You never lose out by giving your time
I don’t like when someone is trying to sell the story that traveling is free. It’s not. I was busting my ass to be able to buy a one-way ticket to Southeast Asia. It’s even harder when you come from the Balkans where one often has to work twice as much from someone from the more developed country, for the same income. Did that stop me from doing it? No. I spent two and a half years of working for traveling while studying and doing my master’s in journalism. Was it hard? Yes. Was it worth it? Hell yeah.
People do volunteering jobs to make a positive difference in the world, to see other realities, save money and to make a change in the world. Yes, you give your time and don’t receive money but you never lose. With volunteering you can only gain. Because I wanted to save money during the trip itself, I decided to volunteer in exchange for bed and if I was lucky – food. You choose a country, a job and voila, your resume is enriched for a new experience!
Living in a tree-house and teaching English
I volunteered in Thailand and Cambodia while I couldn’t find a position in Vietnam. So, what have I been doing?
- Managing a guesthouse in Bangkok in Thailand. By that I mean I was cleaning, preparing coffee for guests, fed seven cats, talked with the guests and sometimes went out with them. That was my first volunteering experience abroad and I worked for two weeks. It was exhausting because I rose early and didn’t have much time for myself but on the other hand, I met wonderful people. I lived in a local street with amazing food where I felt like in my own “hood“. I even helped one Thai kid with English and managed to teach him one word – a cat.
- Homeschooling a 9-year old “Indiana Jones“ in Ban Chang in Thailand
Emma from Scotland invited me to teach her son Ben to read, write and help him with geography, as she doesn’t believe in conventional school so Ben is being homeschooled. Why should one only read about history of South Africa if a traveler from there can tell you about it? You want to eat paella? Host someone from Spain! That was Emma’s philosophy and it grew on me.
I lived with another fellow traveler for 10 days in a luxury and secured neighborhood with “Beverly Hills“ style houses, communal swimming pool and four of their pets – Tommy & Tally (two dogs), Noodle & Princess (two cats), in which I fell in love. Javi and I took dogs for a walk on the beach. We cooked. We played and learned together with Ben, a young version of Indiana Jones. Fridge was always full and sunsets were incredible. How much money did I spend there? Zero.
Receptionist and English teacher in a Japanese guesthouse in Cambodia
My boss Shingo in a guesthouse in Siem Reap in Cambodia gave me breakfast, lunch and dinner. Oh, and a shared room with private bathroom. He was my first “boss“ who stuck to the “rule“ that I’m free after four hours of work. On previous experiences work was always somehow “stretched“ throughout the day. I helped Shingo with the guests and some Japanese girls with English. Not only that I got the chance to enjoy Japanese specialties, but by living with them I got an insight into their culture. All of it without even setting foot in Japan! Crazy!
Living in a tree house on Koh Lanta in Thailand
I became part of a tree-house style hostel on the island with the most beautiful sunsets two years after I heard about it. Living and working in a hostel with sandy floor, travelers from all over the world and the best western style breakfasts made my heart dance as never before. I stayed there a month but could forever. Other volunteers and I have worked hard to maintain the hostel but when the shift ended… We chase glowing plankton in the ocean. We watched an hour and a half long sunsets. We drank icy cold Changs while playing Jenga. We laughed and talked about our travel plans while swaying in hammocks. It was hard to leave my “hippies“ and a “home“ 80 meters away from the beach.
People matter the most
I set off on a journey dreaming about faraway places, exotic food and amazing landscapes. In that picture I saw volunteering as a way to save money and gain new experiences. I was prepared to work hard. To which I was not prepared were people. Some of the best people who became my friends I met while sweeping a floor or learning how to make a mojito. Not just you meet other volunteers but interesting locals and fellow travelers from all over the world. And all of them have something to say and to share.
Volunteering can bring out the best of you but it doesn’t give someone the right to exploit you. Common practice is to volunteer four or five hours a day, unless otherwise agreed. If it is stated that the meals are included and you haven’t got it – ask. Don’t be shy. Your time is precious and the whole philosophy is that both sides need to give and receive mutual. Some volunteers have told me how they were exploited so they left. And that’s fine. There are a lot more awesome opportunities and once you find such a place – it’s going to feel fulfilling and righteous. And it’s going to turn into one of the best times of your life. Pinky promise.