Women on the Road NEWS #37

Have you been thinking about volunteer work overseas but don't really know where to start?

This is one topic about which there is almost too much information and it's hard to know what to trust and who to listen to.

So if you're thinking of taking your first volunteering steps, I've done a bit of pre-sifting for you to find some of the best resources online, along with some important tips on what you should know before you take the plunge.

Women on the Road NEWS: Contents for Issue #37

How to Find a Volunteer Placement Overseas

Decide what you have to offer
Volunteering is about helping people: you need to match your skills to someone's needs. What can you do that a local person can't? Why should a charity place you rather than giving a needy local person some paying work? Perhaps you have great writing skills, or can teach their administrative staff some English, or are an accounting genius. Finding a way to add value to the work done by community groups can make all the difference between having a superficial visit and making a meaningful contribution.

Set your parameters and fill in the details
Once you've narrowed down what you have to offer, start asking yourself a lot of questions:

  • Who are you? Can you handle rustic discomfort (squat toilets in an outhouse) or are you a city girl accustomed to creature comforts? (don't worry, there's room for both)
  • Where do you want to go?
  • When can you go and what is your time frame - a week, a month, a year?
  • What is your motivation?
  • What kind of an experience do you want - a vacation with a bit of volunteering thrown in, or a full-fledged experience you can really sink your teeth into?
  • Do you need everything to be properly organized in advance, or are you prepared to wing it and come what may?
Answering these questions will help when it comes to choosing your volunteer experience.

Do your research
Now it's time to start narrowing down the organizations with which you might volunteer. There's so much information out there it's hard to know where to begin. You could...

Going independent
Having done your research, you may decide you want to go it alone, without a group or an agency. To do that you'll need some time, not just to organize the trip itself (we know how time-consuming that can be) but to research and contact an appropriate organization. First, tap into your own network. You'd be surprised at the people your friends, teachers, relatives and community groups might know. Then search globally for organizations that take volunteers through such resources as Idealist or ReliefWeb if you're looking for humanitarian (conflict or natural disaster work) rather than development experience. If you already know which country you're going to then just use Google (or any other search engine) to search for 'NGOs in [put name of country here]' and then decide which ones to approach. It's an arduous process but hugely rewarding if you find the right placement.

Volunteer a la carte (as you go)
There's no reason you can't just walk into a charity and find a volunteer placement. Many NGOs are dead broke and will welcome your help - if you have something to offer. And if you speak and write English, that's already helpful. NGOs need support in writing reports, translating them, or submitting funding requests. If you have a business background you could help with accounting or administration. This is where your network of contacts could come in handy. You'll get a vastly different reception if you show up recommended by someone so arm yourself with names before you travel. I know people who have found a placement within a day or two of arriving at their destination, and others who have spend weeks looking. But I don't know anyone who has failed to find a placement (even though obviously this does happen).

Volunteer vacations
If you have little time or inclination to organize your volunteer experience from the ground up, a volunteer vacation might be tempting. You'll have to pay for the privilege - quite a lot in some cases - but they do take care of everything, including where you stay and how you get there. These holidays have pros and cons but many short-term travelers swear by them because they simply don't have the time to organize things themselves. Have a look through some of these (please note that I'm not endorsing any of them but just pointing you towards some of the more popular ones): Responsible Travel, Earthwatch Expeditions, Global Volunteers, iGapYear or Cross-Cultural Solutions to get a feel for what they offer. This blog post gives you an idea of the variety of programs out there, while this one suggests you pay the organization directly and avoid the middleman. If you've found an appealing program, ask to speak to a returning volunteer. An outfit that can't arrange this isn't one I would trust.

A world of warning
Criticism around short-term volunteering is growing, especially about voluntourism or volunteer vacations, where people pay to volunteer. A recent report from South Africa is scathing about unskilled volunteers in orphanages who take jobs from local people and whose departure traumatizes children, and this article warns that children are often bought or kept in poverty to accommodate volunteers whose organizations pay large sums of money to place them. This is the exception rather than the rule, of course, and doesn't mean you shouldn't volunteer - but it does mean you should ask yourself some serious questions before you sign up for a brief, unskilled stint that might be better served by a local hire or might do more harm than good. That's why narrowing down what you have to offer is so important.

Still keen?
You can get so much out of volunteering. Ideally you have skills you can share and time you can spend - this is a winning combination and would provide you the best possible volunteer experience. I spent a bit of time teaching English in a school in Brazil and translating campaign materials for student groups - I loved it and left each experience feeling more serene and useful than when I'd arrived. A friend of mine spent a summer counting sea turtles on an environmental project and still raves about the experience ten years later. So yes, volunteering can be a deeply rewarding experience, both for you and for the organization who needs your skills. Just go into it with your eyes open and read information critically: don't think that cuddling an AIDS orphan for a week will change his life forever, or that helping build a house when there are plenty of able-bodied young men around will transform anyone's existence. As with everything, be a little questioning, choose well, and manage your expectations.

Full of good news for Women on the Road!

Australian Journalist Intern Belinda Merhab recently interviewed me for what I thought was a 'little' newspaper piece... Last month it appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, and this month it's been published in both The Brisbane Times and The Age. Australians rock!

I also received some really nice words from readers this month:

  • Yvette says: "What a fantastic site you've put together. ┬áVery inspirational"
  • Aree calls this site "great information for the woman traveller" - glad you think so, Aree!
  • And Delyse says "Thanks, this is a great website!"

Actually - it's you, the readers, who make the site what it is!

Are you a woman on the road with a travel question?

Are you wondering...
- how safe it is to travel solo?
- the best places to go on your own?
- how much it might cost?
- what to pack?
- how to meet people and ward off loneliness?
- about the most unusual destinations?

Here are some recent questions readers have asked in the past month, and please go ahead and leave a comment on any of the pages - I'd love to hear from you!

If you're a woman on the road - or about to hit the road - and have a question which could be of interest to other readers, post it here and I'll answer it online. Please don't ask me for job leads or recommendations for hotels or restaurants - plenty of sites out there do that far better than I ever could!

If you need to get in touch with me personally for any of the following reasons, please either Reply to this email or use this form (and don't forget to include your email!)
- to exchange links
- to approach me with a proposal
- to comment about the website or this newsletter
- or anything else that might require a personal answer from me.

This could be your New Year's resolution!

If you've been yearning to become a travel writer and simply haven't found the time or energy to put pen to paper, the New Year is around the corner. If you're anything like me, you'll be making some resolutions (going on a diet remains a perennial favorite).

Seriously though, becoming a travel writer is something many travelers wonder about. Wouldn't it be great to keep traveling and have a way to pay for it?

It's actually not that hard! Even if you've never been paid to write a single word, my free travel writing course - The Travel Writing Magician - can help you turn out travel prose like a pro.

Why magician? Because it can teach even the barest of beginners to put together a saleable travel story.

I've paid for my own travel as a writer so I've learned a trick or two about what kind of writing sells and how to make a living at it. To share some of these travel writing tips with you I've developed a free online course called the The Travel Writing Magician, available exclusively to readers of this ezine - and nowhere else.

Just sign up and get it in your mailbox in seven easy daily installments. Work the assignments on your own and see how your writing improves after just one week. You'll never know if there's a travel writer lurking inside you until you try!

How to push your best friend out the door

Do know someone who just keeps talking about travel - but never gets on the plane?

A copy of The Art of Solo Travel: A Girl's Guide, nicely printed and bound, might be just the Christmas present she needs.

Or perhaps it's you, ready in spirit but not quite sure where to start?

This adventurous little book will help you sort things out: The Art of Solo Travel: A Girl's Guide by Stephanie Lee is a feisty, congenial, visual and intelligent e-book that will tell you and your friends everything you need to know about getting out that door. Find out how to save for your trip, break the news to your loved ones, take care of those last-minute jitters, and even how to deal with coming home. It's short, packed with information and to the point - no padding like so many other e-books.

The author, an architect turned travel writer, traveled solo for six months and took plenty of notes along the way. Her advice is eminently sensible, from the obvious - don't walk alone in dark alleys - to using iGoogle for everything from location to translation.

Her central premise? "Embrace your individuality and sense of adventure."

What Were Last Month's 10 Most Visited Pages on www.women-on-the-road.com?

1. Overseas Jobs
2. Travel Packing List
3. Solo Travel
4. Women's Travel Clothing
5. Cheap Ways to Travel
6. International Travel Nursing
7. Stay in a Monastery
8. How to Avoid Crime Abroad
9. Travel Destinations
10.Budget Hostel Accommodation

Travel News from across the Web

Enriching Travel Through Mindfulness
Solo Travel Safety: 20 Common Sense Tips
Travel Perks and Deals Most People Don't Know About
Rare Coincidences are Common on the Road
A Little Awkward: The Best Country in the World
Asking for Directions: The Rule of 3
Why I Struggle with Slow Travel
Travel's Ugly Belly: When Other Travelers Aren't Nice

For food lovers...

Annual Spotlight on the Salon du Chocolat 2010
Red, Hot and Sweet: 10 Ways to Enjoy Hot Chiles in Mexico
Hanoi: Midnight Market Madness
The Food of Croatia
Seven Dishes from Tibet
Street Food in Bamako, Mali
11 Delicious Street Foods From Around the World
Five Ugly Foods You Should Eat

...and lovers of other arts

Seville: The Artistic and Cultural Capital of Southern Spain
Inspiring Designs in the Amsterdam Metro
Art on the Corner at Grand Junction
Good Old Travel Literature Revisited
Athens' New Acropolis Museum
Abu Simbel: The Temple Named for a Boy

Destination Travel

What Awaits You in Antarctica
Avoiding the Crowds in the Forbidden City
Travel Back in Time to San Francisco Before the 1906 Earthquake
Jamaica: Land of Rhum, Reggae and Relaxation
Five Walled Cities in France
Ten Places You Should Not Miss in Ecuador
The Different Personalities of 7 Greek Islands
How to Save Money on a Gondola Ride in Venice
Cairo Fights Harassment Through Maps
A Rare Glimpse at a Different Side of North Korea
5 Things You Must Do in Damascus
Things To Do in Zanzibar
Bolivian Bus Hell: An Illustrated Guide

And finally...

Huge Space Tourism Expansion Just Months Away

Cause of the Month

Human Rights Day: 10 December 2010
Speak Up: Stop Discrimination

The date, 10 December, marks the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 60 years ago.

Each year Human Rights Day reminds us that not everyone is equally fortunate when it comes to rights and freedoms.

This year, Human Rights Day is all about the 'defenders' of human rights, the famous - and not-so-famous - champions who each day put themselves and even their families on the line to prevent discrimination.

These champions speak out against discrimination, but also against oppression, against violence, against exclusion. They demand that perpetrators be punished and that governments be held accountable. They seek justice and protection for victims.

They have earned our admiration and our support because discrimination still happens.

Every single one of us can make a difference. Here's how:

5 Ways to Have a Better Human Rights Day in 2010
Stop the Human Rights Meltdown
Human Rights Watch
Council of Europe Anti-Discrimination Campaign
Against HIV Discrimination
Amnesty International Against Racial Discrimination
UN: Fighting Discrimination Against Indigenous People
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
Disability Rights
Bloggers Unite: Write for Rights

Next Month in Women on the Road NEWS

How to keep in touch with friends and family when you're on the other side of the planet.

(c) 2007-2010, Leyla Giray. All rights reserved. Women on the Road News is published monthly. Reproduction of any material from this newsletter without written permission is prohibited.