Across the world, tourism is on the rise. The ever-increasing spending power and disposable income of populations across the world mean that more people than ever are choosing to explore different parts of the globe.
And who can blame them? Travelling is one of the most eye-opening and important experiences in life, exposing you to new cultures, places, people and things which you would never have the opportunity to see by just staying at home.
The increased footfall of tourists does, however, have some side-effects. One noticeable example of these side-effects is the overcrowding that is increasingly found in popular destinations.
Going to many of the well-known destinations and sights around the world can now feel more like work than pleasure. I don’t know about you, but having to fight my way through crowds of selfie-takers to get a good view of a ‘must-see’ beach in sweltering heat is not my idea of fun.
It’s no surprise then, that many of the more adventurous travellers are now seeking to avoid the crowds and explore roads less travelled.
Fortunately for these people the world is a big place, and there are endless opportunities to find exciting new destination that remain untainted by excessive tourism. These places still retain their authenticism, and can be found all other the world. You just need to do a bit of research and have a willingness to try something a bit different.
In my opinion, one of the best ways to experience lesser-known areas for yourself is to become a volunteer.
Of course, volunteering should always primarily be about helping a worthy cause, but often overlooked benefits are the access it can grant you to new areas, cultures, and experiences, and the opportunity for personal development.
Read on for some of the reasons that volunteering abroad is the new road less travelled.
- Step out of your comfort zone
Deciding to volunteer is a big step for most people. Simply embarking on a foreign holiday or travelling trip can be a big deal when you’re used to home comforts, and volunteering is another step up again in terms of adventure.
Setting off – often alone – with only a backpack in your possession, to a foreign country to live among local people can seem very daunting at first.
But you’ve probably realised by now that in life, you learn more by trying new things and stepping out of your comfort zone than at any other time.
Getting yourself to a place where you feel ready to take the life-changing decision to volunteer in a foreign country is just the first step.
When on a volunteer placement, you will not be staying in luxury four-poster beds, and you might not be able to lounge by a pool all day, but you will quickly realise that these comforts are not necessary to enjoy yourself and be fulfilled.
If you just take the plunge and choose to volunteer, you will undoubtedly build new skills, broaden your mind, and develop as a person far more than if you stayed at home or went on a more traditional vacation.
- Local Living
In many popular areas, local people have become jaded by the endless streams of tourists and are (understandably) accustomed to viewing tourism simply as a money-making opportunity.
This results in a less than authentic experience of local culture. It can be difficult to build any sort of meaningful relationship with a local when they know you have a wallet full of cash and are only passing through for a couple of days.
Volunteering, on the other hand, can afford you an entirely different kind of relationship with local people. If you choose a good volunteer organisation like uVolunteer, you can expect to be spending a lot of time around locals, which can open up a world that is very difficult to find when travelling on the well-trodden path of leisure tourism.
By engaging with local people, you can learn so much about their culture and way of life. You will be able to try real local food, not from restaurants that cater to the narrow palates of foreigners. You will also have a far better chance to learn some of the language, if they speak one different to your own. You will also be able to get some local knowledge and learn about the places tourists don’t even know of.
As a volunteer you are specifically in their country to offer your help, so local people will be far more welcoming than they would be otherwise.
- Meet New Friends
In general, most volunteers travel alone. This might sound like it could be socially isolating, but in fact, it has the opposite effect.
When travelling alone, people are automatically much more motivated to search out new friendships to satisfy their social needs, and volunteering placements are the perfect situation to take advantage of this.
People from all over the world are brought together based on their love of travel, their adventurous spirit, and their desire to contribute to a positive cause. Having so many like-minded people in one place, living and working together, makes it extremely easy to build strong friendships.
Having people to share your exploration of the local culture and region with makes the whole experience that much more fulfilling.
Become a volunteer to explore the road less travelled
Volunteering genuinely opens up your world to so many unique and amazing experiences which simply aren’t possible with traditional travel.
So, if you’re sick of the same old travel formula, if you hate crowds and over-commercialisation of once-untouched destinations, and if you want to make a difference – choose to volunteer.
About the Author
Nicoleta is the resident content blogger for uVolunteer. Nicoleta is an avid linguist, speaks fluent English, Chinese, French, Spanish and native Romanian. She spent a decade working in China in the education sector and working with major international development institutions and currently lives in Vancouver , Canada. She is passionate about volunteering, sustainable travel and has a soft spot for ethnic food.