Volunteer your way around the world!
I first came to Ecuador after university in 2010, planning to travel around South America. With a low budget I decided that I would like to spend some time volunteering, mainly to extend the duration of my travels. After a few weeks at a Spanish school in Quito, I found a permaculture community in the mountains to visit. They offered 3 meals a day and a bed in exchange for 5 hours of work. I was planning to stay there for 2 weeks, but 2 weeks became a month, which became 9 months. The community became a home away from home, and somewhere to explore the country from.
At times I felt like I was slaving away for free, I spent a lot of time digging, but all I had to do was look up at the panoramic view of volcanoes to shake of the resentment and feel gratitude for the unique experience I was having. The connections I made whilst living with a group of 20 travellers brought a strong sense of community, of intimacy and a shared purpose, motivated by a reforestation mission rather than a pay check. It felt meaningful.
I have been volunteering since then, at the same project, and at some others in Colombia, Estonia and Denmark. I quickly realised that, as a jack of all trades, a specialised career wasn’t for me. So instead of aiming for a high salary, I instead set my sights on living as cheaply as possible. This mentality has allowed me to continue working for free and has enabled me to choose to do only what I want to, rather than what I’m ordered to. Without a doubt this has changed my life. It has given me a lot of free time to read, cook, exercise, play and add a number of strings to my bow. From building, gardening, plumbing, electrics, managing teams, learning languages, organising events; all whilst exploring interesting corners of the globe.
If I had to do it again, I would have planted more trees, it brings a lot of pleasure returning to a farm to visit 5m tall trees I once planted! I also wish I had kept a more thorough diary, I have a terrible memory.
Volunteer projects can be great places to break bad habits and find a new routine. I went from working in an office and watching TV, to waking up at 6 for morning yoga and cooking breakfast for 20 people. It’s important to find a project with a mission you agree with. Personally, I like to help small permaculture communities, because I believe in experimenting with alternative forms of agriculture, building, and energy systems. But perhaps you would like to work in a school, or an animal sanctuary, or on a boat sailing across the Atlantic.
There are so many life changing experiences out there.