in volunteering while you’re there. You’ll find great projects in places like Thailand, Costa Rica, and Peru.
50 Cool, Unusual and Awesome Ways to Volunteer
If you’re wondering what kind of volunteering you could be doing while traveling, there are so many fun and interesting ways to donate your time. Here are 50 unusual ways you could volunteer on your next trip.
1. Walk greyhounds
Who doesn’t want to spend time with dogs? The Galgo Del Sol project lets you walk, feed, groom, and spend time with Spanish greyhounds (Galgos) in the sunny country of Spain. You’ll fall in love with these furry friends and it’s a rewarding way to give back to a local community that relies on volunteers.
2. Volunteer for agriculture farming programs
Sustainable agricultural projects are a great way to combine volunteering and travel. If you’re outdoorsy and love being in nature, you’ll love helping local farmers on their plantations, and you’ll learn about organic farming while you’re doing it.
3. Collect food for a local food bank
There are hundreds of thousands of food banks worldwide and millions of people rely on these charitable organizations to feed their families. You’ll find plenty of opportunities to collect food for local food banks, no matter where you travel.
4. Wash and feed elephants
When most tourists visit elephant “sanctuaries” in Thailand, they are extremely unethical, allowing visitors to ride the elephants and keeping them chained up. However, if you want to visit elephants in an ethical way, you can volunteer at real elephant sanctuaries where you’ll wash and feed them. It’s a tough job with early starts and late nights, but looking after these gentle creatures is a rewarding experience.
5. Do a beach clean
If you’re on your travels right now reading this post from a sunny beach, you can instantly become a volunteer by picking up some trash. Plastic is a huge issue facing our oceans, and by doing a beach clean whenever we visit our sandy shores, we’re doing our small part to help the environment.
6. Collect backpacks for low-income students
Did you know that 22% of kids in the US grow up in poverty? Families can’t afford necessities like backpacks for schools, so charities like DoSomething.org fill that need. Their Backpack Attack campaign collects lightly used backpacks and donates them to children in need throughout the US.
7. Help the sick
Charities like Marie Curie recruit volunteers to help terminally ill people in their homes. When people get sick, it’s hard for them to clean, cook, or run errands. You can donate a few hours of your time a week to help sick people and make their lives a little bit easier.
8. Build a home
This one is very popular with backpackers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Habit for Humanity is one of the most well-known nonprofits that builds houses in the world’s poorest communities. This is a great way to give back and learn some new skills in the process.
9. Share your talents
Whether you’re a graphic designer, writer, engineer, or just great at English, you can donate your time by giving away your services for free. You could do this in person by teaching English, or there are volunteer sites that allow you to give virtually to people most in need across the world.
10. Foster puppies/kittens
This one doesn’t sound like work, but you can volunteer to foster puppies and kittens while the shelter finds them a home. Most shelters will have a foster program, and you’ll need to pass their checks to become a foster home. Just don’t get too attached to your temporary roommates because they’ll be leaving once they find a forever home.
11. Serve seniors
A quarter of adults over the age of 65 are socially isolated and report feeling lonely in their community. By volunteering to help out seniors, you can reduce that feeling of isolation and help them with tasks they find difficult to do alone. Plus, you’ll get to learn a lot about a different generation and might make a great friend in the process.
12. Become a fly-over creator
Hikers and cyclists who take on trails in preserves and nature areas rely on maps to find their way. But these maps aren’t generated by local authorities, most are created by volunteers. There are tons of apps that let you share your trails and you get the satisfaction of knowing you’ve helped out your fellow adventurers.
13. Read to shelter animals
If you have kids who are interested in volunteering, many local shelters offer opportunities for children to read to shelter animals. Not all shelter animals are social enough for cuddles, but this time spent with them drastically improves their anxiety and means they can be rehomed more quickly. It’s also a great opportunity for kids to practice their reading skills without pressure, so it’s a win-win.
14. Help YouTubers make captions for the hard of hearing community
Around 10 million people are hard of hearing in the US alone, while about a million are functionally deaf. These people rely on closed captions to enjoy YouTube videos, but not all creators include them in their videos.
An easy way to give back to the community is volunteering to add captions to videos for YouTubers. Not only are you helping the creator, but the dead community too.
15. Make campfire safety plaques
A staggering 90% of wildfires in the US are caused accidentally by humans. But having campfire safety plaques near firepits and BBQ areas can inform people of proper precautions and help reduce the chance of a fire. DoSomething has a great campaign that encourages volunteers to make safety signs to make camping areas safer for everyone.
16. Become a UN volunteer
The United Nations has a dedicated volunteer program with projects running in over 150 countries. Once you’re signed up, you can use their volunteer portal to find volunteer opportunities that coincide with your travel plans. They have a range of projects to suit all volunteers and you are free to sign up for as many as you’d like.
17. Volunteer for Equine-Assisted Therapy
You can also sign up for equine-assisted therapy, and you don’t actually need your own horse. Many local charities use horse care as a therapy for people with learning difficulties or mental health issues. As a volunteer, you’ll help the people in the therapy and take care of the horses.
18. Become a volunteer teacher
If you have a degree in a subject or you’re a native English speaker, you can volunteer as a teacher around the world. There are opportunities for a range of skill sets and for kids of all ages, so this is a great opportunity if you have an educational background.
19. Help runners with disabilities
Participation in running activities is significantly lower in the disabled community because of the barriers that prevent people from taking part.
When you volunteer to help runners with disabilities, you help remove these barriers and encourage more people to take up the hobby. You’ll act as a guide or support runner, so you’ll need to be a keen runner yourself to take on this role.
20. Volunteer at an animal sanctuary
Animal sanctuaries often rely on volunteers to help keep them running. As a volunteer, you’ll help feed, walk, socialize the animals, and clean out the kennels. If you love animals, this is a rewarding way to give back to the community, and it’s nice knowing shelter animals have companionship while they’re waiting for adoption.
21. Volunteer at a national park
The Volunteer-in-Parks program allows individuals or groups to volunteer in national parks throughout the US. There’s a range of roles available, including editing maps, patrolling entry points, hosting campgrounds, and being an ambassador. There are also many specialized roles, depending on your qualifications.
22. Start a garden
More and more communities are cultivating and growing local gardens to supply fresh produce to food banks. If you have an allotment or green space in your area, you can start your own garden and donate the veggies to the community. Gardening is great for our mental health, so this comes with its own benefits as well as contributing to local communities.
23. Cook lasagnas for families in need
Nothing shows love quite like a home-cooked meal. But many people don’t have the luxury of a warm meal every day. Lasagna Love spreads kindness in local communities by donating home-cooked meals to those in need. They’ve already delivered over 200,000 lasagnas, and are on the hunt for more volunteers to keep their initiative growing.
24. Build and manage social media presence for a local nonprofit
Nonprofits usually don’t have the budget to hire a social media manager or marketing team, but it’s still important they get their message out to bring in donations. If you are adept at social media or have experience in marketing, you can offer to donate your services to a local nonprofit. You’ll be helping spread the word about a worthwhile cause and can do it from anywhere in the world.
25. Be a virtual translator
If you know more than one language, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer as a translator. Translators Without Borders is a well-known organization that needs volunteers to help translate medical information for crises, asylum seekers, and more.
26. Teach children the art of surfing
Love surfing? Why not teach kids the skill on your travels? The Surf Outreach Volunteer program is set up to teach children how to surf during an afterschool club in South Africa. You’ll get the opportunity to improve your own surf skills in the process and help disadvantaged kids spend their time in a healthy and productive way.
27. Record bird sightings
If you’re an avid bird watcher, this is an easy volunteer opportunity for you. eBird is a global initiative to map bird ranges and bring the bird community together. The site already has over 4000 sightings, and it’s growing every day with the help of volunteer bird watchers.
28. Turtle Conservation in Zanzibar
There are 44 endangered species currently living in the wild, and another 32 are critically endangered. You can become a turtle conservationist in Zanzibar and help with breeding programs and rehabilitation of the local turtles. You’ll get to stay in a beachside bungalow in Nungwi with other volunteers and learn all about turtles while you help out – what a fantastic way to travel!
29. Jungle Conservation in Peru
Over 81,000 square meters of forest land is lost every single year for meat protection, and 80% of that occurs in the Amazon Rainforest. Jungle conservation in Peru allows you to take part in crucial conservation efforts, helping to preserve precious rainforests that so many species call home.
VolunteerHQ has a specific program for jungle conservation that includes food, accommodation, transfers, and everything else you need to donate your time stress-free.
30. Start your own Little Free Library
If you love books, why not start a free library in your community? Little Free Library shows people how to build and run a free library and has over 100,000 free little libraries already registered.
31. Lead a Boy or Girl Scouts troop
Local scout groups are a great way for kids to learn survival skills, and in disadvantaged communities, it helps children spend their time in a safe, productive environment. Local troops are volunteer-led and rely on people to donate their time to keep them running. Look up a local troop to see if they’re in need of volunteers, and give back to your community by teaching the kids some fun outdoor skills.
32. Volunteer in Victoria Falls
VolunteerHQ has an exciting volunteer opportunity based on a private game reserve in the spectacular tourist destination of Victoria Falls. As a volunteer, you’ll help with daily responsibilities that help protect the endangered rhino and other mammals that call the preserve home. They’ve hosted around 118,000 volunteers to date and the Victoria Falls program is a truly fantastic way to immerse yourself in this popular destination.
33. Train your pet to do animal-assisted therapy
If you’re great at training your dog, you could help them become a therapy animal. Any dog can be trained to do animal-assisted therapy, and there are many local charities that will put you in touch with institutions once your pooch is trained.
34. Send a care package to a soldier
Unless you’ve spent time serving yourself, it’s hard to imagine the physical and mental toll the armed forces go through. Many have families waiting for them at home who send care packages, but millions more don’t have this support system. Sending a care package to a soldier is an easy way to volunteer your time and you’ll make someone’s day with your kind gesture.
35. Transcribe data from the Smithsonian
The Smithsonian is filled with field notes, diaries, ledgers, logbooks, photo albums, manuscripts, specimen labels, and audio recordings.
To make these more accessible to more people, they have an army of volunteers who transcribe data and add it to their website. They’ve already transcribed over a million pages, but there are tons more to do.
36. Volunteer to provide basic health services
In Costa Rica, there are remote towns and villages that don’t have easy access to medical facilities, so basic ailments go untreated and quickly turn into emergencies.
VolunteerHQ has a medical volunteering program that sends teams of people on week-long outreach calls to provide basic medical attention for those who can’t reach hospitals. You’ll work alongside medical professionals and act as assistants so locals get the help they need.
37. Plan an event for a local charity
If you want to help out closer to home, why not plan an event for a local charity? You can pick a cause close to your heart and organize a bake sale, charity run, street party, or auction to raise money. It’s a great way to bring the community together and you’ll be helping a local nonprofit.
38. Send supplies to a family in need
Most of the world’s poorest populations live in rural areas. They’re often cut off from amenities and find it extremely difficult to get the help they need.
The Box Project aims to combat rural poverty by sending monthly supplies to families in need. You can sign up to send a box of school supplies, holiday gifts, basics, and other supplies that these families desperately need.
39. Become a guide for blind individuals
Have you ever considered how difficult the world can be to navigate if you have sight loss? Modern society isn’t set up for blind people, and sometimes basic tasks can be extremely difficult.
Be My Eyes is a service that connects blind people with sighted volunteers. They’ll video call you through the app and ask questions while pointing the camera, so you can help them out.
40. Become a TED translator
There are around 3500 TED talks freely available to watch on their website. The problem is that most of them are only in English. It takes an army of volunteers to translate TED talk videos and dub them with subtitles so people around the world can enjoy them.
With the help of volunteers, TED talks are available in over 115 languages, but it takes time and effort by willing volunteers to make that happen.
41. Cuddle newborns
Studies show a baby is born addicted to opioids every 25 minutes. That’s more than 21,000 babies every year. As a result, these poor newborns suffer withdrawal, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).
Luckily, we can help them get through this horrendous experience more quickly with cuddles. Neonatal clinics have found babies who are cuddled get through withdrawal faster, so what a fantastic way to donate your time.
42. Put on performances for those in need
If you can sing, play an instrument, or you’re in a band, you can donate your time by performing for people in medical wards. Musicians on Call is a great nonprofit that organizes shows for patients and their carers.
Listening to music helps boost resilience and creates a positive atmosphere for those going through potentially heartbreaking times of their lives. The charity has already helped performances for over a million people and aims for many, many more.
43. Create code
Wish the government would work better for all its citizens? Code for America has been working for over a decade to improve policies, break down barriers, and find solutions to problems.
One of their projects aims to transform the process of clearing criminal records to help people move forward with their lives. If you’re an activist and want to see systemic change, this is a great charity for you to be involved with.
44. Go hiking for a good cause
What better way to combine a love of hiking and charity work than taking part in outdoor activities that help young girls grow into confident, resilient leaders in their communities? GirlVentures sets up a range of outdoor activities for young women, including hiking, rock climbing, rowing, and more.
You can also make a difference in your favorite hiking spots by taking part in fundraising, trail maintenance, and preservation projects with AmericanHiking.org.
45. Adopt an acre of rainforest
For $100, you can adopt an acre of rainforest and protect it from deforestation. The World Land Trust is one of the most well-known rainforest conservation projects that has already protected over 2.4 million acres of rainforest, but this is still just a drop in the ocean compared to the tens of millions of acres that are cleared for agriculture every year. The more people who adopt, the more of this vital ecosystem we can save.
46. Make “care kits” for homeless people
There are over half a million homeless people in the US alone. It’s a growing problem and one that legislation isn’t doing enough to combat. There are tons of local charities that help the homeless by giving food, water, and supplies to those who don’t have them. If you want to help, you can create care kits for your area and make sure homeless people have the essentials that they need.
47. Order a book on the Amazon Wish List of the Prison Book Program
Most prisons don’t allow families or friends to send books into prisons. Instead, they have to come from publishers or stores. This means there is a serious lack of educational material in prisons. The Prison Book Program has been combating this by sending books into prisons since 1972 and serves over 10,000 inmates each year. You can help just by buying one of their books from their Amazon wishlist.
48. Walk to End Alzheimer’s
Every year, the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s is held in over 600 communities worldwide. It’s the largest fundraising event for the disease, and almost 80% of all money raised goes directly to research, awareness, and advocacy. You can set up your own walk or find others in your community to join.
49. Help military families by clipping coupons
If you’re great at couponing, you can donate some of your coupons to military families who are struggling to buy the essentials. The Overseas Coupon Program (OCP) sends bundles of coupons to military families so they can save some money on their essentials. This one is such an easy way to give back but makes a huge difference to families in need.
50. Clean tombstones
This one is a little macabre but a caring way to honor the deceased. You’ll need to get permission from the groundskeepers, but most will be happy for you to clean older tombstones. Without volunteers, these older graves are forgotten about and become covered in moss and dirt. Make sure you research the best cleaning methods and be respectful of the graves you work on.
Which Volunteer Project Will You Choose?
It has truly never been easier to be a volunteer and become a productive member of society. From rainforest preservation projects to reading to shelter animals, every time we volunteer our time, we make a positive difference in the world. The question is, which volunteer project will you choose?
If you have any specific volunteering programs you’ve found while traveling, we’d love to hear about them! Share them with us below and let’s start making volunteer work a staple of traveling.
My first true adventure began as a six month voyage around South East Asia as a fresh faced backpacker and ever since I’ve lived a semi nomadic existence, clocking up visits to over 40 countries. I’m a lover of US Road Trips, deserted beaches bathed in warm glow of a sunset, Cuban mojitos, travel destinations far away from the tourist crowds and all things Scandinavian – from cloudberry liquors to Nordic noirs. When not wandering the world and running Global Grasshopper, you’ll find me walking my rescued Greek street dog in leafy South West London, strolling around the Brighton Lanes on random day trips, hunting for photogenic landscapes or daydreaming about my favourite places; Havana, Copenhagen, Italy, Laos, California and the surreally beautiful landscapes of a wintry Iceland.