When you’re planning your volunteer trip to the other side of the world, ask yourself whether you want to travel alone or rally some friends to join you on your adventure. Here are some ideas to think about to help you (and your friends) make up your mind about which option will be best for you.
Traveling with a buddy
This option has plenty of advantages. Humans are such social beasts that we’ll share ANY experience with others – as you’ll know from all the minute details of their lives some people post on Facebook! An important event such as a volunteering trip can be made even more exciting and worthwhile when undertaken with your mates.
- The first and perhaps most obvious advantage is that there’s safety in numbers, especially in a social environment very different to the one you’re used to. You’ll be able to relax and enjoy your experience a bit more if you’re not on your own with strangers, worrying that you stick out like a sore thumb to local “baddies”.
- Splitting costs between two or more people can put less stress on your pocket. You can share accommodation and transport costs, and some airlines offer group discounts on multiple bookings.
- You get to watch each other’s stuff. You can hold each other’s bags so someone has a grip on them at all times when paying for things, or hold public toilet doors closed for each other (toilets in developing countries are sometimes not as private as you might like!), or tag-team when it comes to answering questions from curious locals again and again, or take turns fending off excitable kids who don’t care about your personal space…
- Your travel partner / fellow volunteer can help you make smart decisions, such as reminding you that you don’t really NEED that awesome “antique” you saw on a market, even though it would look fantastic in your living room.
- If you’re a smart traveler, you already know to travel light – but it’s nice to have a fit luggage-buddy who is OK with carrying 2 packs occasionally, so you can stretch a bit and get some fresh air on your shoulders and back. Obviously, you need to do your share of double carrying as well!
- If you’re travelling to the same volunteer project, you have the advantage of already being in a “team”. You’ll be able to emphasize the importance of teamwork and co-operation to others on the project.
- You and your friends / travel partners all have different skills. For example, you might not know a monkey wrench from a flowering shrub, but your friend is Mr Fixit – useful to have on physically-challenging volunteer projects. You might play the harmonica like a 90-year-old Blues legend, so you can fascinate and entertain the locals and your fellow travelers. Everyone brings something different to the table.
- If you have independently-minded friends who don’t mind doing their own thing sometimes, you can alternate between sticking together and having separate experiences, which you can then share with each other – the best of both worlds.
- If you are lifelong friends, you’ll have photos and memories to reminisce over when old age makes travelling only from the comfort of your armchair an attractive proposition.
- Last but not least – you won’t ever be bored or lonely with someone else along for the ride.
The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready (Henry David Thoreau).
- Many volunteers are determined to push themselves out of their comfort zones and take on big challenges. Travelling alone will give you this important opportunity for personal growth and individuality.
- If you’re on your own, you have a great opportunity to make brand new friends. People who travel in pairs or groups already have built-in company, and you might not be “forced” to socialize and perhaps make lifelong relationships with others – fellow volunteers and local people you work with.
- You can do whatever you want, whenever. If you’re the adrenaline-junkie, adventure-loving traveler and all your friends would rather do their extreme sports on Xbox – there’s no-one to hold you back from your bungee-jumping or river-rafting expeditions. If you hate touristy things like shopping – guess what, you don’t have to.
- Everyone on Earth has habits that annoy other people. If your friends snore or talk incessantly or like to stay up late when you’re an early bird; who cares – they’re at home doing those things, and you won’t be forced to tell them off. Friendships can be strained when travelling and living in close quarters!
- You have a great opportunity for cultural immersion with the people of your host country, if you travel as a “lone wolf” volunteer. You won’t be able to fall into your usual comfortable social habits – you’ll have to learn to fit in to your host country and get used to its customs that much faster. This kind of adaptability is a precious and life-changing skill to have.
- You realize you are tougher and more confident than you thought – and this is something that will affect other areas of your life positively. When you’ve been halfway across the world to volunteer in a strange country, that job interview in your hometown doesn’t seem quite so daunting after all…
- People in far-off lands might be more inclined to be friendly to you if you’re on your own. Groups of foreigners might be a bit intimidating to them, and it could be more difficult to get to know people of other cultures.
- You get to enjoy blissful solitude. This can be daunting for some, but a real growth experience for others. You’ll have more chill-time to study, to write in your journal, to reflect on your volunteer experience, to take photos, etc.
- You can make your travel adventures sound even more intrepid and impressive than they were, to make your friends jealous when you get back home!