Have you ever dreamed of living in a foreign country? Experiencing the food and the culture, meeting tons of people and living like a local… feeling fulfilled and inspired, living outside of your comfort zone…
Have you ever considered that could be possible – without having to pay for it?
Workaway.info describes itself as “a site set up to promote fair exchange between budget travelers, language learners or culture seekers who can stay with families, individuals or organizations that are looking for help with a range of varied and interesting activities.”
I’ll be honest. I can’t say I’m a Workaway veteran… more like a cadet who just completed basic training (I finished my first workaway trip in Croatia in 2016) but I’m writing this because I feel as though it’s a really cool travel option that more people should know about.
Basically, it’s a website that connects volunteers with people all over the world that are looking to host travelers and exchange accommodation and meals for about 10-20 hours of work per week.
After joining as a volunteer (about $30 for a year membership) you have access to thousands of volunteer listings located across the world. Typical volunteer jobs include:
domestic help: childcare, cleaning, pet care, cooking, elderly care
manual labor: restorations, renovations, bricklaying, building, woodworking, agriculture, gardening
tourism / hospitality: hostel/hotel work, retreat help, tour guiding
Language exchange: teaching language, translations
arts exchange: artistry work, painting, musicians, yoga teachers
DISCLAIMER: I’m not saying Workaway is necessarily for everyone… it’s not a vacation – you’re not going to be living like a Kardashian sipping skinny martinis, and having someone mist you while they take your instagram pics.
But if you’ve got the right mindset, open to learning new things and meet people that are different than you, it’s likely to be an awesome experience.
That being said, I’m big into lists so here are some pro’s and cons:
free accommodation – Maybe you didn’t save as much as you had hoped for your trip, or you’re just on a major budget. Rid yourself of one of the most expensive costs travelers incur – putting a roof over your head.
immersive experience – when you live with locals, you’ll live like one too. It’s an experience that you can’t come by when you stay in a hotel.
cultural exchange – not only will you be more in touch with the culture of your hosts and / or other Workawayers, but you’ll get to share yours with them as well.
alternative travel – It’s not just a holiday, it’s an experience. You’ll get to contribute your skills to the success of a project, whether that be reconstructing a building from the 1600’s in Venezuela or nannying children in the Netherlands. Ever want to paint a mural? Why not try that in a hostel in Portugal? Think about teaching English? How about at a language camp in Austria? (for real, these exist)
There’s still free time – It’s not as if you’re confined to a desk job 9-5. Hosts have pre-determined hourly expectations that, generally speaking, still leave you with time to spend adventuring.
Extended travel – In general, Workaway hosts look for volunteers that can stay from anywhere between 2-12 weeks. Some have restrictions, some have minimum stays. If you’re looking to travel extensively, this is definitely a good option to help keep costs down.
You have to work – You can only get out of it what you put in. Don’t expect a happy host if you half ass your volunteer work. Make sure expectations are clear or it may not go smoothly.
Accommodation is rarely luxury – most posts I’ve seen list the accommodation as a room in a home, sometimes shared, sometimes private. I’ve seen camping, RV’s, and dorm rooms listed almost as often as a bed in a normal family home.
Not all meals are covered – unless you’re lucky. Hosts are required to include SOME meals, not all.
Locations vary – not all listings are going to be located in the busy, touristy places you have on your bucket list, but sometimes that’s just part of the experience.
Responsiveness – I’ve received responses from about 20% of the messages I’ve sent to hosts. There have been some listings that I was dyyyying to be invited to, they were so cool (receptionist at a yoga retreat on a Spanish island, dog/house sitting at a villa in the Swiss Alps) but alas, ghosted.
Expectation vs. reality – I have read posts about volunteers who arrived to their Workaway and were unpleasantly surprised by either the work load, accommodations, or hosts themselves. I’ve been lucky enough to never endured that, but I can suggest to avoid that ugly scenario make sure to read reviews before you commit.
Like I mentioned, it takes the right kind of mindset. So leap outside your comfort zone.