I always want to share stories with you that I think can help whether they are from me or someone I have met in my travels or online. I hope you enjoy this entry into the Women with Wanderlust series. It’s all about volunteering and traveling.

A volunteer journey

Before embarking on my first travels to Asia, I never imagined picking peaches on an organic fruit farm, designing graphic signs for a guesthouse, or teaching English in front of eager students. Along with hiking up tall volcanoes, swimming with Whale Sharks, touring ancient temples, and surfing beginner waves. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect besides the freedom of traveling again. I was excited to see a change of scenery and learn more about the world around me. I usually travel alone, but this time would be special since my partner, Donald, would be traveling with me. Yet after reaching our first destination, Tokyo, Japan, we realized we were only feeling a one dimensional experience and we wanted to feel something beyond our five senses. We wanted to soak in each place we visited, having a chance to learn more about our new surroundings and ultimately learn more about the culture. Donald had renewed his HelpX account and we started reaching out to hosts who were looking for volunteers.

Our first work for stay was at an organic fruit farm in Japan and not only were we given accomodation, we were also fed the best homemade Japanese meals. We then went to Busan, South Korea to help set up and open a new guesthouse. We will never forget our late karaoke nights and being treated by our bosses to Korean barbecue. We decided to work at another hostel in Palawan, a beautiful island in the Philippines. While I made graphics and improved their website, Donald helped the staff with their conversational English skills. We decided to help at various places when we reached Indonesia. We helped local teachers at an English language center in Klaten on the island of Java, volunteered on a private farm in Bali, and now we’re teaching classes and helping our host build his new house in Belopa, located in South Sulawesi.

It’s amazing how many opportunities there are available in the world and what skills hosts are looking for. If you’re an artist, you can help design a mural at a school. If you’re a carpenter, you can help build a treehouse. Sometimes you don’t even need any experience and the host can teach you a skill you’ve never learned before. The possibilities are endless, and the other volunteers we’ve met use different sites to find their work for stays. We use HelpX but there’s also WorkAway, and HomeStay. I would suggest registering for HelpX or WorkAway since they showcase opportunities for families and organizations and you only have to pay a yearly subscription. You can also try searching for organizations in the countries you plan to visit and reaching out to see if they’re looking for volunteers. I really like HelpX and WorkAway because they allow the previous volunteers to leave references on their experience with the host and the work.

We always read each reference before asking a host if we can volunteer with them. It’s important to read how each volunteer has felt working for the host or organization. It gives you more insight into how the work will be like, if the organization or host is effective in his or her mission, and how the host treats each volunteer. The most important thing to remember is that your time with your host is valuable. If you’re looking to travel to take time for yourself or just trying to find a free place to stay, I wouldn’t advise volunteering since you will be asked to work when the host requests. It is best to go in with a good work ethic and making sure you fulfill the tasks to the best of your ability. You must also remember to be respectful since sometimes the hosts are inviting you into their home and letting you stay with them along with their family. Be open minded and willing to provide a cultural exchange with your host as well. Good hosts recognize that you are a volunteer and that you also want to explore. All of our hosts have been enthusiastic about showing us around their town and country. If you feel that your experience was not the greatest or if you were treated in an inappropriate way, you can always notify HelpX or WorkAway and report a concern. Volunteering while traveling is ultimately a great way to gain experience in various positions. More importantly, it is instantly inspiring to provide service to those looking for help on achieving their dreams. We’ve made long lasting friendships with our hosts and the other volunteers since we’ve been able to spend quality time with them.

Although I quit my job to travel, yet continue to work as an online freelancer, I still thoroughly enjoy volunteering throughout my journey because it has given me the opportunity to have the most unique moments. One of my favorite memories on this trip has been teaching English at a school for blind students and being requested to sing live for them. As I sang “Stand By Me,” I will never forget the smiles and silence that filled the gazebo classroom. In return for my song, a student sang a classic Indonesian song; his soft, delicate voice filled my heart with ease. In the middle of his harmonic performance, heavy drops of rain poured from the sky creating a melodic musical I will never forget. This is why I encourage every traveler to help out at some point along their adventure. You won’t feel as if you’re just traveling to another country, rather, you’ll be apart of the community, apart of the people; living everyday through their local lense.

Laurie Horning is a freelance writer, web developer, and an avid thrill seeking traveler. As she volunteers around Asia to provide service and learn from others, she also writes in her blog Mustard Mayo Travels that she created with her partner to document their journey and work for stays. She enjoys traveling to all natural areas and places with the best hikes, street foods, wildlife, and ocean waves. You can follow her on Instagram @mustardmayotravels and read her latest posts at mustardmayotravels.com.

If you love these stories there are many more on the blog, just search for women with wanderlust. If you want to submit your own story, send me an email or find me on social media.

The long overdue paperback version of my guide book is out…well almost live! Yahoo! It would make a great gift for someone in your life that wants to travel more plus you are supporting a small business. Win-win!