Voluntourism: how to travel the world and give back at the same time

2 min read

Voluntourism is the experience of travelling the world with volunteer organisations, helping those in need. Here’s how you can see the world and make a difference at the same time. 

When you head off on a voluntourism adventure, you’re not just seeing the sights. You’re saving endangered turtles, building long-tail boats or teaching English. Best of all, where you go and what you do is up to you.

Just ask Brett Jones. In 2015, he spent three months volunteering on a tiny tropical island called Koh Sdach, off the Cambodian coast. “I worked on a marine conservation project organised by Projects Abroad,” he says. “I’d always been interested in marine biology and fascinated by Cambodia’s history, so it was the best of both worlds.”

The project’s goal is to conserve local reefs. “Koh Sdach and nearby islands are surrounded by coral reefs, but local fisheries are having a massive impact,” Brett says. “When I was there, a new port was being built and the dredging was creating sediment, which was smothering and killing the coral.”

On working days, Brett would dive all day, surveying fish, counting coral and picking up debris. On others, he would comb beaches for rubbish. Some days he would run “non-preachy” community engagement programmes. “The community lives in houses on stilts over the water, and they throw all their plastic straight into the sea, because there’s no other way to get rid of it,” he says.

Time off involved hanging out and playing soccer with local school children, jet boating excursions to the mainland and getting to know other volunteers from all over the world. They stayed together in living quarters provided in the island’s 900-person village. Brett says, “During my whole time in Cambodia, I only met two other Australians.  Koh Sdach is six hours from Phnom Penh and well away from the tourist traps.”

So, what’s his advice for anyone thinking of embarking on a similar adventure? “Be flexible and willing to explore. Problems are going to come up, in terms of living with other cultures, but don’t let that stop you. At home, you can control your life and everything is planned. But, when you go to a country like Cambodia, there are things you can’t control. So it’s best to go with it. Let it happen. There are bigger things to worry about. As clichéd as this might sound, it’s important to go with the flow.”

If marine conservation isn’t your thing, there are loads of other voluntourism options. You can choose a programme to suit your skill set, interests and availability. As with any sort of travel, there are costs involved. Projects Abroad prices range from $3,320, for two weeks, to $7,540 for 12 weeks, including food, all transfers, full travel and medical insurance, and accommodation but excluding airfares, visas and vaccinations. (Prices correct at time of publication but may be subject to change).

 “Projects Abroad manages a variety of safe, sustainable, worthwhile volunteer projects across 30 developing countries,” says Aimee Townley, programme advisor at Projects Abroad Australia and New Zealand. “Projects include care, teaching, conservation and environment, animal care, building, sports, medicine and healthcare, and human rights. They’re all run continuously, creating flexibility for volunteers, so you can choose when you start and how long you stay.”

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This information is current as at 16/12/2016.

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