As the idea for this trip took shape, and I was trying to figure out what to do during all the time in these different cities, I had the idea: I could volunteer in different places.
Volunteering would not only mean I’d make some kind of – minimal – contribution to the country or city I’m in, but it would also bring me in touch with locals, and I’d get to know people more easily.
Being alone for such a long time was a bit scary of course, and even if I have traveled alone on short city trips, or longer holidays of up to two weeks, being alone for 15 or 18 months was something I could not really grasp.
Volunteering would help me avoid that loneliness, and I admit that motivation was a big part of it.
It turned out, it was not as easy as I thought.
In my first three months, language issues were the biggest obstacle. With no Portuguese at all and only little Spanish skills, I did not even really look for a volunteering post, to be honest. Learning Spanish was my biggest goal for the time being.
After that, it became more difficult than I had thought.
Volunteering positions are sought after – to a point that some places actually take money for the privilege to work for them. Something I can’t really get to comprehend, even if I understand they’d want to cover the cost of accommodating the volunteers, etc.
Other times, it was difficult for administrative reasons, insurance questions or visa restrictions.
Tourist visa or the simple stamp that I got in my passport for a short tourist stay without any visa requirements, come with certain limitations – mostly related to work.
German citizens have visa-free or visa on arrival access to 174 countries and territories, tied with the US, British, Finnish and Swedish in 1st place.
Still, a lot of voluntary positions required a certain type of visa, or a full-on work permit. Often organizations were not really aware of that and gave conflicting information, or simply demanded a visa and work permit.
In the end, I also often simply lacked the time – and energy – to organize something ahead of arrival, to be honest.
I have spent so much time and energy organizing the trip as I go along – booking rooms and hotels and cars, and trains, and flights, and looking for the best and cheapest option, and deciding what side trips I would be doing, that I was simply fed up organizing anything beyond the immediately necessary.
So the idea of volunteering took a backseat, and I haven’t really tried to find something in the last couple of months.
With the exception of this month, in Melbourne. I tried to volunteer for Lentil as anything – a not-for-profit organization that relies solely on the generosity of patrons, partners and volunteers and provides quality vegetarian food for people with little means.
You can pay as you want, or can, and their kitchens are visited by a lot of young or poor people, who simply can’t afford to pay much. I have been there myself last year.
But again – a work permit seemed to be necessary – and a tourist visa. Mailing the organization, I got the feedback that my stamp in my passport could be enough…. but by the time I wanted to enroll, they had filled all positions.
So, long story short, I didn’t volunteer anywhere. Unlike fellow traveler Daniel Baylis, whom I met in Montréal, who travelled 12 months around the globe and volunteered in a number of places.
He wrote a fascinating book about his experiences, fun, good and bad, and I’ll write about him soon.