Low-Cost, High-Reward Mini-Retirements: Explore the World with International Volunteering

One great method for taking an expenses-paid “mini-retirement”–or adding more time to your travels without adding costs–is to work with an international volunteer organization.

Some volunteer groups charge a participation fee, but there are some that will cover your food, housing–and provide you with good meaningful work–at no cost. I would like to share with you a few stories from friends who have all taken mini-retirements with Hands On Disaster Response, one such group.

Marc Young, Volunteer

A Little Back Story

Breakdowns of any sort can be great experiences: nervous, communication, etc. They allow us to return to center and to refocus on what it is that truly matters. For Tim, it was a one-way ticket to London in June 2004.

My breakdown came just a few months later and took me to Thailand to find anyone or any place I could help recover from the Tsunami that had just destroyed tens of thousands of homes and lives. I had been living in L.A. working as a freelance designer, treading water and occasionally getting mouthfuls of it, and my adventure to Thailand was a conscious decision to give up treading and to dive down deeper to explore just what was around me…

What was meant to be a one-month trip to volunteer and travel turned into 5 months in Southern Thailand and, ultimately, an international relief organization. It is from this organization that the stories come from below:

Michael Babel – Grad. Student, Licensed Massage Therapist, Life Coach
Michael Babel - Grad. Student, Licensed Massage Therapist, Life Coach
Michael, far right with cast of play he organized in Biloxi, MS.

From Michael:

I first connected with HODR in Biloxi Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. I was originally volunteering with another group but was looking for something more hands-on, and came upon Hands On a few towns away from where I was working. I arrived at 7:30am and was out cutting trees by 8am; it was love at first sight. I just returned from my 4th project with Hands On and, in spite of the disaster it will imply, I look forward to the next time.

Travel a lot of the time has to do with funds, how much money there is available to sustain one’s traveling habit. HODR helps me travel longer with less funds, allowing me to experience so many amazing moments…

In the Philippines “The realization that if we weren’t there, no one else would be.” In Biloxi “The moment when I realized the streets were clean, things were in piles, our efforts were making some difference.” In Bangladesh “Taking a boat 22 hours down a river, being the only white and English-speaking person on that boat, and being dropped off at a dock at the edge of a jungle.” In Peru “The night we went around the campfire and asked where people were from and there were volunteers from over 30 countries present.” In Bangladesh: “I gave a little boy some colored pencils and he burst into tears and hugged my legs.”

Jeff Johns – Student & Photographer
Jeff Johns - Student & Photographe
Jeff, crouching center with crew of volunteers in St. Domingo, Philippines.

From Jeff:

When I am not chasing HODR around the globe I am a full time Visual Journalism student in Ventura, Calif.

After the Tsunami in 2004, I was looking on the internet for any aid group that was accepting volunteers and that didn’t make it almost impossible to sign up. Hands On was the most impressive and human organization. No applications, no fees, no interviews. Just show up and get to work. It takes a special kind of person to travel to the far ends of the earth to work your butt off with complete strangers, I guess that weeds out the whackjobs. Well, the bad ones… I plan to graduate from Brooks in 2 years and when I do, plan to spend at least the next 5 years disaster hopping with HODR. There is nothing like free life experience!

I arrived in Thailand with a ticket home in 3 weeks. I left 4 months later. I went to Biloxi for just one week. A week after my return home I raised money and roadtripped from L.A. back to Biloxi with my roommate. All other trips I have changed and extended my trips at least by a few hours. With an experience that is human and real, it is almost impossible to tear yourself away, no matter what the living conditions might be or where in the world you are.

The first time, on my first deployment, that I saw a tear on the eye of a woman who just told me we were the answer to her prayers it really hit me. I’m not a religious man, but to realize you might be the answer to someone’s prayers is a powerful thing.

Also, although there is an ever-growing group of volunteers I have worked with before and now consider family, the experience of meeting complete strangers one week and not remembering your life without them a week later is an intense and amazing experience.

While in Bangladesh the bus system shut down for a morning because the driver had been bitten by an unruly passenger. Also, in the Philippines and Bangladesh, taking breaks with sweaty, dirty volunteers to have tea. I mean, there are so many funny and memorable moments with Hands On and there is no way to explain them. They wouldn’t’t seem funny to anyone else. You really have to be there.

Eric Zdenek – World Traveler
Eric Zdenek - World Traveller
Eric, far left with volunteers taking a boat trip on an off day in Thailand.

From Eric:

I make money by helping my bros run a Christmas Light company in LA (Sept thru Jan).

I first got hooked up with HODR when I canceled a 9 month trip to Italy to work with then Hands On Thailand after the Asian Tsunami in 2005.

At the time most of the resources Hands On received went directly to the effort, but for some of the longer term workers, deals were struck for discounted accommodation and meals. In part by being in deserted towns (towns often are after disasters) and by receiving aid from HODR, I was able to comfortably stay in Thailand for just over 4 months.

I have had the opportunity to explore a fair amount of the world considering my slightly unripened age of 25, but nothing I have done or seen even comes close to my experience with the fellow volunteers of HODR. It truly is the most rewarding form of traveling, giving its patrons the opportunity to meet the best of peoples, help others in the worst of times, and leave a village or town better off then when you arrived. I will never forget my time with HODR in Thailand and I look forward to many more opportunities to travel and volunteer with HODR.

Perhaps the single best day of my life occurred while working with HODR on Phi Phi island when a close group of 5 volunteers (Michael, Sunisa, Lizzy) took a day trip to the uninhabited bamboo island for the night. We brought with us some beer, bread, nutella, and a celebration bottle of champagne. Not having enough food for the night, we found dozens of crabs on the beach and chose to grub on them rather than not eat that night. We fell asleep after an amazing sunset and woke up to an even better sunrise. Talk about paradise!

Volunteering Mini-Retirements

If you can afford the travel costs to a HODR project, then all but beer money or personal expenses are covered. We have had hundreds of volunteers extend their travels aboard because they were able to stay with us for another week or month and not increase their costs dramatically. More information can be found on www.HODR.org.

Benefits of International Volunteering:
– Cut Travel Costs
– Be Immersed in a Different Culture
– Meet Fellow World Travelers
– Challenge Your Mind & Body

Here are several other reputable organizations–some may charge participation fees–that offer international volunteering experiences:

Burners Without Borders

Following the 2005 Burning Man event, several participants headed south into the Hurricane Katrina disaster area to help people rebuild their devastated communities. After several months of working along the Gulf Coast, BWB has set up a project in Pisco, Peru to assist with earthquake relief work.

Project HOPE

Nearly 50 years ago, Project HOPE was founded on the willingness of doctors, nurses and other medical volunteers to travel the globe on a floating hospital ship, the SS HOPE, to provide medical care, health education and humanitarian assistance to people in need. While we now operate land-based programs in more than 35 countries, Project HOPE has again returned to sending medical volunteers on board ships around the world to provide medical assistance, long reaching health education programs, vaccinations and humanitarian assistance.

International Relief Teams

International Relief Teams mobilizes volunteers and distributes medical supplies to support the organization’s four missions: 1) domestic and international disaster relief, 2) medical education and training, 3) surgical and clinical outreach, and 4) public health. Since 1988, IRT has provided more than $5.6 million in volunteer services, and more than $112 million in medicines and supplies to families in desperate need in 42 countries worldwide.

Relief International

Relief International is a humanitarian non-profit agency that provides emergency relief, rehabilitation, development assistance, and program services to vulnerable communities worldwide. RI is solely dedicated to reducing human suffering and is non-political and non-sectarian in its mission.

About the Guest Author, Darius A Monsef IV
Darius a ultravagabond in training, creative consultant, entrepreneur (COLOURlovers and others) and co-founder of Hands On Disaster Response.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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83 Replies to “Low-Cost, High-Reward Mini-Retirements: Explore the World with International Volunteering”

  1. Thanks Tim for giving me the opportunity to share with your readers my non-profit and some ideas on how to get a little further and see a bit more on a budget.

    If any of you have questions about volunteering internationally feel free to drop a comment here and I’ll respond with however I can help.

  2. I like the idea of ‘using’ volunteer or charity work to travel the globe but it’s almost impossible when you have a young family. Either one has to be extremely selfish and go it alone, thus depriving the children (albeit temporarily) of a parent, or (what is possibly worse) drag them out of school and take them with you. I wonder if the benefits of seeing the planet and other cultures outweigh those of playing ‘catch-up’ to their classmates for the following X months.

    We all make choices at points in our lives that may end up becoming a bit of a burden, but while, as said, I like the idea of the examples above, I fear my hands are somewhat tied by circumstance.

    1. Home school your kids and give them practical experience with other places and cultures that can’t possibly be taught. With a young family it’s even better, because what really are they missing that they couldn’t catch up on with a couple tutoring sessions? They will probably be ahead of the game because they will have been exposed to other languages and different ways of doing things.

    2. We just finished an around the world tour with our two kids – ages 12 and 13 – and they volunteered with us in Africa. We helped with the rehabilitation of monkeys and collection of wildlife data in South Africa, and helped teach children in local pre and primary schools in Zimbabwe. Our kids were actively involved, and was one of the true highlights of our lives!

  3. Nice article Tim. I read about this in your book and have already started to plan my volunteering trip. Check out my blog when you get a chance…hopefully I can interview you for it.



  4. Wow… what a great post. I have always thought that I might want to join the Peace Corps. after college or as part of a grad program, but if it turns out that I can’t make that sort of commitment, some of the opportunities you mentioned sound amazing.

    Tim, your content is always great, but the ‘social awareness’ posts that you put up on occasion are always my favorite.

  5. Hi Darius,

    It is true, breakdowns are a source of great transformation. If you let them they help you let go and listen what you REALLY need and usually it is a wake up call on how blessed you are.

    I am excited about seeing there are possibilities beyond the “normal” vacation. Mind you scuba diving is fun but it can be even more fun to touch other peoples lives and scuba dive! Looking forward to looking into these ways low cost travel for girl like me who is on a budget.



  6. Jen,

    I regret that I wasn’t able to get any stories from some of our female mini-vacation volunteers, because some of them have spent more than 1 year living and working with us in countries all over the world… Maybe sometime soon I’ll be able to post an update with your story.

    By joining up with a volunteer group it can create a nice home base for a majority of your travel time and allow for mini excursions out to do other more typical touristy things like scuba diving.

    Hugs Back, Darius

  7. This is great! So many high-class people (including myself) fritter their time away on folly… Thanks for raising the bar, Tim!

  8. Tim,

    I’m glad your talking about ‘outsourcing’ your charity dollars, a natural extension of 4HWW principles. Here’s the straight dope: Beggars in places like the Philippines ain’t sippin’ brewed coffee on the side of the road with a pack of cigarettes.

    True story: A 28 year old self-made millionaire (born poor), Dylan Wilk*, had a eureka moment while in the Philippines that he could sell his BMW to *house* 80 families. The guy is a modern day Bhudda, in my book. He’s since given his life to the cause.

    He’s actually *in* the US right now touring to raise awareness about this organization. When I was visiting a GK village in ’05, there was a team of MIT grad students studying it’s phenomenal success.

    *Just google him. The organization is called GK. With the Tour going on, it’s a great time to spread the word.

  9. Just wanted to add that GK (Gawad Kalinga – Filipino for ‘to give care’) is a 503c organization and you will get a tax credit for donating to it.

  10. Wow, what great timing! I saw an ad for the Peace Corp today and starting wondering what other organizations I could go to volunteer overseas. Thanks Tim!

    – Morgan

  11. Ok Jen & other female readers… one of our longest-term female volunteers found some time during her travels to pop into an internet cafe to share a bit of her story:

    Suzi Lee – Catering/Special Events

    When I am at “home” in Cali, I work for catering companies and wineries working special events in the wine country.

    I “found” Hands On when I was planning a trip back to Thailand a month after the 2004 tsunami. I was researching online some volunteer opportunities in Thailand, knowing I wanted to do something, anything to help the victims of this terrible disaster, including the local friends I had met 6 months prior on a previous trip. With the help of two other friends from around the globe, we discovered Hands On Thailand on a Google search. One friend, living at that time in Brunei, met me in Thailand and we volunteered together. She stayed a week, and my “10 day commitment” turned into 3 months. I am now on my 5th out of 6 deployments for Hands On.

    I always extend my traveling time to be with Hands On. I travel the globe on a one way ticket, knowing inevitably the project will extend and I will want to stay until the end. If given the opportunity (say, no simultaneous deployments), I stay at the projects from beginning to end.

    I would have to say the most meaningful time I have spent at a Hands On deployment would be the entire three weeks I spent in Alimsog, a sleepy fishing village an hour or so away from San Isidro, where we were based in the Philippines. The entire village, accessible only by boat or a long walk up and over perilous cliffs, extended with open arms their amazing hospitality, warmth and kindness. I felt loved by all, children and adults alike, and even took part in their graduation ceremonies at the end of the school year. True selflessness and generosity prevailed. The compassion and caring I found in this tiny little community, both to myself as well as amongst the residents was unparalleled.

  12. An organization I have worked with that would be a great opportunity for your readers is Partners of the Americas. Formed in 1963 under John F. Kennedy as the Alliance for Progress, the program has morphed over the years into an international non-profit. They focus on developing programs in the following areas:

    * Civil Society & Governance

    * Exchanges & Fellowships

    * Gender & Equality

    * Youth & Children

    * Agriculture & Environment

    Many volunteers go for 2-4 week projects. In my experience, the organization arranges for volunteers to stay with a host family which covers lodging and food expense while giving the volunteer a chance to really experience life in that country.

    Each state has it’s own chapter which works directly with a specific country in Central or South America. To find out more and get contact information for the chapter in your state, go to http://www.partners.net.

    – Brandon W

  13. Tim,

    Really great article. My wife and i have been exploring the world while volunteering for a better part of the last three years. It is an AMAZING experience that i would highly recommend to anyone (in small doses or big ones).

    Be Free!


  14. YES!! Thanks for the info Tim!! A year and a half ago I was researching to try to find an organization whose efforts I could join without some huge process or huge fee (needless to say I ended up striking out on my own in South India),….Darius is their room in any of your efforts for natural health teams? I.E. chiropractic, yoga, dance,…I am attempting to see to a vision without reinventing the wheel. I am a chiropractor and have a passion for doing free mobile third world adjusting. I have others who are passionate in the same way. They mobilized during Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, and the San Diego fires recently to adjust relief workers and to adjust those affected. I’d like to connect those efforts to a team that already has good international organization/support networks. I am also interested to find out about projects going on at refugee camps that we could assist with. Yes?

  15. Fantastic! I’ve been looking into volunteering overseas, and was surprised and disappointed to see that most organizations want to charge me literally thousands of dollars to help. Thanks so much for sharing this info!

  16. Seriously…could your blog get any better?!!!!

    I love the superb information you consistently provide us Tim.


  17. Tim, All I have to say is you are an inspiration! This post couldn’t be better timed. I’m currently about two months away from graduating with an MBA. As a transition from my current job to a new career, I’m considering the idea of volunteering abroad for about six months to a year. Maybe even longer, depending on what I find. I’d like to be able to apply my skills (software engineering + MBA) to a greater good, rather than a thankless, oversized, corporation. Entrepreneurship is in my blood so this might be the platform for new and inspiring business ideas.

    I have two questions for you and your readers:

    * Can you recommend a volunteer organization that could use someone with my background?

    * How do you deal with health insurance, when volunteering, without going into debt?

  18. Well, I’d dig this but no longer a member. How ’bout a stumble instead?


    Hi Anne,

    StumbleUpon rocks. I love it, as do many, many people. Please do! 🙂


  19. I second the vote for International Relief Teams. I’ve gone on two of their post-Katrina reconstruction trips.

    But, a word of warning: If you decide to go on a relief mission for IRT or some other organization, you will be dealing with people who may or may not welcome you with open arms. In fact, some of them may want nothing to do with you, and a few will be downright hostile.

    And what are you to do about this? Well, truth be told, there’s nothing you can do about other people’s reactions to you except to keep your cool. I also recommend that you bring something that is of comfort to you.

    For some of my fellow IRT-ers, that “something” is the Bible or some other devotional literature. Others prefer to play basketball or foosball. And a few finish their workday, then segue into Happy Hour.

  20. @Rhea

    “Darius is their room in any of your efforts for natural health teams? I.E. chiropractic, yoga, dance,…”

    Sure. Not only for the locals we are assisting, but when work crews are out doing back breaking work all day they could probably use an adjustment too. We encourage our volunteers to bring their own passions with them and put them to work to help others.


    “Is this organization affiliated with any political party or left-wing organizations?”

    We have no affiliations to political parties, left or right… or to any religious organizations. But with that being said, we work with everybody. Our volunteers come from every walk of life from countries all over the world and we’ve worked side by side with all kinds of organizations.


    “Can you recommend a volunteer organization that could use someone with my background?

    How do you deal with health insurance, when volunteering, without going into debt?”

    I would look at the list of organization posted above and reach out to them with an offer to help and the details of your skill set. Keep in mind, sometimes the most effective help you can provide during a time of need might not be what you’re most skilled at. When I first went to Thailand I had hopes of returning home tan and fit from working out in the sun all day… but on my first day the printer in the office wasn’t working… and there I was in the office for the rest of my time, doing what was most important to keep other people productive.

    As for insurance… I haven’t had any, and I know that isn’t the best policy to have. You might want to try http://www.medexassist.com/Individuals/Products/travmedabroad.aspx or some of the other international medical policies.

  21. Hi Darius,

    I’ve got a teenage daughter and would love to bring her along if when decide to do this. What are your thoughts on bringing teens?

    I acknowledge you for your work in this organization.

    Much love,


  22. Sadie,

    It really depends on the maturity level of your daughter. Working in a disaster zone can be a very stressful and emotionally draining experience… but I’ve seen it be an amazing bonding experience for the parent / child teams that have joined us in the past. I personally think international travel is a great experience for a teenager and the volunteering part really gives a different perspective on the world.

    If you can bring a 1 to 1 ratio of teenager to guardian, that would be ideal.

    Travel well,


  23. Any need for an engineer? I’d be more than happy to help build houses, etc., but a messed up hip prevents me from being able to do much physical labor (muay thai -> torn ligament badness). I’ve been trying to find something I can do despite that, any thoughts?

  24. This is awesome. Not to mention right up my ally, I’ve been talking to my friends about where to travel this summer and then I read this. I am so pumped.

  25. Thanks Tim for posting this!

    It’s really great timing since I am heading off to Peru for my next semester and was questioning myself on volunteering or not before or after school –

    Hi Darius!

    What inspiring work you do 🙂 and this is exactly the kind of organization I would myself love to operate…

    I am 20 yrs old and currently studying Business in a Montreal University that offers a French/English/Spanish program which is awesome in my case where I want to get involve in international humanitarian work.

    I just recently had to chose my specification and, from what I was told, accounting is what would get me closer to my goal (CA- generally verification). Do you think this would be a good choice or do you have any other suggestions?

    Thank you very much

  26. Tim,

    Very inspiring. The happiness that doing good for others brings is a vacation in itself.

    – Mike

  27. I’m starting an MBA program in the fall and after reading 4HWW, saw it as a window of opportunity for a miniretirement. I’ve always to see more of life outside the US, but knew I couldn’t experience what life is really like somewhere by staying in a hotel for a few nights and touring “the sights.” My question became: how can I live in a country longer than a few nights in a hotel, but not so long that I could find work there to support myself? Volunteering overseas was the answer. (Admittedly, my interests are not quite as unselfish as others on the blog. 🙂

    So it is that after only 3 1/2 years of full-time work and savings, I’m in Vietnam right now for a month, will be in Thailand next month, Europe the following, and hopefully Tanzania after that (if our extra fund-raising comes through). I’m having a wonderful experience teaching English at a primary school for about 15 hours a week, and using the remaining time to experience daily, routine life in Hanoi.

    For those interested, I used International Volunteer Headquarters (www.volunteerhq.com). Unlike Hands On, there are some program fees, but I found it to be thousands of dollars cheaper than most international volunteer programs (compare Cross Cultural Solutions).

    To me, the advantage to paid programs like IVHQ vs. free programs like Hands On would be 1) to have more personal time in-country, and 2) a better choice of destinations (you can go somewhere that isn’t in a state of disaster!) It’s been a nice balance of experiencing life in the country (affordably!) and doing some good at the same time.

    1. My daughter is planning to go two months to Thailand with International Volunteering Headquarters (based in New Zealand). From your comments, looks like you had experience with them). Would you know how I can confirm that they are a legitimate organization? We tried to connect people that volunteered previously but could not get in touch with any,


  28. @Ken

    *How do you deal with health insurance, when volunteering, without going into debt?”

    If I may be so bold as to post a response…My wife and I quit our jobs (and thus our insurance) to volunteer overseas for 5 months before starting business school in the fall. If we had to pay monthly unsubsidized insurance premiums plus travel insurance, our plans would have ended right there.

    On recommendation by our travel doctor, we purchased a travel plan through International SOS (www.internationalsos.com). They act as our primary insurer, covering emergency medical costs, evacuation, etc. That means we are on our own for routine, “non-emergency” illnesses, but the cost for that type of care here is extremely low compared to US. For example, a fellow volunteer here injured his ankle and spent a total of $35 for an x-ray and a cast. Another suffered a head injury from a motorbike accident and reported similar costs.

    So for “non-emergency care”, I say forget the high insurance premuims for care you may never use. Instead, plan on paying out-of-pocket the low actual costs, if there are any at all. It is the “emergency care” (and evacuation) costs that you must insure against, as I hear they can soar well into the thousands, even tens of thousands.

    For what it’s worth, other reasons I like International SOS are:

    1) they have a package that covers you for a full year, regardless of the number of destinations or length of stays.

    2) the rates seem reasonable (I found a discount code that saved my wife and I over $200 each, so check around.)

    3) they have a hospital/clinic here in Hanoi (you may want to check your destination for what international healthcare is available there)

  29. It’s amazing how a wonderful goal like helping people can motivate people to work so hard. I really enjoyed all the stories. It’s these type of people that I would love to interview for my site. There are rich CEO who don’t get as much from from hard work as these people do.

  30. I have to echo the feelings of those who have merged volunteering and trekking the world. After a mind-expanding experience while checking out another part of the world, my partner and I decided to reinvent the way we look at life. A pivotal element in reconstructing our lives focused on doing long-term volunteer work in a poverty stricken country. We just returned, and it was the best several months we have ever had. A few thoughts that relate to previous posts/questions….

    -For most of us, it’s a huge leap to look at life, travel, the world etc. in a new way. Conventional living and fear is like gravity holding us back. Once you actually make the leap, chances are you won’t regret it one bit.

    -There are lots of no-fee/low-fee opportunities out there. Find something that resonates with you. If you’re not into all the multi-thousand-dollar international volunteer opportunities, keep looking and don’t be discouraged.

    -Absolutely get travel medical insurance. It’s pretty inexpensive all things considered. We had to use ours at one point along the way and had no problem getting the claim approved.

  31. Hey Darius,

    I would love to partake in a Hands On Disaster Response type experience, does Hands On Disaster Response have any partners or affiliates in Canada? If not do you know of any similar organizations in Canada? Thanks in advance!

  32. As a former US Peace Corps volunteer (Papua New Guinea 97-99) I would strongly encourage anyone who is looking to design their lifestyle or take a mini-retirement, via volunteering, to go for it!

    Volunteering abroad will change your whole existence and the way that you live.

    If you have any questions about what it is like to live and volunteer in a remote village for two years, please feel free to email me.

    All the best,

    Mark Hayward

    Lifestyle Design Consultant

  33. This is for Eric –

    I’m currently living in the LA area. I’m wondering if you and your friends might be hiring for the Christmas Light hanging business you run?

    If not, do you have any advice about finding a job in this field / any info how much you typically make in a season.



  34. Hey Tim,

    Just a quick one… If you’ve ever wondered why the subscribe button image doesn’t look quite right, it’s because the height and width are set wrong. If you want to fix it, just change the line:


    Shalom aleichem,


  35. Ok, it didn’t seem to like me pasting in the HTML. Basically the width and height values atm are set at 56 and 54 respectively. You need to change them to 54 and 55.

  36. Darius – what a great post. Thanks so much!

    @Seamus: I think disaster response might be tough with kids, but our experience thus far with trading school for international experience in general has been fantastic. If you can, it’s worth talking to a few families before writing off the idea completely.

    @Rhea: We found very few “official” groups or resources supporting international work in natural medicine in the past, but it wasn’t hard to find something less structured. Sometimes the best opportunities aren’t in plain sight. As KC said above: keep looking!

  37. HI Darius:

    Thanks for the terrific post. It is great to find an organization with a “come one, come all” philosophy. As many others have noted, it is really tough to find volunteer posts that don’t either have high fees or mandatory volunteer/time requirements.

    I would love to join your next project. What is the best way to be notified? I signed up for your online newsletter. Do you send out volunteer requests via that mailing list?



  38. @Kelly

    If you signed up for our newsletter then we’ll update you when a new project starts. Thanks for the support and for being the change.


  39. Great post and interesting website Tim. I found myself doing exactly this from 2005 onwards, when I arrived in Thailand to volunteer for a few months with a Karen Human Rights organisation working with ethnic Karen feeling the Burmese military government. I ended up staying in Thailand where I am now – living in Chiang Mai nearly 3 years later.

    I’m a web developer by trade and came across your book last year Tim, bought for me by a friend living in Spain. I realised when I read it that I had already made the leap and was well on my way to the lifestyle you describe.

    I left London 5 years ago this October, laptop in hand, and since then I have not looked back 🙂

  40. Tim…great article!

    I have been hoping for a blog article like this. As a returned Peace Corps volunteer 95-97 (Tanzania), I believe that experience was the shake up that my head needed….some of which, not realized until later.

    Vacation from bills, the normal meaningless ’emergencies’ of western world and the like were things that I enjoyed most. Being outside of a person’s previous life is very unique and puts things in a great perspective. My wife and I plan to volunteer again in the next few years.

    @ken – organizations like the Peace Corps will cover everything for you…health ins. etc..all are taken care of. Your MBA and entreprenurial drive will suit some of the small biz development programs that have begun in the past decade.

  41. This sounds fantastic and a great low cost way to see the world.

    I have to echo the thoughts of Seamus above though, I have a 3 year old. My wife or myself would have to alternate looking after him rather than doing the disaster relief work. Unfortunately, there will probably be disasters in 10 years we’ll be able to take him to.

    I am really interested in doing this now though.

  42. I spent a couple of weeks with Hands On in Biloxi, MS following Hurricane Katrina and they really are a great bunch of guys. This is an organization that’s smart, nimble, and unlike most other groups of this kind, it doesn’t have any religious affiliations. Darius and Dave were experts at leveraging the personal expertise of each volunteer, and made it point to place everyone in a role where they would be the most productive. Most of my work was focused around coordinating the pick-up of supplies being airlifted to Gulfport by another fantastic organization, Angel Flight. It was amazing two weeks, and my only regret is that I couldn’t stay longer.

  43. In BusinessWeek’s August 2007 report on “The Future of Work” people were asked, “Do you live to work or work to live?” 84% ages 35-44 reported they work to live, as did 72% of those ages 55 and older.

    While many organizations have responded with “flexible” workplaces and on-site amenities (childcare, drycleaning, banking), others have stepped up in bolder ways – by offering sabbatical programs. Often paid with full benefits, many people use these opportunities to volunteer. A full list of companies with sabbatical programs can be found at yourSABBITICAL.com.

    Some companies align with a volunteer project and employees apply. IBM’s Corporate Services Corps is an example of a kind of corporate peace corps. Launched last month, the program had over 5,000 applicants. (100 were chosen)

    With sabbaticals as an emerging trend, more people than ever will have opportunities to volunteer and still return to their careers enhanced with richer life experiences.

  44. Room to Read Org

    Would like to participate in the actual building/construction of the schools. How do I volunteer my service?


    Hi Brad,

    I just sent your comment to Emily at R2R, and she should be in touch 🙂


  45. @Sheamus: LOL at having to “drag” your kids out of school to go on a global learning adventure! I don’t know many kids here in the US who would put up much of a fight to learn in freedom from the system :p If you’re really concerned about them getting behind their age-segregated “peers,” there’s always the option of homeschooling (although I don’t recommend a rigid “school at home” program unless you want to put a huge damper on the whole experience.) What better way to learn 4HWW principles than by real world example? As we all know, they don’t teach this stuff in conventional school!

    I know this post is a little belated, but one of the participants in Oprah and Eckhart Tolle’s last webclass on “A New Earth” mentioned volunteer work at Idealist.org. I found a section on Family Volunteering on site which includes lists of family-friendly organizations. Don’t know much about it, but the layout is nice and overall, it looks promising. Also, don’t forget Tim’s Dec. 21st post on “Escape 101” and traveling with (or without) kids. Where there’s a will, there’s always a way!

    Celebrate Life & learning in freedom ~ I AM!

    Penne and the folks at the CanDo! CO-OP 😀

  46. I’m sitting here in Beijing waiting to hear if Hands On will be deploying to Sichuan or not. I had a wonderful experience with them in Bangladesh at the beginning of the year and now I’m hooked.

    For me it’s the best of both worlds – I get to help out in ways I normally wouldn’t consider, get involved in communities in a more intimate way and meet lots of great people all while earning money.

    I don’t earn money with Hands On but because I earn money online whether I put in the hours or not, having my food and expenses covered means that I come out of a volunteer experience not only having had a great time, but also with more money in the bank.

    I would still volunteer with Hands On even if that wasn’t the case but it certainly is a pretty great bonus. It gives me more money for my future travels and I can donate more money to the organisation as well. Win win!

  47. for Ken Schulz

    Try contacting Dr Greg Ash at http://www.noahorphans.org.za as Noah may well be happy to benefit from your skill sets.

    NOAH currently assists 48,000 children orphaned by aids and has to grow rapidly to hope to meet the need. You will be impressed with this organisation.

    Best of luck

    Sandy Potter

  48. Hi!

    Awesome post! I am dying to enter the wonderful world of volunteer work!! I have a 4 year old son (who will be 5 in August) and though he will go to school and live the “normal life” during the school year, I want him to join me in volunteer work during the off time. I think it would be beneficial beyond words and a great adventure for both of us. I saw the comments about the parent/teenager teams, what of parent/child teams? ..

  49. Volunteer Opportunities (only low cost !!)

    Have you ever tried to find a place to volunteer but found the costs just too high???

    Check out http://www.hopenhome.org

    HOPE and HOME was created to combat this exact problem – seeking international volunteers to help empower the people of Nepal aspiring to improve their own situation.


    THANK You

    HOPE and HOME – Nepal

  50. Would you like to volunteer while travelling/trekking in Nepal? Volunteer in Nepal with orphans, poor street children and/or victimized women for a day, a week or a month at Fresh Nepal. Volunteer in various projects at the orphanage which include teaching, health care and/or office work. Spend time with the children (orphans) playing and doing activites with them. Please visit http://www.freshnepal.org

  51. Hi, great article.

    I am 26, male and from the United Kingdom. Never been away by myself before and think that this would be an ideal way to build up to something like that.

    Can you recommend a good charity etc that someone from the UK should try?

  52. I had a volunteering experience too, which was terribly useful and mind-changing.

    I live in Europe, Hungary, and when I finished college (as electrical engineer) I hopped on a plane to London for 3 months. Not too long, yes, and not a very huge distance (2000km from home), but changed my whole life. Hungary vs UK is maybe equivalent to US vs Europe.

    I recommend it everybody.

  53. As far as Health Insurance for my family while we are traveling abroad, do you have a solid recommendation for International coverage?

    Thank you

  54. Thanks for such a great article! We’re looking for volunteering projects after one we were going to do fell through because of fudning shortages. This has given us some excellent resources!!

  55. Can you respond about one sentence in the 4HWW book?

    (Just to attract attention: I am 100 years old and today is my birthday.)

    “Join two or three related trade organizations with official-sounding names.” Does it mean to join the memberships of organizations by paying the fee? If not, can you be an angel and give an example with joining Association for Conflict Resolution (http://www.acrnet.org/), which is mentioned in the book?

    Thanks so so much!

    Feng from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium

  56. “Taking a boat 22 hours down a river, being the only white and English-speaking person on that boat, and being dropped off at a dock at the edge of a jungle.” ..what an arrogance of white people….last chapter of the white man´s burden…

  57. I am currently on vacation where I sat through a timeshare presentation for free show tickets. ( I didn’t buy the timeshare) The hard closer basically told me I had no plan and would never be able to travel. Well looky here, it can be done. Ron ( the hard closer) I know people that are doing it without buying your freaken timeshare

  58. I have been thinking along these lines myself recently. Rather than just having a holiday and seeing the sights I think I would like to be able to help out somewhere and make a difference. This article is a great starting point to discovering where you can do this.

  59. Maybe I’m the only one, but it leaves me with a weird taste in my mouth when I hear disaster-aid volunteering being touted as a “free travel opportunity”. Hands On sounds like a fantastic organization, but it’s kind of awful to sell it as a way to see the world. Isn’t it? Don’t you feel like you’re capitalizing on people’s need and despair? People who volunteer for this should be in it to help (which it sounds like they are), not to drink beer on the beach in Thailand (which it sounds like you are trying to get).

    1. @Varia

      Is an act of good done to satisfy an ego, of any lesser value than one that is selfless? Assuming the act of good is performed to the same level.

      I’m not saying it isn’t a little weird, but if the “ability to travel the world for free” gets people to a village in a remote country and putting in daily meaningful work to help others… than I’m ok with whatever motivation got them there.

  60. Last week, I went on tour that I found out through GoVoluntouring.com. We were counting bats in Cuba. It was a bit pricey for a week, but definitely an awesome experience, since you basically can’t work with bats in North America due to White Nose Syndrome. I plan to go back to do some caving next trip.

    I looked up teaching English in Thailand for my next adventure. Generally, I’m not much of a traveler, but the volunteering aspect immerses you in the experience, rather than being a passive observer. I just picked up the Voluntourist, by Ken Budd, which I hope you cover in your book club Tim.

  61. All can say is please please please read the fine print on your ‘volunteer’ contracts. Have seen many diabolical contracts where volunteers are expected to sign away many personal rights including IP, Imagery, uncensored communications (including personal emails, blogs etc), and much more.

    Also long history of ‘charity’ groups (including quite high profile internationals) in charging exorbitant fees for administration, induction training etc etc. Can cost many thousands of dollars to be a ‘volunteer’.

    Many groups will also try to recruit you as a recruiter and fund raiser, long after your volunteer experience.

    Lots of scams sharks and corruption out in the ‘volunteer experience’ sector. Often best to simply travel to the country yourself privately. Then hook up with volunteer groups individually, based on personal recommendations and gut feeling.

    Be careful, be wise in your compassion and kindness.

  62. After reading the 4HWW, I took my wife and two kids(9 & 5) on a mini retirement across north Africa so they can witness the Arab spring with their own eyes. I was working at an investment bank and followed the instructions in the book very closely. It actually worked, with some minor modification for children. Despite the fact I was told that it was career suicide, this retirement paid many career and non-career dividends. One of the biggest ones with the volunteer work I did with an NGO.

    During my time in Egypt, I volunteered some time to an NGO who was seeking to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of orphans across Egypt. What I learned was that a little bit of help goes a very long way. If anyone is interested, here is a bit more about the work I did with them.