Ask someone why they aren’t volunteering abroad or travelling the world right now and more often than not the answer will be: money! But that doesn’t have to be the case - you can volunteer abroad for really cheap! It’s actually the cheapest way to travel the world and is perfect for those looking for affordable world travel options. With a little know-how and planning, you’ll soon be exploring in a new country and experiencing authentic culture and cuisine, as you give back on a community-driven project.
To make travelling with meaning a reality, you need to figure out how to volunteer abroad for cheap. Here are the top things you need to consider when looking for cheap ways to volunteer abroad:
- Volunteer Provider
- Spending Money
Step One: Figure Out Your Budget
This is your point A to B equation. You can’t get to where you want to be without some sort of plan, and when it comes to volunteering abroad, your budget is your starting point. What may seem inexpensive to one person, may seem expensive to another, so it’s important to keep your own personal financial situation in mind. To provide you with an idea of what you can afford and how long you will have to save for, ask yourself:
- Do I have any savings?
- How much am I earning yearly?
- Will anyone be providing me with financial assistance?
- Where can I cut back on my spending?
- How much can I save each week?
If saving enough money to volunteer abroad is your priority, then what’s stopping you from achieving it? Figure out where your money is going by logging your expenses for a week, month, or if you really like spreadsheets then do an audit of the last year. You’ll quickly realise that those coffees are adding up and that by cutting your two-a-day habit you’ll be able to pay for your flights to somewhere like Guatemala, where you can enjoy a fresh brew from the coffee farm you’re volunteering on as part of the Eco-Agriculture Conservation project! Yes, it’s time to get real with your budget.
To do this, you will need to understand how much it costs to volunteer abroad. Consider the costs of your chosen volunteer program, flights to the destination, travel insurance, vaccinations, visas, getting a background check and spending money. These factors will give you a ballpark figure to work towards and you can adjust your savings goal.
If you’re well aware of the costs then you may need to consider our cheap volunteer abroad programs to help you find the destination for your budget.
Step Two: Choose an affordable volunteer travel provider
Volunteering abroad is one of the most affordable ways to travel because it includes accommodation, meals and support while you’re abroad. This makes budgeting easier as you are working with a fixed price. Volunteer programs also put money into the local economy, connect you with local people and give you an authentic insight into the culture and community. It’s a powerful experience that has a lot more meaning than the traditional resort holiday, and it comes without the hefty price tag.
While choosing an affordable volunteer travel provider may seem like a no-brainer, you’ll find no shortage of organisations out there charging thousands of dollars to participate in volunteer abroad programs, leaving you wondering where your money went. In fact, the lack of affordable international volunteer opportunities is what motivated our founder Dan Radcliffe to establish IVHQ in 2007. With programs starting from $180 for one week, IVHQ programs are some of the most affordable you’ll find!
If you’re looking for cheap volunteer projects abroad, that allow you the opportunity to contribute to important development projects alongside locals and like-minded international volunteers, you’ve found yourself the affordable and most trustworthy volunteer travel provider right here. Find out how IVHQ’s transparent fee structure allows you to volunteer abroad on the cheap.
Step Three: Choose your destination wisely
You don’t need a Ph.D in economics to realise the cost of living in some countries is more expensive than others and some will stretch your dollar further than you could imagine.
Take this example: US$1 = 153 Sri Lankan rupees. A bottle of water costs 49 rupees, so it’s super cheap once you arrive in Sri Lanka. But before you go counting all those rupees, this will be offset by the cost of the flight to your destination. Which takes us back to that budget you would have started…you want to select a destination that isn’t really expensive to get to and also enables you to have good value for your dollar in-country.
Typically, travelling to countries in Asia, South America, Central America and Africa will be more affordable. It also means the cost of living, and therefore the volunteer program fee, will be cheaper.
The top 5 IVHQ programs with the lowest fees are:
- Peru - Lima: $180 for one week
- Nepal: $250 for one week
- India - Delhi: $250 for one week
- South Africa: $250 for one week
- Laos: $260 for one week
Want to see more options? Explore more of IVHQ’s most affordable volunteer programs here.
Once you have your budget, destination and volunteer program aligned, it’s time to start doing the fun stuff! Apply for your chosen program. It’s free to apply and doesn’t commit you to a program, but allows you to check if there’s space available at the time you wish to volunteer. It also allows you to lock in a countdown for your budget. Then once you’re ready to commit and have the funds, you can register and secure your spot.
Step Four: Book those flights and fly off-peak
The cost of flights is generally the biggest expense that comes with booking a volunteer trip. This means that booking the right flights presents a big opportunity for big savings. If you have a volunteering destination locked in, you’re in a good position to score the cheapest set of flights.
Fly off-peak: Once you have an idea of where in the world you want to volunteer, you can start researching the cheapest times of the year to travel there. By travelling outside of the peak tourist season, you can secure the best bargains on flights - it also means you’ll be treated to shorter queues in airports and popular tourists spots. As an added bonus, accommodation and activities for your weekend adventures can often be discounted too!
Deals, deals, deals: Sign up to airline and flight provider newsletters, so you are in the loop when sales go live! If you have a credit card, consider switching to one that allows you to collect frequent flyer points with your preferred airline. Make sure you use it to book your flights, this way you’re securing your trip and getting points towards your next flight. Win, win!
Flight search engines: These are your new best friend. Use a flight search engine like Kayak, or Google Flights to determine which destination is the cheapest for you to travel to. If you have already chosen a destination, then you can set up an alert on these sites to track price changes and receive price alerts straight to your inbox so you can act quickly and secure the cheapest airfare.
If you aren’t sure where you want to volunteer yet? Take this ‘Where should I volunteer abroad’ quiz to help you in selecting a volunteering destination that’s right for you.
FYI: If you’re Bali-bound, July and August are usually the busiest periods with families vacationing during school holidays, and the same goes for the Christmas and New Year period. This means some of the best flight deals can be snapped up between March and October. For those heading to volunteer in Italy, the peak season is May, June, September and October, so those of us on a budget can plan accordingly. On the other hand, if you’re flexible with your destination but have a set period when you can travel (i.e. school break or vacation time), shortlist a few favourite destinations.
TIPS FOR BOOKING FLIGHTS:
- Opt for stop-overs - consider a flight route with stop-overs, as this can often get you from A to B significantly cheaper than the direct routes. Conveniently, flight search engines like Skyscanner allow you to search for indirect routes, or you can discuss your indirect options with your travel agent. Having a few hours to kill between flights isn’t always a bad thing either!
- Mix and match your flights - take advantage of tools which allow you to mix and match your airlines to find the cheapest tickets for the times that suit you best.
- Consider flying out of a different airport - closest doesn’t always mean cheapest. Branch out and check the cost of flying out of an airport that isn’t the closest to home, as sometimes these routes can be cheaper, even when you factor in the added cost of getting to this airport.
- Buy tickets on Tuesday and Wednesdays - those in the know say that mid-week is more often than not the cheapest time of the week to purchase flight tickets.
- Go incognito - you know how when you search for a flight, and re-search the same flight a few days later the cost can suddenly spike? To avoid price hikes and sites tracking your search history, use a private window in your browser to search undetected (or “incognito” in Google-speak). When browsing on Google Chrome, click the Chrome menu icon at the top right-hand corner of your browser and select New Incognito Window.
- Weigh your luggage before you go - spare yourself the hefty costs of overweight baggage and stick to your limits by making the most of your carry-on allowance.
- Bring your own - if you’re bargain hunting with flights, you may find yourself on a flight lacking in complementary refreshments and entertainment. To dodge pricey snacks and entertainment devices on board, come prepared with some sustenance to survive the trip and your fav Netflix shows downloaded and ready to go! Light meals (sandwiches, sushi or salads), a mobile/tablet (don’t forget headphones) or a good book are trusty go-tos for no-frills flights.
Step Five: Use a budgeting app
Once you have your program set and your flight costs confirmed, you can take advantage of the free budgeting apps available to get your savings on track. Mobile apps like Daily Budget Original will build you a daily budget based on your income and fixed costs. The bonus for international volunteers is that you can create goals to save for your volunteer trip, and the money you need to save will be automatically deducted from your budget each day.
Step Six: Spending Money
Once you’ve taken care of the essential costs (secured your place on a volunteer program, booked flights and insurance), it’s time to start locking in a plan for your spending money. With your daily meals and accommodation taken care of as part of your program fee, you just need to factor in how much you want to set aside for weekend adventures and additional travel expenses.
To make sure you don’t blow the budget when you touch down and start exploring, consider these tips:
- Do your research on must-see tourist sights. Sometimes you’ll need to book in advance, due to popularity or entry restrictions.
- If you can, see if there is a way to do it independently. If you can, 99 times out of a hundred, this will be the cheapest way to do it.
- See if there is a group discount. Another bonus to volunteer trips is that even if you are travelling solo, you can band together with your fellow volunteers and secure the most affordable price.
- Wait until you arrive in your destination and talk with the local team about affordable options for sightseeing. Often the price you get when you are in the country is cheaper than anything you’ll find online.
- Find out if your volunteer program orientation includes any city tours, that’s a saving right there!
Step Seven: Boost your savings
Despite doing our utmost to make our volunteer programs affordable, we realize that the total cost to volunteer abroad can still add up once you consider fees, flights, travel insurance, vaccinations and visas. One of the easiest ways to get the financial boost you need to turn your trip into a reality is to start an online fundraising campaign.
The crowdfunding website Go Get Funding is a popular platform used by IVHQers to achieve their fundraising goals. Go Get Funding allows you to create a personal fundraising page and share your mission with friends and family to support you - it’s that simple! Offering incentives or tokens of appreciation are effective in supporting these types of campaigns too.
Here’s some fundraising advice previous volunteers have utilised to successfully raise funds to support their volunteer trips:
- Online crowdfunding
- Sponsored physical challenges
- Fundraising parties
- Quiz nights
- Garage sales
- Donations in lieu of presents
- The 52 week savings challenge
Or see these volunteer fundraising tips for further inspiration.
Now, it’s just up to you to follow these how to volunteer abroad on the cheap steps and make travelling a reality.