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Going Solo

One option for volunteering in another country is to go independently, doing the legwork yourself to identify an organization to volunteer with and making all your own plans and arrangements. On the one hand, this is decidedly more work—all the responsibility for making sure things are set up and legitimate is pretty much yours. On the other hand, it can also often be significantly more affordable while giving you more freedom and control over your experience (for more on the pros and cons of going solo or with a program, click here).

Once you've made the decision to head out on your own, consider one of these two paths to volunteering abroad independently:

Path 1: Determine where to volunteer before you leave

Taking this path means you'll be connecting with a foreign nonprofit or faith organization and deciding on your volunteer opportunity before you ever set foot on a plane, train, or bus. This method is especially recommended for those who plan to be in one location for only a short while as it allows you adequate time to do your research in advance.

The pros of this approach? You'll have a clearer idea of where you're going, plenty of time to research and plan specifics, and an established contact on the ground when you arrive—a benefit that, without the umbrella protection and oversight of a volunteer-sending organization, can be invaluable. The downside, though, is that you'll have less flexibility if your travel agenda changes or you decide you'd rather go to a different community. And just as with any volunteer opportunity, while you are by no means locked in to one place or organization (read An International Volunteers' Rights and Responsibilities for more info on this), it's important that you not decide to leave hastily; the organization has likely already invested time and resources into preparing to host you as a volunteer and you could end up leaving them in a lurch, while also potentially setting a negative first impression for future international volunteers.

Path 2: Travel abroad and then find the volunteer position

This path is for the adventurer at heart, the person who likes delving into the unknown and taking a chance. It's also one of the better paths for people who are traveling for a significant period of time and seeking to volunteer here and there depending on where they land (especially those who can afford to spend a good chunk of their time abroad looking for the right volunteer opportunity). The basic premise is this: get there and then decide where to volunteer.

The pros for this path to volunteering abroad independently include the opportunity to get to know the community and local organizations a bit first as well as the chance to gather local perspective and recommendations on where to volunteer. The cons are that you are heading into a new community with no real concrete plans, no on-the-ground contacts, and, without researching in advance, may very well end up in a place where there just aren't things for international volunteers to do, meaning that you may well spend a good amount of time simply finding a place to start. Similarly, you may locate some great organizations only to find that, given the nature of their activities or a lack of advance prep time to host you, opportunities for impromptu volunteers are limited.

Of course, you can also employ a hybrid model of these two paths: combining research—identifying potential organizations to volunteer with both before you leave home as well as via internet cafes while already on the road—with the recommendations of fellow travelers and others you meet along the way.

Whatever your path, you'll want to do at least some initial research in advance to identify where to go as well as what organizations might exist in certain areas. To learn more about beginning your search, click here.