Welcome to the resource page for Grassroots Volunteering and the Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook. This page complements the book and provides additional resources and information for any volunteer or traveler looking for ways to become a responsible traveler with sustainable tourism at the roots of their trips.
***The page is still under construction with more updates throughout the month!***
Jump to a specific topic on this page, or scroll through the information. And if you’re interested in the travel specific side of volunteering–packing, budgeting, planning–my sister site A Little Adrift has an in-depth travel planning resource page. If there is something not covered that you’d like to know about travel or volunteering, contact us and we’ll point you in the right direction.
Development Issues Resources
Questions You Should Ask
Independent Volunteering Websites
Travel and Gear Insurance
Volunteer Packing Lists
Health and Vaccinations
Great Travel Apps
Understanding Development Work
It’s difficult to encapsulate why the developing world is currently developing, how, when, and the effects of international aid. Research is a good first step before volunteering, so I suggest you start with some of these books:
- Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential by Dan Pallotta
- The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It by Paul Collier
- Development as Freedom (on Kindle) by Amartya Sen
- The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics (on Kindle) by William R. Easterly
- Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day (on Kindle) by Daryl Collins
- Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason (on Kindle) by Nancy Pearl
Useful websites and magazines:
- Mother Jones: Nonprofit news specializing in social justice reporting.
- Chris Blattman: An academic on political economic theory and development.
- Blood and Milk: Alanna Shaikh delves deep into a range of international issues.
- From Poverty to Power: Duncan Green debates and discusses development policies.
- Voluntourism: They have a wonderful newsletter and heaps of voluntourism specific information.
- Global Sustainable Tourism Council: Read up on sustainable tourism and development.
- The United Nations Development Programme: Detailed information on various common development issues.
- One World: A great site with a social mission. Their news headlines aim to help people everywhere understand global problems.
Understanding Company Structures
No matter which type of volunteering you choose, it’s important you understand what types of companies are out there so you can effectively assess where your organization falls into the mix and how that meshes with your personal values.
For-Profit: These run the gamut and can include organizations that—directly or indirectly—cause negative societal problems (like pollution, worker exploitation, etc). On the flip side, donating to social causes is directly within the mission of some companies.
For Profit, B-Corp: B-Corps are a more recent crop of businesses and they place social good before profit. The company’s mission is met before profits are taken.
S-Corps: Some S-Corps operate similar to a non-profit but are able to more easily sell merchandise without the non-profit (501c3) status.
Non-Profit: Non-profits use revenues to serve the NGO’s goals instead of distributing money (from donations, grants, or otherwise) as profit. These organizations traditionally attempt to advance culture, raise awareness, or correct social problems. [i]
NGO: (Non Governmental Organization): A broad, general term; organizations fall somewhere within the non-profit sector and seek to correct some social or civil societal situation.
What if you find a great organization you want to work with, but you’re not sure where that company fits into the spectrum?
No matter where the company falls within this spectrum, there are some companies with darker motives. Start with basic level research on any company you’re considering:
- Google the company’s name, plus the word “scam” to see what comes up.
- Better Business Bureau: Check to see if others have reported the company if it’s US-based.
- Google Alerts: Find out if they’re in the news lately and see what others are saying.
What Questions Should You Ask Before You Volunteer?
Empowering yourself with knowledge about your company is the first step toward understanding if you should volunteer with or through them. Research the company’s information online, read their back story and frequently asked questions, and find out what others are saying about the organization on the internet. As you’re researching, fill in this outline of the questions you should know the answers to before you volunteer. The post gives a long list of questions–pick those relevant to your situation, sit down and research. Anything not answered should go in an email to the volunteer coordinator.
Travel and Gear Insurance
Travel insurance is highly personal and you know your health best (if you have specific conditions, adventure activities or gear you may need additional considerations. Also, some voluntours (volunteering through tour operators) include some levels travel insurance in the fee. I feel every volunteer traveler needs travel insurance, and I highly recommend both IMGlobal and World Nomads for personal insurance. And if you travel with expensive camera or electronics gear–consider insuring that too with Clements.
- IMG Global: IMG Patriot insurance is the company I have used and enjoyed while traveling with my niece.
- World Nomads: I used this company on my RTW trip. They offer great coverage for backpackers and adventurous travelers and have an active, supportive staff.
- Clements: Insure your electronics and expensive possessions separately from your travel policy (which likely does not include cameras, computers, etc.)
Volunteer Packing Lists
The A Little Adrift travel resource page has full details on packing basics for travel (male, female, family, couple, etc). But there are some unique considerations volunteers might face in packing for a trip. Also consider this WWOOFing packing list, it’s a great round up of items you should pack if you plan to work on organic farms as you travel.
Health and Vaccinations
Diligent and thorough research is needed before you head out to volunteer. This is particularly true for long-term or remote volunteer locations. Use these websites and information to discern which vaccinations you might need, potential malaria risks, and regional-specific precautions.
- US Government Travel Site: Health tips and safety warnings from the US Department of State.
- CDC site: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated travel vaccinations lists and resources.
- ISTM.org – The International Society of Travel Medicine’s global travel clinic directory (under the ISTM Activities) locates trusted travel clinics worldwide.
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vaccinations (on Kindle) by Michael Joseph Smith and Laurie Bouck
- How to Shit Around the World: The Art of Staying Clean and Healthy While Traveling (on Kindle) by Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth: Written by a doctor and a comprehensive look at staying healthy; you will learn a lot from this book, it’s a great read.
- RedCrossStore.org and TravelDoc.com: Both offer well-stocked travel medical kits. I recommend this medical kit at the very least.
Great Travel Apps for Your SmartPhone
- XE Curreny Apps: This currency conversion app works on iPhones, iPads, Android, Blackberry and others.
- Emergency First Aid & Treatment Guide: Handy for volunteers, particularly in remote locations (pairs well with your medical kit). An Android version works well too.
- Trip It App: I am in love with this app and website for collecting planning details. It’s a phenomenal organization tool.
- Postagram: Use photos from your phone to very quickly send postcards home. It’s rather brilliant and saves on the time I usually spend finding stamps, hunting down postcards, etc.
- WiFi Finder: I work from the road and love the interface and ease of use in finding easy access to wifi hotspots.