How to Volunteer around the World in Exchange for Room and Board & Lessons Learned Along the Way

It was just a typical day at the office.

Christine worked as a Jeep and camel tour guide with the Bedouin in Jordan, an English teacher to Tibetan Buddhist nuns in Nepal, an organic farmer at an ashram in India, among other volunteer jobs.

Christine worked as a Jeep and camel tour guide with the Bedouin in Jordan, an English teacher to Tibetan Buddhist nuns in Nepal, an organic farmer at an ashram in India, among other volunteer jobs.

I worked at a national travel magazine, and I was making the finishing touches on a couple of articles I was writing—one on how to pick the best African safari for your buck, and another on how to see the iconic pyramids of Egypt. Even though both trips were on my bucket list, I hadn’t actually accomplished either one of them. I realized the irony of this fact, and I began to feel like a fraud.

So I turned in my drafts to my editor, walked out into the brisk New York night, and realized at that moment that I was no longer able to report from my desk and advise readers to do something that I’d never experienced myself.

So I quit my job, stashed my goods in a small storage unit, and decided to travel the entire year of 2011 while volunteering in exchange for meals and lodging called, appropriately, “work exchange.” Through three websites (wwoof.org, helpx.net, workaway.info).

I arranged one assignment per month without paying a dime to my hosts, but rather earned my way by rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty at whatever they considered to be their trade.

Christine Diving_low resI suddenly found myself working as a black-pearl diver in French Polynesia

, a nomadic sheepherder in Austria, a Jeep and camel tour guide with the Bedouin in Jordan, an English teacher to Tibetan Buddhist nuns in Nepal, an organic farmer at an ashram in India, a ranch hand at an aboriginal cattle station in Australia, a music teacher to Roma (gypsy) children in Romania, a shaman’s apprentice at a healing center in Peru, and much more. Talk about being thrown into the deep end! But each assignment helped me see the world in a most fascinating way that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to otherwise.

When my adventure was drawing to a close, and while I was sitting on a plane headed back to the States, I contemplated the many lessons I learned from each amazing host that I now have the privilege to call a friend. I’ve listed my thoughts below, and look forward to the additional lessons I’m sure I’ll learn in my lifetime, because there’s never a better education than the one you receive from travel. Here’s to creating many more bucket-list items and checking off every single last one of them!

Christine in Outback Australia

Christine in Outback Australia

What did I learn?

1. Before judging other cultures, consider whether you’re holding them to a higher standard than your own culture.

2. Open your eyes as widely back home as you do abroad, and you’ll observe just how beautiful your country really is.

3. Try to remain objective when you talk to others about your nation’s politics, stereotypes, and negatives. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

4. Be happy with the possessions you have. I’ve observed a West African boy playing happier with a homemade stick car than I’ve seen most other kids playing with their expensive gadgets.

5. Take time for friends and family. Work will wait. Life won’t. Take a siesta as needed.

6. There’s some good and bad in each country. Try to adopt the positive traits, and try to forget the negative.

7. Enjoy a good meal. I mean really enjoy a good meal. Close your eyes. Chew slower. Savor the exotic flavors. Then purchase the same ingredients to recreate the experience back home.

8. Try not to get offended if you think that you’ve been slighted abroad. You’ll never know how many times a good intention was lost in translation.

9. Take a trip to your country’s natural wonders and famous attractions as much as you do abroad, and you’ll find that you’ll see your home in a much different light.

10. Appreciate the conveniences back home rather than taking them for granted. Don’t assume that your way is the right way of doing things. Somewhere, someone on earth has been sitting on a woven basket all day on the side of a jungle road and hoping to hitch a ride to civilization. You might find that this person is you someday.

Boy with Car__low res11. You’ll become equally inspired and equally disappointed by the people that you meet abroad. Pay heed to the inspiring ones, and learn from the mistakes of the disappointing ones. Be sure that the disappointing person doesn’t turn out to be you.

12. When you head back to your own nation, try not to fall back into the same old habits that you broke while traveling. Don’t forget how much you can live without, and how happy the simple life might actually make you.

13. Adapt to how other people live. This has led me to eat meat as a vegetarian, use a pit for a toilet, a bucket for a shower, and dress completely covered from head to toe in searing heat. It wasn’t comfortable, but if I had wanted comfort, I would have stayed home.

14. No matter how difficult the transportation, how aggressive the market vendors, how tainted the food, or how unhygienic the living conditions, you’ll discover something awe-inspiring each time you persevere and open yourself up to new experiences.

15. If you don’t like being stereotyped, be careful not to make the same mistake yourself.

16. Be respectful while photographing others. Locals may seem exotic to you, but to them, you might be intruding on their home and their life by pointing your lens in their direction. They’re not a souvenir to capture, they’re human beings.

17. Whether you like it or not, you’ll be acting as an ambassador for your country each time you interact with others abroad. Make your country proud. Better yet, make yourself proud!

Welcome Adventure Contributor Christine. You are an inspiration to all of us!

Watch her on utube  She’s amazing!  

Christine Maxfield is a travel writer and photojournalist who has been on staff at Philadelphia magazine, Men’s Health, and Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, and has contributed to Women’s Health, Girlfriend Getaways, New England Travel & Life, Home & Garden, and more. Follow her adventures online at www.CompassMag.com.

 

Category: Women

About the Author ()

Christine Maxfield is a travel writer and photojournalist who has been on staff at Philadelphia magazine, Men’s Health, and Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, and has contributed to Women’s Health, Girlfriend Getaways, New England Travel & Life, Home & Garden, and more. Follow her adventures online at www.CompassMag.com.

Comments (6)

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  1. Kendal says:

    Thank you for this post! OK, I didn’t realize how many awesome adventures you could have through wwoof.org . I’m totally going to be checking into that for 2013…. my goal is to travel my @$$ off this year, playing music, volunteering, and blogging about it (www.dreameroftheday.com) .
    I’ll be browsing your site frequently… glad I found it. :-)

    • Kendal, Thanks for your comment and enthusiasm. You can do it and make it happen while you’re still young. Keep in touch!
      Happy Travels. Marybeth

      • Kendal says:

        Thanks! Yes…. in 2010 I realized I was in a good position to travel. 28, Money in savings, earning more online, no boyfriend…. so I got a visa to live in France. I’ve been there since May 2011 (though right now I’m back in L.A. enjoying the sun and my car. lol). But one of the goals of going there was to go explore the neighbouring countries, which I haven’t been doing a good job of. So 2013 is the year for that, before I run out of savings. :-D It’s going to be a great year!

  2. Kendal, I’m so pleased you felt inspired by my WWOOFing experiences and work exchange! It was an amazing experience for me, and I look forward to reading about your experiences in the future! Just make sure to read the WWOOF host’s reviews well before you commit to them, that’ll make all the difference in the world for the success of your stay. :-)

    If you’d like to hear more about my RTW volunteering, take a look at this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NntS0YdYVqY

    And thanks for posting my article Marybeth, I love your website and the motivating encouragement it gives others to get out there on the road!

    Happy travels,
    Christine Maxfield (aka CompassMag)

    • Kendal says:

      Thanks for the tips, and the video. Yeah that’s definitely something I need to try. How did you handle transportation? I mean to and from countries, or even around the town/city/village you were in?

      BTW when I try to reply from my email (clicking on links) they seem broken. The main page isn’t, but the reply and the article link is for some reason….

      • I was lucky because my hosts pretty much took care of picking me up from airports or at least arranging where/how I should meet them. Then they advised me on how to get around their area. Otherwise transportation was on me, and since my locations were so off the beaten path, I didn’t qualify for a RTW ticket. So I just purchased one-way tickets to each country I visited (!). But that meant I got to some pretty incredible places off the radar! :-)

        Please feel free to check out my website at http://www.CompassMag.com for more info, and email me with questions as you plan your own awesome adventure!

        Cheers,
        Christine

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