So you’ve made some time and you’ve got some money saved up to buy a plane ticket. Congratulations — both are big accomplishments.
Now, it’s time to decided where to go. Decisions, decisions.
You could embark on a debaucherous backpacking trip though Europe, island hop in Southeast Asia, or road trip the American west.
All great options, all worthy of your time and money, and all sure to teach you something valuable along the way.
But allow me to offer a suggestion. A travel experience that I think everyone should have (and specifically guys should have, for the reasons outlined below). I think it’ll offer you the most bang for your buck and provide a lifetime of not only beneficial lessons, but good times too. So what is it?
One Travel Experience That Every Man Should Have: Volunteering abroad
Sorry, did you think I was going to say climbing Mount Everest, spring break in Cabo San Lucas, or riding a motorcycle through South America? I know volunteering abroad might not sound as cool as those examples, but hear me out.
First, When To Do It ?
Before you enter the working world.
While there’s no deadline for volunteer abroad (no one should be dissuaded from volunteering), based on my experience volunteering in Nepal, Kenya and Tanzania when I was 18, I believe the lessons from such an experience are ones you’ll want to learn as early in your life as possible.
But why before you enter the working world as mentioned above? I mean before you have a full-time job that’ll prohibit you from spending long periods of time in far away places.
While your path may lead to a freelance career, work in a time-flexible creative field, or becoming a professional vagabond, the majority of people will end up working a traditional Monday-Friday job. And there’s nothing wrong with that! That Monday-Friday job will still allow you to travel the world and the paycheck will help you afford it — whether it’s 4 days skiing in Colorado with your buddies or 10 days in Europe with someone special.
The one thing your Monday-Friday job likely won’t afford you, however, is 4, 8, 12, 16 or more weeks of vacation time to volunteer abroad.
Why Do It?
1. Lose Your Fear
It’s of the utmost importance that you get out of your comfort zone. I cannot stress this enough. Shock yourself. Feel what it’s like to be uncomfortable, to try and maintain control in an uncontrollable environment, to be scared, lonely, uncertain. Once you feel these things, you’ll know them, and when you know them, you won’t fear them. Volunteering abroad will make you braver, no question about it.
2. Learn To Communicate
Volunteering abroad is the best communication training available on the planet. Traveling anywhere foreign can be a challenge, but volunteering abroad will not only require you work within the cultural and language barriers of your host country, but also with a diverse group of fellow volunteers from all over the world. Not everyone communicates the way you do and you’ll need to learn to get work done in the face of these challenges. Bonus: this is a great talking point for job interviews.
3. Grow Your Heart
Make room in your heart for more than just yourself and the people closest to you. Make room for strangers and try to experience life through their eyes — they won’t be strangers after that. Volunteering abroad will allow you to experience a problem, an issue, a struggle from the ground — not from an elevated position above it. Become aware of what the lives of others are really like, and you’ll become a more caring, compassionate and patient person.
4. Set A Positive Example
You can set an example for your friends, your family or your community. But let’s think further into the future — how about your future children? You will want them to be kind, considerate, generous people who understand the importance of helping their fellow man and of giving back to society. You could preach those things or you could be these things and lead by example. Sharing the stories of how you’ve helped others (and have continued to help others after your time volunteering abroad) will inspire them more than any lecture ever will.
5. Girls Dig It
Alright, this should not be the reason you volunteer abroad, it’s just an added benefit. And it’s simply becasue
girls all people appreciate a well-traveled, interesting man who isn’t fearful of the world around him or getting a little dirty — a man who knows how to stay calm and handle challenging or unfamiliar situations, who is able to communicate, who has a big heart and shows he’s willing to give his time to help others — a man who leads by example. Volunteering abroad allows you to be better at all of these things.
How To Do It
When I volunteered abroad, I was 18 and decided to postpone going to college and volunteer during the time that would have been my first semester (and by taking a few extra courses during one summer, I was able to graduate on time in 3.5 years). Consider volunteering abroad the summer after you graduate high school, postponing college for a few months or right after you graduate from college. But remember, there are no rules about when you should or shouldn’t volunteer. If you’re considering a career break, are in between careers or have the freedom of a flexible work life, you should also consider volunteering abroad.
There are a variety of organizations that provide volunteering abroad opportunities to chose from, but I choose Global Volunteer Network (GVN). GVN is a New Zealand-based organization that partners with small NGO’s around the world to provide support services and connect them with volunteers. In the time since I volunteered through GVN, they have been recommended by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as CNN (find more volunteer resources on the Gates Foundation website here).
It’s important to know that almost all volunteering abroad programs aren’t free. You’ll be expected to pay for your airfare, personal expenses (such as meals outside of your home stay) and a program fee. This program fee, in addition to helping cover organizational expenses, makes it possible for the NGO’s you’re working with to provide work and basic language training and structure and support during your stay in the country. You can read more about why these programs cost money in the article and video here.