INSPIRATION SOUTH AMERICA VOLUNTEERING / CHARITY

HOW VOLUNTEERING ABROAD TURNED ME INTO A SOLO TRAVELER

March 17, 2017
HOW VOLUNTEERING ABROAD TURNED ME INTO A SOLO TRAVELER

A couple of summers ago I came down with a serious case of the travel bug. I wanted to go somewhere far, somewhere exotic. I asked my closest friends and family members if they wanted to join, but I kept getting the same answer, “I can’t afford that right now,” or” I can’t take off of work for that long.” So I decided to go by myself.

I started researching “Solo Female Travel” blogs and “The Safest Places to Travel Solo” articles, but I was still a little hesitant. Then I remembered that my co-worker just got back from volunteering with sea turtles in Costa Rica all summer. Volunteering abroad? Could that be for me?

HOW VOLUNTEERING ABROAD TURNED ME INTO A SOLO TRAVELER

Online, I found a volunteering abroad directory full of trips to just about every country in the world. Many companies required a commitment of at least 2 weeks, which was a little long for me for my first time traveling solo. I continued searching and finally came across a company that had a one-week program volunteering at a zoo in Cusco, Peru. Wait a minute- that’s where Machu Picchu is right? Sign me up! Well, actually, I had to have the whole “You’re going to South America, by yourself?” conversation with my mother first. Then, it was SIGN ME UP!

HOW VOLUNTEERING ABROAD TURNED ME INTO A SOLO TRAVELER

I was in contact with the volunteer company, Maximo Nivel, immediately. They helped guide me through organizing my entire trip. We emailed back and forth about flights, to what to wear, how much cash to bring, if I had any dietary needs, and they even helped me book my trip to Machu Picchu! They had everything covered. It was insanely helpful to have someone guide me through my first international solo trip.

HOW VOLUNTEERING ABROAD TURNED ME INTO A SOLO TRAVELER

Once I got to Cusco, it was a total local’s experience, definitely something true travelers yearn for! I was placed with a host family who cooked traditional, Peruvian meals for breakfast and dinner, in a city central house that was walking distance to everything. It was like I had moved to Cusco permanently and set up a new life. My coordinator showed me how to ride the local bus to and from work, and which buses to take to the surrounding ancient Incan ruins after work. (Yes, there are more than Machu Picchu!).

HOW VOLUNTEERING ABROAD TURNED ME INTO A SOLO TRAVELER

While volunteering, the zookeepers helped me through my broken Spanish, while also teaching me new words on the job, and teaching  me about the rescue and release effort of many of the resident animals. Having my host family, volunteer staff, and co-workers at the zoo was like having an instant Peruvian family. I am forever grateful for them all.

HOW VOLUNTEERING ABROAD TURNED ME INTO A SOLO TRAVELER

Volunteering at the zoo was pretty light work and left me plenty of time to explore Cusco and neighboring towns each day. On my last day of work, the manager at the zoo invited me and another volunteer to a parade in the town’s square with her friends. She treated us to delicious homemade ice cream from a vendor in the stands, while we watched school children preform traditional dances in costume. It was incredible hanging out in the crowd like a local, experiencing a celebration the way native Peruvians do.

HOW VOLUNTEERING ABROAD TURNED ME INTO A SOLO TRAVELER

Traveling solo also provided the perk of letting me decide what I wanted to do, and when I wanted to do it. There was no worrying if my travel companion wanted this or that for lunch, or if they wanted it before or after visiting the cathedral. I just did what I wanted. I could sit and stare at amazing architecture- or adorable baby llamas- as long as I wanted without the fear of boring my other half. It gave me total freedom to explore a new place!

HOW VOLUNTEERING ABROAD TURNED ME INTO A SOLO TRAVELER

Another amazing benefit of traveling solo is the ability to spark up a random in-depth conversation with a total stranger. I’m pretty friendly as it is, but there’s something about being alone and others being more willing to converse with you. Whether they are fellow travelers or locals, the conversations you have go a lot deeper than they would otherwise. And trust me, these are the conversations you want to have- usually turning into worldly, eye opening, enlightening, cultural discussions.

HOW VOLUNTEERING ABROAD TURNED ME INTO A SOLO TRAVELER

I was fortunate to have experienced travel this way, as it deeply allowed me to see the world and new cultures like never before. When I got home, the first thing I did was say “Where to next?” Since, I have traveled to 10 countries, and 15 states, and haven’t slowed down yet!

HOW VOLUNTEERING ABROAD TURNED ME INTO A SOLO TRAVELER

Also, since my solo traveling experience, my friends and family are more excited about traveling and ask to join whenever they discover I’ve booked a new trip. Of course, it’s always nice having someone to talk to (and take pictures of you) on your travels, but occasionally, I keep a trip under wraps until I’m there to experience a new place on my own, like the amazing adventure I had in Peru. It really is a whole different experience when you travel by yourself – just be careful because it’s hard going back.

Have you volunteered abroad or traveled solo? Please share your experience in the comments below!
Read Next – The Best Solo Road Trip Destinations For Female Travellers

By We Are Travel Girls Contributor Nicole Travels of NicoleTravels.com
Connect with Nicole Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

HOW VOLUNTEERING ABROAD TURNED ME INTO A SOLO TRAVELER

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5 Comments

  • Reply taylor March 20, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    hey! i was wondering if you could share the site where you found the volunteering opportunities in every country? was it workaway? i’ll be in bali this july and am looking for the same thing! would love if you could help! thanks so much

    • Reply We Are Travel Girls March 21, 2017 at 12:25 am

      Hi Taylor, thanks for reading and commenting. This article was written by Contributor Nicole and she notes that she use Maximo Nivel – the link is in the third paragraph of the post. Hope that helps! XO, Becky

  • Reply Shenna April 2, 2017 at 2:49 am

    Wow! Volunteering is a very kind act. Not a lot of people will risk goong abroad to volunteer. I was happy reading this and it inspired me to travel also abroad. I am afraid to travel abroad by myself. But this article inspired me. You know when you get to help a lot of people but also helping yourself in a way, helping yourself grow in a way makes it more fulfilling.

    Thank you for this!

    • Reply We Are Travel Girls April 2, 2017 at 12:45 pm

      Thanks for reading and commenting Shenna! It’s so great to hear that you have been inspired by the story on our site – we hope that sharing lots of travellers experiences will help to push people out of their comfort zones when travelling. I hope you are more confident to travel solo, or to go away volunteering having read this story. By the way we will also be doing a WATG Africa Vounteering trip next year, if you are interested go over to http://www.wearetravelgirls.com/travel-with-us/. XO, Becky

  • Reply 12 ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR SOLO TRAVELLERS | We Are Travel Girls May 2, 2017 at 5:31 am

    […] We hope that you found this post helpful in planning your own solo adventures! Please share your own experiences and tips for solo travel with our readers in the comments below. Read Next > How Volunteering Abroad Turned Me Into A Solo Traveler […]

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