Travel has become a commodity. We often travel to visit places just because they are fashionable. Other times we go on trips because it is a “must see” (for whom?). Finally, we have impromptu trips just to get away from it all. All these are valid reasons to travel, and I personally have traveled for all of them. But earlier this year, I discovered a much deeper reason to board a plane – volunteering. This experience has left me a changed person and here are 10 reasons why.
1/ You connect to a cause you’re passionate about
How many of us go through their lives in an unfulfilling routine? We hate getting out of bed in the morning and dread going to the office. This state of being is so ubiquitous in big cities that it has become the norm. But why should this be? Every one of us has something they are passionate about, a cause larger us, than money, cars, material things and expensive nights out. Finding what that is and living your life in service of that cause will make you jump out of bed at dawn and skip to work, happy for the chance to do something you are passionate about.
2/ You meet incredible people
I spent 5 years living in London, and during that time, I have not met as many inspiring people and had as many mind-expanding conversations as I had during my 3 months volunteering in Mozambique. I met people who are fearless, adventurous, out of the ordinary and formed bonds that will last way beyond that trip.
3/ You travel cheaply
Instead of spending hundred and thousands on fancy hotels and restaurants in popular resorts, why not find an exotic location that has not yet been turned into a global holiday destination? There are plenty of beautiful places where NGOs have set up camp to protect the environment, work with the vulnerable, teach, help build. During 3 months in Mozambique, constantly eating out, having the freshest fish and lobsters on a regular basis, going on trips and even shopping has cost me around 1200 Euros. Coincidentally, that’s also how much you’d typically spend on a weekend in Verbier. There are also foundations that will provide you with accommodation, and even board in some cases, in exchange for your work. Look out for those if you’re on a budget.
4/ You immerse yourself in the country
When you volunteer abroad, you end up meeting more locals and having more local experiences than simply going on a holiday. You will have the benefit of local knowledge form your team mates who have already spent time out there, so they can give you tips on where to go and what to avoid. However, remember to explore and immerse yourself in the place to create your own experience of the country you’re visiting.
5/ You experience the extraordinary
We all know that saying that goes something like “magic happens outside of your comfort zone”. This couldn’t be more true of volunteering abroad. Going to volunteer with Marine Megafauna Foundation, I never appreciated what an extraordinary experience it would be. Living by the Indian ocean, swimming alongside manta rays and even bumping into a pod of dolphins during a morning swim. These experiences were nothing short of magical, and I really wish that every person out there can experience something so profound and moving.
6/ You feel useful
To develop a high self-esteem a person needs a purpose. A key component to high self-esteem relies on how you view yourself regarding contribution. While positive contribution should be part of all of our daily lives, it can be tough when you’re living in a modern city environment. Going to volunteer abroad gives you the opportunity to focus on giving, which in turn improves your relationship with yourself.
7/ You discover Yourself
Do you know your limits? Physical? Mental? Emotional? Would you be able to live in – ahem – rustic conditions? I have to admit, coming to Mozambique, the 3rd poorest country in the world, from Chelsea, London was a shocker. I remember thinking on our first evening there: How are we going to last here for 3 months? A few weeks later, as my barriers started crumbling and my OCD fading, I stopped minding the absence of supermarkets, the sand that was EVERYWHERE, and even that we were sleeping under a thatched roof that would leak when it rained.
8/ You improve your CV
If you want to make a shift in your career, volunteering is a great way to do this. You can use your existing skills to find a role that is more fulfilling as a volunteer and then use this experience to transition into paid work. I used to work in Finance where I did a lot of research in my role. I applied to MMF as a researcher for the Fundraising team. A great website where you can find volunteering positions for professionals is www.escapethecity.org.
9/ You create unforgettable memories
What are you going to remember when you turn 30? 40? All those days you spent at your desk? Or all those holidays you spent by the pool in homogeneous resorts that looks like every other resort built by a multi-national conglomerate? The three months I spent in Mozambique were by far the best and most unforgettable months of my life.
I dare you to follow your passion on an adventure of a lifetime.
10/ You Live!
A great woman, Amelia Mary Earhart, who was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, once said: There is more to life than being a passenger. Sadly, so many of us are just that – passengers on a train that takes us down the well-trodden route of school, work, mortgages and family. Not that these are not valuable experiences in themselves. But if you have a hunch, that there must be more to life that this, volunteering may just prove you right.
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