So you’ve decided you want to take a gap year but you don’t know what you actually want to do with your time and money. There are so many options and choices you don’t even know where to start looking. I remember being in your exact shoes and I took me weeks to eventually decide what I would do. I basically wanted to do everything. Eventually I ended up trying a fair few options open to those taking a gap year and over a series of posts I’m going to share the reasons you should also do these things on a gap year.
Five Reasons You Should Volunteer on Your Gap Year
I spent 5 weeks on a volunteering program in Port Elizabeth, South Africa and quite frankly it is still one of the best experiences I’ve had travelling. Volunteering was something I did to get over a rough patch in my life, since then it has not only shaped me as a person but it is the reason I fell in love with travel and am currently studying to be a teacher. My volunteering experience was my first ‘proper’ solo travel experience and when I left I could not have been more excited and nervous at the same time, but it was the perfect introduction to travel with organized trips by our volunteer house as well as time to go off on our own adventures.
Make a difference
By being a volunteer no matter whether that is working with children, animals or the environment, the effort you are putting in is making a difference. You are helping to make someone’s life better or an animal grow; because of your time someone else is better off and that is a feeling that you won’t forget in a long time. It is an experience that will give you back as much as you put in to it. The experiences you have making a difference will stay with you for years to come.
Get to know a country and community
Volunteering is very different to going on holiday to a place. You will be immersed into the culture of your chosen country and experience things you wouldn’t get the chance to otherwise. The locals were accepting and welcoming of our charity and all of its volunteers, inviting you in to their homes and communities. We got involved with the community by, playing five a side football once a week, hosting a brai for all those involved with the charity and heading to community parties in their townships. We experienced things you never could as a tourist and they are what make volunteering so special.
Choose a program that gets you out of your comfort zone and challenges you
Travelling is all about pushing yourself and doing new things, volunteering is exactly that. When I flew off to South Africa I could count on one hand the amount of flights I’d taken in my life. I was nervous about the whole thing from flying to having to eat chicken (I had previously been vegetarian for two years). For me it was more the country which took me out of my comfort zone but there are so many programs out there I’m sure you will find something that suitably challenges you. After all the bigger the challenge the bigger the reward will be.
“Do one thing every day that scares you.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt
It is the perfect experience to do alone
When you plan to backpack the world most of us tend to go off in pairs or a group of mates. But what if you don’t have a group of mates to go with, what if none of your friends want to volunteer? That’s okay, this is one adventure pretty much designed for going solo. Often the accommodation is in a volunteer house with like-minded and similarly aged people who just want to make friends and hang out. Even if you aren’t living with other volunteers you are likely to be working with them daily – I made some of the best friends during my volunteer experience. However, it wasn’t just the friends I made with like-minded volunteers it was the friendships I formed with the locals and kids/teenagers at the orphanage I worked at that made the experience what it was.
It will enhance your CV
The key for some people on a gap year is to do something that will enhance your CV. I have since gone on to further a career in childcare and it’s my experience volunteering in an orphanage that allowed me to do so. It also gives me an amazing experience to chat about in interviews, even now when that experience happen over four years ago. The skills I picked up during the five week program allowed me to build experience I would never have gotten by going straight to university and after all that is what taking a gap year is all about.
Even after backpacking some of the most popular routes, I would hands down say that my time volunteering was just as much fun if not better. Although the cost up front is big, this includes accommodation and food for the whole time you are volunteering. So don’t toss the idea aside because it seems expensive or because it doesn’t seem cool or what everyone else is doing. Volunteering on your gap year will give you a completely different travel experience.