Doing Good: Volunteering While Traveling

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

~Mahatma Ghandi


Travel is typically thought of as a retreat. A vacation. Something to get away and recharge. Most times we just want to relax, but some have their travels take on a different meaning. Some take time to give back while jetsetting around the globe.

This is an area that I want to dive into in the next year. Going to a less fortunate area and taking some time to expose residents to a different culture while trying to enrich their lives in some way. And, inevitably, when you give back, you get so much more than you give.

Here are some women who share their experiences in volunteering while traveling abroad:

Kiahnna Patton Volunteering While Traveling

Name: Kiahnna Patton

Occupation: Founder & Executive Director of CALE Now!, an organization that grooms kids to become leaders with international mindsets.

You have a nonprofit organization. Does this organization focus on community service abroad? 

My program has three areas of focus at our weekly summer sessions with kids ages 11 to 14.  Those areas are: Cultural Exchange, Personal & Leadership Development, and Social Responsibility.  Throughout the summer we volunteer with various organizations where we do things such as prepare and distribute meals to women’s shelters and veterans, beautify neighborhoods by cleaning up and planting trees, and donate clothing. The point is to get the kids ingrained in the idea that it is important to “Help Others” (one of our 12 Values & Tenets), and to do it in such a way that the receiver maintains his/her dignity.  When we travel abroad, we combine the concepts of Cultural Exchange and Social Responsibility so that we are not only “taking from” to absorb what the country has to offer, but we are giving back. When we travel it is important to continue to live our Values & Tenets, another of which is to “Always think about how you can impact the world in a positive way.”  So we do at least one act of community service while abroad.

How do you choose your volunteer projects and locations?

We work with local people and organizations to choose our projects.  We look for things that require active engagement.

What has been your favorite project to date, and why?

My favorite project was cleaning up the Cabragh Wetlands in Ireland this past summer.  Not only were we able to improve the environment for the animals, but we were able to clear the trails for workers and visitors.  They also let us ride the lawnmower! 🙂  It was a memorable and fun experience.

You take kids on volunteer trips. How do you structure your trips, and what activities do you participate in from a volunteer standpoint? What do you hope to gain by hosting these types of trips?

Volunteering is only one aspect of the trip.  We structure our trips so that the kids get a full cultural experience that connects to the lessons they learn during the eight Saturdays we spend with them before the trip.  For example, they learn about the culture and customs of the country, then we create opportunities for them to participate in events and go to places so that they have those “ah ha” moments.  For Ireland they learned Irish dancing, and then we danced in front of an audience while in Cashel.  They were really impressed with our skills.  And for some of the kids, the act of performing in front of an audience, even in this informal setting, was life-changing.  The kids learned how to hurl, and then we had the honor of practicing with a team at the Holycross/Ballycahill GAA club in Ireland.  They learned about the government and economy and the beautiful castles, then were able to experience all those things up close in the country.  Volunteering is a central focus, and we do much more.  This past summer we cleaned up the wetlands, and next summer we’re hoping to do a little organic farming in Cuba.  What we hope to gain through all of these experiences is a child who has a deeper understanding of herself.  A kid who moves from being unsure about himself to having a sense of self-confidence and acceptance.  We want children to have a better understanding of the world, how they fit into it, and how they have the power to change it.

What tips or insights can you offer those who want to start doing this type of volunteer work in the future?

I would advise others to make connections with people in the country in which they’d like to help.  A friend of a friend of a friend can really make things happen!! It worked amazingly for us.  And I’d say that if you’re doing this work with kids, be sure the project is something they can see the results of, whether the results are immediate, or you make it a point to provide progress reports to them.  They should see the fruits of their labor.  Choose projects that are hands-on and that keep them engaged.



Kristen Kichelle Volunteering While Traveling

Name: Kristen Johnson

Occupation: Educator

What initially inspired you to volunteer while traveling abroad? 

In 2013, I won a $5,000 grant through a great organization called “Fund for Teachers” that allowed me to design my own Professional Development, anywhere in the world.  I was inspired to travel to Ethiopia, because at the time, I had quite a few students who’d recently immigrated to the U.S. from Ethiopia and I wanted to learn more about them, their culture, their language, and how they were educated before coming to the U.S.  I researched a number of organizations and found Love Volunteers, who at the time, had a need for volunteer teachers.  I volunteered for about a month and this experience sparked in me a desire to continue volunteering abroad!

How do you choose your volunteer projects and locations?

For both my volunteer projects in East and West Africa, respectively, I have gone through Love Volunteers.  They are a phenomenal organization with meaningful volunteer projects all over the globe.  They are extremely responsive and they are one of the lower costing volunteer organizations out there (some organization charge in the THOUSANDS, just for you to come and volunteer!)

What has been your favorite project to date, and why? 

Although I loved Teaching in Ethiopia, I have to say, my favorite project was working with babies at the La Pouponniere Dakar orphanage.  Basically, volunteers come in, spend time playing, feeding, and otherwise engaging babies in the orphanage.  It was such a joy to be around all the babies! They were some of the cutest, happiest babies I’ve seen and I can’t wait to go back to Senegal to see them again.

You tend to work with babies and children in your volunteer efforts. Is that by design? What do you hope the kids you work with gain from working with them? 

Well, I’m an Early Childhood Educator by trade.  I’ve taught Preschool through second grade, and I love working with young kids, so I tend to choose volunteer projects that revolve around early childhood education/development.  Really, I don’t go into volunteer projects thinking about what I hope the kids will gain from working with me, but rather, I go into the experience with an open mind and heart and a real desire to connect.  The kids I’ve worked with have taught me so much and I can only hope that my presence in their lives is as meaningful to them as their presence in my life is to me.

What tips or insights can you offer those who want to start doing this type of volunteer work in the future? 

I would highly recommend Love Volunteers. Again, they are an amazing organization with a real heart for kids.  I’d also recommend researching the types of volunteer work you’d like to do and joining groups (like Facebook groups, etc.) so that you can act questions of others who have volunteered where you may want to volunteer in the future.  Also, be clear about the environment in which you will be volunteering; check your intentions and your privileges before you go because you most likely will be volunteering in places and spaces much different than you’re used to, and with far less resources than you’re accustomed to. If you don’t go in with the right mindset, you could potentially be miserable and therefore unable to really connect with the community you’re volunteering in.


Jennifer Turner Volunteering While Traveling

Name: Jennifer Turner

Occupation: Civic Engagement Coordinator at University of Bridgeport

What initially inspired you to volunteer while traveling abroad?

I always try to be of service no matter where I am, both at home and while I am traveling. I believe that volunteering is such a unique way to get to know the people and culture in the area where you are visiting.

How do you choose your volunteer projects and locations?

I typically choose projects that involve lots of direct service as I want as much interaction with the people of the community as possible. I typically do at least one service project when I travel. I research my trip as much as possible to make such the organization where I am volunteering is reputable and having a positive impact in the community.

What has been your favorite project to date, and why?

My favorite project so far as been volunteering at an orphanage in Puerto Rico. The kids were so open with sharing and interacting. In addition to playing with the kids and assisting with homework, I was on a team putting up a new fence around their playground, so I had the opportunity to have fun while gaining so much insight and feeling like my few hours of service really had a meaningful impact.

You take college students on volunteer trips? How do you structure your trips? What do you hope to gain by hosting these types of trips?

Early in September, students apply for these Alternative Spring Break Trips. Being selected to participate is a highly selective process. Students then spend the next several months bonding as a team and working to fundraise the entire cost of this experience. Typically we have 12-15 students participating. For the first time ever we have added a second trip this year and will be doubling the number of students who are able to participate. The actual trip takes place over Spring Break. These students forgo the traditional spring break party experience or going home to see their family to spend the entire week performing direct community service in the communities that we visit. In addition to their daily community service, the group participates in nightly reflection activities to give their service even greater meaning. For me, the best part of these trips is seeing the amount of personal growth in my students. To see how they are able to get out of their comfort zones and have a huge impact not only on the spring break community but our campus and local community once they return is the greatest reward for me.

What tips or insights can you offer those who want to start doing this type of volunteer work in the future?

I would tell anyone to just go for it. Even if you only spend a few hours one day volunteer it will add tremendously to your travels. I would suggest researching the organization you will be doing service with to ensure you are getting the experience you are looking for. As with any volunteer experience I would say be open, be flexible and go with the flow. Many times I do all my research and am told all the specifics of the volunteer project I will working on only to show up the day of and the organizations needs have changed and the new project is completely different. Be open to the experience.


Nicole Brewer Volunteering While Traveling

Name: Nicole Brewer

Occupation: English Lecturer

What initially inspired you to volunteer while traveling abroad?

I’ve been living abroad teaching for years and love to travel. I also love humanitarianism so I decided a couple years back that I would volunteer on my trips as I just wanted to do good and marry my two passions of travel and humanitarianism.

How do you choose your volunteer projects and locations?

I initially put the word out in my social networks inquiring about opportunities to volunteer abroad and if they knew of any reputable NGOs. If that doesn’t work, then I just research on my own terms for the locations that interest me the most to visit.

What has been your favorite project to date, and why? Do you have any upcoming volunteer opportunities you hope to embark on?

My favorite project to date would be when I traveled to Kenya for a volunteering project helping to feed homeless children in Nairobi Kenya with a small startup NGO called StreetLife Care.

What impact have you seen in volunteering abroad? What impact has the volunteering had on you?

I was able to see directly firsthand what volunteering can do in a local community, which is key to me. It was a life-changing experience for me traveling to Kenya and working with the NGO, so much so that I went back to school and got a Master’s degree while studying in Germany, a program in International Humanitarian Action.

What tips or insights can you offer those who want to start doing this type of volunteer work in the future?

I say just go for it. Take the time to do your research and ask questions of travel communities like the one I have iluv2globetrot. There are so many opportunities to do good in the world and now is the time to take action.


Latasha Crawfood Volunteering While Traveling

Name: Latasha S Crawford

Occupation: Program Director

What initially inspired you to volunteer while traveling abroad?

I’m a firm believer that when someone has more than others whether it be time, money, a skill, etc., that person is obligated to give to people who are in need. I guess it all started with me growing up in the not so best of neighborhoods but being fortunate enough to move too a much better one. I still have friends and family in that same neighborhood, so my dad always did community work in our old neighbor despite being miles away. His love for our old community turned into my love for our old community. Luckily, he opened a church in our old community and that’s where I’ve been able to organize numerous projects geared towards the less fortunate families. It just seemed natural to also spread this love all around the country while traveling.

How do you choose your volunteer projects and locations? 

I normally run projects in the South Bronx. South Africa was my first solo international travel and also my first time volunteering outside of my church’s community. I really have been on this journey of being the happiest me I can be and for me, that means giving pieces of my love and self to others, accepting people for who they are and trying to better situations even if it’s for a second. Trying to come full circle with my own journey I felt I needed to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone. I don’t have children and honestly I’ve never been very keen on children.  So volunteering at an orphanage seemed like the perfect place for a challenge.

What has been your favorite project to date, and why?

I volunteered at an orphanage in South Africa called Door of Hope located in Johannesburg. As I said I’ve never been the type to say I love children so I was very nervous and apprehensive. My experience here knocked me out of my comfort zone quick! Instantaneously I fell in love with the babies. Prepared their bottles, fed them, wiped noses, played with snot nosed kids, had food all over me. I’m overly self-conscious and a mega germaphobe but not once did I care about the way I looked, or smelled, or how dirty I was, or had fears of some one else’s germs. I just unknowingly immersed myself in the experience and realized everyone wants and needs love. Writing this I’m tearing up…Me, a person who actually has went as far to say I hate children, loved these strangers instantaneously and could not imagine how a parent could literally throw their babies away. It was heartbreaking but a life changing moment for me with my own family plan.

You tend to work with babies and children in your volunteer efforts. Is that by design? What do you hope the kids you work with gain from working with them?

It’s definitely not by design. Again I had no desire to work with babies/children/kids but I felt I needed to be jolted out of this self hate, germaphobe bubble I live in and through some of the most unexplainable ways I’m getting close to coming out of that bubble. This experience oddly helped do just that. The babies I worked with were very young so I’m pretty sure they won’t remember me particularly but the Door of Hope is a fantastic organization, and I hope these kids gain a sense of how special they are to people. Knowing that people from all walks of life wanted to help by being their caretakers, donating money, toys, time, clothes…all for them! One would expect a parent to love their child naturally with no thought, but I think it’s special to know that people who have no genetic connection with you loves you unconditionally….BY CHOICE! That’s what I think is expressed and I think the kids will hold onto this.

What tips or insights can you offer those who want to start doing this type of volunteer work in the future?

It’s an experience of a lifetime. There’s so much bad in this world, why not devote a small amount of time to plant a seed of goodness? Nothing is too small…nothing. One project for us the volunteers are a couple todays and tomorrows but the impact on the recipient(s) may be there forever.



I am a lawyer. I am a journalist. I am a writer. I am a photographer. And I love to travel.

37 comments on “Doing Good: Volunteering While Traveling”

  1. It is wonderful that you are highlighting all this incredible work. I admire all these women! I spent time volunteering in south Africa thru the YMCA and the babies and children stole my heart! No surprise since I am
    a pediatrician 🙂

  2. Great post. I love traveling for pleasure, but I’ve never thought about going to volunteer. I’m always saying I want to volunteer in my own community, but I usually get so wrapped up in what I’m doing. Your post really got me thinking. I’ve been blessed no it’s time to bless others.

  3. Awesome post! I’ve only volunteered during a trip abroad once, and that was in Guatemala. It was a really fulfilling experience and because of the work we did, a trip I will never forget.


  4. I think volunteering is great but it’s even better when you can do it outside of your country or outside of your normal city or area. When you travel and give your time to others it’s amazing

  5. This is really nice. I never thought about volunteering while traveling. I think it would help to think about how I want to volunteer beforehand and protect time to do it while traveling.

  6. I love this post so much and always look forward to learning about your travel experiences. And you are right, with so much going on in the world, it is important to highlight all of the silver linings.

  7. I enjoyed reading each of their stories. I think it’s great to make volunteering a part of the traveling experience. It seems like it helps take it beyond the tourist lines and really get into the culture of the area.

  8. I love hearing about all the great ways that people are finding to give back. I haven’t done any foreign travel but plan to soon and would love to add a volunteer element when I do.

  9. I love that all of these people have various different walks of life and are passionate about so many different things. That is so neat! I would love to be able to do things like this someday. Very inspirational!

  10. This is a fantastic read. I think it’s so important to give back, and I love that so much of the work that’s been done – even though it isn’t by design – has been to the benefit of children. They’re the future.

  11. I love this interview because volunteering is important and I want my kids to know that you can give back with more than just money. Time to me is more important.

  12. These are some really amazing and inspiring people! I would love to travel sometime and volunteer. We are so lucky and fortunate and there’s so many people we could help!

  13. This was so informative for me. I love volunteering and feel it is important for kids to do and understand. I’ve read about vacations built around volunteer work so it’s great to see an organization exist to give kids this valuable lesson.

  14. My best friend traveled to Haiti a few years ago to help out and I remember she had to take cold showers, etc. Just telling me about her day not complaing. She helped so much it was just beautiful. I hope I can do something like that someday she really inspired me.

  15. This is such an inspiring blog post and message!! The even greater thing than helping people in other countries is teaching your children to care about the world and the people in it. I always thought travel blogs were fascinating but reading about people who are traveling to do good and promote change is really awe inspiring.

  16. This post was truly inspiring. There are not enough people in this world who are as selfless as you. Thank you for writing this post – I think it will be the push many people need to get out there and make a difference. You are changing more lives than you realize.

  17. We always learn and gain rich experience from traveling. I have always thought about doing volunteer tasks or community service in another country and reaching out to other people in the world. Choosing a meaningful project is also important.

  18. We don’t really get to go on vacation or travel often but we do volunteer with our community quite a bit, especially through our local church! I love the message behind this post, it’s truly inspiring! Thank you for sharing all of this with us! 🙂

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