A little background story about my volunteering experience
I had always heard of other people traveling and volunteering, being able to travel the world on $5 a day, people my age quitting their jobs to do what is now called “volunteering tourism" or "voluntourism", but I always wondered how exactly did they do it.
For many, 2020 has been another turning point in life but I had no idea that 2020 would be SO life-changing for me.
Well, I knew it would be, as I was supposed to get married that year, in August, but here I am, in Antigua, Guatemala, writing to you from a private hostel room that I’m sharing with an Estonian guy I met 4 months ago in Mexico.
After all that wonderful summer 2020 vibes, I decided to pack up and buy a one-way ticket to Mexico. I had heard about Worldpackers and all their volunteering opportunities before but never had the courage to actually do it.
This time was different, I was ready to sell everything, pack my whole life into 1 backpack, and hit the road.
That is exactly what I did. I started my trip in Brittany, France, beginning of September 2020. “How to start volunteering” stopped being a question and became an action, and I haven’t looked back since.
My first Worldpackers host kindly accepted me, and my first volunteer experience was 2 weeks in the middle of nowhere in Brittany, picking mushrooms with a 65-year-old retired British man who had moved there years ago.
In all honesty, I was scared in the beginning. Going to an unknown area, into a stranger’s home, and committing to 2 weeks of doing something I’ve never done before: what could possibly go right? Everything!
Why would anything go wrong? I had read his previous reviews, spoken to him before hand, and was ready for a “calm” start to my trip.
I met amazing people, learnt so many new skills, and got to visit that area of France I had never seen before.
This whole experience was super budget-friendly as I only paid the train ticket there, occasional expenses if I wanted to buy something, and the rest was taken care of (accommodation and food).
After a wonderful 2 weeks with David in Brittany, I just had to do another Worldpackers environmental volunteering.
So I made my way down south by Bordeaux (using Blablacar – a great way of saving money while travelling) and eventually landed in the Occitanie area, in an incredibly charming guesthouse run by 2 other British people.
Once again, I was nervous, especially because they had an actual list of rules to follow. I thought to myself “maybe I just got lucky with David, at how flexible and warm he was”.
But within a day of getting to know the wonderful couple, I quickly realized this second 2-week nature volunteering experience was going to be just as enriching as my first.
The work here was more structured than in Brittany; I had actual work hours and there was much more physical tasks such as gardening (pruning trees, planting, potting etc..) but there was not one minute where I didn’t enjoy it.
They also took me around the area; we ate some incredible food, saw some beautiful sites, and spent hours talking about life. I did not want to leave and I will genuinely remember these people for the rest of my life.
This second volunteer experience definitely confirmed the thought I had of why volunteering is important... That feeling you get from helping people, that one “dinner’s on me!”, that one smile, that one hug, that one that one “thank you”; that’s enough, that’s more than enough!
Over a month had passed already, how did time go by so fast?! My flight to Mexico City was approaching so I applied to my 3rd Worldpackers in Mexico City, in a hostel. Everything was ready for my arrival in Mexico, on the 29th of October 2020.
I finished up my mini-France-trip to the South, seeing friends in Marseille, Montpellier, Nice, then eventually taking a bus down to Barcelona and then Madrid (Couchsurfing all the way), where I took my flight to Mexico.
After an eventful 24h of traveling (as my flight got canceled and I missed my connecting flight etc… you know how it goes) I finally made it to the hostel where I was going to volunteer in Mexico City.
I arrived at 4 am, knock on the locked door, ring the doorbell... Nothing. Uh oh. Eventually someone opened, and there it all started, my trip to Mexico.
I spent 2 weeks volunteering in a very empty hostel, but eventually ended up doing other tasks than what I was supposed to do (bartending!).
I specialize in community management, so I helped them out on their social media and got to experience what living in an empty hostel was like – that was fun!
I can safely say that my first experience volunteering in a hostel was definitely a unique one, but I couldn’t wait to have another volunteering experience in a different one!
By this time, I was officially addicted to Worldpackers and couldn’t wait for my next one, which came soon after in Veracruz.
I think this was my most memorable experience so far. I committed to 2 weeks in a guesthouse by the sea run by a Mexican mother and son.
It took me a while to get there as they weren’t located in Veracruz City itself, but 4h North of it, in the middle of almost nowhere: perfect, exactly what I was looking for (authentic Mexican experience).
I’ll always remember when I got to the bus stop and the son came to pick me up. He was my age and I just knew this would be something different and fun.
We chatted on the way to the house and I was welcomed to a Mexican lunch by the mother and another volunteer, K, who was younger than me and had just badly hurt his foot.
We quickly formed a little group (the son, K and myself) and even with the mother. These people are now engraved in my hearts forever.
The most interesting part of this experience was the room I was sharing with K, the other volunteer:
Our beds were separated by a curtain, we had no door to our room and we had holes in our ceilings. There was a table in our room where we all had lunch, and crabs crawled in at night. The water from the tap came from the sea, there was one stove and the wifi barely worked, and you know what? I loved every minute of this rustic, humbling living.
Wake up, go to the beach, surf, work (which involved building a tipi, moving tires, helping around the house, gardening…). We played card games at night, occasionally had beers, and best above all, laughed and talked for hours and hours.
I was sad to leave but have kept contact with all of them since and definitely plan on seeing them again.
Actually, I did see K again, a few times! This experience made me understand why you should volunteer, whether it’s in your home country or anywhere else in the world.
There is nothing better than living with the locals to fully immerse yourself into a new culture, and being in places isolated from “society” allows you to reconnect with other human beings, instead of always being “disconnected” in this virtual world we live in.
My fifth volunteer experience (in under 4 months)
Volunteering in Mexico (part III)
Following that, I did my 5th experience on Worldpackers in San Cristobal de las Casas (Chiapas) which the experience itself is a whole other story...
It was magical, but all of this to say that packing up my Parisian life and starting to volunteer with Worldpackers was the best decision I could have ever made back then.
I was broken when I left Paris. I was tired, heartbroken, my mind, body and soul were exhausted. I hadn’t slept well in months, hadn’t eaten well, I was weak, empty... and within the first week of my first volunteering experience I had managed to get back to an 8h-a-night sleep schedule, eat properly again and feel happiness again.
Volunteering, helping people, meeting new people, getting out of your comfort zone… all these mixed with the unknown, new cities, new countries, this makes a perfect recipe for healing (or even just something new).
Since San Cristobal de las Casas I’ve taken a mini break from volunteering as life made it such that I started traveling with some people but I definitely will continue volunteering when I can, probably even with this Estonian hunk I’ve met!
I can only recommend Worldpackers as they have all different types of volunteer opportunities, and my mentality throughout all the experiences was “this won’t last forever, so make the absolute best of it”.
Right now, I have never felt happier and honestly cannot wait to create more Worldpackers memories, especially once I head down to South America!
28 y/o Singaporean/French female traveler.
I started backpacking with Worldpackers in August 2020: I said goodbye to my Parisian life and bought a one-way ticket to Mexico. Since then, i've spent 7 months there, backpacked all through Central America, lived in Manchester (UK) for a few months, traveled all around Europe (I have 12 countries left to visit before I would've seen all European countries).. I had a little pit stop in Athens from August22-January 2023 and I resumed my trip on this side of the world with Panama in February, and now I am in South America.
My long term goal is to open up a wellness hostel in South America, which is why i'll be traveling all through the continent until I find the right location, or opportunity :)