Why to Consider Volunteering
The possibilities open to the gap year traveller have never been so rich. With more and more people choosing to embark on a break from study or work, the difficulty is not in deciding whether or not a year out is a good idea, but rather what to do with your time and where to spend it.
There is obviously no one right answer to either of these questions, and making these tough but exciting decisions will ultimately come down to your own personal interests. However, one thing is for sure, making the most of a gap year is a must!
One of the most rewarding and productive ways to guarantee your gap year is as life-changing and valuable as possible is to give it some structure. A great way to achieve this is by organising a volunteer placement.
Pursue your passion
We all have our passions, and the vast array of options available for volunteering abroad mean that the chances of you being able to follow your own area of interest are high. Whether you're looking to scuba dive in the tropical waters of a biodiversity hotspot every day, learn how to track the Big 5 in an African game reserve, or perfect your foreign language skills in a bustling city, volunteering can provide you with the means to do what it is that makes you happy.
Really get to know a country
When faced with the opportunity to spend a significant time abroad, it's often tempting to try to cover as much ground as possible, taking in many different countries and cultures and 'ticking them off the list'. However, there is definitely something to be said for really getting to know somewhere properly, and the only way to do this is by spending an extended period of time in one place. A voluntary placement will see you become part of a community or environment, rather than simply passing through it; something that will undoubtedly prove more rewarding and fruitful in the long run both in terms of the experiences you have and the memories created.
Looks great on your CV
In order for your gap year to be worthy of a mention on your CV, you'll need to show that you've achieved something besides getting really good at drinking cocktails on a beach in Vietnam, or hunting down the best local street food in Mexico. Whilst both of these are excellent skills to have, they won't impress potential employers or universities when it comes to choosing you over the next person. A volunteer placement will demonstrate countless valuable assets, however clichéd they may sound. Whether you realise it or not, you'll be improving your ability to work well in a team, increasing your resourcefulness, developing your initiative and adapting to a challenging environment.
Make life-long friends
For the majority of backpackers, meeting new people is one of the most enjoyable and memorable parts of travelling. Doing a voluntary placement clearly by no means guarantees that you'll meet your soul mate or future best man. But when you consider that you are likely to be spending vast amounts of time with people who have chosen the same specific area of work as you, the chances of meeting some great people who share your interests are hugely increased.
Despite championing the benefits of volunteering abroad, I do believe that perfect gap year would also involve some good old-fashioned backpacking. For me, a combination of these two elements is the way forward. That way, you're getting all the benefits outlined above, as well as the chance to just enjoy being completely free for what is perhaps the first time in your life.