If you’re thinking of taking a gap year from education or work this year, the chances are that you’re picking between backpacking and volunteering.
Most people looking for adventure will get fun and enjoyment out of either. Experiencing new cultures and meeting new people will be exhilarating however you go about it.
But what are the pros and cons, and how do you deicide which way to go? Here are some things to think about while planning your next travels.
Whether you’re planning on backpacking or volunteering, money is likely to be an issue. Most people will take on extra work or fundraise in order to save up enough money for their travels. So making sure that you get the most for your limited cash is crucial.
Both backpacking and volunteering can be expensive. There are always cheaper options available to the savvy traveller, but if you’re looking at more than a month away, volunteering will probably be considerably cheaper.
Placements are available around the world for as little as $10 a day, providing you with accommodation and some meals. Although flights can be expensive, once you arrive it can be even cheaper than being at home.
The costs of backpacking will vary widely depending on which countries you travel to. In Europe, you can expect to pay 10 – 20 Euros a night for a hostel bed, whereas in Asia you could pay less than half that.
One of your main costs when backpacking will be travel between destinations. Moving regularly will keep your travels interesting but could end up costing you dearly. When volunteering, you’re more likely to stay in one location for longer, saving valuable funds.
Culture and experience
When setting out on your adventures, getting some culture and experiencing different countries will probably be high on your list of priorities.
When backpacking most of your experiences are likely to be with other travellers. Most people tend to stay in backpacker hostels and to follow similar routes, so you’re most likely to make friends with fellow backpackers.
When volunteering, you are often immersed in another culture, living and working alongside local people. By living in this way you’re likely to gain a deeper understanding of the country that you’re in and the people that inhabit it.
Whether it’s your first time away from home, or you’re a season globetrotter, having the freedom to come and go as you please is likely to be important.
As a backpacker, you are normally travelling to your own itinerary, able to up sticks and leave as soon as a destination loses its excitement. You can stay for a week in one place or a month in another, with no one to answer to but your bank balance.
As a volunteer you generally have to make a commitment to be in one place for a period of time. Although organisations will try to accommodate any travelling plans you have during your stay, most will still require a certain number of hours per week.
How to get the best of both worlds!
Although people often choose one or the other, it can be very easy to combine backpacking and volunteering, giving yourself the best of both worlds.
If you choose a region you are interested in exploring for your volunteering placement, you can make the most of your weekends by getting away on mini breaks. Or give yourself a month once your placement has finished travelling around your temporary home.
By travelling at the end rather than the beginning of your placement, you’re likely to feel a lot more comfortable with the language and culture. You can also pick up some great tips on places to visit while you’re volunteering.
Alternatively, when you’re planning your backpacking route, have a look for volunteer opportunities along the way. A lot of organisations have short-term placements, so you can take just a week or two out of your hectic schedule to make a difference.
Whatever you decide to do on your travels, the people you’ll meet and the places you’ll go are what will make it great. Getting to know a local culture or spending time with international travellers are both exciting, and you’re bound to return home with a good few stories to tell.