Worldpackers Review: My Experience Volunteering in Mexico

Twenty-one years ago, at age 17, I traveled to Mexico for the first time. But it wasn’t for spring break, or to celebrate my high school graduation. 

Instead — I helped build a house for a Mexican family in need, sleeping at an orphanage in a tent.

Beyond having my first-ever encounter with Montezuma’s revenge that trip… the experience changed me in so many ways, and I still treasure those formative memories and learnings. 

And now, as an adult, I’m grateful to have another opportunity to give back the last two and a half weeks in Querétaro, Mexico — made all the easier by the connectivity and communication of the internet and volunteering platforms like Worldpackers

If you would like to travel more, and are craving a more fulfilling and meaningful experience (both for you as a traveler and the communities you engage with) — while keeping costs down — consider volunteering. 

“Voluntourism” — exchanging manual or mental labor for travel experiences

I’ve been traveling full-time for three years, so I’ll be the first to tell you that traveling doesn’t have to break the bank. The barter system has been around for decades.

Worldpackers is one such site that allows members to trade their special skills or abilities for room, board, and a cultural experience — in 140 countries around the world. 

There are typically two types of volunteer experiences available: those that suit intellectual skills (like languages or marketing), those asking for manual help (like gardening, cleaning, or handyman work), and sometimes a combination of the two. Worldpackers volunteers typically stay a few weeks up to a few months, and work about 20 hours a week, with days off for exploring — no work visa required. 

I had actually been a member of Worldpackers for a year before I found an opportunity that suited my intellectual skills and that would also be suitable for my dog Penny, who I brought. (Whether or not to allow pets on a specific volunteering experience is up to the host… more on that below!)

If you can call this “work”… 😉 

My volunteer “job” in Querétaro was to practice English with a family’s three daughters (ages 9, 16, and 19). What we did and when varied day-to-day, but included playing board games and MarioKart, watching TV and movies (like going to see Barbie in English at the movie theatre), and singing along to Taylor Swift while making friendship bracelets. 

The girls’ father was also so kind as to invite me to a soccer game and a concert, for the full Mexican experience!

And so, clearly… it was very hard work indeed. 

In return, I had a bedroom and bathroom to myself, about one meal a day, plenty of free time to get things done, and a spare key to come and go and explore Querétaro. Plus, a ton of opportunities to practice my Spanish!

My hosts were so welcoming, hospitable, flexible, and accommodating… and FUN! This volunteering experience could not have been better. 

  • It was personally enriching to me to make a direct and tangible contribution.
  • The immersion in local culture felt more profound than via traditional tourism.
  • It was a good exercise to flex my communication (in both English AND Spanish!) skills, and a lesson in adaptability.
  • It was refreshing to step away from my daily routine for a bit, and engage in a different way of life.
  • I learned A LOT about Mexican customs and traditions, and gained some unique insights about central Mexico.
  • And I feel like I made a meaningful, memorable connection and impact — thank you Emmanuel, Pau, Cami, and Mia!

Finding and vetting a volunteer abroad opportunity: How to apply

Each volunteer experience is managed by the individual host. So, just like any service or online platform bringing hosts and participants together, it’s important to vet your hosts properly, to ensure alignment, clear expectations, and a good fit.

  1. Read reviews and the description.
  2. Contact a previous volunteer and ask about their experience.
  3. Fill out your bio, and put your best foot forward in your application message. I explain who I am, what I’m looking to get out of the experience, and in my case, the fact that I am traveling with a dog. 
  4. Communicate with the host and ask questions. Is there a set schedule, or are the working hours flexible? What are the living arrangements like? Are there other pets in the home? I find that online interactions are typically a good indicator of offline interactions, and I look to get a good sense of the person or experience from the communication.

All the girls LOVED having Penny (snuggles galore!) — and I felt like a member of the family or an adult foreign exchange student. Plus, they had an adorable baby duck who (eventually) trusted Penny enough to be on the same couch together!

A yearly membership to Worldpackers, which allows you to apply for as many volunteer opportunities as you’d like in countries ALL around the world, costs $49/year. New users can save $10 with my link and promo code: — and you can also sign up with a friend or as part of a couple.

Happy volunteering, friends (and let me know in a comment, if you will or you have volunteered abroad)!

If you’d like to #travel more, and are craving a more fulfilling and meaningful experience (both for you and those you engage with) — while keeping costs down — consider #volunteering. Here’s my experience with @Worldpackers.

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