Planning a volunteer holiday can take some time, when it finally comes around you’re excited to get out there and make a difference. Although, there may be a slight worry that what you’ve imagined in your head is too hyped up and reality could never compare.
We have all done it, the vacation which failed to live up to expectations or perhaps it was so sabotaged it turned into the holiday from hell. Learn from my mistakes and avoid doing these thing and self-sabotaging your volunteer project.
Putting Food out for animals Abroad, there tend to be many stray cats and dogs, especially in Muslim countries where they don’t believe in neutering or spaying. No matter how cute they are, resist any urges to feed them or put food out. Feeding strays attracts more strays, it is not uncommon for a volunteer to put leftovers out for one stray and come home the next day to find ten strays on the doorstep. Other volunteers may not have the same love for animals and some may not enjoy coming home to a houseful of strays.
Putting food out for strays may not be as helpful as you think. Animals are smart and remember where they are able to get food from, after you leave a project the strays could begin to starve. It is better not to feed them. If you are particularly upset about the conditions of stray animals abroad, contact a local animal charity to see if they are accepting donations or if they need any help from volunteers.
Not knowing the local laws Before travelling anywhere, be sure to check out the local laws as they may be very different to your home country. Especially laws on alcohol or inappropriate clothing. Without even knowing it, heading out in a strappy top and hot pants you could be breaking the law and even spend a night in jail for ‘indecent exposure’.
Every year tourists are imprisoned in Cambodia because they are unaware of the local laws. Tourists can find themselves in handcuffs because they’re “dancing pornographically”. Be careful what you’re posting on social media abroad, some tourists have been arrested for “distributing porn”, even if everyone in the posts are fully clothed, if the officials believe the positions of the people to be provocative it can still be classed as distributing porn.
Making plans in advance. Normally leaving everything to the last minute can cause travellers to miss out on events or pay extortionate last-minute prices. However, this is not the case whilst volunteering abroad. Plans are always changing; the group could be talking about visiting a nearby town all week and on Saturday the weather is hotter, and everyone decides to go to the beach instead. It can be freeing to wake up on Saturday morning and decide how you want to spend the weekend.
Volunteers joining a volunteer project with pre-arranged plans and weekend tours often find that this is a waste of money. Having to pay to change the date or not going and wasting their money, not wanting to miss out on what the group is doing. Booking tours and events last minute with a local company can save volunteers money compared to booking through a global organisation, who charge more for the exact same trip.
Not taking supplies. Teaching and entertaining a group of local children is scary but it is a whole lot scarier with twenty little eyes looking at you, waiting to see what you have planned with nothing in your back pocket. Not taking supplies is arguably one of the easiest ways to sabotage a volunteer project. Sometimes the coordinator may have some ideas and equipment but often supplies run out quick. It is best to bring a big bag full of supplies for every activity, from teaching gear to arts and crafts and sports equipment. I have found that face paint is super fun, especially amongst the younger children.