One great method for taking an expenses-paid “mini-retirement”–or adding more time to your travels without adding costs–is to work with an international volunteer organization.
Some volunteer groups charge a participation fee, but there are some that will cover your food, housing–and provide you with good meaningful work–at no cost. I would like to share with you a few stories from friends who have all taken mini-retirements with Hands On Disaster Response, one such group.
A Little Back Story
Breakdowns of any sort can be great experiences: nervous, communication, etc. They allow us to return to center and to refocus on what it is that truly matters. For Tim, it was a one-way ticket to London in June 2004.
My breakdown came just a few months later and took me to Thailand to find anyone or any place I could help recover from the Tsunami that had just destroyed tens of thousands of homes and lives. I had been living in L.A. working as a freelance designer, treading water and occasionally getting mouthfuls of it, and my adventure to Thailand was a conscious decision to give up treading and to dive down deeper to explore just what was around me…
What was meant to be a one-month trip to volunteer and travel turned into 5 months in Southern Thailand and, ultimately, an international relief organization. It is from this organization that the stories come from below:
Michael Babel – Grad. Student, Licensed Massage Therapist, Life Coach
Michael, far right with cast of play he organized in Biloxi, MS.
I first connected with HODR in Biloxi Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. I was originally volunteering with another group but was looking for something more hands-on, and came upon Hands On a few towns away from where I was working. I arrived at 7:30am and was out cutting trees by 8am; it was love at first sight. I just returned from my 4th project with Hands On and, in spite of the disaster it will imply, I look forward to the next time.
Travel a lot of the time has to do with funds, how much money there is available to sustain one’s traveling habit. HODR helps me travel longer with less funds, allowing me to experience so many amazing moments…
In the Philippines “The realization that if we weren’t there, no one else would be.” In Biloxi “The moment when I realized the streets were clean, things were in piles, our efforts were making some difference.” In Bangladesh “Taking a boat 22 hours down a river, being the only white and English-speaking person on that boat, and being dropped off at a dock at the edge of a jungle.” In Peru “The night we went around the campfire and asked where people were from and there were volunteers from over 30 countries present.” In Bangladesh: “I gave a little boy some colored pencils and he burst into tears and hugged my legs.”
Jeff Johns – Student & Photographer
Jeff, crouching center with crew of volunteers in St. Domingo, Philippines.
When I am not chasing HODR around the globe I am a full time Visual Journalism student in Ventura, Calif.
After the Tsunami in 2004, I was looking on the internet for any aid group that was accepting volunteers and that didn’t make it almost impossible to sign up. Hands On was the most impressive and human organization. No applications, no fees, no interviews. Just show up and get to work. It takes a special kind of person to travel to the far ends of the earth to work your butt off with complete strangers, I guess that weeds out the whackjobs. Well, the bad ones… I plan to graduate from Brooks in 2 years and when I do, plan to spend at least the next 5 years disaster hopping with HODR. There is nothing like free life experience!
I arrived in Thailand with a ticket home in 3 weeks. I left 4 months later. I went to Biloxi for just one week. A week after my return home I raised money and roadtripped from L.A. back to Biloxi with my roommate. All other trips I have changed and extended my trips at least by a few hours. With an experience that is human and real, it is almost impossible to tear yourself away, no matter what the living conditions might be or where in the world you are.
The first time, on my first deployment, that I saw a tear on the eye of a woman who just told me we were the answer to her prayers it really hit me. I’m not a religious man, but to realize you might be the answer to someone’s prayers is a powerful thing.
Also, although there is an ever-growing group of volunteers I have worked with before and now consider family, the experience of meeting complete strangers one week and not remembering your life without them a week later is an intense and amazing experience.
While in Bangladesh the bus system shut down for a morning because the driver had been bitten by an unruly passenger. Also, in the Philippines and Bangladesh, taking breaks with sweaty, dirty volunteers to have tea. I mean, there are so many funny and memorable moments with Hands On and there is no way to explain them. They wouldn’t’t seem funny to anyone else. You really have to be there.
Eric Zdenek – World Traveler
Eric, far left with volunteers taking a boat trip on an off day in Thailand.
I make money by helping my bros run a Christmas Light company in LA (Sept thru Jan).
I first got hooked up with HODR when I canceled a 9 month trip to Italy to work with then Hands On Thailand after the Asian Tsunami in 2005.
At the time most of the resources Hands On received went directly to the effort, but for some of the longer term workers, deals were struck for discounted accommodation and meals. In part by being in deserted towns (towns often are after disasters) and by receiving aid from HODR, I was able to comfortably stay in Thailand for just over 4 months.
I have had the opportunity to explore a fair amount of the world considering my slightly unripened age of 25, but nothing I have done or seen even comes close to my experience with the fellow volunteers of HODR. It truly is the most rewarding form of traveling, giving its patrons the opportunity to meet the best of peoples, help others in the worst of times, and leave a village or town better off then when you arrived. I will never forget my time with HODR in Thailand and I look forward to many more opportunities to travel and volunteer with HODR.
Perhaps the single best day of my life occurred while working with HODR on Phi Phi island when a close group of 5 volunteers (Michael, Sunisa, Lizzy) took a day trip to the uninhabited bamboo island for the night. We brought with us some beer, bread, nutella, and a celebration bottle of champagne. Not having enough food for the night, we found dozens of crabs on the beach and chose to grub on them rather than not eat that night. We fell asleep after an amazing sunset and woke up to an even better sunrise. Talk about paradise!
If you can afford the travel costs to a HODR project, then all but beer money or personal expenses are covered. We have had hundreds of volunteers extend their travels aboard because they were able to stay with us for another week or month and not increase their costs dramatically. More information can be found on www.HODR.org.
Benefits of International Volunteering:
- Cut Travel Costs
- Be Immersed in a Different Culture
- Meet Fellow World Travelers
- Challenge Your Mind & Body
Here are several other reputable organizations–some may charge participation fees–that offer international volunteering experiences:
Following the 2005 Burning Man event, several participants headed south into the Hurricane Katrina disaster area to help people rebuild their devastated communities. After several months of working along the Gulf Coast, BWB has set up a project in Pisco, Peru to assist with earthquake relief work.
Nearly 50 years ago, Project HOPE was founded on the willingness of doctors, nurses and other medical volunteers to travel the globe on a floating hospital ship, the SS HOPE, to provide medical care, health education and humanitarian assistance to people in need. While we now operate land-based programs in more than 35 countries, Project HOPE has again returned to sending medical volunteers on board ships around the world to provide medical assistance, long reaching health education programs, vaccinations and humanitarian assistance.
International Relief Teams mobilizes volunteers and distributes medical supplies to support the organization’s four missions: 1) domestic and international disaster relief, 2) medical education and training, 3) surgical and clinical outreach, and 4) public health. Since 1988, IRT has provided more than $5.6 million in volunteer services, and more than $112 million in medicines and supplies to families in desperate need in 42 countries worldwide.
Relief International is a humanitarian non-profit agency that provides emergency relief, rehabilitation, development assistance, and program services to vulnerable communities worldwide. RI is solely dedicated to reducing human suffering and is non-political and non-sectarian in its mission.
About the Guest Author, Darius A Monsef IV
Darius a ultravagabond in training, creative consultant, entrepreneur (COLOURlovers and others) and co-founder of Hands On Disaster Response.