South Africa On A Shoestring Budget - The Advantages Of Volunteering While Travelling

One of the main concerns travellers have is budgeting for a trip. Affordable (if not downright cheap) flights and accommodation are a must, and everyone wants to avoid getting blindsided by hidden costs. You don’t want to have to sell your soul just to be able to afford a sundowner and a very small snack in that pricey resort pub, or get a sudden extra cost on your accommodation bill because you used too much “free” shampoo!

Most travellers have to prioritise budgeting and saving, because we all know how easy it is to spend money on various “super-important” things, and then tell yourself you can’t afford to travel. Travelling on a budget means you have to stop high street shopping trips and buying the latest gadgets, and cut down on those sushi nights or pub crawls if your goal is to save for your trip. It seems tough at first, especially if you’re missing out on fun things because you have to hang onto your money. But, to misquote soon-to-be ex-President Barack Obama: yes we can (give up a few things now for a better thing in the long term, that is!)

Travelling volunteersThere is a lot of info on the web about how to save for your trip, where to travel to stretch your money, and various other tips and hints. One of the main considerations for the not-super-rich these days is that airfares continue to rise, even though fuel costs for airlines are apparently shrinking – if that doesn’t make any sense to you either, ask the airline companies (and ponder that the bosses ARE super-rich...). Luckily, the future is bright and it’s right here and now, for travellers looking for creative ways to see other countries on a budget. Technology and the Internet allow us to avoid travel agents with their booking fees (and sometimes, hidden costs), and we can read blogs and reviews of various trips other travellers have made to inform ourselves. It’s much easier than before to have that truly authentic travel experience.

If you want to have the trip of a lifetime AND get the most out of your wallet, and haven’t thought about travelling to South Africa - it’s high time you did! South Africa is a sought-after destination for many reasons.

-          It’s huge and beautiful, with plenty of breathtaking open spaces that make you feel like the only human in the world. There is nothing quite like standing on the edge of a high plateau, with a primeval valley below you and endless mountains in the distance. Or being on Chapman’s Peak in Cape Town, watching the sun set over the mysterious Atlantic Ocean. Or driving an endless flat road under a perfect, sunny sky.

-          It’s packed with amazing wildlife. You won’t realise how big wild lion paws are until you seem them yourself, and you’ll marvel at the intelligence in the eyes of wild elephants. The reserves and parks are inexpensive compared to other African countries, and because the country relies a lot on tourist income, they are usually well-maintained and safe. Do your homework to ensure you only go to ethically-run parks.

-          The weather is fantastic – don’t forget your high-SPF sunscreen though! The sun can surprise the unwary, and people are advised to stay out of it from midday to late afternoon in summer if they can help it. Although it’s referred to as the “Rainbow Nation”, you probably don’t want to be purple...

-          The beaches are probably the best in the world – if you’re a water lover, be prepared to spend so many hours in the sea that you’ll wrinkle like a prune. Swimming, surfing and sailing are things that many South Africans do almost from birth.

Boats on a beach

-          The various cultures are fascinating, vibrant and diverse. Yes, there is poverty, and it can be a little shocking and unexpected – but you’ll be amazed at the tireless spirit of entrepeneurship, resilience, good cheer and generosity that abounds in all walks of life.

-          South Africa is a relatively safe country if you keep your wits about you – statistically, it’s safer than most other African countries, or pretty much all of South America! Tourists are mainly victims of petty crime – the high homicide rate often bandied about in the media is because of social unrest in some of the poorer urban areas, and it doesn’t happen all over the place. Don’t walk around like a flashy tourist and don’t wander into notorious high-crime areas, and you’ll be fine.

-          South Africa has a thoroughly modern business infrastructure in most places – you’ll be able to shop and bank and otherwise operate your life without having to worry about being ripped off or scammed at every turn. You also won’t be endlessly pestered by the locals trying to sell you things, like in South East Asia – a polite refusal, and most hawkers will move right along.

-          The beer and wine is cheap, tasty and plentiful…nothing more needs to be said here!

-          Last but not least, the exchange rate is extremely favourable to visitors from Europe and Britain. Your pound or euro can get you a LOT MORE FUN than they do at home.

On top of all these natural advantages to the adventurous and frugal traveller, volunteering in South Africa is a perfect opportunity to stretch your travel budget, and also have a lot of other concerns taken care of for you. For as little as €21 a day, you get to experience the country with your accommodation and meals already paid for upfront, with no hidden costs over and above your once-off fee (if you book through a reputable organisation, that is!). You’ll be staying in safe, comfortable surroundings with fellow travellers much like yourself, from many different countries. Entertainment is often arranged for volunteers in-house or as group outings, so you don’t have to go out alone.

We have a very handy volunteer travel guide that tells you all you need to know about volunteering. Grab It Here, For FREE!

You have local volunteer organisers who are thoroughly familiar with all aspects of living in the area and will help you answer any questions or get from A to B hassle-free. And of course, you get to hang out with the awesome local people of South Africa, meet them on their own terms and become absorbed in their lives, while making a noticeable difference in the quality of those lives – no matter what program you choose (and there are quite a few options).

One of the other less obvious effects of volunteering while you travel, is that it teaches you to appreciate what you have back home. Most South Africans live in townships in little more than a tin shack -  42% of South Africans live below the poverty line. What better way to learn to approach your day-to-day life with a little more empathy, humility and thoughtfulness than working in a program that uplifts the less fortunate, while getting to know them on a deep and personal level?

Of course, part of the unforgettable experience of travelling is picking up the local lingo, to practice on unwitting friends and family back home. South Africa has 11 different OFFICIAL languages; all of them colourful, blunt and expressive. Slang permeates all walks of life. Start practicing these words while you book your volunteering trip!

Robot – a traffic light. NOT a beeping metal man!

Braai – barbecue. South Africans love a braai like no other nation on earth. If you’re a vegan, you’ll probably have to get used to the sight of meat…

Ja-nee – yes-no. Said in a kind of slightly exasperated sigh, as in “it is what it is, I guess”.

Eish – Gee whiz!

Haibo – no ways?!

Sharp-sharp – thanks mate

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