Volunteer Abroad During Your Gap Year – Volunteering in Europe
Although traveling during your gap year is an already-fulfilling experience, many young people are motivated to create a positive change and give something back to the communities they’re visiting. Supporting conservation efforts and humanitarian projects, aiding community projects, working with animals in need, doing social work—the opportunities are endless.
Here you’ll find some tips on how to choose the right volunteer program for you, in addition to an overview of 10 volunteering organizations in Europe.
Gap Year Volunteering – European Gap Year with a Positive Impact
What kind of program is best suited to you? This depends on your interests, skill set, availability, and budget. Ask yourself the following questions:
Goals: Outline what you want to achieve through your volunteer work. For example, do you want to immerse yourself in a new culture and learn a new language? Do you want to get involved with charitable projects?
Projects: Reflect on your skill set, personal values, and passions. What are you good at? What do you want to learn? How much time do you have?
Location: What countries, cities or towns would you like to visit?
Once you’ve decided what you want to get from your experience, you can start researching and planning. Sort out your budget and think of ways to finance your trip. Select a time frame in which you’ll volunteer and decide on the duration of your journey. Keep in mind that some projects (e.g. wildlife conservation) are seasonal. Some placements also demand special training or prior knowledge.
If your volunteer work focuses on community support and social work, you should consider a longer stay (at least two to three months) to establish meaningful connections. If you plan on volunteering for a few weeks, you can still contribute to construction or conservation projects as these are completed quicker.
10 Gap Year Volunteer Programs – Educational, Environmental, and Social Projects
Planning your own trip abroad might be intimidating at first, but volunteering organizations will help make your experience worthwhile. As a participant, you’re required to pay a certain fee that covers your expenses. These expenses include transport, accommodation, food, and equipment. Organizations also provide a volunteer support network. If you are still undecided on where to go and what to do, we’ve got some suggestions:
WWOOF was founded in 1971 in the UK with the
aim of educating people about sustainable living and organic agriculture through
hands-on experiences and cultural exchange. WWOOF offers the opportunity to
volunteer – both short-term (a few days) or long-term (up to 6 months) – on organic
farms in exchange for food and accommodation. During your stay, you’ll have the
chance to experience rural living and learn from local farmers about organic food,
farming, and culture. WWOOF global network includes approximately 12000 hosts in
more than 130 countries around the world. Focus: Agro-ecological farming and sustainability Locations: Europe Available Programs: Sustainable and Organic Farming, Animal Care, Eco-
Since 2015, ImpacTrip matches volunteers with suitable programs in order to promote responsible and meaningful travel. Immerse yourself in new cultures, enjoy the Mediterranean climate and make a difference: support homeless shelters, fight against food waste or help protect endangered species. Focus: Animal care, environmental conservation, social work, education Locations: Portugal, Spain, Croatia, Italy Available Programs: Animal Care, Marine and Wildlife Conservation, Education, Food Rescue, Sustainable Fashion, Homeless Support, Special Needs Support, Gender Equality
Founded in 2009, Love Volunteers focus on volunteer work in developing communities. During your gap year volunteering, you can experience Eastern European culture beyond tourist hotspots and offer your support to animal care, education or community development. Focus: Social Work, wildlife conservation, education Locations: Bosnia, Albania, Moldova, Portugal, Spain, Croatia Available Programs: Community Development, Childcare & Education, Teaching English, Disabilities & Special Needs, Animal Rescue & Marine Conservation, Sustainable Agriculture
International Volunteer HQ
With over 300 projects in more than 50 different destinations, International Volunteer HQ is one of the largest volunteering organizations. The goal of IVHQ is to provide ethical and sustainable volunteer work that has a positive, long-term impact on communities. They offer a wide range of possible destinations and volunteer opportunities in Europe, so that every gapper has a chance to find a suitable placement. Focus: Social work, animal care, childcare, education, community support Locations: Belgium, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Croatia Available Programs: Renovation, Food Rescue, Marine Conservation, Wolf Conservation, Sustainable Agriculture, Environmental Conservation, Youth Support, Special Needs Support, Kindergarten/School Support, Homeless Support
Volunteering Solution has more than 10 years of experience in educational volunteer travel and offers over 150 programs in 27 countries. The program can arrange placements in four different European countries and aims to create a meaningful change in these communities. Focus: Environmental and wildlife conservation, community development, childcare, and education Locations: Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Greece Available Programs: Charity Shop Volunteering, Arts Center Volunteering, Construction & Renovation, Food Waste Management, Women Empowerment, Community Development, Childcare in Social Welfare Program ,Wildlife & Marine Conservation Program, Environment Conservation
With United Planet, you have the opportunity to volunteer short-term (1 to 12 weeks) or long-term (6 to 12 months) in various European countries. Their goal is to provide a safe and authentic volunteering experience that has a positive impact. Focus: Community development, education, social work, environmental conservation, and sustainability Locations: Romania, Spain, Italy, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Switzerland Available Programs: Children and Education, Environmental Sustainability, Conservation, Working with the Elderly, Family Support, Support for the Disabled
ELI Abroad’s volunteer work supports local communities but also allows participants to become an active part of these communities, helping you gain a better understanding of new cultures. With participants from over 40 nations and programs in several European countries, ELI Abroad is a great choice. Focus: Arts and culture, education, conservation, social welfare Locations: Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain Available Programs: Refugee and Immigrant Support, Marine Preservation, Special Needs Support, Construction, Archeology, Fighting Food Waste and Hunger, Education Support for Under-Privileged Children
The eco-tourism company GoEco provides access to affordable volunteer opportunities abroad. With various social and environmental initiatives, they manage to offer diversified volunteering experiences. Their European projects focus on environmental volunteering and the support of local communities. Focus: Animal and wildlife conservation, community development, education, environmental conservation Locations: Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Croatia Available Programs: Sustainable Farming, Wolf Conservation, Dolphin Conservation, Conservation Projects, Coast and Marine Conservation, Education and Development, Archeological Excavation
Global Vision International
GVI is an international volunteering organization that offers hundreds of projects abroad, focusing on conservation efforts, social work, and community development. Currently, their European projects are centered around marine conservation. Focus: Animal care, wildlife and marine conservation, education, construction Location: Greece, Spain Available Programs: Sea Turtle and Marine Conservation, Whale and Dolphin
Conservation, Sustainable and Ethical Ecotourism
Fronteering is a travel service that specializes in volunteer-abroad experiences, mostly focused on environmental protection and wildlife conservation. Their placements aim to take gappers off the beaten track. At the moment, their projects in Europe are focused on animal care and nature conservation in the breathtaking wilderness of the Scottish Highlands and Portuguese forests. Focus: Animal care, wildlife conservation, social work Location: Scotland, Portugal Available Programs: Highland Conservation, Husky Ranch Project, Wolf
Volunteer Abroad: Conclusion
Volunteering abroad can be one of the most rewarding aspects of your gap year. You’ll be able to travel around Europe and immerse yourself in new cultures, while also supporting important local projects and communities. With the help of volunteer organizations, you’ll be able to find the project that suits your skills and values. As a bonus, volunteering in Europe also makes your travels more meaningful and memorable!
Organizing a Gap Year Step by Step
Before you embark on your adventure, you should consider the practicalities of planning a gap year in Europe. Firstly, you should figure out what your goals are and how you want to spend your year abroad. Afterward, you should choose a destination, plan your finances, transportation, and accommodation and gather all the necessary documents.
If wanderlust is your main motivation for taking some time off, consider exploring Europe before starting your work or study obligations. Whether you want to explore historic town centers, visit bustling modern cities or simply enjoy nature, you’ll surely find a trip that’s just right for you.
A gap year acts as a time-out—traditionally taken in between or after studies—to recharge and prepare for your next steps in life. For young Americans, taking a gap year is rapidly gaining popularity; some schools encourage their students to make time for self development. One of the ways to do this is by taking a gap year. Look at the advantages of taking a gap year and consider all the possibilities.
If you want to immerse yourself in a new culture while advancing your future career and enhancing your resumé, then you should combine a gap year with an internship. Interning in Europe will improve your language skills and allows you to gather much-needed work experience. Your future employer will surely recognize the positive impact of a gap year internship on your personal and professional growth.
Between demanding studies and a competitive job market, more and more young Americans decide to hit the pause button for a little while. Traveling, volunteering, or interning during a gap year can give you the much-needed time to recharge your batteries and develop valuable skills. Spending some time whilst on your gap year is a great opportunity working out what you want to do in life. Take a look at our comprehensive guide on planning a memorable gap year in Europe and start planning you adventure abroad.