By JACLYN SNOW
Many young people these days travel for extended amounts of time, while the rest of the world wonders how they afford it. I personally traveled for 14 months on what I had previously anticipated to be a 3 month budget, which led to many people asking whether my family was funding me or whether I was participating in illegal activities to afford my travel. Besides being extremely thrifty on a day-to-day basis and using the free/cheap transit tricks I wrote about in my previous articles, I made my budget stretch so far by participating in work exchanges which not only saved money but also turned into some of my favorite travel experiences. This article will tell you what is work exchange, how it works, and the best websites you can use to find work exchanges. Budget travelers, read on to learn how you can travel with little to no money for a week or years at a time! Doubters and naysayers who believe long-term travelers are trust-fund babies or beggars, enjoy this article to learn how people put in the work to maintain their exciting nomadic lifestyles!
What is work exchange?
Work exchange (sometimes called work-for-stay or volunteer-for-stay) is a way of volunteering your time and labor in return for free accommodation, meals, sometimes transportation or other benefits, and almost always an unforgettable cultural experience. No money is exchanged between travelers and hosts; this is purely an exchange of skills and resources. Often the traveler is required to work 4-6 hours per day for five days a week in return for lodging and three meals a day. The accommodation may be as minimal as a tent in the backyard, or as luxurious as your own villa with pool access, depending on the opportunity you choose. In addition to full room and board, the cultural exchange, friends you make, and skills you gain while doing a work exchange may be more enriching (in many travelers’ minds) than a regular paycheck. Work exchange opportunities are available at farms, hostels and hotels, restaurants, youth recreational camps, in homes with families, teaching a language, and so much more around the world. My next article will go into more detail about the different types of opportunities available, and my personal work-exchange experiences. Some people are lucky to find a work exchange just by asking around (especially at hostels) when they arrive at their destination. If you want to plan your free/cheap travels in advance, there are a handful of great websites which list work exchange opportunities all around the world, which provide ratings and reviews from other travelers who have been there. I loved doing work exchange while I traveled, and it will be easy for you to do too when you explore the websites I have compiled here.
Top Two Websites for Work Exchange:
Workaway is the most popular work exchange website. It currently has almost 30,000 active users in over 155 countries. It is free to search through listings on the site by location, keyword, or last-minute listings. The format of the website is organized and easy to browse. A great deal of the places on Workaway have ratings and reviews, which is best for your safety as a traveler. Annual membership costs $29 for a single person or $38 for a couple, so sign up with a friend to save money on membership!
HelpX is the website that I personally use to find work exchanges. It has a smaller member base than Workaway, so fewer listings are available but there are still thousands of opportunities, and I have a hypothesis that there is less competition for volunteer spots. HelpX is popular in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Canada, and the U.S., and it is also available in other regions around the world. Many listings have ratings and reviews, and you can search by location, keyword, or type of work. There are two types of membership: free and premium. People with free memberships may create a profile, list where they want to go, and may be contacted by hosts. Premier membership allows you to contact hosts as well at the very low price of €20 every two years.
WWOOF is an acronym for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The organization has been around since 1971, and it has become very popular in the last decade. WWOOF is a website specifically for exchanging work on organic farms in return for full room and board. WWOOF focuses on education, so you are also likely to learn a great deal about ecological practices and organic farming! There are currently hosts in over 60 countries, many of whom have great ratings and reviews on their listings. The downside of WWOOF is that you must pay separate fees for any country you apply work in, which could be free or cost as much as $72 each. It’s worth the money if you only apply in one country, but it may become expensive if you apply to volunteer at farms in various countries.
Worktrade costs $29.95 for 2 year membership. Hosts are available in 135 countries. You may search listings by location, language, or type of work. Worktrade has a good rating and review system in place to promote the safety of travelers.
Helpstay is still a small work exchange site with 160 volunteer-stays in over sixty countries. Membership costs €20 per year. Helpstay carefully screens hosts, in addition to the rating and review system. Many listings are free and include full room and board, while others have clearly defined fees.
HostelJobs is a good website for finding hostels that will let you exchange work for room and board. Filter your search by “volunteer” to find this type of exchange! This website is free to browse and apply to positions. While it has no ratings or references, you can easily run any hostel on the site through a search engine to see whether guests leave good reviews. Doing work-exchange at hostels is a fantastic way to meet travelers from all around the world and really get to know a city while you travel.
Worldpackers is a work exchange website with a slightly different platform. It’s free to browse the opportunities available, which you may search by destination, type of work, length of stay, hours of help per week, accommodation, or other possible benefits. It is also free to apply and talk to as many hosts as you wish. When you are ready to travel, you may choose to pay a $49 annual membership fee which allows you to take as many trips as you’d like in the course of the year, or you may choose to pay per trip (rates vary) only your stay at a host’s place is confirmed. No money is exchanged by hosts and travelers, the payment goes to Worldpackers for upkeep.
Facebook groups are another great resource for work exchanges. I recommend Nomad’s “Volunteering & Paid Work” group, or simply search the name of the city or country where you want to go along with a phrase such as “work exchange,” “work for stay,” or “volunteer for stay” to see what comes up! If you choose to do a work exchange with hosts you find on Facebook, carefully research the opportunity and people involved to ensure your safety. You may do this by asking your host for ratings and reviews on public websites, or ask them for references including contact information of people who they have previously hosted.
Stay tuned for my next article about the most common types of work exchange, and some stories from my personal work exchange experiences!