Thinking about volunteering abroad? Just like any other kind of international travel, preparing for a volunteer trip requires lots of thought to make sure you are making a difference and getting the most out of your trip.

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Here’s how to get started.

  1. Define your goals and expectations.

First things, first: ask you why you want to volunteer abroad. Volunteers often skip this step in the excitement of getting started. But being clear about what you’re hoping to get out of this from the start is the best way to guarantee a good experience. Think about what your motivations are for volunteering, what kind of work you want to do, and what skills you have to contribute. This will help you find the perfect opportunity that you’re not only passionate about, but well-suited for.

  1. Decide where you want to go.

There’s probably a volunteer project in every country you can think of, so where you go is really up to you. In addition to giving back to a community in need, international volunteering allows you to travel and explore a new country. Do you want to spend your weekends exploring beaches, waterfalls, and volcanoes in Costa Rica? Do you want to experience the world-renowned hospitality and unique culture in Ghana? Figuring this out will help you narrow down the multitude of volunteer opportunities out there.

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  1. Create a budget.

Although it probably seems like it should be free for you to volunteer your precious time sans paycheck, that’s not the case. Most short-term volunteer programs charge a program fee that helps cover your accommodation, food, airport pickup and drop off and more. Program fees vary wildly from affordable organizations like uVolunteer to ones that cost thousands of dollars, like Projects Abroad.

There are also additional costs that you’ll need to cover yourself, such as your plane fare, travel insurance, visas, vaccinations and personal expenses while you’re abroad. If you can’t afford it right now, you can save or fundraiser if you get started early enough.

  1. Vet different organizations.

Now you can start to search for organizations that fit your interests. This is the most time-consuming steps because you have to really do your homework to make sure the organization is legitimate, ethical and safe. Read through everything including their about page, project descriptions, reviews and social media to get a good overview. Once you’ve narrowed down your options, the next step is to reach out directly to each organization you’re considering. Ask questions like what your money pays for, what is expected of volunteers, what kind of training and support they provide, and what a typical day is like. You can find a list of different organization over at GoOverseas

  1. Speak to previous volunteers.

In addition to reading unbiased reviews, ask to speak to people who have participated in the project before. Any legitimate organization should be happy to put you in touch with former volunteers who can tell you more about their experience in their own words. This will give you important insight that you won’t necessarily find on their website and will give you a good feel for what to expect.

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  1. Decide when to go.

While there is technically never a bad time to volunteer, you should give some thought to what will be the right time for you. Flying in the offseason might be more affordable than traveling during peak holiday season, for example. Also take into account how long you’ll need to save or fundraise for, as well as how much time you can commit. Some projects allow you to volunteer for as little as one week, and that’s fine, but you’ll make more of an impact and get more out of the experience if you can spend several weeks or months in the country.

Once you’ve done all this, you should be ready to book your trip and start your volunteer journey. As you can see, it’s not something to do impulsively, but once you’re in your destination volunteering, all the hard work will be worth it.

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This article is written by Jennifer Bannock

Jennifer holds a degree in Media Communication and has several years of industry experience working marketing. Jennifer is an avid volunteer traveler and likes to share her travel experiences. Jennifer has been writing for uVolunteer ever since she volunteered with them in Costa Rica. You can find updates, facts, and everything related to volunteering abroad in her articles.