Travel isn’t always budget friendly. Sure, that last minute round-trip ticket to Barcelona for $550 is a steal – but how do you afford travel once you get there? A great option is WorkAway – a program that places volunteers in homes/small businesses that provide your room and board in exchange for a reasonable amount of volunteer work. This means, if you’re not afraid of a little hard work, you can live and eat in your dream destination for free!
How does it work?
There are a few popular programs similar to WorkAway, the most widely known being WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). WWOOFing has a huge network, but this program is geared more towards those who enjoy working in nature, and their volunteer work is primarily organic farming. I chose WorkAway because there is a huge variety in the ways you can volunteer. If you like working with your hands, you can volunteer to help repair a building. If you’re great with kids, you can be a part time nanny! See all of their categories below:
First, you choose a country you want to volunteer in. Then, once you narrow it down to what you’d like to do, you get a list of hosts who are seeking help. They each have profiles which show their host rating, feedback from other WorkAwayers and the host themselves, pictures of the establishment or home, and a calendar of when they need help. If you’ve CouchSurfed before, this layout will be familiar to you. Below is the profile of the B&B I volunteered at in Normandy:
You can send the host a message, and they can view your profile and offer you a position. I sent messages to a few families that interested me, and a few replied. From there, we communicated about the work, and we set our plans!
How much does it cost?
WorkAway is a very inexpensive way of seeing the world. The website requires a membership to send messages to hosts, but you can view the hosts for free. The membership costs $29.00 for 2 years. They won’t pay for your plane ticket, but a lot of hosts will be gracious enough to help pick you up from the nearest train/bus station. For WorkAway, “you will be expected to volunteer around 5 hours per day in exchange for food and accommodation. Conditions and agreements may vary depending on the skills you can offer and the requirements of each host,” (from their website).
At the Bed&Breakfast I worked for, my host expected about 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, of food prep, laundry, cleaning of the rooms, etc. Some days there was more work because we had a full house, but other days we finished our work quickly and were free to do as we liked!
How long will I be there?
The length of your stay depends on your host and the nature of the work required. For my host, he preferred a four week minimum stay, because too much changeover in the B&B would require too much training time. There are options for stays as short as a week to as long as a few months. You can always send them a message, too – I only stayed at the B&B for three weeks, even though he asked for the four week minimum.
Will I get to travel in my time off?
How much you will be able to travel depends on the accessibility of where you are volunteering, and your host. In general, it’s understood the volunteers are there for a cultural experience, so exploration of the area is encouraged. I was very lucky with my host, who took us on mini excursions to neighboring towns to experience the culture, and he bought us nice dinners as a thank you for our hard work! Because of this, I didn’t have to pay for transportation get myself around, and paying for food was minimal, as well.
My absolute favorite excursion my host took us on was to Mont Saint Michel (A.K.A. French Hogwarts, A.K.A. Beauxbatons Academy of Magic?!) For more information about that trip, I’ll have another blog post coming!
Can I go with my friends/significant other?
Who you travel with depends on the host. Some hosts ask for couples traveling together, others only have room for one volunteer at a time. You can even create a “couples profile” if you always travel together! I went alone, but at the Bed&Breakfast, I volunteered with two different WorkAwayers, and we got along great! WorkAway is an awesome way to meet new friends from across the globe.
Is it safe?
WorkAway is very safe. Just like Uber or Couchsurfing, there are public reviews and photos so you can judge the living conditions for yourself. For detailed information on the safety of WorkAway, check out their Safety page. Make sure you are thorough with the expectations of your host, and your expectations of your stay.
I would suggest WorkAway and WWOOFing to the same people who are comfortable with CouchSurfing. It’s a leap into the deep end of the pool, and it does take courage to go volunteer in an unknown place, especially if you’re alone.
Do I need a visa?
The visa requirements depend on where you go, but money is not being exchanged, so a lot of times a work visa will not be required. Your experience will be an understanding that this is a volunteer, cultural experience. But, you should still research the visa requirements of your host country to be safe. My time in France totaled over 90 days, as I studied French in Besançon after my WorkAway experience, so I was required to obtain a student visa, regardless.
If you’re looking for a cheap way to spend time abroad, I highly recommend WorkAway – get outside your comfort zone and help out a family or small business while exploring the local culture. You could learn to fish in Greece, build a shed in Colorado, garden for a non-profit in Nicaragua, or work on a boat in Turkey! The world is waiting for you!