One of the many benefits of being a remote Rumpus team member is the freedom I have to choose where I write. When I first joined the team, I was traveling around Colorado in a custom-built van, and I enjoyed writing amongst the state’s beautiful wilderness—talk about inspiration! Near the end of last year, I decided it was time to take my Rumpus writing international, and I booked a month-long stay in Nicaragua. I knew South America was the perfect location to put all of those years of Spanish to good use, and I couldn’t wait to see new places, meet new people, try new foods, and immerse myself in a new culture. 

Of course, no trip of mine is ever complete without interacting with animals, and one of the highlights of my time in the Nicaraguan beach town of San Juan Del Sur was volunteering with the rescue organization Animales Nicaragua SOS (SOS). During my stay, I helped at the clinic, attended the rescue organization’s local fundraising events, and spent time with the SOS founder—whom I later found out had grown up minutes away from my Colorado home. I am grateful for the opportunity to have made a positive difference in San Juan Del Sur’s animals’ lives. I’ve put together some tips for fellow animal-loving travelers who are interested in volunteering with an animal rescue during their own travels. 

Do your research

As soon as you decide on your travel destination, hop on the computer, and search for area animal rescue organizations. When volunteering abroad, choose your accommodation as close to the organization as possible, especially if you will be relying on local public transportation. Check out the rescue’s website to learn about the organization, hours of operation, contact information, and their volunteer guidelines and needs. For example, SOS requires volunteers to be at least 15 years of age, and asks that volunteers commit to helping at least once a week. Most organizations have an online volunteer application and will reach out to you directly after you apply. If you find an animal rescue website that includes no contact information or recent updates, the organization may have closed. You can try to reach out to the group, but you may want to research other rescues in the area. 

Contact the animal rescue in advance

Volunteers run many animal rescues, so in addition to submitting a volunteer application online, reach out through an email listed on the website to an individual, such as a volunteer coordinator. Remember that some international animal rescues are quite small and may not have a designated volunteer coordinator, so any email contact will do. Ensure you reach out far in advance of your trip, so the rescue can plan for your arrival and make the most of the time you can help. 

When I first applied to SOS, I submitted the volunteer application and sent a brief email to introduce myself, providing information the organization would find helpful, such as my travel dates, skills, and experience. The rescue’s founder responded promptly, shared information about the rescue’s history, and scheduled a time for us to connect once I arrived in San Juan Del Sur. 

By reaching out to the rescue in advance, I learned the organization needed supplies that are only available in the United States. The rescue’s founder ordered the supplies, had them delivered to my house before my trip, and I packed the supplies in my checked bag. This was a unique way for me to help out the rescue. So, keep in mind that you can help animals in many ways when you travel, even if you cannot schedule time to volunteer during your trip. 

Consider transporting an animal in need

A real challenge for international rescue organizations is adoptable animal transport. If you are willing to transport a pet when you travel home, reach out to a U.S. rescue organization to find out whether they have available foster or adopting families willing to accept animals from abroad. Years ago during a trip home from Mexico, I transported a cat back to the United States who was lovingly welcomed by his excited adopter. The rescue organization provided all the necessary paperwork, coordinated with the airline, and met me at the airport. I felt great, knowing I was connecting an animal in need with a family who would give them a new life of love and care. If you are willing to transport an animal internationally, reach out to a rescue organization, but keep in mind that the many laws and regulations may prevent international animal transport. 

Plan to get dirty

On my first day at SOS, I told the training team that I was willing to help with anything, no matter how unglamourous. Looking relieved, they commented that some tourists think volunteering means snuggling with cute kittens and puppies all day. While snuggling opportunities abound, the purpose of volunteering is to be helpful, even if it means cleaning litter boxes and taking out the trash. In fact, I spent much of my SOS volunteer time cleaning the kitten room, and let me tell you, those little ones can make a real mess! Although this was a big job, I felt rewarded knowing that I was giving the kittens a clean, cozy space until they found a forever home. 

Get to know the locals

The community in which you volunteer may face unique challenges. To make a positive impact on the local animals’ lives, remain respectful, curious, and understanding when you talk with your co-volunteers about the challenges they face. Every culture is unique, and volunteering with a rescue abroad offers you an opportunity to connect with your fellow volunteers about their personal experiences, as well as their community’s animal welfare landscape. While my Spanish was a little rusty, I spent time speaking with the local volunteers, asking questions, and getting to know them on a personal level. Through my conversations, I learned about SOS’s community outreach and education initiatives that provide information and resources on the importance of vaccinations, and spaying and neutering pets. 

Spread the word when you get home

Long after your trip, you can continue to help the rescue at which you volunteered by setting up automatic monthly financial donations. Remember, most rescue organizations survive on monetary donations. In addition, use social media to share pictures and stories from your time volunteering, and provide links to the rescue’s website to encourage your friends and family to donate. By sharing your experiences, you may inspire others to volunteer while on their next trip.

I am fortunate to be able to travel, volunteer, and use my writing to make a positive difference in animals’ lives and to the Rumpus team. I was truly inspired by the positive impact that Animales Nicaragua SOS is making in San Juan Del Sur, and I encourage every animal-loving traveler to explore ways to volunteer during their next trip.