In 2014, Ashley and her boyfriend embarked on a couples volunteering trip to Bali with International Volunteer HQ. With a number of IVHQers considering traveling with their plus ones, we decided to pick Ashley’s brains to answer your most frequently asked questions about volunteering abroad as a couple!
If you’re considering volunteering abroad as a duo (be that with your boyfriend, girlfriend, brother, sister or bestie), we’re sure you’ll find Ashely’s interview helpful for your trip planning…
Did you arrange for private accommodation with IVHQ, or did you opt for the shared accommodation? What would you recommend for couples volunteering together?
We originally arranged for the private accommodation, but after spending one night there, we opted to switch to the shared accommodation as we did feel slightly isolated from the rest of the group. If you want to spend the majority of your time together in solitude, go for the private accommodation. However, if you’re hoping to socialize and meet lots of people, the group accommodation might suit you better.
Did you both choose the same project? Or did you split up during the ‘volunteer work day’?
We did both chose the same project - Teaching English - which was very cool because we were able to take on a class of Grade 4 students together. It was an amazing opportunity to build our problem solving skills as a couple and it really tested our ability to work as a team.
Did you join the other volunteers for evenings and weekends out, or prefer to explore the island as a couple?
We did a healthy mix of both. Some evenings, the two of us went out for a nice dinner alone. Other nights, we’d mingle and venture out with the other volunteers. On the weekend, we went on a big group excursion to Mount Batur (highly recommended!) one day, and spent the next day relaxing by the pool together, just the two of us.
Did volunteering as a couple make it easier or harder to meet and mix with the other volunteers?
I would say that it made it slightly harder. I think the other volunteers assumed that we wanted to be alone a lot (which, sometimes, we did) so we felt we really had to put ourselves out there if we wanted to mingle.
What did volunteering as a couple do for your relationship after returning home?
It made us so much stronger. We both learned so much about ourselves - and each other - while volunteering, and while traveling in general. You will be faced with stressful situations and uncomfortable experiences, but you will also make some of the most unbelievable memories of your life while you are volunteering with IVHQ. It’s pretty amazing to share that with someone you love.
Did you work on a solid plan for your volunteer experience before you left, or did you just go with the flow once you got to Bali?
We did a little bit of planning before we left (games to play, things to teach the kids, etc.) before we left, but I would suggest not over-planning too much until you actually get there. Teaching English was highly situational, and we had to adapt at a moment’s notice to the children and what they were in the mood for.
Did you both feel as though you both got to do and see everything that you wanted to, and that traveling and volunteering as a couple didn’t hold you back?
No - but only because I had no idea just how much there was to see in Bali. We wish we had been able to stay for more than just two weeks. In a perfect world, we would have liked to have spent one more week volunteering, and then one more week just traveling around. The Orientation Week was extremely helpful - that allowed us to see and do many things that we otherwise may not have been able to. Make the most of your evenings and weekends, and if your Bali Wish List is long, consider a few extra days of travel after your volunteer experience.
What was the biggest advantage of volunteering and traveling as a couple? What was the biggest disadvantage?
The biggest disadvantage was the challenge of mingling with the other volunteers.
The biggest advantage was the comfort and the support. Knowing that I had someone to talk to when I was frustrated or dealing with culture shock was invaluable. Plus, my boyfriend could deal with all of the big spiders for me. That in itself is reason enough to travel with him again! ;)