It’s been exactly five years since I landed in Cape Town to begin my internship with a growing NGO. Little did I know at the time that this experience would truly change my entire life. I fell head over heels for Cape Town—the natural beauty, incredible people, and impactful work I did. It sparked my love for travel and launched my career path.
Traveling with purpose is what made this journey different from any other. I wasn’t just taking a vacation and going on safari in an African country. I made the conscious decision to work, volunteer, and immerse myself for an extended period of time. I believe those who love travel or want to start traveling should work abroad or take a “voluntourism” trip because it brings you so much closer to your destination and yourself.
In honor of this five-year anniversary of my time in Cape Town, I want to share the top five reasons you should work and/or volunteer when you travel!
1. You become part of a community – My internship with an environmental/ecotourism organization enabled me to work and grow with a team while also volunteering in the community. It sharpened my social media and marketing skills, but I also gave back and interacted with the community by planting trees with school children, supporting events, and helping at the tree and food nursery. If you work or volunteer abroad, you’re going to have opportunities to be a part of the organization, as well as the local community. You’ll most likely have events to attend, team building opportunities, and activities that contribute to the society your living in.
2. Your coworkers or fellow volunteers become your adventure buddies – The people I interned, volunteered, and lived with, who came from all over the world, became my best friends and my sidekicks on adventurous trips. From our lunch breaks to nights and weekends, we always found exciting things to do together. Because of them it was so much easier to explore and be more daring. When you take this kind of trip, you’re automatically going to have people by your side. You’ll build significant friendships with colleagues or fellow volunteers, and you’ll have people who want to show you around or join you on your adventures. I’m still close with the people I met and I even travel with one of them at least once a year!
3. You’ll more deeply immerse yourself in the culture – If you are truly interested in visiting and experiencing a new place, working or volunteering gives you more time and ways to immerse yourself there. Because I was technically living in Cape Town, I led a daily routine like locals did and had more time to enjoy the area. I know for a fact that I would not have been able to do as much as I did if I’d only had one or two weeks. With a couple months I was able to feel at home there and understand what it’s like to be a local. It’s what made me fall so in love with Cape Town and it gave me a new appreciation for life there.
4. You’ll find a blend of independence and community support – Taking a trip like this is all about discovering independence! But, it’s also about how you can hone your independence while also finding community. You’re going to have to do a lot of things on your own—from grocery shopping and laundry to building relationships with those around you. As you find this independence though, you’ll also find a sense of community through your colleagues and locals. Yes, you are doing things on your own, but when you do that, you also meet people and form friendships. It’s the perfect opportunity to construct your personal identity, while also building a community around you.
5. It’s great experience for your career goals – You make more of your travels by adding a unique experience to your resume! Working and/or volunteering in a foreign country not only helps you grow your skill set, but it also gives you valuable cross-communication skills and the ability to think critically in diverse and complex settings. It shows you’re curious about the world, brave, and willing to put all of yourself into a new challenge.
Working and volunteering when you travel offers such special and life-changing experiences—and if you still don’t believe me, just have a look at all the fun I had below!