One way of truly understanding a culture is to work within a community and many travellers opt to volunteer abroad. The biggest challenge is which destination to choose out of the overwhelming array of choices. Here are a few ideas to whet your appetite, including one or two you’ve probably not considered.
Costa Rica literally translated means ‘rich coast’ and the coastline of this Central American nation certainly lives up to its name. It’s probably the most expensive place to travel to in Central America due to its popularity but it’s cheaper than much of Western Europe and the US. With its stunning beaches, sprawling jungles and powerful volcanoes, the landscape also provides the perfect backdrop to your voluntary efforts. Whether it’s teaching English to young children, working to rebuild the community or participating in sea turtle conservation there’s a choice of projects to suit everyone. And when you’ve finished all of your hard work, head out for a spot of surfing on those pristine beaches.
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Primarily famous for Bali, this enigmatic archipelago in the Indian Ocean comprises over 18,000 islands so there’s plenty of undiscovered territory to explore. You may wish to head to Bali to work with underprivileged children or Indonesia or with orangutans in Java. Whatever you choose, this tropical paradise offers unmatched golden beaches, the Kelimutu Volcano and the Lore Lindu National Park. If you travel in August you’ll also see the Sanur Village Festival, a four day long celebration of marine life held on the beach at Sanur in Bali. With a history dating back to 4,000 BC you’ll encounter a mesmerising mix of culture and spirituality throughout the islands.
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Nicaragua is another increasingly popular Central American destination but not the immediate choice of many travellers, making it ideal for those of you wishing to experience somewhere a little more tourist free. The colonial cities of Granada and Leon offer stunning architectural sites. Take some time out to hike in the Mombacho Volcano nature reserve or visit the sulphurous hot springs north of Leon. These bubbling springs are fed by an underground river heated by the Telica Volcano. For a real thrill take a swim in the translucent waters of the Somoto Canyon which is still relatively un-spoilt (it was only revealed to the outside world in 2004).
We thought we’d throw in a bit of a curve ball here. Qatar is not the instant choice for travellers wishing to undertake work abroad and it’s certainly one of the most expensive but it is becoming increasingly popular as a ‘bolt-on’ destination during your gap year. While it’s not a long-term destination – a 30 day visa will be sufficient – it offers places of quiet beauty such as Al Khor with its impressive watchtowers. If you can’t quite remember why you think you’ve heard of Qatar, football fans will know it best as the surprise choice for the 2022 World Cup.
This often overlooked gem is gradually working its way up to the top spot of favourite destinations for gap year travel. Portugal’s best kept secret is a surprising array of historical sites, including the World Heritage Site at Porto dating back to Roman times. With beautiful beaches, mountains to explore and ample opportunities for voluntary work, such as teaching English to Portuguese children, Portugal is also cheap to get to and costs much less than Spain.
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These are only a fraction of the options available to you on your gap year, from the obvious to the not so obvious. Whatever your preference you’ll find a destination to suit your budget and give you a wealth of new experiences.
About author: Kate Smedley looks for new and less obvious places to work abroad.