Long-term vs short-term volunteering – which is best for you?

Volunteering overseas, whether during a break or a gap year, is one of the best things you’ll ever do in your life! But how much time should you put aside for your trip?

Modern life is a rush, and we often hear ourselves saying “I don’t have time for that! I’m in a hurry!” Vacation time means we can finally put our feet up, spend quality time with family and friends, or head out on a trip – or try to do it all!

travel stress

Even if you take a full gap year, you might have commitments and financial constraints to consider before heading out into the wide blue yonder.

When it comes to volunteering trips overseas, it can be tricky to figure out what to do with our time. It’s in our nature to want to see and do as much as possible in a short time, but it might not be the best option for the volunteer program you choose.

Benefits of long-term volunteer trips

  • Volunteering trips that take a month or longer give you more time to understand and immerse yourself in local culture.
  • You can focus on the project without worrying about timetables and deadlines, and you’ll get to fully explore everything the country has to offer.
  • You get to spend lots of quality time with other volunteers from all over the world.
  • You can network and share information with other volunteers.
  • The deeper understanding you gain can have a lasting impact on your personal growth and career path.
  • You’ll have time to explore the issues that developing nations face, and really get to know the local community.

community volunteering africa

  • Long-term projects are a two-way street - the community benefiting from the project has the advantage of getting to know more about the volunteer and their culture.
  • They also get to feel that they are important in the bigger picture. This is especially true for projects that work with children.
  • People care about them and want to help where they can. This can have a huge impact on the mindset of people in poorer areas, and motivate them to want to improve their own and their community’s circumstances where they can. The feeling of empowerment spreads out into wider society!

So who should volunteer overseas long-term?

Obviously, you need time! You should also have the right mindset to be away from work, studies, and family for a month or more.

volunteering south africa

If you’re psychologically mature, motivated, and independent, you’ll do very well living in a far-away country for a while. Bear in mind that you’ll probably develop close friendships with some of the people you work and live with – and goodbyes can be hard. But it will be so worth it!

Benefits of short-term volunteer trips

  • Short-term volunteer project work can give you a small taste of the kind of work you’ll be doing, without a long-term commitment.
  • If you’re new to volunteering, short-term projects can help you decide if volunteering is right for you.
  • If you’re worried about travelling alone or feeling isolated in a foreign country, you’ll be able to “test the waters” and figure out how you can get around, without feeling overwhelmed by a long trip.
  • If you’re not sure whether you want to work at a certain type of project, you can try it out for a week or two, and decide if you want to do something different on your next trip.
  • For example, working with impoverished communities might not be right for you, and you might prefer to work in conservation and wildlife projects.

wildlife volunteering south africa

  • You’ll be able to decide if you like the volunteer accommodation you stay in, and if you like the people you’re staying with.

Whatever type of volunteer trip you choose, make sure the volunteer service provider is reliable, ethical, has real relationships with the people who run the projects, and gives you all the information you need to make the right choices.

Hope to see you in Africa soon!

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Fundraising to volunteer abroad for free
Volunteer World
Khaya Volunteer Projects application
Lilizela Provincial Visitor Experience Award