I mean don’t get me wrong – all inclusive style holidays serve their purpose and all of us started off our travels with them.

So in a way, we have them to thank for softly introducing us to different cultures and cuisines from different parts of the world. But is that really it? Sitting on a beach all day being catered to by the locals who work tirelessly while making a fraction of your salary? Hmmm, my thoughts exactly…

Most of my overseas travels have left me feeling a little empty and unfulfilled. I mean after seeing everything there is to see, eating everything there is to eat and laying on the beach for extended periods of time, I felt something was missing.

How was I contributing to this country? What was I offering them besides consuming their products and services? This wasn’t my idea of travel.

Going from country to country just consuming like everyone else. I knew I wanted a different experience. I wanted to give something back. We’re so focused on taking in our lives that we forget we’re supposed to give and take. Giving with all of our hearts without any expectation. This is where the magic happens.

So during my travels in South America, I volunteered in Brazil and lived with an amazing family in south the south of the country. I would do work for them on their farm/property in exchange for food and accommodation. They were so great and treated me like family.

This led me to a better understanding of Brazilian culture and also helped me learn the language a lot better than your regular tourist would. Literally, I can’t imagine myself traveling without volunteering.

Here are 5 ways volunteering abroad has changed my life.


1. Connected with People & Found My Tribe

In summer, I spontaneously researched animal rescue centers to volunteer in Costa Rica. A few options popped up and the second website I opened stuck out like a sore thumb and really spoke to me. I knew this was the one.

So after few short email exchanges with the director, I booked my ticket and off I went. I didn’t know anyone at the center and expected nothing. I simply wanted to give my time to a cause I believed in.

I arrived at the center and the air was filled with the sounds of parrots and howler monkeys, while the volunteers were completing their daily tasks.

These were people from all walks of life who shared the same ideas and passion for wildlife and volunteering as I did, so mingling amongst each other was easy peezy. Instant bonds were made and it felt like we knew each other forever.

This center was a hub where like-minded people came to give their time and connect. People who really vibe with you and understand you.

Sometimes we surround ourselves with the wrong people and wonder why we feel uneasy around them and it’s simply because they’re not your tribe. They don’t get you and you just don’t vibe with them. Energetically it just doesn’t match.

Volunteering gives you the opportunity to create a new circle of lifelong friends who share the same passions as you.


2. Gave Me a New Pair of Eyes

There is no better way to embrace new culture than to meet and greet the locals and work alongside them. They are so curious about the way different people from different countries live their lives and I feel that same curiosity about how they live theirs.

I want to know how they connect with each other and what they talk about. What meals they eat and what their social habits are. It’s such an amazing way to change your perspective on your own life by looking at it from a higher and different vantage point.

What may seem normal to us may be backward for others and vice versa. I’ve grown so much simply by observing other cultures way of life. It really expanded my mind and took me out of my bubble by showing me that there are different ways to look at life and its everyday challenges.

Traveling to less fortunate countries really has a great impact because you see how happy people are with the absolute bare minimum, and how miserable some of us are having the entire world at our fingertips. Food for thought.


3. Helped Me Find My Purpose

Volunteering in various wildlife conservation projects has really helped me discover who I am. I struggled for years with my career and not knowing in which direction to go, and traveling while volunteering really shed a lot of light in this area for me.

I got to connect with a bunch of different people with different ideas and each with their own struggles in life. It helped me realize that I wasn’t alone in this journey and gave me hope. It also helped me see how not everyone was consumed with finding their purpose.

Others were simply content with the same job for the rest of their lives, which is totally fine as well by the way, but this was a big distinction for me. I knew I was on the right path and giving my time to the environment and its wildlife truly is my purpose in this life.

There’s no greater feeling for me than knowing I’m being of service to our beautiful planet and its wildlife. Finding your purpose in life doesn’t mean every day is filled with rainbows and unicorns. There will be struggles. It simply means that you’re wholeheartedly connected to that special something and you feel empty without it.


4. Showed Me How to Live With Less

Living out of a 50L backpack for months on end has taught me a whole lot.

That we don’t need twenty pairs of shoes and a TV in each room. We literally can live with the bare essentials. Just because we have things available to us it doesn’t mean that we need them.

When you’re out there volunteering and living out of your backpack and sharing accommodations with 15 other people, and making such a great impact, it really puts things into perspective.

I literally had everything I needed in my backpack and quickly adjusted to not having my luxury items. It almost became a game to me.

Let’s see how much I can not use today. And surprisingly enough the adapting process was super easy. So easy that when I returned home I was looking around at all of my stuff wondering why I had these to begin with.

Needless to say, a major clearing out process began the minute I stepped foot in my home.


5. Taught Me How to Give Back

I think this is something that isn’t really taught in schools, or at least when I was growing up, and it’s such a shame.

We’re taught only to take. Get the best grades, get into the best schools, taking the best jobs and for some people, taking jobs from others so they can get ahead. This really gives us a mentality of lack because we feel like we always need more and that it’s never enough.

That you’re never enough. It makes us feel that we can’t give because our glass is ever full. We can give. We can give so much because we have so much. But we’re so consumed with ourselves and we get attached to our possessions and our time. 

We struggle a lot with this concept today and tend to just throw money at people or projects in hopes that it will fix the issue. It’s easy to give money because it’s replaceable but when you ask someone to give you their time, they know it’s limited so they think twice.

Or they ask for something in return. What’s in it for me? To give with an open heart and never expect anything in return is the key.

Giving time to help animals, for example, is selfless because you know they can’t offer you anything in return – except cuddles obviously – so it’s a tough one for most people.

When giving to another person you’ll tend to have that expectation in the back of your mind but with animals, it’s completely pure. This was a big eye-opener for me.

Still need some convincing? View our top reasons to volunteer.

By Tom Galiatsatos