The Ins and Outs of Volunteering Abroad

The Ins and Outs of Volunteering Abroad

This week we are excited to have a guest author, my friend from grad school, Genevieve Brown. Like us, Genevieve enjoys traveling. Unlike us, she sometimes travels with a side of volunteering. We asked her to tell us a little bit more about volunteering abroad, and this post is for us just as much as it is for you. Thanks, G!

Have you ever wanted to take a trip and volunteer?

Volunteering abroad incorporates the excitement of traveling to a new destination and the rewarding experience of working with communities on service projects. It offers a richer travel experience and the chance to learn and share.

Despite all of the pros of volunteer travel, there are a lot of things to consider before booking that trip.

Consideration 1: Money

The first thing to consider is money. Unless you are planning to serve abroad long term, or you are highly skilled in an in-demand field, most likely you will have to pay for all or most of your expenses. Many people book a trip through volunteer sending organizations that have developed relationships with in-country organizations, provide housing, and handle some of the travel logistics. Some people fundraise part of the cost of their volunteer trip.

Consideration 2: Volunteer Organization’s Credibility

If you decide to book through a volunteer sending organization, the next thing to consider is how to vet that organization. You want to make sure the group you are traveling with is not a third party booking agency but an organization that has established relationships with the community and is running an ethical, reciprocal, and sustainable operation. It is important to ask a lot of questions before booking. Some questions to consider include the following:

  1. How long have you been working in the community?

  2. How do you match volunteer skills with the needs of the community?

  3. How do you ensure that the project is really needed/wanted by the community

  4. What does my fee cover? (in-country travel, meals, housing, etc.)

  5. Do you have foreign liability insurance?

For more questions see:

Consideration 3: Your Impact

Another important consideration is the impact you might have on vulnerable populations. Orphans and people who have experienced violence or trauma etc. are especially vulnerable and having a foreigner come in for a short period may actually do more harm than good. Even when working with people in poverty it is important to realize the privileged position you may hold as a foreigner and yet understand that your privilege does not align with actual knowledge of the community and its needs. A willingness to listen and learn is a key component to a successful volunteer trip.


Volunteering abroad can be a rewarding experience, especially when you go in with the right mindset and expectations. No, you are not going to “change the world” but when done with humility, you will have an amazing cross-cultural experience.

If you do plan to volunteer abroad, make sure to check out this article.

Genevieve Brown has over a decade of experience working in the field of volunteer travel. She has developed international standards for volunteer sending organizations and advised nonprofits on sustainable projects. She currently consults nonprofit clients on standards, evaluations and management issues.

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