Naturally, one of the first things you will worry about when thinking about volunteering abroad is your accommodation. You’ll want to know where you’re living, who with, what the accommodation will be like. In this article, we’ll try to address the main questions that volunteers have about their accommodation whilst abroad.

Where do I live in while volunteering abroad?

Your accommodation, like most aspects of volunteering abroad depends entirely on the country and the volunteer organisation. However, you will find that the vast majority of volunteer organizations provide accommodation in a host family. Some also provide volunteer staff accommodation run by the organisation or even options for independent living or something in a hostel.

If you are working on projects related to animal conservation, mainly turtle and elephant, you will likely find that there is some sort of basic cabin near to the project specifically created to house the volunteers.

In some more remote projects, such as health and medicine outreach projects, volunteers may even be staying in a tent or some other kind of temporary shelter.

Can I choose where to live?

It is unlikely that you will have a great deal of choice about where you can stay during your volunteer abroad project. Volunteer companies have established accommodation links in the local community for which locals are receiving money and it is important to retain these connections. In some cases, you may be offered a choice between host family and hostel, or given a list of available options from which to choose. Check with your volunteer organisation to see if you will have any choice.

Which type of accommodation is best?

This depends entirely on the individual. If you are looking for a more immersive cultural experience, perhaps a host family is the best choice for you. However, if you really value your independence and freedom, that a hostel would be a better choice. Either way, it is best to be flexible and open to new experiences as whatever your living situation, you are likely to encounter new and different experiences.

Are there any rules in accommodation?

Wherever you stay, there will be some rules. Naturally, staying with a host family is likely to mean slightly more, slightly stricter rules. Some typical rules are:

  • No outside friends in the home
  • Do not come home drunk
  • Take care of your room
  • Respect their culture
  • Respect meal times if the family is providing your meals
  • You may have curfews
  • No smoking or drugs
  • No romantic activities/staying in other people’s rooms etc.

You will usually fin that the rules for host families or hostels are likely to be pretty similar. These rules are put in place to ensure everybody’s safety and prevent problems between volunteers and hosts.

Can I get my own room or do I need to share?

Once again, this depends on the type of accommodation provided by the company and the situation in that accommodation. As a general rule, you can expect that if you are staying with a host family, you will be given your own bedroom. However, in hostels and home bases run by the volunteer organisation, bedrooms are more likely to be shared.

Some of the rural animal conservation projects have all volunteers staying in large, shared areas.

Can family, boyfriend/girlfriend, wife/husband live together?

Most volunteer organizations will do their best to accommodate families or couples travelling together, depending on the availability. If you are in a host family or hostel, you will still have some general rules to adhere to such as no smoking or drinking. Joint rooms or accommodation is not standard and as such you should definitely ask your volunteer organisation before booking if it is possible it may be necessary for the organisation to find out and make special arrangements for you.

What kind of food will I get? How often?

This varies between companies, projects and countries. When staying with a host family, you will usually be provided with typical, local food three times a day. If staying in a hostel, it is less likely that food will be provided at all, sometimes a basic breakfast will be included but you will probably have access to cooking facilities.

The situation in volunteer housing is a bit more varied. Some have kitchen staff who will provide between 1 and 3 local meals a day. Some provide no meals.

You will definitely have to check with your volunteer organisation to see what the food will be like and how many meals are provided. Also find out if you will have access to any cooking facilities.

I am vegetarian or allergic to some food, will my need be accommodated?

In most cases, your dietary requirements will be accommodated, whatever your living situation. You must check with your volunteer organisation beforehand to be sure. It is also useful to confirm with your host family or whoever will be cooking for you as sometimes, there is some confusion about specific dietary needs if they are new to whoever is cooking for you.

Can I ask for food I like?

This is usually not possible if your meals are being cooked for you. If you have specific dietary requirements, of course these will be catered to as best as possible but remember, you are being invited into someone’s home. It is not a restaurant. Be open to trying new foods and appreciate the fact that somebody is taking their time to cook for you.

If you are really particular about what you eat, then you are better off eating outside of the host family. If you choose to do this, maybe talk to your coordinator to find a tactful way to address this.

However, we wholeheartedly recommend eating with the family. Finding new foods to enjoy is a part of the experience of volunteering abroad!

What about laundry? Who take care of it?

This is an important question to ask your volunteer organisation before you travel as this depends primarily on the culture of the country and you will want to avoid offending your host family. In many Asian countries, cleaning volunteers’ laundry is actually seen as offensive and you will be expected to take care of your own laundry, either within the home or in a local laundromats or similar.

In Latin American countries, you will often find that the host family (usually the matriarch) takes care of all domestic duties and this may often include laundry. In some cases, they will wash sheets and towels and expect you to wash your own personal effects. In many cases, volunteers prefer to wash their own clothes so let your host family know if this is the case.

This varies between countries, cultures and organizations so check beforehand or as soon as you arrive.

Will there be phone or internet? Will there be hot water shower? Will there be electricity?

Answers to these questions vary greatly. Generally speaking, in developing countries hot water is not guaranteed, especially in warmer climates where it is considered unnecessary as few houses are fitted with a central heating system although some may have a water heater.

In more remote areas, it is increasingly common to find internet access but expect it to be temperamental at best. This goes double for electricity and water which can disappear completely for days at a time. In many places, water is scarce so be considerate and try to keep your use of water to a minimum.

Do I need to bring toiletries?

It is best to bring enough toiletries to last for the duration of your stay, especially if you are particular about brands or types of products. You will not find the same choice of toiletry products that you do at home, and imported goods are likely to be extremely expensive.