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1/ Why do people pay a gap year organisation rather than travel independently?
It all depends on the experience you are looking for and how much time you have to travel. Many people combine backpacking with a structured programme over the course of a year out and get the best of both options.
Increasingly people are also looking at shorter periods of time overseas and so structured programmes take away the uncertainty that you might experience travelling independently. You know what you'll be doing and when, and your accomodation and transport in country will have been arranged in advance.
Structured programmes are also likely to take you places off the well worn backpacker routes, which has an appeal to many looking for something a bit different.
If you are after a specific experience, such as sail instructor training, an internship, language course or volunteer placement, a package is an easier option than trying to source these in-country and ensure they are legitimate and that they have the correct insurances and emergency procedures in place.
2/ But if I am volunteering why should I pay?
It is incorrect to think that volunteering doesn't 'cost'. There are staff employed in the UK and overseas to manage the booking, training and placement of volunteers as well as accomodation, food, local travel and insurances. How these costs are covered will vary from company to company. Some may ask you to fundraise, others may be charities and raise funds themselves, some may rely on volunteers to manage projects or ask you to organise and pay for things that others 'package' into their offer.
Whether the company you travel with is commercial, non-profit or a charity they are all obliged to make sure they are financially secure and your fee will include an element of profit or surplus income that they can use to re-invest in the business or pay out as a dividend to shareholders who have invested in the company.
This should not be confused with operators (either in the UK or Overseas) who are 'profiteering', which bascially means they are exploiting your goodwill and possibly the project you are working on in order to make more profit than they could if they were operating responsibly. These are hard to spot simply by viewing their website so be deligent with your research.
You will need to make your own mind up about what seems a reasonable fee in exchange for the service and experience you will receive. You should ask companies about what your fee covers-ask them for a breakdown. You should also find out as much as you can about your volunteering programme, why it is needed and what benefit you will bring. If you are not convinced, don't book!