The Underground Guide to International Volunteering Review

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After graduating from university I spent three months volunteering in Sri Lanka. I had an amazing time teaching children English, washing elephants and shovelling their shit, but I paid a hefty sum for the experience of working for free. Why? Simply because I didn’t know that it was possible to volunteer internationally without paying a fee. The big volunteer agencies dominate the website search engines and it seems like this is the only option.

This is why I’m excited about Kirsty Henderson’s new ebook The Underground Guide to International Volunteering. Kirsty was featured as one of our inspiring travel bloggers – she’s a digital nomad who makes money from travel websites and dedicates a large portion of her travel time to volunteering – without paying a penny. She has spent a lot of time volunteering with the disaster relief organisation Hands on Disaster Response – in Bangladesh, Indonesia and recently Haiti helping to clean up after the earthquake.

Kirsty has learnt that volunteering doesn’t have to be expensive and in fact your experience can be more rewarding if you don’t pay agents thousands of dollars in fees. She has now written an ebook to share her volunteering experiences and to help others who would like to get off the backpacker trail and have a unique experience find cheap volunteering opportunities. 50% of the proceeds from sales of the book will be donated to Hands on Disaster Response.

I found The Underground Guide to International Volunteering easy to read, inspirational and full of practical tips. It’s a great overview to international volunteering and covers many aspects of this often overwhelming topic.

After introducing herself and her volunteering experiences, Kirsty talks about the reasons why people volunteer.  Most people say they want to volunteer to ‘give back’ but Kirsty is refreshingly honest about the benefits to volunteers themselves – she initially got involved because it looked like fun. If you aren’t sure about volunteering then this section certainly convinces with some great reasons to give it a go.

Why volunteer?

  • Get involved in the community – get off the tourist trail and meet local people, not just other backpackers.
  • Make new friends – volunteering together can be a great bonding experience and Kirsty has made lifelong friends on her projects.
  • Become more socially conscious by living in poorer communities that are very different from what you are used to.
  • Gain work experience & enhance your resume – I can vouch for this personally as I wouldn’t have got a job in refugee community development work without my volunteering experience in Sri Lanka.
  • Learn a new language
  • Learn new skills – I met a recent volunteer who now wanted a career either as an event planner or a mason!
  • Save money – if your living expenses are covered then there is often very little to spend your money on in rural areas.
  • Get fit – Kirsty’s work in disaster relief has been very active, although obviously it depends on your role.
  • Have a base for more travelling – In Sri Lanka we explored much of the country on our weekend days off.
  • Warm fuzzy feeling – As well as all of these benefits to yourself you can feel good that you are contributing your time to help others.

Is Volunteering Right For You?

Despite these benefits volunteering isn’t right for everyone and the ebook addreses these issues by looking at traits of a good volunteer and your motivations to help you decide. We learn that people of all ages and backgrounds volunteer. One of the best elements of the guide is the many case studies and interviews with past and current volunteers. It’s very inspiring to hear other people taking action and contributing to some wonderful projects. Volunteering isn’t just for young backpackers – the guide features a range of people including those in their 60s.

Other sections of the guide cover ethical issues, and types of volunteer work (skilled vs unskilled).

Finding a Volunteer Placement

The core of the guide looks at how to find the right volunteer placement for you. Kirsty provides questions to ask yourself and your potential volunteer organisation to help you find the right opportunity.

Kirsty is upfront about why she would never pay to volunteer herself, and I agree – in fact I am interviewed in the guide about my experiences paying to volunteer in Sri Lanka. Despite an incredible experience I wouldn’t pay again. However she admits that paying to volunteer works for some people and presents a balanced look at the issue as well as listing paid placements with a comparison of prices.

If you are convinced that you don’t want to pay then the most useful part of the guide helps you find free or cheap volunteering opportunities, and lists some specific organisations Kirsty recommends. This is really valuable information as it can be difficult to find out about these places. I’d like to see more free placements listed, especially in South America and hopefully this will grow in the future as Kirsty develops the guide (she offers free updates to anyone who buys). If you know of any free volunteering opportunities please let her know to improve this fantastic resource.

Finally you’ll find practical information on visas, insurance, what to pack and what to expect from your living conditions.

If you are considering volunteering abroad then I highly recommend The Underground Guide to International Volunteering. It’s ideal if you aren’t sure if volunteering is right for you or if you need help finding the perfect placement. If you are a seasoned international volunteer then you probably don’t need the guide, although if like me you are transitioning from paid placements to finding your own you’ll find the ebook very useful.

We were certainly inspired after reading the book. Volunteering is one of our travel priorities and we hope to use these resources to find the right opportunity for us later on in our Latin America travels.

The ebook has 63 pages and costs $14. Visit Kirsty’s Nerdy Nomad website to buy The Underground Guide to International Volunteering now.

Note: This is not an affiliate link so we will not receive a commission if you buy the book. We genuinely think it’s a fantastic resource and by buying it you’ll also be helping a great cause.

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  1. I am trying to find a free volunteer teaching placement in Morocco – but not in the
    poorest communities. How can I find such a placement. I have been teaching for many years, and am a mature person – 50+. Please drop me a line with
    free resources.


  2. I’m from Australia and I know a few people who have volunteered but I’ve never heard of anyone paying to volunteer. My friends got paid a small living allowance while they worked.

    I guess the places that charge are the ones that can afford to promote themselves as well. Sounds like Kirsty’s book is a great way around this.
    .-= kathryn´s last blog ..Winning Stuff is Awesome =-.


    • That’s very true. There really is no need to pay so I’m glad to see a resource like this to help people find placements.


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