What do you want to learn today? Is there a skill you’d like to improve, an experience you want to gain, or a physical challenge you’ve been dreaming about?
When you take your personal development into your own hands, you become proactive. Rather than waiting for good things to happen to you, you’re out there making them happen. When you invest in yourself, you not only change your mind, but you change your mindset. This change helps to improve your self-awareness, sense of direction, focus and clarity, motivation, resilience, and your relationships.
If you’re at a point in your life where you think you could benefit from self-improvement (and isn’t everyone?), then take a look at these travel opportunities that combine personal growth with volunteering abroad. We’ve selected some of the best projects from around the world that will help you become a better, more-rounded person, capable of helping others, and in turn, helping yourself!
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International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) is a trusted organization that offers hundreds of affordable and safe volunteer projects in 40+ destinations around the world. Working with local NGOs, IVHQ sends more than 10,000 people overseas on meaningful trips each year, and to date has placed more than 94,000 travelers on impactful programs.
Consider combining a volunteer project abroad with a yoga retreat, and learn to balance stress and alleviate anxiety so that you can lead a healthier lifestyle. Or sign up for a conservation project that includes PADI scuba certification. Here are a few amazing options IVHQ offers:
- Indonesia: Focus on island conservation in Indonesia with IVHQ, and add a self-improvement yoga retreat on the beautiful island of Simeulue. This eco-friendly program teaches you the importance of conservation through bird surveys, gardening, community education, and marine surveys. Yoga classes are offered in the morning and afternoon, and are included in the program fee of $660 for one week.
- Bali: Head to Bali for a volunteer abroad project and take classes at The Yoga Barn. Volunteer in construction and renovation, environment, healthcare education, kindergarten support, teaching, or turtle conservation. There are a variety of workshops and classes available that teach you yoga, dance, meditation, detox, breathwork, and Ayurveda healing modalities. Fees start at $295 for the volunteer program.
- India: Travel to India and learn about yoga and meditation in its birthplace. IVHQ’s retreat in Kerala invites you to experience an authentic and immersive ashram – volunteer in the city of Kochi with kindergarten support, English teaching, medical care, dentistry, women’s education, or special needs care, and then spend an additional week learning how to detox, cleanse, and relax with Ayurveda, a holistic medicine system that is still part of the Indian traditional healthcare. Fees begin at $360 for the India experience.
- Portugal: If you’re new to scuba diving, check out IVHQ’s environmental diving project in Portugal, which combines PADI Open Water certification with marine conservation. If you’re already certified, you can take speciality diving courses. As a volunteer, you’ll help to remove garbage from the seafloor, record the type and amount of trash and other items collected, observe marine life, identify and count fish, and learn how to protect the underwater ecosystem. Program fees start at $825.
- Belize: On this program, you’ll complete scuba diving lessons, and then volunteer with biologists on an important marine conservation project near Placencia. Your day-to-day work will focus on researching and gathering data on coral reefs and marine life, and you’ll complete 13 dives each week, including one night dive. The cost of the volunteer program starts at $690 for one week – sign up for extra weeks and earn your PADI Divemaster certification, a specialty that can advance your career.
- Madagascar: Travel to the island of Nosy Komba and volunteer with marine conservation and become PADI Open Water certified – complete the online learning portion of this course before arrival, then participate in confined and open-water PADI lessons onsite. Once you’re certified, you’ll dive and help with a variety of conservation efforts such as reef surveying, turtle monitoring, nudibranch research, reef regeneration, and beach cleanups. Program fees start at $550 for two weeks for the volunteer program.
Maximo Nivel is a leader in international education, study abroad, and travel in Latin America. A family-owned organization that works locally within each of their destination countries, Maximo Nivel hosts more than 4,000 travelers each year on high-quality, safe, and affordable opportunities for volunteer, intern, teach, learn, and study abroad. Maximo Nivel’s brand of educational travel is excellent for solo adventurers, high school and university students, young adult groups, retirees, and even families.
Free your mind, body, and soul with a yoga instructor certification course through Maximo Nivel. This health-oriented professional development course is set in Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Peru – some of the most amazing and beautiful locations in Latin America. The time you spend on the course is a combination of analytical training in how to teach yoga, as well as time and guidance to practice the techniques. Yoga Instructor Certification starts at $2,795 depending upon location. Learn more and get started today!
If you’re looking for a different type of adventure, here’s your chance to try something completely new and fun – learn how to surf! Maximo Nivel’s Surf Schools in the world-class surfing destinations of Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru last one week and are taught by professionals, and with all equipment provided. Surf School starts at $495 depending on the beach. Learn more here!
Interested in an adventurous profession that keeps you near the water? Learn how to scuba dive with Maximo Nivel! Choose from one of three unique destinations in Latin America as you launch your career as an academic or commercial diver. Spend five days earning your PADI Open Water scuba diving certification – you’ll learn the basic principles of scuba diving with lessons from a certified dive instructor before practicing basic skills in confined water dives. Once in open water, you’ll continue your training and learn how to use standard scuba equipment. Costs for scuba courses start from $695 depending upon location – read more and apply today!
Since 2009, Love Volunteers has placed more than 20,000 travelers on meaningful volunteer projects around the world. Transparent, low-cost fees are a mainstay, with programs starting at only $250 for your first week abroad. Love Volunteers works in 43 different countries, with more than 200 projects to choose from.
Travel to Palampur, India, where you’ll volunteer to renovate and paint rooms and buildings at a daycare center. Explore local sites and enjoy yoga and meditation classes during the evenings, and learn how to meditate in the serene Tashi Jong Buddhist Monastery. Next is a trip to the Shiva Temple, built in the 12th century, and one of the oldest temples of Lord Shiva. Hike through forests to the region’s highest point, the Birni Mata temple, for amazing views and inspiration. Program fees start at $909 for two weeks – read more about this exciting adventure!
Take a volunteer trip to Vietnam and include cultural cooking classes and exciting weekend excursions to the mighty MeKong Delta. Volunteer programs include working with abandoned children with HIV, assisting the elderly, or working in a pre-school. Your customized activity plan can place you in cultural workshops each day, inviting you to watch a cooking demonstration while spending dinner with a local family, and encouraging intercultural exchange. Learn more here!
Projects Abroad offers a variety of global service travel opportunities, with the mission of mutual learning and cultural exchange. Founded in 1992, Projects Abroad places more than 10,000 travelers in 50 countries around the world each year. Project types include volunteering, internships, high school specials, alternative spring breaks, gap years, language courses, and programs for professionals.
Live with a host family and improve your foreign language-speaking skills with Projects Abroad! Intensive language courses allow you to become part of the community while spending time abroad. Placements consist of one-on-one classes, tailored to suit your abilities and needs – you can even earn university credit or study abroad with classmates on a group trip. Language classes last 15 hours per week, Monday through Friday, so you’ll have time to explore, participate in local cultural activities, or take other self-improvement courses. You may even be able to combine a volunteer experience with language courses, scheduling your classes at your convenience. Projects Abroad offers the following language immersion programs:
- Arabic in Morocco
- French in Madagascar, Morocco, Senegal, and Togo
- Mandarin in China
- Spanish in Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru
Fees vary by country, so check out the prices here, as well as what’s included in each project. Learn more about language courses and apply today!
Projects Abroad offers marine conservation projects in Thailand and Belize and volunteers can also learn how to scuba dive. Pick a part of the world you’d like to explore and apply today!
Thailand: Choose a diving and marine conservation program in Thailand along the Andaman coast, where you’ll conduct research and salvage dives near Ao Nang. You’ll visit coral reefs during your underwater dives, and conservation work focuses on protecting reefs, tropical forests, and coastal areas. No experience is needed, as you’ll receive training to participate in all activities, research, and surveys. All volunteers complete either the PADI Open or Advanced courses, and the Survey Diver Distinctive Specialty Course, which focuses on fish identification theory. You’ll also have the opportunity to train as a Divemaster on the project. Read more and sign up here!
Belize: Volunteer in Belize on a marine conservation program, performing important coral research on the barrier reef. You’ll need to be medically and physically fit, and if you do not have PADI certification as a scuba diver, you can take the Open Water course on your placement – if you are certified, you can earn the Advanced Open Water certification. Conservation activities include collecting and analyzing data to track the health of the seagrass and the reef, and tracking species numbers. Learn more and apply here!
Fronteering specializes in arranging volunteer abroad experiences and adventure travel worldwide, offering trips that are far from ordinary in places rich in nature, wildlife, and indigenous cultures. Its vision is to provide adventure travel placements to remote locations on volunteer projects that care for the environment and preserve animals. Founded in 2007, Fronteering’s goals are to make a difference to communities that can benefit from the input of volunteers, and to provide exciting and significant experiences to individuals.
If you’re interested in immersing yourself in an indigenous community and channeling your inner anthropologist, take a look at adventure travel opportunities with Fronteering. Or if you want to get out and get active, challenge yourself with an extreme expedition. Here are a few exciting opportunities that guarantee personal growth:
- Belize: The Island Survival adventure offered by Fronteering in Belize asks you if you’ve ever imagined being lost in the jungle. Your mission is to survive for two weeks, with nothing to lean on but your own skills, taught by ex-UK Special Forces survival specialists. This adventure is for outdoor enthusiasts who have an interest in challenging themselves and don’t mind getting wet and dirty. Fees begin at $2,369 for two weeks – read more here!
- Jordan: Fronteering invites you to Jordan for a crash course in Desert Survival, learning how to live in one of the most unforgiving spaces in the world. Learn how to ride camels and horses, and how to drive a 4×4. Surf the dunes and live like a nomad for two weeks. Can you handle it? The isolation phase will test you. Fees start at $2,695 – click here for details.
- Yukon: Famous for its beautiful lakes and majestic mountains, the Yukon needs your help with land and wildlife management in a First Nation Community. This cultural opportunity invites you to combine your compassion for people, places, and animals in one adventure trip. The type of work you’ll do can vary, but you can expect to assist an archaeologist and work with First Nation people on projects throughout the community. This program starts from two weeks at $945 – read more and apply today!
Global Vision International (GVI) offers award-winning, high-impact programs in community development and conservation around the world. Founded in 1997, GVI has placed more than 24,000 volunteers on projects with local partners, as well with international organizations such as Save the Children, The Red Cross, WWF, SANParks, and The Jane Goodall Institute. Projects are designed toward achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, allowing travelers of all ages and backgrounds to contribute to responsible projects.
GVI has several professional development opportunities for scuba divers, from the basic PADI Open Water certification, all the way to Master Instructor. If you’re a teen, start with an intro marine conservation program for high school students under the age of 18 in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. If you’re over 18, there are marine conservation and PADI divemaster internships in Thailand, Mexico, and the Seychelles. GVI’s flagship scuba program is held in Latin America, and transforms you into a Master Scuba Diver, with credentials to train people anywhere, anytime. Check out these programs and select the one that you prefer:
- Under 18s Marine Conservation in the Yucatan: GVI offers a wonderful opportunity for younger travelers to visit the Yucatan Peninsula and learn about life as a conservationist or marine biologist. Develop your skills as a scuba diver on this placement designed for high school students who already know how to dive and are seeking PADI Advanced Open Water certification – or if you’re interested in learning how to dive, check out the marine conservation awareness program here. This placement lasts two weeks at $3,690 – learn more here.
- Seychelles: Sign up for a PADI Divemaster and marine conservation internship in the Seychelles with GVI, and learn how to survey invertebrates and fisheries, research sea turtles, work on coral reef monitoring and recovery, and help to develop an environmental education and awareness program. Fees for this six-month internship program start at $10,795. Read more and sign up here.
GoEco offers more than 150 volunteer programs and internships in 44 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Australasia, Central America, Europe, the Middle East, and South America. Founded in 2006, GoEco has placed 10,000 volunteers on a variety of impactful trips, and has been recommended by USA Today, the Today Show, Huffington Post, and many more.
Travel to Argentina and study Spanish in the mornings and work with children in the afternoon. This volunteer opportunity immerses you in Argentinian culture and encourages you to practice your Spanish-speaking skills. During the week, you’ll spend 20 hours in language instruction, then work with underprivileged children, playing sports and recreational games, engaging in arts and crafts, helping with homework, and organizing special events and celebrations. Stay for two weeks or longer, with fees starting at $1,400. Sign up here!
Travel to South Africa on the Great White Shark Conservation project, which places you in a shark cage, diving with great whites! During your stay, you’ll learn from a marine biologist and study behaviors of the marine species in the area including whales, sharks, and dolphins. Your diving equipment, jacket, and boots, as well as a guided tour of Gansbaai and the surrounding areas is included. Stay one week or longer starting at $950. Book your trip today!
Founded in 1989, Frontier places travelers on quality volunteer programs around the world, with more than 400 programs in 60 countries. Frontier projects contribute sustainable livelihoods for communities and range from education, wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, humanitarian work, community development, and research and conservation.
Embrace the traditional practices of yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda medicine on an India Yoga Retreat with Frontier. See an immediate improvement in your energy levels as you learn how to combine meditation, the use of herbs, body purification processes, whole and healthy food, and the chanting of mantras. Immerse yourself into a daily practice of yoga and meditation, massage, and relaxation. Cleanse your body with Ayurvedic medicinal treatments that include herbs, oils, and body scrubs. The cost of this program is $1,295 for two weeks. Reserve your retreat here!
Here’s a unique opportunity that most travelers overlook: Antarctica! Visit the only place uninhabited by people when you choose the Antarctic Voyage with Frontier. View colonies of seals, penguins waddling across ice sheets, countless birds, magnificent icebergs, glaciers, and mountain ranges. This exciting sports adventure challenges you to camp outdoors in extreme conditions, go sea kayaking and snowshoeing, scuba diving in icy waters, and view stunning scenery and fascinating wildlife. This once-in-a-lifetime experience lasts 12 days and costs $11,295. Read more here and book your trip today!
African Impact places travelers on responsible volunteer programs and internships in 12 countries – founded in 2004, this organization has sent nearly 13,000 people on award-winning humanitarian projects. African Impact builds its programs in the community holistically, partnering with governments to maximize the power of volunteering and to create global citizens.
Build a brilliant portfolio with African Impact when you photograph wildlife, people, and landscapes in the Greater Kruger Area of South Africa. Work alongside professional photographers to develop and enhance your skills on a trip that supports wildlife initiatives and increases awareness of conservation. Gain experience in pre-visualization, production, and editing of photographs. You’ll also learn about South Africa’s animals, their behavior, habitats, and challenges while on this internship. Fees begin at $7,732 for 12 weeks. Learn more and sign up here!
Join African Impact in Zanzibar researching and swimming with bottlenose dolphins, and snorkeling on pristine coral reefs, while you become a certified scuba diver. Help contribute to understanding the effects of tourism, while promoting and educating ethical commercial enterprise that includes monitoring dolphins in their natural habitat and studying the impact of tourism on dolphin behavior. Your research on human-dolphin interaction helps the government as it formulates a policy for tourism, and to prevent dolphins from becoming stressed. Program fees begin at $2,304 for two weeks. Read more and register here!
Ready To Travel?
There are so many exciting travel opportunities (and zen ones, too) for self-improvement. Give yourself a chance to grow intellectually, spiritually, and physically, and you’ll be amazed at the change in yourself and how you interact with others. When you grow as a person, you become a better person: you treat others with respect and care, and they treat you the same. Personal development is personal growth, and it’s the best investment you could make in yourself.
So, pick a destination, grab your gear, go and grow!
Robin Van Auken · Writer
Robin is a researcher, writer, and a registered professional archaeologist, a skillset she uses every day as a cultural communication specialist with Hands-on Heritage. Her projects connect communities with an emphasis on interpretation and education and conserve cultural and environmental legacies.