“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Everyone has heard the reason – I’m traveling to find myself. A great place to look is through providing service while traveling, because it combines the thrill of exploring the unknown with the fulfillment of helping those in need.
Initially, the idea of volunteering abroad might be intimidating. But consider the benefits. You are literally broadening your horizons, seeing new places but connecting in an intimate and personal way that can never be matched by mere touring. You are immersed in local culture in a way that normal tourists can never hope to experience. With volunteering, unlike a monetary donation, you know firsthand how your contribution is being applied. And just by telling your story to others when you arrive home after your excursion, you’re helping to bridge the divide in understanding that can exist.
And you can do it without going overseas. AmeriCorps says “AmeriCorps is your moment to take the path less traveled, to break the status quo, to stop talking about the problem and be the solution.” AmeriCorps State and National has programs as short as 3 months. Projects include disaster services, environmental impact, and veterans and military families.
The Peace Corps isn’t just for recent college graduates. “Retired Americans can use the life skills and professional experience they gained during their careers to make a lasting impact in communities around the world,” says Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen. About 6% of Peace Corps volunteers are over 50. The oldest is 93, working in Malawi. housing is paid for and volunteers get enough of a stipend that they don’t have to dip into savings set aside for retirement. Approach with an open mind, because the Peace Corps isn’t for everyone. Living is rougher than American standards and there is a significant time commitment.
Fortunately, there are many opportunities for travel and service that are much shorter and a more comfortable.
- Discover Corps is an organization that combines vacations abroad with service. Trips target Wildlife & Nature, Festivals, Cultural Explorations, and Custom Travel to places like Hawaii, the Galapagos Islands, and Thailand.
- Build Abroad is like a global Habitat for Humanity. Volunteers construct homes, schools, or better infrastructure in places like Nepal, and Costa Rica.
- GVI is an organization committed to providing high-quality and sustainable experiential and development programs in 13 countries around the world. Volunteers travel to places like Ghans, Laos, Fiji, and Greece to work with children, marine life, or in public health.
- Go Overseas is a website that acts as a clearing house for global volunteer programs. They have projects in countries like South Africa, India, and Brazil.
- Global Volunteers is the highest rated volunteer abroad program since 1984. They have a multitude of service projects, including computer literacy, gardening, nutrition and teaching. Their programs are all over the world as well – 13 counties including China, the Cook Islands, Poland, Cuba, Vietnam, Tanzania, and St. Lucia.
Travel volunteerism is a commitment of both time and money. Be prepared to be away from home for weeks at a time and to pay a four or sometimes low five figure amount. And since these programs are addictive, with many people pursing several trips a year, the cost adds up. But it is a cost that is more than worth it. So use SmartRE to fund your adventures. With only a low, one-time fee, you can free cash locked in your growing home equity and put it to use for you and the world.