The Pros & Cons of Volunteer Trips

by Jessie Robinson

So, you’re thinking about doing a volunteer trip — you’ve done your research on the company, saved up the cash, checked the weather forecast for the destination and planned how to still look cute in steel toes. “Yes!”  you’ve decided you’re going on a volunteer trip! But what will it be like? Will you change as a person? What are The Pros and Cons of Volunteer Trips!?


Helping Others

It’s no surprise that helping others is a pro, we’ve all bought a friend a drink or held the door open for a stranger (and if you haven’t you should probably reconsider your life choices) it makes us feel good! Even without receiving that simple “thank you”, it will make you feel like Mother Theresa for the day. So you can only imagine the gratification of dedicating a few weeks or so to helping others.

I have done two volunteer trips to date both in construction in Central/South America. I liked construction personally, and friends who have experienced other volunteer positions agree, because I could see the progress each day, I knew I was working towards a lasting change for the people. Some other types of volunteer trips involve working with children in orphanages or teaching in schools, in which you will not see your progress as easily, but will most likely bring you joy anyway. Just make sure you’re there for the right reasons and not just to boost your Instagram likes.


Money, Money, Money

    This is a con to nearly any type of travelling, ever. To some people it comes as a shock – “so you’re working a full day, 5 days a week, in the sweltering heat of San Salvador, and you have to pay them?” Yes my friends, volunteering also costs money-it’s called a volunteer trip, and you probably need a plane ticket to get there.

This is what will put many people off, especially young people, when it comes to these sorts of trips. However! Students have many affordable options through school. You can also fundraise to cover certain or all expenses. I did my first volunteer trip in high school and just had to put in extra hours at the local grocery market I worked at to pay for it. How you spend your money is your choice, and back in 2011 that was my choice.


Learning a Foreign Culture Firsthand

If you are used to staying in 5-star all-inclusive resorts while on vacation, this may be out of your comfort zone a little. Your accommodation will be arranged for you through the organization you choose to work with. I’ve stayed in a gorgeous bed and breakfast in El Salvador and also a cozy homestay in Peru, both were ran by local families in affiliation and both I shared with the other volunteers, all of whom became my family for the time I spent there. They will usually provide you with all the western comforts of home, except maybe safe drinking water, as our bodies are used to much more sterilized water than they are down south.

You will be working with the local people and perhaps even the local animals, which is a cool experience. These are the people you are helping so they will appreciate your effort even if it’s just your positive attitude. Another bonus is to take up learning the local language, and how sexy is Spanish! The more you try to learn about the country you are in the more you will appreciate your time there. And who doesn’t want to be cultured these days!


Culture Shock

    Are you a part of the top 1% of high-income families in the world? No? Me neither, but good for you if you are, you go Glen Coco. As for the rest of us we may have never even considered ourselves the privileged ones. I certainly never did, until I came back from my first volunteer trip.

Imagine visiting remote villages in Central America and meeting people who have to walk 5 kilometers everyday just for clean water. Now cue the guilt trip. After all of your hard work is done, after you’ve been sweaty for weeks and finally out of clean laundry, you’ll be going home. Home to your reliable Wi-Fi, fancy kitchen appliances and what ever take out meal you desire. That first shower back is beautiful, but you may never feel guiltier looking at all your possessions that you hardly touch half the time. You may even think of your friends differently for having such great value in materialistic things like their prized Lululemon pants while you’re still wondering how to better the world. You’re in for a perspective change my friends and it’s not always going to groove smoothly with your pre-volunteer-trip-life.



    On your volunteer trip you are going to be learning lessons you can’t learn from a classroom. You will learn about another culture, about yourself and about seeing the world through another person’s eyes. Now, don’t get me wrong, getting beach drunk in Mexico for a week is a great time, I’m 22 and I am no saint. But to me, working towards making a community stronger is a much more rewarding type of travel.

You will come back much more grateful and have a better understanding of the world. This is an experience of a lifetime and you take from it what you put in. Do your work, see the sights and enjoy it while you can. Nothing lasts forever, but your new perspective just might.

Ultimately volunteer trips are a great experience for anyone. You will meet new people, make new friends and do some good. Helping others will bring you gratification and you may even get a few unique souvenirs out of it. So do your research, save your money and think about how you would like to help the world be a better place. You want to travel anyway, so why not earn yourself some brownie points while doing it?

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