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Solo travel done right: how to volunteer abroad on your own

IVHQ - The Solo Traveler's Guide to Volunteering Abroad

Solo travel can be lonely and daunting… but it can also be a rewarding experience of a lifetime if you do it right! While you want the freedom of being able to do what you like, when you like, it’s always good to meet new people and enjoy a bit of company. A great option for those considering solo travel is to volunteer abroad.

Volunteering abroad solo puts you in the heart of the community you’re traveling in. Not only that, you’ll live like the locals, work alongside local people and give back by contributing to valuable projects. You’ll also get to meet like-minded fellow volunteers who share the same passions and interests you do!

Nearly 60% of IVHQ volunteers travel solo, so you know you’ll be in a similar position to others on your program. Volunteering with IVHQ is a safe and easy way to travel abroad, give back to a community and make friends for life. As they say, you may travel alone, but you are never actually alone.

Find your perfect volunteering fit

A good starting point is to find the perfect organization that offers meaningful volunteer projects that are aligned with your skills and passions. Make sure the organization is sustainable, safe and trustworthy. You’ll also want to make sure that you’ll be volunteering alongside passionate and like-minded volunteers.

The good news is IVHQ ticks these boxes and more. With more than 15,000 volunteers each year, you’re sure to meet new friends that you have plenty in common with. Your volunteer experience will be A+ and will use your skills in the most resourceful way through projects within communities that value your support.

We believe you should be able to volunteer wherever in the world you choose to travel, and with more than 50 destinations to choose from, we have most of the globe covered. You can learn more about the IVHQ approach to volunteer travel here.

Research!!

The more info you have, the easier things will be and the more time you will have to enjoy your host country. This is a traveler’s golden rule, and is even more relevant when it comes to solo travel. Google some hotspots before you depart, talk to others who have been there and be sure to learn a couple of common phrases in the local language.

When traveling solo with IVHQ, you have access to a treasure trove of info in the form of your Program Guide, as well as access to your personal Program Manager, who can answer any and all of your questions! And when you’re in-country, the knowledgeable local team will be sure to have the answers to anything you need.

Volunteer in Ecuador with IVHQ
Image: @annasofiepeschardt - Solo IVHQer in Ecuador - via Instagram

Get Social…

Use the magic of social media to connect with other like-minded solo travelers who will be in the area at the same time as you to plan trips or excursions, a dinner at the best local restaurant, or a stroll through the bustling community. IVHQ has a community of more than 80,000 volunteers in the global International Volunteer Facebook group, as well as having Facebook groups for all program destinations.

These groups are ideal places to connect with others who’ve been there and done that so you can ask questions about their experiences. There’s not just Facebook, use the hashtag #IVHQ on Twitter and Instagram to meet other IVHQers and fellow solo travelers and learn more about their volunteering adventures.

Have your first night of accommodation booked

For your own personal stress levels (and those of your mothers), solo travelers should have your first night of accommodation sorted before you arrive in-country. There’s a good chance you will be jet-lagged, so to have a place to dump your luggage and hit the hay as soon as you arrive is borderline genius.

Lucky for you, IVHQ asks that you arrive in-country the day before your program start date and that night of accommodation is included in your program fee. Too easy! And to make it even easier, one of the local team members will collect you from the airport or a designated pick-up point. Mom can rest easy knowing you are safe and sound from the moment you land.

Quiz: Where Should You Travel Solo in 2016? IVHQ

Safety First!

Volunteer safety is paramount to IVHQ and an aspect of our travelers’ experiences that we take extremely seriously. We have systems in place to ensure that our IVHQers are aware of risks and how to manage them and all registered volunteers have access to online pre-departure training, as well as an in-country orientation with our local team. During orientation, you will be briefed on safety measures to adhere by during your stay.

Travel insurance is mandatory when volunteering with IVHQ, so you’ll have a financial safety blanket should anything unexpected happen.

Local staff are available 24/7 to provide support, so you can feel confident you will be well looked after. On top of that, your Program Manager is on hand before, during and even after your trip for anything else you need.

Plan your days

By having a rough idea of where you want to go and what you want to do will ensure that you make the most of your days and aren’t wasting your weekends getting lost or trying to decide where to head first. On an IVHQ volunteer program, you will generally be volunteering from Monday to Friday for three to six hours per day. This means you have time during the week to enjoy the local sights and to plan your weekend adventures. You’ll have all of your volunteer buddies on the same schedule so they can help you plan and join you on your excursions.

You can also enjoy the benefits of solo travel if you like and head out on an adventure by yourself. It means you have no one else to think of, and have the freedom of doing what you want, when you want.

Volunteer Solo with IVHQ - Collage

Know your strengths… and weaknesses

This is an important one, as you want to make sure that you have a good time while on your trip of a lifetime. Over-extending yourself or under-utilizing your skills could end in disappointment, so make sure you are realistic with your own feelings and skill levels. Making sure you are accommodated in a situation that makes you comfortable is a good place to start.

If you’re someone who is social and doesn’t mind your personal bubble being invaded, then a volunteer house would be perfect. If you prefer a more home-like feel, then an immersive homestay will suit you great.

Knowing yourself also comes into play when deciding on a project to participate on. Take into account the skills you value at home. Handy on the tools? Try out Construction and Renovation. Passionate about Teaching English? We have destinations all over the globe where this is available. Even better, you can upskill by completing an online TEFL Course at a discounted rate.

Pack light, essentials only!

As a solo traveler, you might be tempted to over pack. Trust us, you won’t need three hoodies in Thailand, it’s going to be stinking hot! Do some research into the climate and pack accordingly. Leave your hair straighteners at home, you will be seriously having too much fun to worry about hair-frizz. If you’re super worried about it, buy a hat.

One really important thing is to make absolutely sure you have all of your necessary paperwork with you! Make photocopies of your passport, insurance information and travel itinerary and stash them somewhere safe. Even better, take multiple copies and have one on you at all times. This will make your life 100 times easier if something happens to go wrong.

Volunteer in South Africa with IVHQ
Image: @troyvlogsabroad - Solo IVHQer in South Africa - via Instagram

Keep in touch!

Mom and Dad need to hear your voice! You might be having more fun than you thought humanly possible, but we know that your parents do worry a bit when you travel solo, so it pays to keep them in the loop. Technology makes it really easy too - wifi is readily available in most locations in the volunteer accommodation or at nearby cafes, so jump on Facetime and impress your fam with your epic journey.

Do some research on helpful apps that will make your life easier while traveling - WhatsApp for instant messaging through wifi, a language translator and an itinerary app can all make your life a lot easier. Keep a travel journal using a blog - this is an interesting way for your friends and family to keep up to date on your travels without you being bombarded on Facebook!

5 Questions You Need To Ask Before Volunteering Abroad

But let’s face it, solo travel is a myth. Wherever your adventure takes you there will be a ready-made squad waiting for you!

Let’s face it, solo travel is actually a bit of a myth. Wherever your adventure takes you there will be a ready-made squad waiting for you. Check out what it’s actually like to volunteer solo here, or start your journey now by checking out the 50+ destinations waiting for you!

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How to get started

Pick a destination + project and apply for free
Meet your personal volunteer travel expert
Pay the registration fee to secure your place and upgrade your MyIVHQ account
Get ready to volunteer abroad, we’ll support you every step of the way!