5 ‘must do’ tips for any volunteering holiday

From working with children on the streets of India’s slums, to teaching English in Cambodia; surveying big cats in Costa Rica or marine conservation in Madagascar, volunteering can make a positive impact around the world. Maria Sowter, of NGO Frontier, looks at the more personal benefits for the volunteer…

1. Learn some of the language

Learning a few phrases in the language of the country you’re about to visit is going to ease your transition into this new culture. It will also give

hanging out with the locals

you a base to build upon during your trip that will help you get the most from your time volunteering: you’ll be communicating better with the people you aim to help. Even learning a small amount of any new language is an accomplishment that will boost your confidence and feelings of personal development in addition to your volunteering project.

2. Get involved and be flexible!

This may sound like an obvious one but always be looking for what could be done. Whether it’s from helping out around the accommodation you’re staying in to going the extra mile on the project, you’ll be more likely to get a feeling of satisfaction from making a tangible difference. Think outside the box! You get out what you put in from a project. Just because you signed up for a medical volunteering project in a rural village, doesn’t mean that you can’t offer your service in the local school if you have the chance. Being flexible like this will ensure you help where it is needed most whilst getting the most from your project.

Host family Fiji3. Make the most of your free time

It would be a mistake to view a volunteering project as a holiday abroad but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy yourself in your spare time. Volunteering is all about experiencing a new culture first hand, so use your free time to travel around the country or to socialise with the locals

4. Eat local food

Getting to know locals is key to understanding a different way of life, and if you want to try out new experiences then food is a great way to start. Eating where and what the locals eat will not only open your eyes but quite literally your mouth to exotic and foreign tastes. Food is often the lynchpin of local customs, celebrations or the day-to-day way of life – you won’t just be filling your stomach, but also making friends and strengthening bonds with communities.

5. Keep a journal

Keeping a journal is a great way to record your time as a volunteer. Reading back over it once you return home will help keep memories all the more vivid, and may help you learn more about yourself as a result of your placement. Keeping track of what you have learnt as a volunteer will also aid you when it comes to updating your CV or LinkedIn profile (which is always good for improving career prospects).

If you’d like to find out more about all of Frontier’s volunteer opportunities you can view all our projects by viewing the website – www.frontier.ac.uk.

Keep updated with project news, photos, videos, and competitions by joining the Frontier community online with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, or Flickr.

About the author: Maria Sowter works for Frontier, an NGO dedicated to safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, and building sustainable livelihoods for marginalised communities in the world’s poorest countries. Check out the wide variety of opportunities to volunteer abroad with Frontier: whether you’re looking for placements involving teaching abroadwildlife conservation volunteering, or simply someadventure travel, Frontier is sure to have something suitable.Visit www.frontier.ac.uk

How to use your travels to boost your career

Jenny Collins, of NGO Frontier, looks at how gaining qualifications during a gap year or sabbatical can give your career a welcome boost.

Gap years and sabbaticals are becoming more and more popular for young and old alike. Many who choose to spend this time volunteering also opt to gain a qualification at the same time. As well as experiencing new cultures and learning a variety of transferrable skills, coming home with a recognised qualification will improve your career and employability regardless of which stage of education or employment you are at, making volunteering abroad an invaluable experience.

teaching during a gap yearThere are various courses you can take depending on your interests and career plans. Aspiring teachers are able to take TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) certificates or BTECs whilst teaching abroad. This normally involves keeping a detailed log book of your experiences whilst carrying out day-to-day volunteering duties.

There are a variety of other BTEC courses – all internationally recognised – that can be completed during a volunteer trip. Normally these involve a minimum stay to ensure you have the time to complete all the necessary work. Again these tend to be assessed through log books and/or presentations with most organisations having staff that will be there to help you with the tasks. The BTECS can come in a range of levels, depending on what you want the qualification for and how much work/time you want to put into it.

If you’re planning to study a conservation or environment focussed course at college or university, taking a BTEC beforehand could improve your chances of getting onto the course at your desired place of study. If you’re doing it afterwards or alongside, it could help you with your job search. Another option is to use a volunteering project to actually complete your university studies by carrying out research for a piece of coursework or even for your dissertation.

Wannabe and beginner divers can benefit from PADI qualifications when they take on a marine conservation projects. These can cover those who have never dived as well as people who already hold provisional qualifications and are looking to expand on them.Doing BTEC in a hammock

BTECs are particularly good for people wanting to officially document what you learn as part of a conservation research project. They’re also great for people wanting to learn more about leading expeditions or becoming field guides. If you’re considering a change of career, a qualification could be a step in the right direction and a useful way to make sure you are making the right decision before you take the leap.

When looking for qualifications, you should consider your reasons for doing so: what do you want to get out of it? Is one in particular is necessary for your future career progression? And importantly, are you are willing to put in the necessary work to make the most of it?

All qualifications gained abroad are particularly beneficial as they are being obtained in real-life situations rather than in a class-room environment – this not only makes the experience more valuable but more enjoyable too.

About the author: Jenny Collins works for Frontier, an NGO dedicated to safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, and building sustainable livelihoods for marginalised communities in the world’s poorest countries. Check out the wide variety of opportunities to volunteer abroad with Frontier: whether you’re looking for placements involving teaching abroad, wildlife conservation volunteering, or simply some adventure travel, Frontier is sure to have something suitable. Visit http://www.frontier.ac.uk

How to choose the perfect volunteering project

Want to volunteer overseas but bamboozled by choice? Maria Sowter of Frontier, an NGO operating conservation and community-based volunteering projects, shares her advice on finding the right volunteering project for you.

Frontier's beach-based projectsVolunteering abroad can be one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences you can have; a brilliant way to experience the world’s rich and varied cultures whilst making a difference where it’s needed most. Planning a trip abroad though can be complicated at the best of times and incorporating a volunteer placement into your travels can sometimes seem like a daunting prospect.

If you’re reading this you’ll know you want something more from your travels than a good photo opportunity and a bar on the beach. You’ll also know that the key to any successful placement is planning and researching to ensure you end up on a project that will keep you interested and motivated throughout. But how do you choose the right volunteering project for you?


What’s your passion?

It may sound simple but choose a project that involves something you’re truly interested in. For instance, if you want to work directly with animals, avoid projects heavily focused on scientific research as you’ll end up spending more of your time with data than with the animals. Volunteering should be treated like a working holiday, you are often performing vital work and many communities and programmes rely on volunteers to survive so it’s necessary to be fully dedicated to your cause. The flipside of your hard work is often the immense satisfaction you get from volunteering; not only do you get to explore your passions but the work you’re contributing is also highly valued.

Do your research

A good way to get the best idea of what a project involves is to read previous volunteer reviews, interviews, or first-hand accounts about their experiences. Review sites and forums (and the recommendations on Goodtrippers – take a look under Good Work) can be a sound way to find this information as they provide a neutral setting for people to express themselves. Reading what other volunteers got up to on the project will usually give you a much better idea of how you’ll be spending your time than any website’s marketing spiel – it can also give you an idea of what you need to pack for your trip.

Solo or group?

Accommodation can be make-or-break for your experience and Scuba-diving on a Frontier projectyou want to make sure that anywhere you stay has the facilities to be comfortable for an extended period of time. If you’re nervous about travelling alone, going on a group project and staying in a camp or hostel accommodation can be a good way to combat any fears. If you’re travelling with an agency they are usually able to provide you with fellow volunteer email addresses or give volunteers the chance to meet on training weekends prior to departure. This can also help you save money by arranging group travel from the airport if transfers are not provided. If you’re less inclined to seek out a social atmosphere, then projects with homestay accommodation can be a good way to improve your language skills and learn more about a country’s culture by staying with a local family.

Time it right

Once you’ve decided on your project, make sure you travel at a time of year appropriate for what you want to do. If you know your happiness hinges upon volunteering in a sunnier climate then don’t visit a country during their monsoon season. If you want to take part in a project that involves working with wildlife, be aware that some species may not be seen in certain areas at specific times of year due to different breeding or migration patterns.

Most of all, remember that a volunteer holiday – alongside providing valuable help – should be fun. Volunteering can be hard work, but working in an area that you have a passion for is unlikely to feel like a chore.

With the right balance of research, planning, and common sense, any time spent volunteering abroad has the potential to be a memorable success for both you and those involved in the project you choose.

Happy volunteering!

About the author: Maria Sowter works for Frontier, an NGO dedicated to safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, and building sustainable livelihoods for marginalised communities in the world’s poorest countries. Check out the wide variety of opportunities to volunteer abroad with Frontier: whether you’re looking for placements involving teaching abroad, wildlife conservation volunteering, or simply some adventure travel, Frontier is sure to have something suitable.Visit www.frontier.ac.uk

Boats, Elephants and Community Work in Kerala, India

Fort Kochi, Kerala, India

Through i to i Volunteering


E: enquiries@i-to-itravel.com / T: +44(0)1892 886123

(Review by Rachel Watson)

[gdl_gallery title=”Kerala” width=”105″ height=”110″ ]

The Boats, Elephants and Community Work two-week tour does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s a jam packed two weeks in South India’s beautiful Kerala, with boat trips, elephant interaction and eight days of community volunteering with delightful children in a special needs school.

You’ll be met at the airport and transferred to the homestay accommodation which will be your base for the two weeks. First up it’s a full orientation and “get to know each other” session with the rest of the group and co-ordinator Rakhi, a local lady who knows everything there is to know about Kerala and will bend over backwards to help you enjoy your time in her home state. Then it’s time to get stuck into the itinerary – starting with a full tour of Fort Kochi, taking in St Francis’ church, the Presidential palace, ornate Jewish synagogue and traditional Chinese fishing nets. The nets are still in full working order, and you can stand by and watch the fishermen at work. If you’re lucky (like I was) they will invite you to lend a hand, and you can help reel in a catch – mine was sent off to market to be sold!

The journey to school is made by bus – it’s a hot and cramped 20 minute trip by bus (a crazy experience not to be missed in India!) then a lovely ten minute stroll along the sea front, past the fishing nets (and once during my stay, a Bollywood film set) and through the front gates to school. The first time you make the journey (and more if you need it) you’ll be accompanied by a member of Rakhi’s team, and introduced to the teachers. The school is based at a convent and run by dedicated, hardworking and loving sisters who will make you feel very welcome at their school, and the children are beautiful – very fun loving, playful and trusting, and willing to work (and play) hard at any games, lessons or songs you introduce.

The weekends are no time for relaxing after a busy time at school – there’s a traditional Kerala arts show to enjoy, and trips to the famous Backwaters, an elephant village and the stunning Arirapally Waterfalls. I was most excited by the elephant trip, as I’ve always loved the majestic animals and was looking forward to getting up close with them. I wasn’t disappointed – invited by the mahouts to help with the bath I waded into the river to help scrub the elephants and was able to chat to the mahouts about their lives, and stroke the animals as much as I liked. We then headed straight off to the awe-inspiring waterfalls – you can get so close to them, and enjoy cooling off in smaller pools as well. Our trip also included lunch at a fantastic restaurant, with an infinity pool and fabulous views – the perfect end to an amazing day.

The trip includes two fantastic backwater cruises. The Kerala Backwaters are one of the natural wonders of the world, and – cruising through the lush green plants and trees, waving at local children running alongside your boat – it’s not hard to see why. Our first day on the Backwaters was spent on two different boats – a larger one with a sun deck for relaxing, and a much smaller boat, which was able to cruise down the smaller, less populated backwaters and take in even more of this gorgeous part of the world.

The second Backwater trip is an overnight stay on a houseboat, and was for me the perfect end to a perfect two weeks. My group – by now firm friends – spent a fantastic night cruising through the riverside villages, exotic birdlife and stunning scenery. We drank, laughed and reminisced about the fantastic, chock full two weeks we’ll remember for a lifetime.

Work: You’ll be spending eight days volunteering in a special needs school run by the sisters of the convent the school is based in. The children age from around 7-years upwards, and there are also adult students who participate in life skills classes and help the nuns with the smaller children. Activities are varied and very much down to the individual – you’ll need to use your initiative and get stuck in, there’s no place for wallflowers so come prepared with ideas for songs, games, lessons and activities you can do with the students. If you’ve got a particular skill or interest, use it!

Accommodation: It’s homestay accommodation here, staying in volunteer quarters of a family home. Rooms are based on twin share, and there’s a western-style toilet and warm water shower. Facilities include a microwave, kettle, toaster, fridge and television, and there’s a hand wash laundry service available for a (very) small fee. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Food: All meals are included and most of them are home cooked by the homestay family’s cook. Meals are amazing – traditional South Indian fare (fish curries are a speciality) but different tastes and requirements can be catered for easily – just ask.

Recommended for… People who want to do and see the best Kerala has to offer in a short period of time, while giving something back with volunteer work alongside the “touristy” activities. Also great for solo travellers, as you’re part of a group of like-minded people.

Be aware that… This is a fully supported trip with a planned itinerary in place for you. I loved that I could leave the organisation to someone else and know everything was planned for me to get the most out of my two weeks’ annual leave – but if you’re the sort of person who prefers more independent, “do it yourself” trips, it may not be to your taste.

Remember too, that if you don’t get stuck in right away at school, you could leave feeling that you’ve not achieved as much as you (or the kids) would like. Preparation is key – hit the ground running with ideas and a plan for what you want to do in your short time (I planned “In The Jungle” and “Under The Sea” arts and crafts projects – one for each week – and also swotted up on the kids in my class by reading through the journal left by previous volunteers).

‘Good’ credentials

  • All the accommodation, food, trips and in country staff are locally sourced – boosting the local economy and providing jobs
  • The children at the school benefit from one-on-one attention from volunteers, and the extra pairs of hands allow the permanent staff more time to concentrate on physiotherapy and speech therapy sessions for children who need them


Date of Visit: January 2011


About the author: Rachel Watson caught the travel bug during her gap year in 2002, and has no plans to stop exploring! She works in Customer Operations and blogs about her travel experiences in her spare time. Visit Rachel’s blog at http://dancing-like-no-ones-watching.blogspot.co.uk/ or follow her on Twitter @RacheyRoo183




[google-map-v3 width=”750″ height=”350″ zoom=”12″ maptype=”roadmap” mapalign=”center” directionhint=”false” language=”default” poweredby=”false” maptypecontrol=”true” pancontrol=”true” zoomcontrol=”true” scalecontrol=”true” streetviewcontrol=”true” scrollwheelcontrol=”false” draggable=”true” tiltfourtyfive=”false” addmarkermashupbubble=”false” addmarkermashupbubble=”false” addmarkerlist=”Fort Kochi, Kerala, India{}animal-shelter-export.png{}Community work in Kerala” bubbleautopan=”true” showbike=”false” showtraffic=”false” showpanoramio=”false”]


Atlas Kasbah Ecolodge, Morocco

Atlas Kasbah Ecolodge

Tighanimine El Baz, BP 5323 QI, Agadir, Morocco

T: +212661488504


(Review by Amal Benaissa)

[gdl_gallery title=”Atlas” width=”122″ height=”115″ ]

Located a few kilometres outside Agadir, Atlas Kasbah Ecolodge appears from a distance perched high on a hill overlooking a beautiful green landscape. Nestled within the Argan Biosphere, it is the first eco lodge in this area of Morocco. The Argan Biosphere is a UNESCO World Heritage site bordered by the High Atlas and the Anti-Atlas Mountains, and open to the Atlantic in the West. Both the hospitality of owners Helene and Hassan and the commitment to sustainability make this place very special.

Accommodation: There are a total of eight rooms and three suites (55 m² in size) that mix Berber and European décor harmoniously. Spacious and clean, each room has an en-suite bathroom (note: there is no TV).

Restaurant: All delicious meals are served in the restaurant of the Atlas Kasbah Ecolodge; the terrace of the restaurant offers breath-taking views of the mountains and adjacent plains. Pre-selected menus offer a sample of Moroccan cuisine; you can also request a vegetarian option. Foodies can take lessons with the chef in the kitchen of the Kasbah. My favourite bit about the food was the traditional Berber bread, made in front you in the outdoor stone oven by a local Berber woman.

Facilities and activities: Guests can also enjoy the swimming pool, massage room and Hammam (Moroccan steam bath). There are many activities on offer upon request (and dependent on the number of participants) including an astronomy night to watch the stars with professors from Agadir, bird watching, native language classes, Moroccan pottery classes, yoga and meditation, hikes, donkey-rides, surf classes, mountain bike rental, day trips and more!

Recommended for… Those who love outdoor activities! While the ecolodge is great for rest and rejuvenation, the range of activities on offer which make the most of the incredible location, are second to none.

Be aware that… The remote location (it’s a 20 minute drive from the city) means there is little or no wifi and weak phone reception (but then isn’t that for the best…?!)

‘Good’ credentials:

  • Atlas Kasbah Ecolodge was granted the prestigious Responsible Tourism Award from the Ministry of Tourism of Morocco and the International Green Key Eco Label from King Mohamed VI Foundation for the Environment
  • Water conservation: the lodge uses mixer taps, double flush toilets, intelligent irrigation for the garden, and uses biodegradeable cleaning and bathroom products
  • Energy conservation: 80% of the electricity and all water heating comes from photovoltaic panels, they use low consumption light bulbs, and maximise the use of natural lighting and ventilation
  • Waste management: observe the 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle), and leftover vegetables are used as animal feed
  • Organic fertiliser is used in the garden where local and endemic plants are grown
  • Emphasis on seasonal produce and local/non-pollutant products
  • The lodge showcases local, traditional architecture with interior and exterior walls made entirely of natural materials (mud brick walls and tradelakt)


About the author:

Amal Benaïssa

Amal Benaissa is a Doctoral Researcher at LSE with an international spirit and a love for discovery

Follow on Amal on Twitter: @EvolvingSun

[google-map-v3 width=”750″ height=”350″ zoom=”12″ maptype=”roadmap” mapalign=”center” directionhint=”false” language=”default” poweredby=”false” maptypecontrol=”true” pancontrol=”true” zoomcontrol=”true” scalecontrol=”true” streetviewcontrol=”true” scrollwheelcontrol=”false” draggable=”true” tiltfourtyfive=”false” addmarkermashupbubble=”false” addmarkermashupbubble=”false” addmarkerlist=”Tighanimine El Baz, BP 5323 QI, Agadir, Morocco{}cabin-2.png{}Atlas Kasbah Ecolodge” bubbleautopan=”true” showbike=”false” showtraffic=”false” showpanoramio=”false”]