When people think of volunteering while traveling, they usually think of digging wells in African villages or building houses with Habitat for Humanity. Those are the sort of volunteer opportunities that require a few weeks of time — a commitment a lot of us can’t make.
I loved volunteering with New York Cares, but I stopped volunteering with them when I started grad school. I was eager to go back to volunteering with them — I loved my roles as a team leader, SAT tutor, and citizenship tutor! But not enough to get me to give up traveling.
Living a nomadic life doesn’t mean you can’t give back.
I volunteer because my dad runs a nonprofit and my mom was a teacher, so I was brainwashed from an early age that it’s just something you do. However, volunteering is a great way to:
- Learn new skills and get training
- Try out a type of work that interests you (without having to go back to school or quit your job)
- Get real work experience (especially when between jobs or switching careers)
- Expand your professional network (and get references!)
- Meet people and make new friends
If you’re a slow traveler, you can find local volunteer opportunities. The most stereotypical volunteer opportunity is to serve food at a soup kitchen. Shelters and food pantries are always looking for volunteers and many roles don’t require training or a long-term commitment. I’m a huge fan of Food Not Bombs.
Transcribe archival documents
You can volunteer to transcribe historic documents through the Smithsonian. Everything is scanned in, so you can do it from anywhere. Similar projects include Family Search, DIY History, Freedom on the Move, Distributed Proofreaders, and Dear Professor Einstein.
Crisis Text Line
The Crisis Text Line provides free support for anyone who texts in, with the goal of taking them from a hot moment to a cool calm. They provide extensive training and support to their volunteers. They require that anyone who completes training put in 200 hours of volunteering. You have total flexibility over your scheduling and volunteer in 2-hour shifts, with no more than 12 hours in any week.
Volunteers with Upwardly Global help recent immigrants navigate the US job market by providing one-on-one career advice and practice with business English.
Translation without Borders
Are you a budding translator? Translation without Borders provides free translation services to international nonprofits, humanitarian, and development agencies.
Want to create audio books from works in the public domain? With LibriVox you learn how to become the voice of an audio book and help make classic works more accessible.
Be My Eyes
The Be My Eyes app connects people with vision impairments to sighted volunteers over video calls.
Chemo Angels matches volunteers with an adult cancer patient to send cards of encouragement each week. This is something that might be particularly fun for a nomad!
People don’t often think of writing Wikipedia articles as volunteering, but it absolutely is! Creating well written, thoroughly researched (and cited) articles about historic figures from marginalized groups is incredibly important.
Open source software
Mozilla. Tor. WordPress. Need I say more?
Remote work for local organizations
I work remotely, so it’s easy for me to volunteer in a similar capacity. However, I’ve learned the hard way that I do not enjoy volunteer roles that are similar to my paid work. I already work at a nonprofit! Doing more work after work and not getting paid is not rewarding.
That doesn’t mean I can’t volunteer remotely. Early in my career I worked as a graphic designer. My professional career has shifted, but I still love graphic design. I almost never do paid design work, so volunteering as a graphic designer is a nice change of pace and a way to keep my skills current.
At The Caregiver Space, I’m always looking for volunteer journalists, researchers, and moderators for our online support groups.
Some skills you can easily put to work as a remote volunteer include:
- Copy writing and copy editing
- Grant writing
- Web design, UX, and programming
- Social media and email marketing
- Legal support
Where to find remote volunteer opportunities
There are several great organizations that can match you with a remote volunteering opportunity to match your skills and interests.