When I joined the Peace Corps, the vision I had in my head of what my life would look like was SO far off.
I imagined days of picking flowers with little kids, cooking in the kitchen with my host mother, and forming unexpected friendships with village elders…and while all of those things were absolutely part of my day to day – there were a lot of things I didn’t see coming.
Have you ever watched 90 Day Fiance: Before the 90 Days? Do it. You’ll see that grandmas like to hold your hand, that moms often come into your room without knocking, and that some rooms don’t even have doors. Oh and everyone will know your business. This is what you signed up for. And I promise you, that after this experience, you will never take alone time for granted again.
Listen, just because you show up with great ideas of how a community can grow a garden doesn’t mean that everyone will be on board. In a village of 200 people, maybe only 25 will be really excited that you’re there to help. The other 175 don’t care…because they are busy, they don’t see the bigger picture, or they are just fine with a garden of potatoes because they’ve never tasted tomatoes. Don’t expect a welcome parade. Rather, find the people who are excited to get on board and focus on them.
I once taught an entire semester of class using two white board markers. TWO. Once they started running dry, I learned that dipping them in water gave me an extra week or so. Little things like not having a whiteboard marker to teach an English class is baffling…but it’s reality for most underdeveloped communities. And here, my dear, is where you become the innovation queen.
The first 5 days in a new community are a whirlwind. Everyone wants to meet you and there are dinners/parties/fiestas thrown just for you. But soon, you won’t be that shiney. You’ll be just what you should be…part of the community. While this is beautiful and #GoalAchiened, it will get lonely. Even in the case where you’re surrounded by other volunteers from your country or countries with similar cultures to yours…you may still feel like no one understands you or supports you. But there is a beautiful opportunity here; the opportunity to become your own best friend.
You still want to do this?
Good. That’s what makes you special.
Exercise: Write down 3 coping mechanisms that will help you prepare for these upcoming hardships. Check out my example below:
Planning ahead can make the transition much easier. Think of three (3) things you could do that will help you cope with some of the challenges mentioned above. Share them to the thread below 👉 Don’t forget to have a look at what your fellow travelers have said and show your appreciation and support! Here is an example from my own experience:
Ask your mom, dad, and best friends to write you letters before you leave. Seal them. Put them in your bag for a rainy day. When you’re having those lonely days, open a letter from home.
I’ll talk more about coping with all of the above later in this course.
Now that you’ve got realistic expectations, let’s move on to the planning phase.
Living away from home, starting a new job, and integrating into a new culture is a lot to have on your plate at one time! Expect tough days. Expect tired days. Except needing emotional support from time to time.
Let’s prepare your coping skills now so that when the tough times hit, you’ll know exactly how to handle them.
Once you start planning your volunteer travel adventure, buy a journal.
Every day in your journal – before, during, and after your trip – start by asking yourself one question: What am I feeling today? No pressure to write anything beyond that. This is a 30-second commitment. Anything else that you write beyond that is a bonus.
The bigger picture can always settle my emotions down when I’m having a tough day abroad. I’m out here because I want to grow personally, I want to live with purpose, I want to make an impact. Write it down, talk to yourself, tell someone else. This is all it takes to change your perspective and help you persevere.
As I’ve mentioned before, feeling travel anxiety is completely normal and more common than you’d think. Anytime you have a worry, a sleepless night, a feeling of loneliness, reach out to your Solo Girls Travel Community and lean on the girls WHO GET IT. Because guess what, not everyone back home is going to understand you. These are the girls who are going to build you up and help you thrive.
I used to have panic attacks while volunteering. I attributed them to the amount of stress I was experiencing as a volunteer. But actually, the panic attacks were due to my excessive drinking and lack of sleep…mostly a side effect of trying to bond with locals and fellow volunteers via late night dinners and community gatherings. But the truth is, being a volunteer takes a ton of emotional energy and you need to recharge…with sleep and water. There will always be a dinner party, always an event with alcohol (especially in small villages) – but don’t be a hero. Balance yourself. And sometimes when you feel like crying, the best solution is to just go to bed.
It’s going to happen. You’re going to get lonely. You’re going to miss home. It’s inevitable, so let’s prepare the tools to manage it now!
I mentioned earlier in this course about bringing letters from home. Ask your mom, dad, and best friends to write you letters before you leave. Seal them. And have them on hand when you need a piece of home.
Whether it’s sharing your story through your existing social media or starting a new Instagram of Victoria’s Volunteer Life – share your experience so that your family can follow along and really understand your experience. This will help them relate to and empathize with you during the tough days.
Texting with an international data plan is expensive and just doesn’t make sense. The international world of travelers and expats use an app called Whatsapp. It’s a free messaging app that lets you text, call, and video call. It also syncs up with the contacts in your phone. You can use Whatsapp with both wifi and data (which you’ll get when you land in your volunteer country). Ask the people you love to download Whatsapp.
Sunday nights you eat dinner on Skype while your mom eats breakfast. Tuesday morning you do an Instagram live where girls from home and abroad can ask you questions about living in a village. Once a week you and your best friend make music playlists for each other. Getting creative is key to feeling connected with your crew back home.
You did it. You’ve just glowed-up from hopeful civilian to ideal volunteer candidate.
And guess what? You’re officially lightyears ahead of any other fresh-faced volunteer looking for a volunteer opportunity abroad ‘cause you’ve got all my secret tips, tricks, and insights. You are now prepared with 10 years of my lessons and mistakes which will guide you along your journey of volunteering abroad.
You are ready to go out and do what you’ve dreamed, but first – I want to say something to you.
As the Peace Corps slogan goes, volunteering abroad is “The toughest job you’ll ever love”. And I can confirm that wherever you volunteer – it will certainly be the toughest job you’ll ever love.
It’s rewarding and it’s draining.
It’s fulfilling and it’s frustrating.
It’s full of smiles and full of tears.
It’s the job that pushes you out of your comfort zone, and out if your comfort zone is where you grow.
And girl, you are about to grow.
Know that you are special. For even considering leaving your family and friends behind to fly to another part of the world where you want to give your heart and your hands to help…means that you are able to think a little bigger and feel a little deeper.
Not all girls are this brave. Not all girls are this ambitious. But you are.
As I always say, you don’t need a big bank account, a boyfriend or an entire summer off work to travel the world on your own. You just need to decide to go. And remember, thousands of girls travel the world solo every day. You are just as smart and just as capable. You can do this.
Thank you for trusting me to guide you along this path.
When you’re done volunteering, if you want to know how to travel the world and make money like me…make sure you get my book full of travel money secrets.
Want to contribute to the blog? I love to feature the perspective of other solo female travelers.
I'm a bestselling author, hotel reviewer and pickleball player. I teach women how to travel the world solo without going broke or getting kidnapped.
In 2011, I left Seattle with just $200 in my pocket to travel the world solo. Today, I'm the founder and creator of The Solo Girl’s Travel Guide, the #1 travel guide book series for women - and the author of The One-Way Ticket Plan.