I went to Rio De Janeiro with my friend for two weeks to volunteer with International Volunteer HQ. First and foremost, I’ll give you some tips on traveling here. As of June, 16, 2019, Brazil no longer requires a Visa to travel for tourism. Our flight was about $1,500, mainly because we went during the high season. I bought the most basic phone plan with AT&T but will end up regretting that decision by the end of the trip. When I got back, my phone was over $400 from using GPS and Snapchat so much during the trip. Make sure you work out a solid travel phone plan, buy a sim card when you are there or even turn off your cellular data and just use WiFi. I also recommend investing in a WiFi hotspot. I have linked my favorite one here. The Skyroam helps you to stay connected in over 150 countries. I wish I would have known about the Skyroam before I racked up a pricey phone bill.

The IVHQ volunteer program cost $495 for two weeks, which included 24/7 in country support, airport pick up, program orientation, volunteer placement, accommodation and breakfast. There is also a registration fee of $299, which is partially refundable until 60 days before your program start date.

For Rio, we thought the best option would be to work on the Carnival project. If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard of Carnival, then I’ll give you a quick rundown. Carnival is literally a carnival that takes place right before Lent. It is a time to get all of the bad out of you before you settle down for Lent, which usually means a ton of indulging takes place. The Carnival project with IVHQ consisted of working on floats, outfits and anything Carnival related.

When we arrived in Brazil, we were picked up and taken to our volunteer house. There were tons of other people from all over the world that were also volunteering there. Our sleeping arrangements consisted of bunk beds. Our “house mom”, wasn’t exactly a mom..it turned out that it was really just the cutest gay guy named Miguel. He was so helpful and we really enjoyed getting to know him. The first day of volunteering, we were escorted to our job site. The other days we were expected to know how to get there on our own. We had to take two buses to get to our site. We worked from 9:00 am-3:00 pm from Monday to Thursday in the hottest warehouse. We would mostly use a hot glue gun to glue on the millions of beads and such to these extravagant costumes. It really blew my mind how seriously people take Carnival. These people literally work all year long on their floats for their samba group. Some of them even sleep at the warehouse and continue to work into the wee hours of the night. We used a ton of Google Translator at the warehouse as the other workers tried to get to know us. I for sure thought that Portuguese would be similar to Spanish, but it was extremely difficult to understand people and I learned that it has more of a French sound to it.

Although I was proud to be a part of something that meant so much to other people, you can say that my friend and I did not take it very seriously. We counted down the hours until we could get off and go explore Rio. We would mostly go to the Ipanema and Copacabana Beach. I prefer Ipanema because Copacabana is more family oriented with screaming kids running around and playing in the ocean. Everything on the beach cost money. If you wanted a chair, towel or even to use the restroom, it would cost money. We spent most of our money on Caipirinhas, which is this strong alcoholic beverage made from Cachaca and fresh fruits. Two of those puppies and you have a solid buzz going. Many people walk up and down the beaches trying to sell things. When trying to grab a Caipirinha, the waiter lost balance and dropped all of the other drinks. He motioned for me pay for the rest but there was no way I was going to pay when he dropped them. Sooo he spit on the sand before me and went on his way. My favorite part of the beaches was how everyone claps on the beach when the sun goes down. The sunsets in Rio were absolutely breathtaking.

escadaria selaron rio de janeiro

We would go out at night multiple times a week and it was difficult to wake up in the morning to go to our volunteer shift. Although Brazil can be unsafe, I truly believe if you pay attention to your surroundings then it is perfectly fine to walk around and go out at night as long as you travel in packs.

We had one full weekend there, since we left the following weekend, so we had to jam pack some sightseeing. We went to Escardaria Selaron, which is a mosaic set of tiles that make up some stairs. It is a really beautiful sight to see and I highly recommend it if you travel to Rio!

 rio de janeiro brazilOne of my favorite things about Brazil was the cobblestone streets. The architecture was outstanding and pretty moss would flow up the houses.

We also went to Tijuca National Park where there were dozens of monkeys. Although you really aren’t supposed to, my friend and I could not help but feed a couple of baby monkeys that approached us. The monkeys would walk right up to you!


Whenever you visit a new country, you may experience some culture shocks. It is perfectly normal to feel this way and just takes some time to adjust. There were many culture shocks while in Brazil. For example, we were warned that people would come and snatch your phone out of your hand, so I put our belongings into my underwear or in a fanny pack under my clothes. It was also hard to get used to not putting toilet paper in the toilet. Every bathroom we used in Rio had signs that told us to place any toilet paper in the trash. As you can imagine, this stunk up the place.  Another shock was the food. It was sooo heavy. Breakfast consisted of eggs, some cheeses I’ve never had before and jams that were put on bread. Lunch and dinner were mostly rice and beans. I craved salads, fruits and vegetables by the end of the trip. Their idea of a salad was one piece of a leaf and a tomato on top. We ordered pizza one-night thinking that it would bring us some comfort of home, but to our surprise the pizza came with ketchup and mustard. Everyone in our volunteer house thought this was perfectly normal. When I mentioned where the ranch was, they said “you mean like cattle?” I stared at them in disbelief. I put ranch on everything, so this was a huge culture shock. Another interesting thing about Brazil was how fast they drove. Even the buses drove so fast around corners, I swore one of these times that we would fall out. They also have motorcycle taxis, which are really fun. If you want to step out of your comfort zone, then you’ll definitely want to try them.

“When I mentioned where the ranch was, they said “you mean like cattle?” I stared at them in disbelief.”

christ the redeemer brazilChrist the Redeemer, one of the seven wonders of the world was on our to-do list. We thought it would be a bright idea to hike up to the top instead of paying for the train on the way up. It took us about 3 hours and by the time we got to the top, we were drenched in sweat. DO NOT HIKE THIS. It is mostly hiking on the side of the road and cars are coming fast around the winding roads. Not to mention, it was 80 degrees of pure humidity aka hell. They have a cool little restaurant upstairs with some refreshments. We ended up getting the train for the way down.

Some other things we did were zip lining, a boat party with an open bar and a three leveled night club that offered open bar. Make sure you pay attention to the currency, which is the Real (pronounced reee al). The way I understood how much I was spending was by dividing it by 4 and that would be the U.S. dollar amount.

I went to Brazil back in 2016, when I was a bit younger and a bid wilder. I don’t recommend you do what I’m about to tell you. I say make sure you know what you’re spending because at a rooftop pool party near Ipanema, they did not accept any currency and we were given cards to pay with. As the alcohol was flowing, we racked up the reals (money). I looked at my friend and we decided to book it down the stairs. (I know, I know, we are dumb). The security caught up to us and pulled us by the shirt back up the stairs. We tried to explain we would pay but they did not understand us. Thank God I was macking on some guy a few hours earlier and he came over and ended up paying for the whole thing. We got really lucky that day. That would have been terrible if we were arrested.

The last night in Rio was the wildest one yet. The other volunteers finally came around and decided to go out with us. Everyone got so trashed, even our volunteer house mom. The security said that they needed to leave, since one of them kept falling asleep in the club. I really didn’t want to leave because it was our last night in Brazil and we just barely got there. My friend who I came with decided to take one for the team and escort them home. I stayed out and partied with my newfound friends until the wee hours. I hopped in an Uber (yes there is Uber in Brazil) and was woken up by my Uber driver when we got to the volunteer house. It was bittersweet to leave. We actually have kept in contact with some of the other volunteers we met there and one we would actually see again while traveling in Amsterdam.  I highly recommend traveling through a volunteer organization, especially if it is your first time traveling solo or if you are young. You’ll get to experience what it is like to live there instead of living the glamorous hotel life. I hope to travel back to Rio again someday.


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