Thinking About Taking a Gap Year? Volunteer and Travel the World

Knowing which path to follow after school is a major decision that not everyone is ready for. Young people are just starting their adult lives, and it’s not always clear from the get-go where their lives should lead. A gap year can provide a much-needed perspective and rich life experience through wonderful volunteer initiatives from around the world. Get the low-down on everything there is to know about volunteering abroad for a gap year.

How Does Volunteering Work?

Setting off alone can be daunting for anyone – especially when moving to a different country for a year. There are a lot of programs out there that help those who are looking at taking a gap year to decide where they want to go. These are usually well-established volunteer programs that have worked with young people for years. They have set systems in place to help support them.

When people sign up for a volunteer program, they will generally choose a country and project they want to work on. From there, they’ll go through the process of signing up, contacting the NGO representative or program manager, and paying any related fees.

Then it’s time to set off on the adventure of a lifetime where new experiences and interesting friends await. Keep in mind that, while this journey might start off solo, there will be other volunteers who can provide companionship and guidance.

How to Make the Most Out of Volunteering Abroad

Often, the hardest part isn’t deciding which country to go to (even though there are many fantastic options) but deciding what to do. Volunteer programs span a wide range of projects and activities. So naturally, the first step in deciding where to go for a gap year is for people to find a project that resonates with them. Here are some examples of volunteer projects for young individuals:

Eco Volunteering: Environmental volunteering spans a range of different activities, including wildlife monitoring, revegetation of plantlife, cleaning polluted areas, and educating others about the environment.

Wildlife Conservation: There are several big and small wildlife and marine conservation opportunities out there. From rescue efforts to helping out in wildlife sanctuaries.

Community Development: Rural communities need help to establish sustainability and growth. It can be very fulfilling to integrate with the locals while helping to build up their community through various initiatives.

Youth Development: Working with children is one of the most popular volunteer options. These types of projects include teaching, helping out in orphanages, helping out in daycare, and running afterschool programs.
While all of these options may sound exciting, it’s important to narrow it down to one or two choices. Make sure to do research on the organization and project first. Only sign up with a reputable organization that provides all the facts upfront and equips their volunteers with a good support structure.

Keep These Tips in Mind Before Setting Off

- Volunteers usually live together in communes or in volunteer houses. Be prepared to share a room and bathroom with other people and pack accordingly. It’s not pleasant to think about the possibility of having something stolen, but ignoring safety can lead to unpleasant consequences. So include plans to protect important personal belongings, like luggage locks.

- Be on the lookout for scams. Just because an opportunity sounds promising doesn’t mean it’s legit. Try to find volunteers who have gone on the project before and hear what their experience was like. Also, look at the sustainability of the project. Some scammers are incentivized by others’ willingness to help out and create projects where they aren’t really needed.

- Download a VPN before leaving because some countries have different online regulations and censor certain websites. Platforms and apps like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Skype are entirely blocked in some countries as well. Then there’s also the matter of public WiFi, which is extremely dangerous but can be accessed safely with a VPN.

- Always be mindful and respectful of co-volunteers’ personal views and the host country’s laws and social conventions. No one wants to upset the people they’re helping or working with while volunteering, or get into trouble and ruin their time abroad. Keep things civil and consult with project leaders if any problems should arise.

- Budget ahead and think about traveling expenses. No one works 24/7, and some downtime equals mixing with the community and traveling around. This is a great opportunity to experience local hotspots and see the rest of the country. But don’t go overboard and run out of money.


Volunteering during a gap year is a wonderful way to gain experience, meet new people, and see the world. Those looking to take a gap year should just make sure to choose a good project that resonates with their skills, personality, and budget.

This is a contribution from one of our contributing writers.


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