By Devon Mason
Read more from Devon on her blog, Devon Meets World.
Solo travel might seem awkward and scary at first, but it can also be rewarding in a number of ways. First, there are the obvious perks: solo travel allows you to become more comfortable in your own head space, and being able to tune into your inner dialogue is one of the best ways to learn about yourself.
But solo travel doesn’t have to be just about you. It can also be a chance to contribute to a community, and as an added benefit, you may find your life richer for it. One of the best ways to make a community connection is to volunteer while traveling, and while the idea may sound intimidating, I recently discovered how easy it is to pull off once you’ve identified a volunteer opportunity that matches your passion.
My personal passion is storytelling through travel. I love meeting people from all corners of the world and hearing about their lives. I always find myself wanting to interview travelers and discover what life lessons travel has taught them. This led me to seek out travel conferences, where travelers from all over the world come together to collaborate on common goals. When I stumbled upon the Women in Travel Summit (WITS), which aims to strengthen women’s voices in the travel sphere and build solidarity, I knew I’d found the right fit.
As I signed up to attend the most recent WITS conference in Québec, I noticed there was also a volunteer application form, and even though I’d never combined solo travel and volunteering before, I found myself lingering on the application. Admittedly, I was a bit hesitant to sign up for a volunteer position at first. I love having flexibility and freedom when I travel, and I always strive to make each day my own. Would I be giving my independence up by dedicating my trip to a cause? I put my doubts aside and sent in my application, and to my surprise, I was chosen as an official volunteer within days.
For me, volunteering at a travel conference meant that I could meet storytellers from around the world. I worked the registration desk at WITS and handed out badges to hundreds of attendees, each with unique backgrounds and stories to unpack. I got the opportunity to engage with and ask questions of people whom I would not have met on my own.
I worked with a local Québécoise woman who offered to help me with my French over lunch. I met one of the organizers of the event, who happened to have lived in my childhood neighborhood. I even had the chance to publicly speak by introducing a panel of travel influencers to an entire ballroom full of fellow bloggers. Being in a room full of talented bloggers made me realize I wanted to become a travel blogger myself, and I couldn’t have gotten to that realization without their inspirational energy and encouragement. Not only did volunteering lead me to this event that guided me to what should come next in my life, but it introduced me to the people who could help me get there.
Setting up a rewarding volunteer element for your own solo trip is easier than you might think.
First, seek out your passion. What do you want to become more involved in? What do you want to learn? If you dig deep enough, there is almost always a way to volunteer that aligns with your interests. Are you a cinephile? Try volunteering at a film festival that highlights documentaries with messages you care about. Want to improve your Spanish? Volunteer to teach school children in South America with a non-profit of your choice. Or maybe you just want to make international friends. Volunteering at hostels in the U.S. or abroad, introducing international guests to your hometown and making them feel welcome, can give you that experience. There are countless ways to give back to a community as you experience its local culture, and volunteering sometimes unravels more local charm than if you had traveled under traditional circumstances.
As I learned on my trip to WITS in Québec, combining volunteering with solo travel was the best decision I could have made. I had moments where I ventured off with my own whimsical agenda, but I also found myself eagerly walking to my volunteer station to give back to a community that I loved. I arrived in Québec a bit apprehensive of how my experience would unfold, but left knowing I had contributed to and enriched a community that I was now a part of.
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How Allie Traveled and Volunteered in Kathmandu With a HI USA Scholarship
Allie is a 2017 winner of HI USA’s Explore the World Scholarship from San Francisco. Allie used her scholarship money to travel to Nepal, where she volunteered with the Children’s Art Museum of Nepal. This is her story.