Travel of any kind is amazing. It gives you the opportunity to put your regular life on hold and trying something totally new. When else can you just remove yourself from life’s little stresses, and spend every day seeing fresh, exciting things? Self-sufficiency and appreciation of other cultures are just a couple of the many and important lessons traveling teaches us.
One of the best things about traveling is meeting new people, especially the local communities in the areas you visit. Unfortunately, though, it can be difficult to really connect with them when you travel as a tourist.
Volunteering with an organization like uVolunteer can change this. It adds not only another layer to the normal traveling experience, but it also gives you the chance to integrate into communities, live like a local, and build friendships with people you’d never normally come across.
Learn about other cultures
Spending time around locals exposes you to their culture. You see how they interact with each other, how they spend their free time, and hear they music they love. You also have the opportunity to try authentic local food and even learn the history of the area in which you’re lucky enough to be.
See the sights tourists don’t know about
Blockbuster sights exist in every country. Guidebooks all dish out the same advice, and tourists flock to see them. Most of these places are popular for a reason and definitely worth a visit. But what about the lesser-known places and those that aren’t in the guidebooks?
Getting in with communities gives you priceless insight into the top and often least well-known spots. What viewpoint gets the best sunset? What beach has the perfect surf? These are questions that often can’t be answered by your tour guide or even the mighty knowledge of the Internet.
Learn the language
Have you ever wanted to learn a language? Well, take it from me. While there are lots of steps to learning a language, the absolute most effective way to do it is to put down the books, get out there, and start speaking.
By living in communities full of, say, native Spanish speakers, you’ll be unable to stop yourself from absorbing a lot of the language. Stay for a couple of weeks, and you’ll most likely find yourself having basic conversations. By the time you get home, you’ll be well on your way to speaking another language without even realizing it.
Escape the crowds
Beautiful destinations with lots to see and do are desirable to visit. In time, many great corners of the world become overrun with ugly resorts. The unscrupulous dealings of multinational hotel and tour companies can turn even the most alluring places into commercialized monstrosities.
Choosing a good volunteer project can put you in places that the developers and other tourists have never even heard of, let alone visit.
Be accepted by the community and make new friends
By contributing directly to the community you’re staying in, your presence there will be genuinely appreciated. Locals will be so happy to see you and more accommodating as a result.
Moreover, the relationship is no longer just about money, which it can boil down to in areas popular with tourists. When you spend a lot of time with the communicty, you break through that barrier between tourist and local and reach a level of meaningful bonding that just isn’t possible for most travelers.
Get out there and find out for yourself
Volunteering is about helping people and bringing real change to those or places that need it. But it’s also about what you as a volunteer-traveler get out of it.
The points laid out here only bring across a fraction of the benefits of volunteering. The real way to find out is to see for yourself.
Writer’s bio: Nicoleta Radoi is the resident content blogger for uVolunteer. She’s an avid linguist, speaking fluent English, Chinese, French, Spanish, and native Romanian. She spent a decade working in China in the education sector, as well as collaborating with major international development institutions. Nicoleta is passionate about volunteering, sustainable travel, and has a soft spot for ethnic food. She currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. Connect with her on Instagram – Twitter
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