Three Experts Share How to Find the Courage to Take a Break from Work to Travel and Volunteer

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.

Explore. Dream. Discover.

H. Jackson Brown – P.S. I Love You

What are you doing in your life right now that pushes you past your safe boundaries, into unknown territory where you can learn, grow….explore, dream, discover?

The Global Commute is dedicated to helping you find where that place is and what life-changing experience is waiting for you there. I firmly believe that connection is the key for a meaningful experience, and is best achieved through volunteering. It’s a scary, but highly rewarding way to Journey Beyond the Bucket List. For that reason, volunteering will be a continuous theme here on The Global Commute. It just so happens that some of the gutsiest people are out there somewhere in the world having amazing adventurous, while pushing boundaries and changing people’s lives for the better. Now that’s what I call Journeying Beyond the Bucket List!

In honor of The Global Commute’s official launch, I asked some folks who have achieved great things in travel and volunteering this question:

What is the best piece of advice you can give to others who are struggling to find courage to volunteer abroad?

Their insights truly have challenged me – I hope they do the same for you as we start out in this quest together.

Jon Cassidy Quest4ChangeJon Cassidy – Director, Quest Overseas

It’s tough to just sum it up into just one piece of advice, but if I had to it would be the following – you never know what you are capable of until you try. Every new experience is a scary one to a certain extent, but no matter what stage we are in our lives, we will almost always look back at the times when we pushed and challenged ourselves and be pleased that we did. This is what you should focus on if you are considering volunteering overseas.

Obviously everyone is different and it is important to find the right experience for you. Different organizations offer different levels of support; you may be working on your own or as part of a team. You may also have leaders on site or you may be left to fend for yourself. Give some thought to what is right for you and find the organization which offers the right level of support.

Research the projects you are considering working on as well. People often spend time concentrating on the cost of an experience and your safety while you are there (both of which are important), but then just assume that the project will be worthwhile and their work will be valuable. Consider the skills you can bring to a project and ask the organization why your skills will be useful.

It may be that volunteering overseas could completely change what you want to do with your life, then again it may not. No matter what happens after this experience, it is sure to give you a different perspective on things, which is sure to help you in future life, no matter what you do.

Giving yourself time to research the alternatives and think about what you want to achieve will give you the added confidence to prepare you for overseas volunteering. In all cases though, there is a part which will mean you have to take a small leap of faith. This is what makes us who we are though, and you should not be afraid to push yourself and find out what you are truly capable of.

Jon Cassidy is a travel enthusiast with a passion for volunteering.  Besides heading up Quest Oversees, he is also the owner of Bolivian Mountains, a bespoke travel company specializing in high altitude trekking and climbing.

Quest Overseas has been sending teams of young volunteers on combined projects and expeditions to South America and Africa since 1996. Teams take part in long-term project partnerships for 1 to 2 months, which can be anything from working with children in a Peruvian shanty town, caring for wild animals in the Bolivian Amazon or helping to build sand dams in drought ridden regions of Kenya. Following this, they set off on a mind blowing expedition where trekking, ice climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, safaris and diving through the heights of the Andes or the expanse of the African savannah are part of a jam-packed introduction to the local area. They pride themselves in making sure their teams’ contributions to projects are part of a genuinely beneficial, long-term commitment to the local communities and environments. To help ensure this, their charity arm Quest4Change actively fundraises alongside the contributions made by their volunteers to provide year-round support to the project. Quest is also a founding member of the Fair Trade Volunteering movement, promoting best practice for volunteering overseas.  Learn mort at or


Michele Gran - Global VolunteersMichele Gran – Co-founder, Global Volunteers

The reasons people have been reluctant to put themselves at service over the years have been varied and personal.  However, they fall into two broad categories:  Unfamiliarity with international travel, and discounting their own value.  I haven’t felt that people have lacked courage, as such, but instead have been reluctant to put themselves “out there” without expectation about how they will be engaged.

The key to what we do is that we need to relinquish our assumption/need for control over the outcome.  Local people are in charge – that’s our philosophy.  As such, it’s necessary for us to divorce ourselves from the desire to “change” things “our way.”  Most people aren’t used to this.  So, they can become anxious about how effective they’re being.  Our advice is to relax and trust us that we’ll place them in the assignment that best utilizes their skills. That’s the other part of this – many people, despite being raised in one of the most productive, wealthiest countries in history, feel inadequate to impact what they see to be the “massive problem of poverty, homelessness, disease, etc.” so, they assume they can’t be helpful.  We often hear:  “I don’t have any skills to share.”  Which makes us laugh – by virtue of being raised in an advanced society, we have so much to share just by reaching out in compassion and respect.  We’re raised optimistic, to think for ourselves, to be problem-solvers and to look for new options.  This can be very helpful when working in the development field.

Co-founder and Senior Vice President, Michele manages the GlobalVolunteers’s media relations and external messages, working directly with host partners to promote and strengthen local development partnerships.  She earned a Master’s Degree in Liberal Studies/International Communications and a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. Michele also has led over 35 Global Volunteers teams.

In 1984, Global Volunteers helped lay the foundation for what became known a decade later as “Volunteer Vacations.”  They engage short-term volunteers on long-term projects to nurture and sustain the wellbeing of the world’s children, so they can realize the full promise of their human potential. Global Volunteers was granted Special Consultative Status with the United Nations in 1999, and formalized a relationship with UNICEF in 2008; now collaborating to address hunger, poverty and educational needs in partner communities worldwide. Visit them on the web at


Ken Budd - The VoluntouristKen Budd – Author of The Voluntourist

A fellow volunteer in Costa Rica told me that you only learn about yourself when you’re outside your comfort zone. I came to believe deeply in that statement, but leaving your comfort zone isn’t easy. As a global volunteer, I never arrived at a project and thought, “I’m the volunteer! Let’s get to work!” I always thought, “I’m an idiot, what am I doing here, this was a big mistake…” It was only when I returned home that I usually said, “Wow—that was an amazing experience.” As a volunteer in another country, remember that you’re there to serve and that you’re the guest. Do whatever you’re asked, smile a lot, and work hard.

To me, the most valuable part of volunteering wasn’t so much the work we did, but the cultural interactions that occurred. People were talking who never talked otherwise, and that changed how we saw each other. Stereotypes and misconceptions started to disappear. In China, when my friend and I volunteered at a special needs school, I always thought the most important thing we did was just being there. The teachers work incredibly difficult jobs and we helped to break up their routine. After we left, one of the teachers said, “We seem to laugh more when volunteers are here.” I think there’s enormous value in that.

Ken Budd is the author of The Voluntourist, an award-winning memoir about his quest “to live a life that matters” while volunteering in New Orleans, Costa Rica, China, Ecuador, Palestine, and Kenya. His writing credits include The New York Times, The Washington Post, Smithsonian, and many more; he has made 150+ appearances on TV and radio, including NBC’s Today show, CBS This Morning, CBS’s The Early Show, and ABC News Now. Ken recently won gold in the 2014 Society of American Travel Writers’ Lowell Thomas awards for “Holding Elijah,” an essay based on his experiences in Kenya. All of Ken’s earnings from The Voluntourist are going back to the organizations and places where he volunteered. You can connect with him on Twitter and Facebook; his web site is

Now take their advice and go for it. Don’t regret the things you didn’t do.

Have any advice to share? Post it in the comments section!


Feature Photo Credit: Everste/iStock/Thinkstock

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