8 Great Habits You’ll Find in Successful Volunteers Abroad

8 Great Habits You’ll Find in Successful Volunteers Abroad

Are you planning to volunteer abroad? Are you excited? Are you expecting a great experience? Thousands of volunteers join volunteer abroad and many return home with life changing experiences. Very few ever end up with frustration, feeling of waste of time/money, or having had a bad experience.

There are many things you can do to make your experience great. Successful volunteers need to plan ahead and ensure that they’re taking the best possible steps to an awesome experience

You might be familiar with the common reads like Seven Habits of Highly Effective Travelers, or Seven Unusual but Amazing Places to Volunteer Abroad, but what about before it all? What about before you pack your bags and even before you choose a volunteer abroad opportunity to work with?

It is so important to understand what it takes to be a great volunteer abroad and even more important to know how to act on it! Here are 8 great habits you’ll find in successful volunteers abroad, which I hope you take the time to read over thoroughly and apply to your daily life.  

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Research and Education

If you have heard this before, I’m still going to tell you again.  Research and education is such an important factor to becoming a successful and beneficial volunteer within any organization abroad. If you choose not to research projects and opportunities ahead of time not only may you end up on a project you do not enjoy and in a position where you aren’t able to provide the best service possible.

Have you heard about the mission’s trips that hire volunteers across the globe to come and play with children in less fortunate areas around the world? Have you heard that many of these projects don’t actually do anything good for the community, but instead allow the volunteers to walk away feeling accomplished while heading back home to their white picket fences?

Successful volunteers abroad tend to have a lot of background research on the organizations or topics that they are helping volunteer with. Ensure that you’re always keeping up to date on global news and pick your favorite ways to volunteer.

Some choose to keep it local; in this case you should be always following along with your local newspapers and television channels. Others tend to look toward international experiences and missions trips, these trips require more extensive research and a heavy understand of what is going on in the world around you. Choosing the right organization to volunteer for is the first step and the biggest step.

So what goes into selecting the right opportunity? A successful volunteer abroad is very proactive to do research and educate themselves on all that is to be studied. If you’re in the planning stages of choosing the right volunteer opportunity, consider these factors:

  • Choose a project/country that you are passionate about
  • Do research on the country and culture
  • Educate yourself on what to do and what not to do
  • Take into consideration various safety concerns before you go
  • Do enough research on the organization / project (read reviews, check mission) and select the most affordable for your budget
  • Read reviews and ask for references

Once you have selected the appropriate location and mission, it is still equally as important to stay updated right up until your departure date and even onward during and after the volunteer abroad experience.

Travel with the Right Expectations

While volunteering abroad might include some fun and games, it’s important to stay focus on the task at hand. It is so important to travel with the right expectations so that you are fully prepared and you are well equipped for what is to come.

Volunteering abroad is rewarding work, but it is hard. It is not a fantasy, nor is it a journey where you can immediately make a difference. Do not expect to travel to an undeveloped country and walk home one week later having made a notable difference. Perhaps your volunteer experience will not even change your life. A successful volunteer abroad reads both negative and positive reviews; they understand the possibilities and limitations of a project while also respecting the country and the people. So before you jet off for your volunteer travel experience, ensure that you are keeping yourself up to date with the appropriate education and always be prepared to travel with the right expectations.

If you are willing to travel with the right understanding of what it is a volunteer experience can offer, and you understand the expectations, this will certainly help make your volunteer experience a great one.

Live within Your Means

This is such an important factor to being the best volunteer you can be. If you’re living at home with all these luxury comforts that are unaffordable and have been sitting on your credit card for the entire month, then your willingness to help others is likely to decrease. Ensuring that you are living within your means will make your volunteering abroad experience that much more rewarding.

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Go Above and Beyond to Make a Difference

Sure, sign up for multiple volunteer abroad opportunities, but always give it your best shot. Though these are not paid positions, there are still many people overseeing the operations that may be able to reward you with a more sustainable offer. I’m sure you have heard other authoritative voices before tell you how important it is to go above and beyond, but have you really given it an extra thought?

Think of this for brain food: “successful people don’t just DREAM about extraordinary things. They DO extraordinary things! A vision must be followed by determination, discipline and DOING in order to become a reality. Those who invest much will reap great rewards.” This is a quote coming from Breakthrough Coach, an inspiring website that gives you all the juice you need to get up and go!

Goal Setting and Sight of Main Purpose

Before volunteering abroad for others it is so important that you know how to take care of yourself. It is important to sit down and organize your thoughts, goals and purposes in life. Have you learned this in school, or perhaps through an organization? No matter where you gain this insight, it is such an important part to living a happy and fulfilling life no matter what your dreams may be.

Setting goals is a part of growing up, it is a part of being human and most importantly it is a part of creating who you want to be. The road is not always easy to achieving goals, but when you get there it is rewarding and amazing. So to get you off on the right start, here are a few steps recommended by Action For Happiness, an organization giving all they have to making you happy:

  • Step One: Decide
  • Step Two: Write it Down
  • Step Three: Tell Someone
  • Step Four: Break Your Goal Down
  • Step Five: Plan Your First Step
  • Step Six: Keep Going
  • Step Seven: Celebrate

Give that a try and then come back and let us know how you feel and what it is that you have accomplished today.

High Accountability

The more present you are the more opportunity will come your way. Everyone loves a friend and/or colleague they can count on; this should always play a part in your volunteer abroad experiences as well. Although the popularity of being accountable is the rewards to reap by doing so, it is always going to be a crucial part to any business or volunteer abroad opportunity. Laurence from Projecteze explains that being accountable is the heart of any business. Accountability is the core value that every organization needs in order to become a success. He makes a valid point by stating that “in order for a project to move ahead successfully, each task or action must be assigned so that one person is given ownership of it, along with a target date for completion and the appropriate responsibility, authority and accountability.”

So our advice, do not be that person who slacks off in the volunteer travel group and makes the rest of the group work twice as hard. Work hard, offer your services to the best of your ability and always be accountable for the projects you are delegated.

Accept all Volunteer Opportunities Small and Large

Just because one opportunity is too small does not mean that it won’t reward you like a bigger and/or more international experience. It is important to test the waters with a variety of volunteer abroad opportunities – who knows, you may fall in love with helping out in an area you had never anticipated!

If you think we are full of it and want to hear more, I found an inspiring read from a woman who was at the peak of her life facing some of the worst scenarios she could have possibly imagined. This inspiring woman was able to turn not only her own life but many others lives around through her simple and small volunteer job online at Healthy Minds Canada. What started as a small volunteer opportunity running their social media quickly grew into something she could have never even imagined.

Are You Planning to Volunteer abroad?
Looking for safe, reputed, and affordable volunteer program ?

Patience and Flexibility

After reading the first seven tips, the fact that I am mentioning patience and flexibility shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Volunteering abroad is not all fun and games and it also comes with a lot of planning and a lot of responsibility. A successful volunteer stays positive and energetic throughout the toughest circumstances. You must be able to adjust in any situation and be prepared to experience some of the most life changes moments in your life. Homes and schools across the globe are not always picture perfect. You need to be ready to get muddy, get dirty and integrate yourself into any given community – many might be hit strong in poverty stricken areas. At the end of the day, these experiences should not hinder your life, but remind you that you should always be thankful for the life that you have been provided. Make the best of any volunteer abroad experience by being patient and flexible in many different ways:

  • Understand that not all locations have fresh running water and electricity
  • Be willing to adapt to any situation
  • Be ready to live like the locals live, whether in a king size bed or on the floor in a halfway house
  • Offer support and patience in the planning stages of the volunteer experience, the organization of volunteers can be the hardest part
  • Understand that not all jobs and tasks will be fun, but be willing to help support in any aspect of the volunteer experience

Though I have met many inspiring people throughout my life and very well know that there are millions of inspiring people and beloved volunteers who give their lives to projects and people in need, there is always much more to learn. We would love it if you could help us to add to this post. Do you believe there are other important quality traits or habits that a successful volunteer abroad would possess? If so, what kinds of traits do you believe are important to being the best volunteer you can possibly be?

Leave comments in the section below! If you would prefer to message us independently, our doors are open!

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Henry Affleck


I could relate it to my personal experience of volunteering. Thank you for this amazingly resourceful and well written piece of information

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