As travelers, we always seek a way to immerse ourselves in the local culture, make new friends and have a great experience. But sometimes booking a hotel or hostel room just isn’t enough. Whether you’re in a place where it’s hard to connect, or you just want to try something new – help exchange or workaway might be for you. That means volunteering in someone’s home, hostel or business and receiving free accommodation and maybe food in exchange for it. This is also known as “workaway”.
Why would you do workaway?
Some people are put off by the thought of having to work while on holiday. What’s in it for you? Well, the advantages are plenty:
- It’s cheap as chips. One big advantage is that you don’t really need to spend money while volunteering. As you are provided with accommodation and sometimes food, your living costs are almost eliminated. In turn, you give the host around 5 hours of your time, helping them out in some form or another. I met a guy who made his way around the world for 100$ a month – extreme, but made possible through workaway!
- You get to meet people! Depending on your arrangement, these could be other travelers or locals. Many of the volunteering opportunities are in hostels, where you share your shifts with other volunteers. And most certainly there will always be something going on, a little party, meet-up, a game of cards or just someone joining you for dinner.
And on many other occasions, you’ll get to meet locals, like your host’s family and friends or coworkers. Certainly, you’ll get to see some more of the way the locals live doing that. When my friends and I had to do gardening work in Kuala Lumpur, we had some hilarious encounters with the ways of the Malays. Here, “renting” a pick-up truck meant driving around town and asking construction workers if we could use theirs.
- It’s always a challenge. Abroad, even the simplest tasks can turn into mountains to overcome. That’s not a negative argument, though – learning to navigate these situations will greatly broaden your skillset. Learn how to plow a field, sail a boat, cook local food and handle double-bookings in your hostel. That also means you’ll learn a lot about yourself. And you may be surprised about how much you can learn in such a short time!
- You can stay longer. Most hosts expect there workaway volunteers to stay for an extended period of time, often a month or more. Usually, even massive cities like Bangkok can get boring after a certain period. To keep busy here and scratch more than the surface of the place, working can be just the right thing to do. You’ll keep busy and see sides of the place you wouldn’t have otherwise. When you’re traveling for a longer time, it might feel good to settle for a couple of weeks, too.
Sounds great, how does volunteering work?
- The first step is to find a platform you like. The biggest website for that is workaway.info, where you’ll have to pay a small fee (around 30$) to join. There’s also helpx.net for work exchange. There you create a profile. Make sure it sounds appealing – what skills do you have, where have you been before, why are you doing this? Put up pictures of your adventures. The best part is that you don’t need to have any talents at all. As long as you’re eager to learn and put in some work, you can find a host.
- Then you can search for a host in the area that you’d like to go. Realize what they expect you to do, it should be clearly stated on their listing. The norm is to do volunteering for around five hours a day. What will you get for that? Some offer a mattress on the attic floor, some a single air-con room with three meals a day. Be clear if you’re willing to work for that, as you cannot expect more and should not expect less than that. Some hosts will specifically state that they’ll show you around and take you on tours, some won’t. Just be 100% clear about the conditions.
- After you found and contacted the host, you go there and give your best. If there are things you don’t know how to do, ask! You won’t do yourself a favor by being shy about this. It’s okay if you’re not perfect at what you’re doing. Try to be open! Despite all the amazing experiences you can have, you may also have struggles. Sometimes the host can be annoying or contradicting, or you’re not getting what you expected out of it. Before you pack up everything and leave, though, try to resolve the problem. If there’s no way to do that, still be respectful. They opened their home or business to you, after all!
Another option to find a host is to simply show up. You can’t expect that you’ll find work right away, but it can bring forth the most fun arrangements. If a friend of a friend told you there is a place where they’re looking for a helping hand, show up and offer your time. This is great if you’re in the area anyways.
This is the nuts and bolts of workaway! Of course, not every single volunteering opportunity is going to be the best experience of your life. Chances are that you’ll want to call it quits at some point. But the reward you get from it is unlike any other travel experience!
Have you done any volunteering on your travels? What were your experiences? Tell us your stories in the comments!