During the last three months, I have seen, done and experienced an inexpressible number of incredible things. I have been to 16 countries, walked hundreds of kilometres, met a countless number of inspirational people, tried some of the yummiest food and drink that I have ever tasted, and made so many lifelong memories.
After a while however, it is inevitable that you will need a rest and crave something 'meaningful' in your travels. Travelling is an exhausting feat, and spending two or three nights in each place before moving on will bear heavily on your body. You will have never spent so many hours on buses, trains or planes, you will have never met so many people in such a short period of time, and you will have never gotten as little sleep day after day. Similarly, your money position may become somewhat problematic until the point where you are trying to live off $25 - $50 per day. Put simply, backpacking is a challenge. But...
One fantastic way to get some rest and relative stability in your backpacking travels is to volunteer somewhere. There are thousands of volunteer placements available all throughout the world. Opportunities such as hostel placements, farm work, sustainability projects, orphanage assistance, teaching English, spending time with kids, etc. are available.
There are a fair few benefits of spending some time volunteering:
1. You spend little or no money.
Depending on the arrangement, usually a volunteering placement will provide a bed and sometimes food in exchange for a small number of hours work during the day or night. You could ultimately travel for years on end all throughout the world with only transport and sightseeing costs.
2. You gain experience in a variety of different skills.
Imagine travelling the world and at the same time gaining experience in customer service, administration, farming, cleaning, cooking, sustainable development etc. You will astound future employers with not only your growth from travel, but also through your skills gained.
3. You get to be a 'traveller' rather than a 'tourist'.
Two or three nights isn't enough to truly experience the culture of a location. Volunteering definitely will allow you to experience this. "The traveller sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see" - G.K. Chesterton
4. You will meet hundreds of people.
Every day people come and leave. While some may view this as a negative, you should look at this as a positive. A friend once wisely told me that "every single person you meet has something that they can teach you". The opportunities are endless.
So based on the above, I am currently volunteering at a hostel in Plitvice Lakes, Croatia. I have been here for a week so far and it has been fantastic. My 'work' involves cleaning for about 3 hours during the day and at least once a week being a mountaineering guide up the Pljesevica mountain to the Bosnian border. During my time here I hope to see a couple of the beautiful national parks and will be doing a three day hike next week. There is also kayaking/rafting available and also some mountain biking. All in all, the placement seems to be a perfect fit and I will definitely look at volunteering in other places in the future.