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...

Volunteer in Childcare in Kenya

from £191

7 - 84 days

Kenya

Volunteer on the Childcare volunteer project in Kenya. Located in Nairobi.

Volunteer with Children in Rural Tanzania

from £1295

21 - 180 days

Tanzania

Immerse yourself in Tanzanian life and volunteer at a children's village school in the Karatu Region. This is a fantastic...

Madagascar Marine Conservation

from £895

7 - 140 days

Madagascar

Escape to Madagascar – the magical island which is home to some of the world's most spectacular and least explored...

Living with Lions

from £500

7 - 84 days

South Africa

Work alongside some of the most beautiful animals in South Africa, including the lions, and get to experience an animal...

Medical Assistant in Ghana

from £2500

90 - 360 days

Ghana

Although Ghana is one of Africa’s most stable countries, there are still many children and adults that live in poverty...

Learn, Volunteer and Travel

from £370

7 - 84 days

Thailand

This is a unique and worthwhile opportunity to experience Thai culture and volunteer at a local school providing support to...

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Rio to Salvador

from £1413

Copacabana beach, Christ the Redeemer, Corcovado… Rio de Janiero is a must-see city, there’s no doubt about it. But a...

Cuba Libre

from £628

Walk through the pincushion hills and wander amongst orchids and lush mountain coffee plantations – see another side of the...

Tamang Heritage & Langtang Valley Trek

from £815

Sacred Tibetan culture permeates every inch this expedition, seemingly touching everything in its path… including you. The opening of the...

Colombia’s Caribbean Coast & Lost City

from £1479

Colombia has a certain kind of magic that you won’t find anywhere else in the Caribbean. On this trip, you’ll...

Amboseli Safari Experience

Spot big game on this safari over the open plains of Amboseli National Park, returning in the evenings to the...

Explore Israel & Jordan

from £2799

Step into the ancient world of the Middle East on a two-week journey that combines the highlights of Israel and...

Classic Thailand East Coast (May – Oct)

from £1351

Combining the best of the north and south, this is the definitive Thailand tour. Travel from the clamour of the...

Adriatic Adventure–Dubrovnik to Athens

from £722

You could see Europe the same as everyone else, or you could live it like you mean it. With magnificent...

Inca Heartland

from £1349

Experience the archaeological highlights and the cultural treasures of the Andean highlands, then uncover the secrets of the mysterious Nazca...

Cape Town to the Serengeti

from £2932

Marvel at the world's highest sand dunes, float through the Okavango in a dugout "mokoro" canoe, and meet the San...

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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