Spending time as a volunteer abroad is one of the most fulfilling, enjoyable and interesting forms of travel possible. You get the invaluable opportunity to visit real communities in some of the most fascinating rural areas of exotic countries, meet the local people, learn new skills and, most importantly, contribute positively to a great cause of your choice.

Just take a look at some of our volunteer abroad reviews to see how rewarding an experience it can be.

But aside from the actual work, volunteers get an incredible opportunity to spend some time in a foreign country. Our volunteers generally spend four days per week working on the projects, leaving three days completely free for whatever they like.

So what can you get up to in your free time? Here are some ideas about how to make the most of your volunteer experience and see as much of your chosen country as possible.

Visit the local sights

Even though as a volunteer you’re likely to be staying out in rural areas, that doesn’t mean there won’t be things to see and do. They might not be in the guidebooks, but every area has plenty of things worth seeing.

Try to use your free time as an opportunity to get out and see the area. Get around in whatever way you can, be it local bus, train, taxi, or even by hitchhiking. The journey is often as interesting as, if not more than, the destination.

Mix with the locals

Photo by joaquin uy

Getting to spend a significant amount of time with local people is one of the most rewarding and unique things about volunteering. Through normal travel, it’s still possible to mix with locals, but volunteering gives you the chance to actually live in their communities and often work alongside them.

To add to this, you will be seen as a positive influence on the area as you are there to help a good cause, so people are likely to be even more receptive and welcoming to you than normal.

Try to use your time off to mingle with the local communities. You could take a walk around a market, chat with anyone willing, try the local food and drink, or practice your language skills.

It may seem like a daunting thought at first, but getting to know real local people and exchanging knowledge about each other’s cultures is what really opens up a country to you. You will learn so much, and maybe even create lasting friendships.

Chatting with locals is also without a doubt the best way to learn about travel tips, such as where to visit in the local area and the best ways to do it. After all, the people who live in an area will always know far more about it than any guidebook.

Try a new activity or sport

Photo by Thomas Anderson

Depending on where you are in the world, there are likely to be some adventurous activities or sports available nearby for you to try.

For example, if you’re a volunteer in Costa Rica, you’re almost guaranteed to be within a few miles of a world-class surf beach, so it would be a shame not to give surfing a go. If you’re in Africa, why not check out the local wildlife by taking a safari? If you’re volunteering in Thailand, maybe you can take advantage of some of the cheapest scuba diving courses in the world and explore the underwater world.

Whatever tickles your fancy, there will be something interesting or exhilarating for you to try, so why not take the opportunity?

Visit a neighboring country

Photo by Elena

Having a three-day break between volunteering may not seem like enough time to visit another country, but once you’re at a volunteer project, you’ll realize that distances are often a lot shorter than they seem.

Even if you don’t feel like there’s enough time, you can always take a trip to neighboring countries once your placement has ended. Many of our projects also have a lot of flexibility, so you can request extra time off for longer trips, just make sure you run it by the organizer first.

It doesn’t matter which of our projects you choose, there are endless options for further exploration. West Africa is made up of 17 countries, many of which border each other. So if you’re a volunteer in Ghana, you’re within easy reach of plenty of other fascinating destinations, such as Togo or Ivory Coast. Thailand is bordered by several other countries, such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Malaysia. These are all incredible places in their own right, so if you have the time you should definitely try to explore them. Likewise, Costa Rica is conveniently nestled right in the centre of the Americas, making it the perfect spot to see other countries like Nicaragua and Panama or other parts of the Americas.

Volunteering provides you with the perfect springboard from which to explore the world.

Find a homestay

If you’re spending the night away from your volunteer project, you’ll need somewhere to stay. You can always find a hotel or guesthouse, but if you’re looking for a cultural experience that offers something a bit different, you should consider a homestay.

Homestays are essentially an opportunity for travelers to stay in a family’s home. You will often eat authentic local food with the family, get to talk to them about the local area, learn inside tips about where to go and where to avoid, and have an authentic cultural exchange that most travelers would struggle to get.

Enjoy yourself!

At the end of the day, you shouldn’t take these tips as a definitive guide on how to spend your free time when volunteering.

Try to always keep in mind that the most important things about volunteering are making a difference to your chosen cause and enjoying yourself. It’s your trip, so you can choose to see or do whatever you like. Keep an open mind, take everything as it comes, and enjoy the ride!

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