June 19, 2024

Travelling with a purpose: Volunteering for NGOs during your travels

For many people travel is about enjoying a well-deserved break, switching off from problems back at home and enjoying new and exciting destinations to the fullest. But long-term travellers, especially those that have been on the road for a long time, can find themselves wanting a deeper purpose alongside their endless cravings for more adventure. How can you add more purpose to your travels? Here’s why you should consider volunteering for NGOs on your next trip.


What does travel with a purpose mean?

To travel with a purpose is to travel with an intention. It means to have an awareness of where you are on your travel journey and what you want to get out of it. Since we are all different, and there is no one way to travel, everyone will have a different intention. Let’s embrace our differences. Your uniqueness, your passions, your skills and your ambitions have the potential to bring something positive to everyone you meet.

To travel with a purpose is to make travel a learning experience. You are probably already aware of how travel serves never-ending lessons and how it is great for your personal growth and development. By adding an intention you can make this experience even richer and more transformative for both, you –  the traveller – and the host – the community that you visit.


Giving back to the community when travelling

For me, it’s been 4 years now of living this incredible, forever-changing life. What started from a desire to not spend my whole life in my hometown led to me on an epic journey across the world. Starting in New Zealand, through Asia, and finally, falling in love with Latin America.

But somewhere along the way, I realised that just like there is more to life than work, there is also more to travel than travel.

After learning more about the lives and struggles of many local people throughout Latin America my interests and priorities changed. I knew I didn’t want to be another unaware tourist. I wanted to devote more of my time to doing things that have a deeper and better impact.

Chasing waterfalls, climbing volcanoes, hitchhiking, and meeting new people might fill me up with satisfaction or adrenaline, but it doesn’t fill me up with something I have been craving for a long time – purpose.


Transitioning from crazy adventurer to a thoughtful volunteer

As much as I enjoyed epic ventures and being on the move, I wanted to prioritize my intentions and devote some of my time to giving back to the community. I decided to search for and apply for community projects that are focused on social impact in Latin America. There were plenty of opportunities, and I quickly found exactly what I was looking for.

Transitioning from being on the move all the time, having no routine or any plans, to living in one place for months on end and having a stable routine, was something that I was worried about. As a backpacker yourself, I am sure you will agree that these are the exact things that we are trying to avoid at all costs… Right?!

But after travelling for such a long time, I also started to crave routine and community. I wanted to have the same bed to sleep in and somewhere to unpack my stuff (don’t we all, after a while?) Although I was worried about feeling reckless and fed up with the routine, I made my way to my first position at an NGO in Ecuador.

And I am glad I did. It completely changed the way I travel, filled me up with purpose, made me happier and got me out of a rut.


Why volunteer for NGOs during travels?

NGOs or, non-governmental organisations are non-profit organizations that support a special, humanitarian cause. Since they often do not have many funds, they rely on volunteers to help them continue working and reach their goals. Helping out for even a few hours a day can really make a difference and help with their cause. Volunteers bring a lot of positive impact to those in need. What’s more, many people that like to help others report feeling happier and more fulfilled.

There are many reasons why travellers should consider volunteering for NGOs during their trips.

Volunteering is a great way to give back to the community. When we travel and visit these beautiful places, we step across lands that belong to communities. We briefly visit places where people live their whole lives, often for generations. The people that host us are usually very kind and work hard to make our experience in their home countries as good as it can be. This is why it is worth stopping for a while and devoting some time to give back to those communities that host us.

Volunteering for an NGO abroad allows travellers to learn more about the lives and struggles of the local people. This is an important aspect of travelling. Most places that we love to travel to are underdeveloped countries with a lot of inequality and high poverty rates. Usually, people’s lives are of a poorer standard, compared to ours in the Western World. Seeing these contrasting lifestyles evokes feelings of empathy in volunteers, which pushes them to be better travellers. Bringing a positive impact to local communities when they travel in the future.

It is a great cultural exchange for both the traveller and the host. When two people (or more) from different cultures come together they get the chance to exchange stories, ideas, opinions and more. This type of collaboration allows for deeper comprehension of diversity, for both sides. This is great for becoming more open-minded and understanding.

My favourite social project abroad was volunteering with Venezuelan migrants in Colombia who were walking across the entire continent to search of a better life. That’s where I met some of the strongest people that were facing challenges and hardships every day. This really made me appreciate my life back home, as I gained a new level of empathy for other people.

I feel like volunteering with NGOs abroad made me a better traveller and through that, a better person. Dedicating my time to volunteer for local non-profit organisations really added purpose to my travels. I learned that giving back to the community is one of the best ways we can thank these countries and their communities for welcoming us.


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