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I've spent some time over the past few days researching various volunteer programs in Asia.  Although I could probably go to China or Thailand and find a pretty good position teaching English without having a TESL certificate, I feel that I could gain valuable experience and skills as a paying volunteer (skills I can use in the future).

These programs use the fees from volunteers to cover in-country expenses such as food, housing, transportation, activities, etc. as well as providing some financial support to their projects such as schools and orphanages.

After much comparison of time lengths, costs, etc. I believe that I will focus further research on the Nepalese volunteer programs offered by World Endeavors.  Unlike most organizations, they offer multiple start dates each and every month of the year for a duration of one month and more.  Most other companies I found had 2-week programs running between $1,500 and $2,000; World Endeavors costs $1,310 for one month and each additional month is $100.  This covers all in-country travel and accomodation, all meals, an intensive two-week course in the Nepalese language and culture, volunteer placement, 24x7 emergency phone support (many others don't offer any type of convenient outside contact), as well as organized free-time activities such as white-water rafting and an elephant safari.  And, possibly one of the most important things the price covers is proper trip cancellation & medical evacuation insurance (several other programs require the volunteer to obtain this on his/her own).

Of course, the volunteer is responsible for his/her own transportation to/from Kathmandu, plus visa fees and any "souvenirs" purchased (usually my personal obsession during my travels).  I started checking various online booking agencies last night to get a rough estimation of airfare.  It's pretty complicated piecing together a Albuquerque-Kathmandu itinerary (Expedia just returns errors saying that itinerary doesn't exist).

I found it was easier to get results by plugging in LAX to Nepal but most of the total fares came to around $2,500 before taxes & other fees.  I then tried doing it by segments (on Air Gorilla which I'm starting to like better than Cheap Tickets or Travelocity, among others, for good deals. (Travelocity returned a "lowest" price of $4,361 for LAX to KTM so that's not exactly a good deal!)  I pieced together an Albuquerque to L.A. round-trip for $312.23 including all taxes and fees (and later found the same itinerary for $227.10 through Southwest Airlines), $825.51 r/t from LAX to Hong Kong, and $1,068.93 from Hong Kong to Kathmandu (don't know why the shortest segment was the most expensive) — a grand total of $2281.10 including tax and fees.  For all of this pricing research, I used the same start and end dates of October 19 and November 24.

I also put in an e-mail query for best prices on the route through a travel wholesaler I know and I just received her reply:

The fare in Oct with Cathay Pacific is $1225.00 plus tax approx $200.00.The routing will be ABQ/LAX/HKG/BKK/KTM.
I think we have a winner!  Of course, by the time I decide when I really want to go, I'm certain it will be more expensive.  But having a general idea will be helpful to know how much to lock into a "trip fund" CD.

I won't be doing such a thing for at least a year (the best time to go to Nepal seems to be between October and February, although the location of World Endeavours' programs are in an area that's fairly pleasant year-round — just gets somewhat wet during the summer monsoons) which will also give me time to get in better shape and compose my "statement of purpose."

I think I'll check for a book or two on volunteering, Nepal in general, and a "how to teach English" overseas manual.

At least the wheels are in motion; this is something I've really wanted to do for quite some time and I've felt an even greater desire to help others ever since last December's tsunami hit the coasts of Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, etc.