Volunteering near and far, sometimes with mud

You can have many reasons to volunteer. Helping others can be very satisfying and you can connect super easy with new people while doing something fun and useful.  Studies even support that volunteering has positive health effects. But the best thing is you can jump into someone else’s job for a bit. I had a swamp monster’s job in August 2011, photographing the MS Mud Run in Liberty State Park. Hiding under the camouflage net in a mud pool I expected the runners with my camera. Surprise!

Volunteering can be muddy

You can find fun volunteer’s opportunities close by in your hometown or in another country far away. Why not becoming a Zookeeper in a Costa Rican Wildlife Rescue Center in the middle of the rain forest? There might be mud involved too though. But no worries, there are a lot of volunteers jobs without mud. Like Helping Kids in school, Clean Water Projects, Rescue Sea Turtles and much more. The Sea Turtle one is hard to get though because everybody loves baby turtles and beach.

The question is, how to do it?

How to find a volunteers job far away?

There are many volunteer agencies out there. They help with finding the right organization in your preferred country. They help with preparation and organization of everything necessary for a successful volunteer’s experience. An application process is usual as well as an administration fee that depends on the length of your stay. Depending on how many volunteers are in the same area the agency might arrange group trips. Some offer a preparation class or language school before the job starts. For travel beginners this is the right way to go. But compare different offers, some agencies are really expensive. Just use google and search for ‘volunteer [add your favorite country here]’.

If you are adventurous or have traveled already on your own, you could as well organize everything yourself and save money. It requires more research as you may need to contact a couple of organization. Find out if you need a visa for this country. For Costa Rica for example unpaid volunteers jobs up to 90 days do not require a visa, neither for US citizens nor German citizens.  You’ll need to find out how to transfer from the airport to the organization. Guide books like lonely planet as well as online forums and blogs of travelers can help with that.

As you do not have the on-going support of an agency, you have to think of things like insurance and possible day trips yourself. Finding organizations that are looking for volunteers is fairly easy through google. When you’re in contact with the organization ask about the best way to get there, where to stay and what to bring. They might also be able to send you links to reports from previous volunteers.

Volunteering can be animalistic

Looking for a place to stay?

Ask the organization you want to work for if they know families that host volunteers. This is a great way to get in contact with locals. You learn about their life and culture, about local food and can make friends easily. And you’ll have the chance to practice the language.
In case the organization can not get you in contact with locals, see if you can find someone via couchsurfing.org.
You’re in a rush and didn’t find a local yet? Maybe you can find a hostel via hostelworld.com to begin with. Once you’ve arrived it is easier to find a place you like. Talk with the hostel owner or the employees and with the organization and your new co-workers.


I think, it is doable without agency and I enjoy the whole research and planing before a lot. What do you think? Did you find a volunteer’s job by contacting the organization directly? Was mud involved?



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