Volunteering on Your Gap Year

Give something back on your travels

Volunteering abroad on your gap year is an ideal way to make the most of your time away, to travel and see the world while also giving something back. Many gap year travellers cite the time they spent on their gap year volunteering abroad as the best and most rewarding part of their travels. Gap year volunteering is an opportunity to settle into a local community and help those in need.

There are plenty of gap year volunteer programs out there to suit your skills and interests. You can do anything from teaching English as a foreign language in developing communities, to rehabilitating injured orangutans in Borneo, to helping conservation work in vital ecosystems in Costa Rica. Whatever you choose, volunteering gives you the chance to make a difference to the world, live somewhere incredible overseas, make new friends and memories, and come home with invaluable experience for your CV.

Below are some frequently asked questions about gap year volunteer programs, covering everything from how to choose the right placement to where your money goes.

Our best volunteering experiences right now

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Volunteer in Tanzania

from £2050

28 days

Tanzania

Spend 4, 7 or 10 weeks making a difference in Tanzania with Raleigh International.

Tenerife Marine Conservation

from £350

7 - 70 days

Spain

This project will give you the perfect opportunity to learn about these creatures and gain experience in conservation as your...

Jaguar Conservation in Costa Rica

from £1145

14 days

Costa Rica

Discover the rainforests of Costa Rica and assist in the protection of the elusive and endangered Jaguar.

Tanzania Whale Sharks & Turtles

from £745

7 - 140 days

Tanzania

Come and swim in the crystal clear waters off the coast of Tanzania and see the spectacular wildlife it holds...

Animal Rescue and Conservation

from £780

14 - 84 days

Costa Rica

Volunteer in Costa Rica at an animal rescue center!

Volunteer with Sharks

from £999

7 - 90 days

South Africa

Join marine biologists working closely with sharks, going cage diving with them and conducting valuable research into their behaviour. All...

Marine Conservation, Mozambique

from £1850

14 - 112 days

Mozambique

Live on the beach and join a world-class research team in Southern Mozambique, one of the best diving locations in...

General Team Safari Volunteer

from £170

3 days

Thailand

Help care for our rescue animals

Costa Rica Sloth & Animal Rescue

from £599

14 - 56 days

Costa Rica

Work at a centre dedicated to the care and conservation of some of Costa Rica's most threatened species including sloths,...

Orangutan and Tribes Volunteering

from £1095

13 days

Indonesia

Become immersed in tribal life, whilst working towards the conservation of magnificent orangutans on this volunteer project in the heart...

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Galápagos — Central Islands aboard the Xavier III

from £1929

Encounter the island chain that has enchanted explorers since Darwin first weighed anchor off its shores. Spend four nights exploring...

Southeast Asia on a Shoestring

from £1096

Feast on a Nyonya delicacy in Melaka or delicious street food in Singapore as you hit the highlights of Southeast...

Arnhem Land & Kakadu Adventure

from £660

Head into the heart of the Northern Territory’s rugged Top End on a short but sweet three-day tour.. Learn about...

Greece Real Food Adventure

from £1494

Embark on a foodie adventure from Athens through the Saronic Islands to the olive groves and rugged coastline of the...

Iguassu Falls Independent Adventure – Upgraded

from £399

Experience the stunning beauty and raw power of one of the greatest natural wonders on Earth: Iguassu Falls. Wider than...

Star Spangled Banner

from £1954

Between the pearly whites of LA, glitz of Vegas, stunning streets of San Fran and proverbial bright lights of NYC,...

Cuba Explorer

from £1129

Explore a side of Cuba that few rarely get to experience on this nine-day adventure. Cruise Havana’s history-infused streets in...

Scandinavia Explorer

from £2396

Tour Scandinavia and discover the many charms and delights on this two-week adventure through Norway, Sweden and Finland. Travel through...

Trans-Mongolian Experience

from £2456

Come along on an awe-inspiring adventure traversing three great nations - Russia, Mongolia and China. From the opulence of Moscow...

Beijing to St Petersburg

from £3530

Big, bigger, biggest! Travel from the world’s greatest wall, along the world’s longest railway line, through the world’s largest nation,...

Inspirational articles about volunteering

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How do I choose the right volunteer program?

Gap year volunteer programs are amazing travel experiences, where you will be expected to work hard for the duration of your placement. It’s the only way you can really help! So it’s important to make sure you’re prepared for that, and that you choose a volunteer program that matches your skills and interests to make sure you can see it through to the end. You’ll find ones all over the world, from Kenya to Guatemala to Sri Lanka. If you’re really passionate about helping animals, for example, look into projects where you’ll get to work closely with them.

Always carefully read what a volunteer placement entails and consider both if you can handle the work and if you really have the skills to contribute. Once you have started a placement, finishing early can leave a project shorthanded.

How do I know if a volunteer program is ethical?

With so many volunteering opportunities available, it can be difficult to find the best gap year programs, and to ensure they are ethically run. There are numerous steps you can take to find a responsible volunteering placement. We recommend doing as much research as possible into any organisation, reading their website to find out their goals in local communities, how and where they spend their money, and the type of language and imagery they use to describe themselves. You should be able to ask questions, read testimonials from previous volunteers, and even be put in touch with some if you request. Look at forums and online reviews. Do not be shy to find out as much as possible before you commit to anything.

Why do I have to pay a fee if I'm volunteering?

We appreciate it may seem strange to pay a fee for a place on a volunteering program. This money is usually used to cover expenses for having you on the placement, such as food, transport, and accommodation. It may also go towards other expenses such as equipment and paying local full-time staff. Lastly, many volunteer programs will donate a portion of all their proceeds to investing in the local community, such as businesses, schools, and health care facilities. There may also be other overheads such as admin costs. If you are concerned about how your money is going to be used, this is a fair question to ask any volunteer program.

What is included in a volunteer placement?

This will vary depending on which volunteering program you have chosen. Most will include accommodation, food, and any transport necessary to get to and from work. This means that after paying the initial fee, a volunteering placement can give you a good opportunity to save some money for the next leg of your trip, be that in South East Asia, Africa or South Asia. We recommend reading placement descriptions carefully to see what is included. Any organisation should also make it clear well ahead of time what work you will be expected to do day-to-day so that you can adequately prepare.

How long should I volunteer for?

How long you should spend on any one project will depend on the type of volunteering. As a general rule, the longer the better. If you will be working with young children a good minimum amount of time is two to three months, allowing you to develop a real rapport with them and keep some consistency in their world. Conservation and wildlife programs offer the opportunity to make a difference in a shorter amount of time, as manual labour can sometimes be completed in a few days.

Training may be required once you reach a project, so make sure you factor that into the total time you can dedicate. Have a read of our 5 Signs You Need to Volunteer Abroad if you’re still not sure whether it’s for you.

Do I need any qualifications to volunteer?

Many gap year volunteer programs will not require you to have any prior qualifications, and if necessary many will include on-site training upon arrival. In this way, volunteering placements can be a great way to learn and develop valuable skills while simultaneously putting them to good use.

If you are interested in a teaching volunteer position, you will probably need to hold a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) qualification. These can be attained before travelling via completing a course that usually lasts no longer than a weekend. Achieving this qualification will equip you with the vital skills to ensure you can provide the best possible teaching during your placement.

It’s important that when researching what travel insurance you’ll need that you factor in any volunteering you plan to do.

Can I travel during gap year volunteer programs?

Yes! While most volunteering placements will keep you busy, they will also give you the freedom to travel on your days off. Many volunteers will make friends in the course of their work, and go travelling around the host country together whenever possible. This is a great way to get a complete feel for your chosen destination. Working within a community gives you access to the best local knowledge, and some volunteer programs will even organise trips to top sights or other nearby communities. You also have the option of travelling before and after your placement.

Can I put volunteer work on my CV?

Absolutely! It would be silly not to. If you’ve been travelling and have completed some volunteer work during that time, it will definitely be of interest to any potential employer, even if it isn’t directly related to the job at hand. It shows that your time exploring the world wasn’t just spent playing the acoustic guitar in the hostel common room, demonstrates your willingness to work hard, and heavily suggests that you’re a good person in general. Gap year volunteering can go a long way to make you stand out when applying for jobs or further placements. Don’t be afraid to use it.

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