I had a couple of years of experience volunteering 2-4 times per month at the local emergency department. I also had quite a bit of non-healthcare related volunteering, mostly some Sunday school type teaching at my church (I don’t know the first thing about kids so this was actually helpful for my peds rotations!), and several volunteer reconstruction trips to New Orleans.
However, remember that most programs require paid hands-on healthcare experience for a reason. Check out this post for more insight. I would urge you to let volunteering be the cherry on the top of your experience rather than the bulk of it, both for your own benefit and to increase your chances of being accepted into PA school. I took two years off before PA school and worked as a CNA and it was the best decision I ever made.
The right program for you will be different likely than what was the right program for me, but some good guidelines are to choose programs that have been established (you don’t want to be the guinea pig!), have a high first time PANCE pass rate, and give you a good vibe during your interview. Apply to several rather than just one or two.
I did go abroad! It was actually one of my requirements in selecting a program. I never had time to go in undergrad so I wanted to make it happen in PA school. I chronicled my time in Ecuador earlier on in this blog, both the touristy and medicine aspects. It also was a really good decision for me, and despite me being ill most of the time I was there I look back fondly on my memories!