I quit corporate to travel the world as a humanitarian volunteer. Here's how.
A journey taken with Worldpackers in Vietnam and Cambodia that changed the whole trajectory of my personal and professional life.
I was seated at a bar across from a British girl who was telling me about her travel plans through Southeast Asia when she pulled out a piece of paper that mapped out everywhere she was going and what she was doing there.
"I use this platform called Worldpackers", she said. "I am traveling long term and use Worldpackers to break up time and spending."
I was on my first solo trip overseas, and followed a long series of events going all the way back to my days at university. It had taken me six years to complete a three-year degree in business and finance. I recall wanting to travel overseas during this time, but my student wage held me back from being able to afford the expensive volunteering opportunities I found online.
From university to corporate life in Sydney to discovering Worldpackers
At the age of four, I aspired to be a pilot. At ten, I was buying globes and atlases and studying them. I had a scrapbook and would draw and color each of the world flags. Since I was a kid, I have always had this proclivity towards wanting to immerse myself in the beautiful diversity the world has to offer.
Upon graduating university, I landed a nice, cushy job in downtown Sydney. At the time, I thought I was living the dream. I was finally rocking suits and making money. I felt on top of the world, as any naive 25 year old probably would. I was also partying every Friday night, because that was the culture of corporate city life. It sounds fun, but the truth is I was miserable.
Within 10 months, I was asked to leave. My work performance was suffering and it was no surprise that my mental and emotional health was also in shambles. I was no longer an asset and had become a huge liability to my company.
I resigned from my first job out of university and thought my life was over — wouldn't you?
Two weeks after resigning, I was at one of my lowest points emotionally and decided to book a ticket overseas. This was my way of taking a step back from the reality of what had just occurred and attempting to find a sense of purpose in the pain.
I'd always wanted to travel, meet new people, and immerse in local culture along the way. I had some money saved and booked a ticket to Thailand in hopes I'd get some fresh perspective. It was the least I could do for myself at the time. I wasn't expecting much from my trip. In fact, I only planned to stay a few weeks before returning back to Sydney — hopefully with a more clear and open mind than when I'd left.
I had $3,000 in the bank, $1,000 of which I owed in credit card debt. The plan was to spend a month in Thailand, and then go back home with at least $1,000 of savings, since I knew I'd be returning unemployed.
While in Thailand, I met the British girl at the bar who first explained the Worldpackers work exchange concept to me. I was still relatively new to the travel scene at the time, but there was something so liberating about being out in the world by myself that I just wanted to keep going.
Upon learning that I could save money while traveling by working in exchange for accommodation, I canceled my return flight home from Thailand. Instead, I booked a ticket to Vietnam where I'd applied for an English teaching role in Hanoi through Worldpackers.
- You may also like: The best 5 ways to volunteer for free
Worldpackers immediately opened so many doors for me. It was my ticket to continue to travel and enjoy new experiences without having to worry about a slowly depleting savings account.
I spent a week teaching English in a Vietnamese family homestay. They provided me with my own room and three meals a day in exchange for my help. I remember sitting at the dinner table with the volunteers and the family, just gob-smacked by the fact that I was living so up-close and personal with locals in a country I had never even been to prior.
This was one of those authentic travel experiences I had been searching for all along!
I eventually returned to Sydney after two months in Southeast Asia. By this point, I knew I wasn't going to return to finance, or the corporate world for that matter.
I was unhappy living a third of my living hours in an office, crunching numbers for my boss until the weekend came around and it was time to drink all my worries and stress away.
My Worldpackers journey, continued
My experience in Vietnam was so profound that I'd already made the decision to take another Worldpackers trip. I wanted to move out of Sydney and set up a new base in a different country for the long term.
Since a two-month trip proved to be a huge game-changer for my personal development, then surely moving away from my comfort zone and setting up a new life for a year or more would not only be transformative for me personally, but also professionally.
What did I have to lose? I had already decided that I wasn't going back to a job in finance, I was single with no children, and had no other large financial or personal obligations.
I worked temporary jobs to build a savings account and paid off debts, all the while brainstorming where I'd move and what I'd do to make a living.
Every day I'd surf Worldpackers for opportunities. My initial plan was to move to India, as it had always seemed mysterious and filled with substance. At this point, I knew that if I was going to have any chance at getting a volunteer position overseas that would cover minimal living expenses, it was going to be through Worldpackers. The variety of opportunities was huge, but I still wasn't sure what kind of work I wanted to offer.
I noticed that there were a lot of open positions for digital marketers. One particular summer day in Sydney, I was cleaning rubbish from the garden of a paper mill — a temporary job I took on to earn some savings for my next trip — when suddenly, the anticipated light bulb moment struck.
I was going to become a qualified digital marketer! That night, I went home and signed up for an online course in digital and social media marketing. I still didn't know where I wanted to go, but gave myself a deadline to book flights — June. It was April at the time.
Things were pretty intense. I was working 16 hours a day just to build a solid savings account and studying by night in order to complete my online digital marketing course. Meanwhile, I was also applying for any volunteer positions that sparked my interest.
I estimate that I sent about 20 applications before one host in particular stood out to me — a digital marketing role for a hospitality company in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
I set my initial plans to go to India aside, and started packing my bags for Cambodia. This hospitality group operated four hotels in Siem Reap and ran their own volunteering/humanitarian program. I'd be responsible for running the humanitarian program's social media management.
The company was a family business founded by a 36-year old Khmer man, his wife and siblings who grew up around the region of the Angkor Wat and its surrounding jungle.
There were around 70 employees, three of which were expats. For many years, the family struggled with poverty, each having to adopt their own set of entrepreneurial and social skills from an extremely young age in order to survive through the tough and trying times of Cambodia's all-too-recent dark past.
The exchange provided me with a job, a family and a life in Siem Reap.
I was able to establish myself financially with a paid role that covered basic rental expenses and food. That being said, I was being paid a Cambodian wage, so my savings account is what really gave me the freedom to make the most of my time.
I worked with the company for 10 months before leaving Siem Reap for a more rural experience in the Cambodian countryside. I'd applied for a role as a business development manager for an NGO I'd stumbled across in Battambang — also on Worldpackers. Before I left, I decided to start a blog called This is Philanthropy. I wanted to document my time volunteering as a humanitarian worker in Battambang.
Through my page, I managed to raise $15,000 from people who followed me back at home. All of the proceeds went towards the NGO project and helped renovate a local school where students and teachers lived and worked.
There is no doubt that the roles I found through Worldpackers provided me with a truly authentic way of seeing Cambodia and experiencing the local culture.
These roles were so valuable as they not only provided me with meaningful work, but they were also hosted by incredible people who I had the privilege of becoming friends with.
In Siem Reap, I was able to be a part of an amazing staff and help a local family grow their company. In Battambang, I was able to help an incredible NGO provide students with happier, healthier lives and better learning conditions. All of the people I worked in welcomed me into their homes, cooked meals for me, introduced me to their families, and showed me their way of life in a way I'd never known if I visited Cambodia like a tourist.
Ultimately, the highlights of my journey were the connections I was able to make. I never expected that I'd make as many close friends as I did. I now feel like Cambodia is a home away from home.
Since I was traveling alone, it meant a lot to have local people be there for me and offer me a place as part of their own family. I can't show enough gratitude towards those people for that.
My experiences with Worldpackers in Vietnam and Cambodia changed the trajectory of my life. I went on a spiritual journey, an entrepreneurial journey, and a personal growth journey — all in one. Travel changed me for the better.
Let's be realistic, though. Moving to a country like Cambodia after living a professional work life in Sydney is no easy feat. The culture shock was intense. And, although I made a lot of close connections with people, there's a strong sense of loneliness that kicks in when you're on the road for a long time. You're out on your own, away from your closest family and friends, away from your bed, away from your comfort zone.
It takes determination and sacrifice to be able to push through some of these lonely days and nights, but you must always remember how you got there and what it is that you are out to achieve by being there.
If you go in with a strong sense of purpose, you'll push through the adversity and hardships because you'll know it's for your own personal and professional development. And, in the case of humanitarianism, it's for the sake of the people you're working alongside... and to help make the world a better place.
What does the future hold for me, since embarking on a journey like this one?
I was only supposed to go to Cambodia for a six-month stint (I ended up staying for over a year). I thought my trip was going to be a "final hurrah" before settling into adult life somewhere in Australia. But the experience opened my eyes to a different way of life, something I had been longing for since I was a young child.
I am now very passionate about education. My experience helping at a school in rural Cambodia showed me the importance and value of education in underprivileged areas, and I love the fact that Worldpackers has such a huge variety of educational programs.
Now that I realize how easy it is to create a travel lifestyle with Worldpackers, I just want to keep using my skillsets to undertake new entrepreneurial and social impact projects in different parts of the world.
Since returning back to Australia, I have begun planning my next big trip to Nepal, India and Sri Lanka. These countries have loads of unique opportunities for travelers like me who intend to explore the world for personal and professional reasons.
Worldpackers has become my golden ticket, not only for finding employment, but for connecting with impactful projects and people who offer the comfort of a genuine, personal experience.
Thank you, Worldpackers — you not only helped me achieve my dreams of working and living overseas, but you also helped me find amazing people in breathtaking places.