How To Volunteer Around The World – Interview With Kaya Hartley

Holi festival – Volunteering around the world with Kaya Hartley – On the Road Interview – A World to Travel

Kaya Hartley has managed to travel to far away countries after securing some volunteering positions. From a year-long experience in Senegal teaching children’s art and health classes for one year (learned the local language and lived with a host family) to an additional year teaching English to kindergarten-aged children in China, she uncovers how to volunteer around the world in our latest interview here.


#1: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you started to travel. Do you remember your 1st travel experience? Why are you passionate about traveling?

As a kid, my mom would always take my sister and me on trips – never too far, mostly camping trips within the surrounding states etc. But she definitely instilled a sense of an unsatisfiable need for adventure and new places in me. I took my first international trip when I was 14 years old – my family went to Sweden, the Netherlands, France, and Paris.

As soon as I returned home I was daydreaming about leaving again so I signed up for a three-week long high school-level volunteering trip in India, and I would say that is where it all started for me.

#2: Now that we know where you come from, could you tell us where are you heading next? Which are your upcoming plans in terms of travel?

I have so many plans! I am currently trying to finish up my degree (which had been delayed time and time again by my travels) But I am in the middle of planning a month-long backpacking trip throughout Europe this summer. I’ll be landing in Ireland, traveling by train to England, France, and Italy with my cousin.

Once I graduate my partner and I plan to live in Southeast Asia where we will be teaching English and traveling around until we decide on our next adventure.

#3: What do you think of traveling with a purpose or meaning in mind? What do you look for when traveling long-term?

I had a motto when I did my year long volunteering in Senegal, I was fresh out of high school l, scared to death and excited out of my mind but my motto was this: My experience will be whatever I make it, and ‘be a sponge’. That last part was especially important for me- I had to disregard everything I thought I knew and really just take in every experience similarly to how a child takes in the work around them ( learning how to talk and all) So my purpose was to learn and grow – and it completely transformed me. And that will now be my mindset whenever I am traveling.

Try to understand, realize that there is not one ‘right’ way to live, be humble, and appreciate the wide variety of culture and people that you will experience as you travel. It has enhanced my life SO much.

#4: How do you fund your travels? Have you found a job or income source that allows you to be on the road full-time? Could you tell us what exactly you do for a living?

All of my long-term traveling positions have been doing volunteer work – so I have fundraised thousands of dollars, and I have also had all expenses covered for my volunteer work as a teacher in China.

As I mentioned, I am a student – but once I graduate I’ll be teaching in Southeast Asia (starting in Thailand) where I will be making just enough to cover rent, food, and enough spending money for traveling adventures.

#5: Did your job, studies, volunteering experiences or other projects help you to travel the world? Where have you been thanks to those? Tell us a bit about those experiences. 

Starting out with volunteer work has REALLY helped me a lot. As I mentioned, my first volunteer experience was in India but after returning home I continued to volunteer locally and really built up my resume.

Because of that, I was accepted into Global Citizen Year ( with most expenses paid) which enabled me to do some incredible work. I partnered up with a Peace Corps member and was able to get experience in many fields. I ultimately chose to go focus on education, which has opened up many doors for me.

#6: What would you recommend to someone willing to follow your steps? Which kind of training or studies would be advisable or necessary? Would an investment be needed in the first place? 

Please give 3 pieces of advice (you wish to have known before starting) of what to do and what to avoid to succeed.

My first piece of advice would be, regardless of what you do – save your money. As cliche as this may sound, clothes, new gadgets, and expensive food are all so disposable: they’re gone before you know it. But experiences literally transform who you are, enhance your life, and stay with you forever. People always view travel as such an unattainable thing, but it doesn’t have to be! Traveling can be less expensive than your cost of living at home depending on how you budget.

My second piece of advice would be if you don’t know where to start- volunteer! Just do a lot of research to make sure the group you are volunteering with is reputable. (Please, PLEASE don’t join an overpriced tour group that controls your every step – spontaneity is half the adventure) Depending on the company, volunteering can be a great way to have a low-cost, local experience with just the right amount of structure to feel secure, but enough freedom to explore.

And my last piece of advice is some that I am taking now – go to school! (Study abroad!) Unless you are a mastermind entrepreneur or phenomenal blogger, having at least a Bachelor’s degree will open up A LOT of opportunities where you will be paid to travel.

#7: What does a perfect day in your life look like? Do you follow any particular routine?

A perfect day in my life has no set routine and that is what makes it so exciting. It starts and ends with delicious food, and is filled with swimming in the ocean, exploring places I’ve never been, an invitation to a local home, and a lot of listening and learning.

#8: Where do you come from originally and where you call home now? Can you give us some insider tips about your hometown?

I was born in Germany and have lived in Texas, Arizona, and Utah since – but I would consider Utah my home, I am living in Salt Lake City now.
This will be found in a guidebook, but for good reason. Visit southern Utah! Arches National Park has held a dear place in my heart since I was a kid and there is truly no other place like it. Also highly advertised – But if you like to ski we do have some incredible slopes and resorts! And lastly, visit SLC in the summer – there are always outdoor concerts, farmers markets and festivals going on.

#9: Do you read, write, draw, listen to music, sing, watch movies or do anything else while traveling? How’s your relationship with technology and which gadgets are taken with you everywhere?

Finally, how about your favorite book and movie titles?

It is so hard to disconnect from technology these days – But during my stay in Senegal I had very limited access to it and it was a completely different experience – Because I was so disconnected from my home in the states, it was much easier for me to feel ‘at home’ with my host family.

I read a lot of inspiring autobiographies and wrote a lot in my journal and I am SO grateful I did. Now I would say that I definitely will take my phone with me everywhere because it is so multifunctional.

I can take pictures, use the GPS, utilize the translator, and it’s great to have in case of emergencies. I specifically make out a playlist of some of my favorite songs when I take a trip somewhere so that whenever I listen to that specific song it takes me right back to that incredible certain experience I had. It really is amazing how that works.

#10: Do you keep a bucket list? Which are your craziest travel dreams? Where are your favorite destinations on earth?

I’ve never really brought myself around to making a bucket list; I want to do everything. I want to experience everything. Haha, so vague but so true. I have never been good at picking favorites, but picking a favorite place on earth is a whole new level of difficulty.
There are so many incredible places and so many incredible experiences to be had how could I just narrow it down to one?!

Thanks so much, Kaya! Can’t wait to catch up with you somewhere around the world soon!

Browse more On The Road interviews and learn how to successfully combine travel and work.