1. Volunteering and work exchange platforms
Work exchange means that people offer their time and skills to do volunteer work in exchange for free accommodation and food or other benefits. Platforms that offer that exchange on the base of volunteering are:
Workaway is a platform that allows members-hosts and volunteers to involve in cultural exchange. Volunteers are expected to volunteer a certain amount of time per day (which is usually 4 to 5 hours, 5 or 6 days per week) in exchange for housing and food, which is provided by their host. Volunteers create an online profile including personal details and any specific skills they might have, and after they can contact hosts through the website and discuss if volunteering position is open at a certain time. They can also see hosts and housing photos, read previous volunteers reviews and create a host list to contact them later. It is a useful way to improve foreign language skills as well as an opportunity to develop new talents and learn about local traditions, history, food, and culture. At the same time, it can bring “the world” (travelers) to undiscovered and undeveloped parts of the world so it’s a win-win situation for both sides. Workaway provides many different opportunities in many countries around the world. Some types of volunteering available include gardening, animal-care, child-care, cooking, farming, as well as more niche-oriented requests (plumbing, carpentry, yoga teacher). Workaway charges all volunteers a yearly subscription fee to connect to hosts which is around 42$ for a single account and 54$ if you volunteer and search for a host as a couple. The duration of exchange can range from as little as a few days to over a year.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms or Willing Workers on Organic Farms, is a network of homestays on organic farms. WWOOF aims to provide volunteers or "woofers” with first-hand experience in organic and ecologically sound growing methods, to help the organic movement, and to let volunteers experience life in a rural setting or a different country. WWOOF volunteers generally do not receive money in exchange for services. The host provides food, housing, and opportunities to learn, in exchange for assistance with farming or gardening activities. Volunteers could be asked to help with a variety of tasks, including sowing seed, making compost, gardening, planting, cutting wood, weeding, harvesting, packing, milking, feeding, fencing, making mud-bricks, winemaking, cheese making, cooking and bread baking. Volunteers choose what country they would like to visit and volunteer in and contact arrange the dates and duration of their stay at selected farms. They can expect to work for 4–6 hours a day for a full day's food (usually 3 meals per day) and accommodation (could be a tent, shared or single room). Woofers usually work 5 to 6 hours per day, 5 to 6 days per week. The duration of a volunteer's stay can range from days to months but is typically one to two weeks. There is annual fee volunteers should pay and that ranges from 20 to 30$ per person (but depends on the country).
HelpX, short for "Help Exchange", is an online platform that connects volunteers, or “Helpers”, who perform work for hosts in exchange for accommodation and food provided by a host. Helpers assist with various tasks, projects, or activities. Volunteers generally commit to 4 or 5 hours of work, 5 days a week. Arrangements may vary but are agreed upon by both parties in advance. Foundation and principle are the same as Workaway but this site seems to focus primarily on Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Europe (although there are listings in other parts of the world too). Membership is cheaper than at Workaway: 23,5$ per person for 2 years.
Hipohelp and Volunteers base
The idea of Hipohelp and Volunteers base is the same as Workaway and Helpx: work exchange platform connecting hosts from all over the world with travelers who are happy to work in exchange for free food and accommodation. The difference is that Hipohelp and Volunteers bases are completely free for all users. Hipohelp also works with an interactive world map where we can move and check in which regions and countries there are opportunities and also what kind of opportunities these hosts offer. On the other hand, on the map, we can also see where other volunteers currently are (we can also pin our location on the map) and can connect with them. The possibilities are endless here.
Worldpackers started in South America, so they have a lot of opportunities there and have rapidly expanded the number of placements available in the rest of the world, with a network of over 1 million hosts and volunteers worldwide. There is a wide range of volunteer opportunities available with hostels, campsites, social projects, farms, ecovillages, restaurants, and small businesses, families and similar. To contact hosts you need to pay the membership fee of 49$ and become a verified member. Although the membership fees are higher than the other sites the money has gone towards building an easy to use website and app and providing high-level customer support. Worldpackers is very focussed on safety and security, verifying each host before they are accepted on the platform. They also offer their “Worldpackers Insurance” which covers the cost of a hostel for 3 nights if you need to leave your placement due to problems with the host. Because safety policy a lot of their users—62% are solo female travelers.
***Grey zone of above-mentioned platforms***
A couple of things should be mentioned before considering to use above listed platforms. When we enter a foreign country we usually enter with a tourist visa, which one doesn’t allow us to work. With volunteering, we basically work but governments just didn’t decide about the law of volunteering yet. Your employer may be using you as a cheap working force instead of employing somebody from their country and have to pay them a salary and work insurance. Usually, governments know what is going on but laws are staying the same because it's hard to change them. If you decide to go to volunteer in foreign country it is probably the best to inform yourself about country’s immigration policy and get appropriate visa (when that is not possible, it is probably wise to not mention to immigration control that you are about to help in the farm in New Zealand or train huskies in Canada-officially you’re coming as a tourist). Another important thing is also getting travel insurance, because accidents happen when climbing a ladder, cooking, taking care of animals, cutting. Double-check that your insurance provider covers manual work.
2. Opportunities in Europe
There is an infinitive pool of opportunities and it is impossible to write down all the option a young person in Europe has. But here the basic ones are listed. An additional website that can help you find useful information and volunteering programs and project is Eurodesk: https://eurodesk.eu/ and its Opportunity finder: https://programmes.eurodesk.eu/volunteering.
Festival volunteering in Europe
You can be a volunteer at many well known European festivals that occur mostly in summer and assist people while having fun. Volunteering at festivals is a great way to get work experience, build a network and meet new friends. The advantage of it, besides the free entry you get, is that you will find out what goes on in the backstage and how the concert scene is prepared. If you're interested to volunteer on the festival, it’s wise to check festival Facebook groups a few weeks before event starts and you can also contact festival through their website or e-mail some weeks in advance. There’s a good chance your favorite festival needs you!
If you would like to volunteer but cannot go anywhere for certain reasons (steady job, family, disabilities, finance situation, school or college, transport difficulties..) but you still have some free time in the evenings plus you’re good with the computer, you can try with online volunteering. Your tasks as an online volunteer will depend on your skills and expertise. You can design flyers, maintain a web site, translate text, edit video, design a database, manage online social networking activities or write code for software. You can also simply give expert advice (for example, in law, psychology or education), answer emails for an organization or conduct research. Be aware that online volunteering is real volunteering and requires time, commitment and deadlines. Online volunteering is not meant to replace face-to-face volunteering, so it is encouraged you do both if you have the time.
A work camp is a group of 8 to 20 international volunteers from usually 5 different countries who work together to help a local community with a project for 2 to 4 weeks. They are a great way to make new friends, complete a meaningful project and increase your international and community understanding. The camps are hosted by local organizations who are interested in the impact that an international group can have on their community. In a work camp, volunteers work around 30 hours a week on activities that benefit the local community or environment. That usually includes some manual work like cleaning the environment, planting new trees, restoring the old church, chopping small bushes and making a new walking path in the woods. You can spend your free time relaxing, preparing meals and talking, and on activities and excursions with other volunteers and the local community. Food and accommodation are usually provided, so you will need money only to cover your travel costs (but sometimes can be covered by your sending organization too), the application fee to the sending organization and pocket money. Don't forget, though, that work camps are not holiday camps, so make sure you are joining for the right reasons.
Volunteer for United Nations
If you are interested in development, humanitarian action, and peacekeeping, you can become one of 8000 United Nations volunteers. UN is active in around 130 countries in the world. You can become one of them if you are at least 25 years old and have: a university degree or higher technical diploma, at least 2 years working experience, knowledge of at least 1 of the 3 UN working languages: English, French and Spanish, a strong commitment to the values and principles of volunteerism, the ability to work in a multi-cultural environment, the ability to adjust to difficult living conditions, strong interpersonal and organizational skills. Prior to volunteering or work experience in a developing country is a plus. As you see, requirements are pretty high and not everybody is the appropriate candidate for this option. If you meet all the requirements, you can apply through their registration form on the website. It is possible you cannot decide in which country you will volunteer and how long will you have to wait for the project. UN Volunteers receive a monthly volunteer living allowance, annual leave, and medical insurance.
3. Conclusion: benefits of volunteering abroad
There are so many different benefits of volunteering that I will just mention some of them. You can truly live the local life there because many programs give you the chance to work with local people in their own environment so you learn about their culture, language, work. You would have probably never tasted this traditional local soup in the restaurant and learn traditional old dance if you would have stayed in a hotel. Hidden areas. Many programs take you away from the trail and show you some hidden areas; countryside, mountains, islands, and villages that Lonely Planet misses out! Volunteering can contribute hugely to money-saving. It makes a small budget last longer. There is an example of an English couple that saved £20.000 to travel to South America, North America, and Europe. With that budget, they could travel just 10 months but with Workaway they could afford to travel 18 months (so 8 months longer)! It also gives you the opportunity to travel at a slow pace. With that, you are reducing your carbon footprint and give yourself a chance to better know the community and its facilities like local restaurants, gym, pool, cultural club, theater and similar.
As you see, the possibilities that you have in volunteering are almost unlimited. It is just your decision about which one to choose!