As mentioned in my previous post, I spent the last year traveling and volunteering in Thailand. This has raised some questions asked by people, well, actually most of my friends, about how much money I earned in the past, how much saving I had, and how much I spent. They assumed I must be either very rich for not having a job yet still enjoying vacation, or exceptionally stingy to survive a whole year travel with no income.
To answer the questions: I was paid below vet salary standard and followed NGO’s low salary standard, my saving was not big, and on average I spent about $400/month for the last year. This amount had included everything from visas and visa runs (yes visas and flights were not provided and I had to pay from my own pocket) to entertainment and leisure such as drinks and diving. True, I’m not a big fan of drinking and partying, so probably more money was spent for diving than drinking.
I didn’t stay at Couchsurfing hosts, neither traveled the backpacker style, nor cut my expenses as lowest as possible. So now the question is: how did I survive with such low expenses, less than $15 a day? If you’re thinking that I robbed someone’s treasure, sorry to disappoint you. It’s not true.
Some of you travelers might have noticed that the one of the biggest expenses in traveling is accommodation and food. So if you somehow manage to cut those expenses you can save a great deal for your traveling. Now here’s my little secret to avoid those expenses: volunteer where your skill is appreciated and get free accommodation (even better with free kitchen), and sometimes free transportation or meals, in return of doing high-skilled work. Because I’m an animal lover and a vet, I’m going to talk about volunteering with animals from a vet’s point of view; and when I said “skill” it means a specialized skill where people have to spend years of studying and years of experience to master the skill.
It is rare to see free accommodation offered to people who have no special skill, in exchange for general work such as cleaning the cages and feeding the animals. Almost everyone can do those. To be honest I’m getting sick of hearing travelers asking “Do you know where I can get free visa, stay for free, and get free meals in exchange of doing some work?” – basically asking for a free holiday. Let me tell you the answer: it’s almost impossible to find such place. Before someone tries to find a place where they can get sponsored holiday they should ask themselves what kind of skill can they offer? General helping is not considered as a specialized skill.
Even if you have a special skill and are experienced, some places still require you to pay for the whole volunteer experience. (Again, we’re talking about volunteering with animals here, so) this is usually the case if you want to volunteer at wildlife rescue centers. For stray dogs and cats it is easier to stay for free in exchange to your skill. Why? Because not everyone can experience working with wildlife but anyone can interact with cats and dogs any day they want. Another reason is because it needs special permit to keep wildlife, while anyone can have any number of dogs and cats anywhere they want. Fair enough?
So in the next upcoming weeks/months, I’ll share my volunteer experience and include as much helpful details as I can. You can also comment below if you have questions about volunteering with animals or share your experience to let me and the readers know. Here’s another little secret: next I’ll reveal my experience volunteering with Santisook Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation in Chiang Mai. Stay tuned and don’t miss the story 🙂