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Working & Volunteering Abroad

Independent travel and gap years are undertaken for many different reasons, there is no right or wrong reason to go; some people just go for fun, for others it is to see as much of the world as they can, increasingly independent travellers are also volunteering or working during their time abroad.



One in three ‘gappers’ volunteers or works for part or for all of their trip. The types of activity they engage in can be as different as; teaching English in Tanzania or working with sea turtles in Indonesia; ecological surveying of the Great Barrier Reef or building schools in post-tsunami Sri Lanka; running soccer camps in the USA or working on a farm in the pampas of Argentina.

The reasons why people volunteer vary;


  • The satisfaction of the achievement
  • To give something back to local communities
  • To get to know the society and culture of the country visited and to integrate more easily into it
  • Because a ready-made community of volunteers is available on arrival for you to integrate into
  • The perceived security and safety provided by organised groups, with a support group already in place.


Volunteering can be exceptionally rewarding and an experience which will change your perception of the world. An added advantage is that employers are increasingly looking at time spent volunteering as a significant advantage for job applicants.



Working your way round the world is another popular choice; be it in small bites or as a career development project. Working can not only give you a much better understanding of the society in which you are living, it is also an excellent way to make local friends and provides the funds to continue or extend your travels.

If you’re your plans include work then you need to make sure that you have the appropriate documentation in place before you go. Few countries will allow you to change a tourist visa into a work visa in-country and work visas generally take more time (and money) to apply for.


Certainly travelling around a volunteering project or work assignment can add experiences you might otherwise not enjoy, but you need to do your research, not all projects give back quite as much as you might think.

A report by Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) stated that many 'gap year volunteering organisations' were exploiting both the volunteers they were sending on projects and the local communities they were 'serving'.

Stories of students arriving in remote villages to teach English and being shunned because they were actually taking the job away from a local teacher, or students turning up in orphanages and the management of the orphanage not even being aware the project existed; are surprisingly common.

Some gap year organisations and volunteering projects are run exceptionally well and with very ethical standards, but you have to do your own independent research to find the one that suits you best; this means looking past the glossy brochures and selected testimonials they supply. A good places to start are organisations which accredit and audit these companies and their codes of practice;

One of the main reasons people choose to travel with a gap year or volunteering company is the perceived security they provide, yet a recent report suggested that only 1 in 4 of these companies provide ‘adequate guidance’ prior to travel.

We recently saw a DVD provided by one of the lager volunteering organisations charging over £2500 for a 3 month trip and promising comprehensive security advice. We watched it and were surprised by its simplicity and the inaccuracy of the information provided.

Our Independent Travel Safety & Cultural Awareness Workshop helps fill in the gaps with the skills and knowledge required for those planning to work or volunteer abroad and help them travel more safely after the initial project has been completed.