People travel for all sorts of reasons. People volunteer for even more reasons. Chances are that if you've come to this page, you're hoping to do either or both, possibly in copious amounts. You're a recent graduate who isn't ready to be buried in an office just yet. You're at a point in your life when you're seeking out change. You want a better acquaintance with this strange and lovable planet, or you feel like it's time to give something of your own privilege back to the community. No matter what your reasons are, you will never once regret the decision.
See, the thing about making the choice to spend a year traveling around southeast Asia or building houses in New Orleans is that it can so easily go wrong. You've heard the horror stories, of course, and you've probably got more than one person who's eager to tell you all the plentiful reasons why your plan is impractical and will destroy your entire future. You can take comfort in the knowledge that they are quite wrong. This doesn't mean that you should fling yourself out of country on a moment's notice, however. Every such expedition requires detailed planning, solid funds, and extensive research. There are a thousand different programs, and you must somehow sort through them and find the one that is right for you. And that is why you've come here. Whether you're a newbie or a seasoned veteran of the road, there are five things you must always do before you set one foot out that devious front door.
1) State your mission. This is perhaps best accomplished on paper, but if you're a computer or a diagram sort of person, go with your gifts. Cover the basics first. Where am I going? Who am I going with (programs, friends, relatives, pets)? What are the most important things that I want to accomplish there? When am I leaving, when do I need to return? How am I going to get all of this done in time? Spelling out your priorities ahead of time makes it far more likely that you will get what you really want out of your adventure.
2) Make a budget. Write out everything that you will need to pay for with REALISTIC approximate costs (when in doubt, overestimate), and make sure that you have that amount of money. Once you've got a completed estimate, add $2000 as a safety cushion. You will never regret saving too much money.
3) Research till you can't stand it. Then research some more. Find out about safety concerns, visa requirements, deportation laws, weather. In many countries, immunizations will be very important. Learn a bit of the language or culture BEFORE you go, the locals will appreciate it more than you think. If you’re going through a program, make liberal use of their resources.
4) Talk to someone who has done your project before. Whether it’s volunteer work or a long trip abroad, there’s no better source than someone who’s been there. Chances are, they would love to spend hours telling you everything you need to know. If you can't find one, go to the most paranoid person you know, and run the idea past them. Once you've addressed all their most irrational fears, you'll find yourself very well prepared.
5) Stick to your guns. There will always be plenty of people telling you that your plan is impractical, or that you’re going to miss out on that big career. Those are their dreams. In the end, you are the only one who knows what will make you happy. Dream your own dreams. That career will still be there if you want it later.
Longing to be impractical but haven't found your dream yet? Try out any of these publications:
"Delaying the Real World:A Twentysomething's Guide to Seeking Adventure" by Colleen Kinder
"Alternatives to the Peace Corps: A Guide to Global Volunteer Opportunities" by Paul Backhurst
"The Renaissance Soul: Life Guide for People With Too Many Passions to Pick Just One" by Margaret Lobenstine
Approached in the right way, impracticality can sometimes be the best thing that ever happens to you.