5 Reasons Why Volunteering Abroad is the Best Kind of Travel

March 30, 2016
5 Reasons Why Volunteering Abroad is the Best Kind of Travel

After interviewing over Skype and being offered a job in Turkey, I flew into Istanbul. It was just after the start of the new year, and the winter weather was cold and rainy. I trudged to my classes throughout the sprawling metropolis for weeks, wearing through my only pair of shoes: ill-advised leather boots. I treated myself to kadayif and lentil soup to warm my bones and please my taste buds, but after a few months in Istanbul, I was ready for warmer weather and greener pastures — or any grass at all.

5 Reasons Why Volunteering Abroad is the Best Kind of Travel

I recognized that my only option was to volunteer on a homestay, so I started searching for options. HelpStay.com is one company that facilitates volunteering around the world, by connecting people who are willing to work while they travel with farmers who need a little extra help. You don’t get paid, but you do get free housing and food. Here are five other incredible perks:

1. It doesn’t cost much

Though I didn’t spend much as a teacher in Istanbul, I needed to save the money I had made teaching English for the next few months: I wasn’t ready to live off of only what I had made. I was going to be traveling around Europe before settling in Poland for a few months during Euro 2012, and I needed my money to last me from March to July, when I would finally go back to the U.S. and get a “real” job. The issue was that I couldn’t really work while I was biding my time in Europe.

Volunteering on a homestay was the perfect option for me. I didn’t spend anything while I was there, earning my keep by working for food and lodging.

5 Reasons Why Volunteering Abroad is the Best Kind of Travel

2. It’s flexible

Each country, from Canada to India, Afghanistan to Brazil, has a network of hosts. You then email the hosts of places you’re interested in to see if your schedules work together, and then you make a plan.

I picked a few favorites and Googled what I could about them (many have their own websites) before I emailed Christian about coming to work on his vineyard. I was very grateful that he approved, as I had just made a last-minute decision to leave Istanbul about a month before I had originally planned. It was so great to have that option for my in-between moments of travel.

3. It may take you off typical the tourist trail

After meeting Christian at the train station in Carcassonne, it took another 20 minutes in the car to get to the vineyard. Up, up, up the mountain, I snapped photos of the sunset over the mountains across the valley. Christian talked to me about how volunteering was a great opportunity to “explore human landscapes,” and I took a deep breath and appreciated the dusty scent of his cluttered station wagon over the aridity and pollution of Istanbul.

4. I felt pampered even though I was still working

Over the next two weeks, I ate wonderfully simple home-cooked meals and even cooked for my host and fellow volunteers on nights when it was my turn. I spent my mornings on the vineyard, cutting last year’s vines and learning about the other volunteers, playing 20 Questions, and singing songs. I spent my afternoons writing and exploring the village, and I spent my evenings sitting by the fire in the kitchen, eating, and tasting wine. There was a lot of time in the cellar bottling wine, and there was a lot of searching the night sky for bright spring constellations.

5 Reasons Why Volunteering Abroad is the Best Kind of Travel

5. I was immersed in the local community

It was technically work, but it was really just a vacation — one in which I was participating in the local community, learning about the people around me, and planning absolutely nothing. Christian would host concerts in his living room, offering us a chance to meet local musicians. We celebrated St. Patty’s Day in the nearby pub, along with three other people from the town of 100. Christian would also take us on walks around the town when he needed to complete errands and introduce us to the people who he did business with every day. We would even venture off to a sheep farm and try fresh sheep milk cheese.

It was possibly one of the only times in my life in which I merely enjoyed the here-and-now and didn’t worry about what I was going to do next, where I was going to stay, or how I was going to get there. It was beautiful.

5 Reasons Why Volunteering Abroad is the Best Kind of Travel

It was a time that could have been full of stress and chaos, but because of programs like HelpStay.com, I was able to put my worries on the back burner and use my idle time for good. For anyone interested in unique travel opportunities, I highly recommend volunteering abroad.

5 Reasons Why Volunteering Abroad is the Best Kind of Travel is a sponsored post.

About Lauren Krzyzostaniak

Lauren Krzyzostaniak lives in New York, where she works as a freelance writer. Find her online and follow her on Twitter.

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