How to choose a volunteer vacation in India


Volunteering with animals

Unlike in some African countries, there are not a lot of opportunities to volunteer right out there in the wilds on animal conservation in India, tracking, monitoring and so on. When it comes to injured and abused animals, however, there is a lot of need for help - from working in sanctuaries that rescue sloth bears to helping at a rehabilitation center for domestic animals such as cats and dogs that have been neglected or dumped.

Healthcare placements

There are always placements open to healthcare professionals in India, and not always the traditional dentists or doctors either. You may have experience caring for the elderly, or you may be a yoga and mindfulness teacher. Or you might simply be a first aider with teaching experience who can communicate the basics of healthcare in remote locations. These are challenging roles but very rewarding ones.

Sports coaching placements

Not an area that many people associate with volunteering, but this fits in with the health and wellbeing aspect of life in India. Sports are a big aspect of life here, and yet facilities and skilful coaches can be thin on the ground. So, if you are a sports teacher then please do think about applying your skills in India. Even if you are not super qualified but give up your weekends coaching the local netball or football team, then this might be your ticket to a trip of a lifetime in India.

Educational placements

Qualified teachers are welcomed with open arms in India, especially as English is one of the country's official languages and so there is no language barrier in many places. And as teachers can often take longer vacations than other travelers, it means they have time to really immerse themselves in the local community and learn about local culture too. There is often a need for people to assist local teachers too, so don't think that you have to have a teaching qualification to make a good contribution to schools.
However, only seek placements with responsible volunteering organisations, as we do not condone the notion of ‘drop in’ teachers who have no qualifications. See our volunteer teaching guidelines for more details.

Volunteering in India travel advice


Ridhi Patel from our leading India volunteering vacation supplier, Volunteering Journeys, shares her top volunteering tips:

Planning advice

“Expect the unexpected, because India is just so diverse and a lot of people really get overwhelmed by this. They come to India and expect it to be just one country where everything is standard and where everyone speaks the same language. But what shocks them is that every Indian knows at least five different languages, and it is so cultural. And of course, the north is so very different from the south so even if they have been to another part of India, they will find something very different in the south. And this blows them away. Even for an experienced traveler who has been to India there is always something new for them when they come on one of these volunteering trips. So we recommend two weeks as a minimum, as it gives enough time to understand the cultural differences but also make a substantial contribution to the project.”

Cultural tips

“People don’t expect Indians to speak in English, but English is one of our official languages. So, everyone generally can speak in English, especially if they are doing tourist activities. Don’t get too shocked by some cultural differences such as eating with our hands. It is totally acceptable in India but some people still get totally shocked by this. Other people find it interesting and they try to do the same. And people often don’t understand the shoe thing in India. You know, it’s just culturally unacceptable to wear shoes indoors, whether it’s a temple or someone’s house. Finally, remember that in India a lot of Hindu temples don’t allow foreigners to come inside. You need to check whether or not you are allowed.”

Safety in India

“People are scared of India and there is a fear amongst women about safety – it is good to have that fear, but a lot of it is stereotype, because we have such a bad reputation in terms of our corruption levels and so on. But not all parts of India are like that, so if travelers are careful, they will be fine.”

Accommodation advice

Erin Sparks, from our supplier, Pod Volunteer, shares her advice for volunteers: “When we describe accommodation, we tend to undersell and over deliver, so if anything we describe it as little bit more basic than it is. It’s very difficult because everyone has different expectations, but all accommodation is of a very liveable standard… Some are dorms, others you share with between two and four people – it varies and volunteers are responsible for keeping their area clean and tidy. You’re there to slot in and help out as opposed to be waited on hand and foot.”

What to pack

Ridhi Patel, Volunteering Journeys: “Pack light, and cottons, because the weather is always warm, especially in the south. But in the winters it can get very cold in the north, so you need to pack plenty of warm clothes. A lot of people don’t check out the weather properly before they come to India and then pack inappropriately. And remember you can easily buy clothes in India, so don’t overpack. Also, toiletries are readily available in most towns. It is more modern than people think!”

Volunteering in India travel advice


At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travelers are often... other travelers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful volunteering in India travel advice that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your vacation.
“The most memorable part?... Seeing the enthusiasm of the children and how welcome we felt at the schools. Feeling connected to the local community and other volunteers whilst staying in the comfortable volunteers house instead of a hotel. Also the delicious authentic Indian food cooked by a lovely local lady at the house. Make time for a bit of relaxation before the project and after as the traveling is very tiring and we would have liked to have had more time to spend in India. Make sure you read all the helpful teaching tips that are sent beforehand so that you are properly prepared.” – Rayner McKenzie on our family volunteering vacation in India
“I volunteered for a charity that empowered women – very much needed in many parts if India… I went to Calcutta which is raw and real. There is no pretentiousness, no pretence, just India how you might have imagined.” – Alison Hay
“I think that everything on this vacation was very well organised but I think that you need to stay in contact with the people on the ground as much as possible so having a local sim is really handy. Oh, and find out if it's school vacation time when you go as that does make a difference to the volunteering program.” – Kristin Walters on a yoga and volunteering trip
“Especially to the young travelers: Remember that this is about volunteering. The rest is secondary. Yet the staff at the volunteer camp is exceptionally available, helpful and trying to make our life easy and also enjoyable. But still. Remember that volunteering and the work with the persons we are committing come first.” - Patricia Quillacq
Photo credits: [Volunteering with animals: Andreas Marz] [Healthcare placements: Herry Lawford] [Sports coaching placements: grabka dot org] [Educational placements & helpdesk: Volunteering Journeys] [Cultural tips: Travis Wise] [Accommodation advice: Mike Prince] [Review 1 & 2: Volunteering Journeys]
Written by Catherine Mack
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Photo credits: [Page banner: Volunteering Journeys]