There isn’t a better way to travel around the world with a purpose than by volunteering! In this series on alternative tourism we are covering popular international volunteer programs for youth to participate in. If you feel that you’re ready to share knowledge with others, learn new skills, and boost your life experience, read on! In this article we talk about Workaway, a platform that enables volunteering and cultural exchange around the world.
About the Program
Workaway is a cultural exchange program that connects volunteers with hosts around the world. Volunteers, or Workawayers, are travelers who are willing to devote a few hours a day to helping their hosts in exchange for accommodation and food. To access the listings on the website, you need to create an account, contact potential hosts, discuss the details of your trip, prepare documents and insurance, and set off! The platform provides a huge selection of over 40,000 hosts in 170 countries worldwide. There are two options for website membership. You can apply as a single person and pay a subscription fee of €39/year. Alternatively, if you are traveling as a couple or with a buddy, you can sign up with a joint account for €49/year.
What is expected of a Workawayer?
Generally, volunteers are expected to help for five hours per day in exchange for food and accommodation. Depending on the host, they may either cook for you or provide ingredients so that you can prepare your own food. Some hosts may give a paid allowance to ensure they are offering at least the minimum wage in their country. Conditions and agreements may vary depending on the skills you can offer and the requirements of each host. It is important that you communicate as much as possible with your hosts beforehand so that you both know each other’s expectations. Workawayers must be 18 years old to register on the website, however, minors accompanied by their parents can be accepted on some family projects. For more information you may refer to the FAQ section of the website.
What Kinds of Jobs Are Offered By Hosts?
Some typical examples of fun and worthwhile exchange jobs have included creating eco gardens, boat sitting, house sitting, baby-sitting, doing the school run, pet sitting, helping to construct natural earth houses, sharing in family cooking, giving a hand with general maintenance, and teaching and practicing languages. Depending on the location and keywords, you may find additional listings through the website’s host listings search page.
Steps to Choosing a Host
Once you’ve registered on the website, you will get access to hosts’ profiles with general information about the volunteering opportunities they provide. To ensure there won’t be any last-minute change of plans, consider the following when arranging a stay:
- Description of location, facilities, family, or organization
- Ratings from previous visitors
- Availability on preferred dates
- Expected kinds of jobs and daily/weekly workload
- Which languages the host speaks and which ones you can learn
Find a Travel Buddy
If you’d like to find a travel partner for your Workaway experience, there is a “Travel buddy” search option on the website. It allows you to find other travelers to join you on specific dates. You can filter out results based on age, gender, and whether you’re searching for a single travel buddy or a group to join.
There are more than 1,000 profiles to choose from. If you’d like to add yourself to the list, you need to provide information on your name, age, available dates, country destination, and a brief description of your background.
How to Become a Host
Hosts who welcome volunteers should be interested in meeting new people and sharing experiences. They should be able to provide a welcoming, friendly environment as well as offering accommodation and food. Hosts running a business (or asking for help with a business activity) should provide accommodation and pay at least the minimum wage in their country for all hours worked.
In return they can expect help for around five hours per day, five days a week. This can be anything which is within reach of a willing visitor. Once approved as a host on Workaway.info, members are able to message you through the website. The choice to offer and accept a volunteer for an exchange is entirely up to you. After the first contact has been made, you can then provide more specific details should you wish to.
General Tips on Safety
Workaway works on trust, and the reviews that volunteers and hosts post on the website. It is important to be respectful of each other and allow some time for culture shock to subside so that everyone can better navigate in a new environment.
Hosts need to be welcoming and spend a little time initially making their Workawayers feel at home and able to find their way around. Workawayers should be respectful of the host‘s property and personal space. Another country may have customs and life-style preferences which are very different from your own, therefore use this as an opportunity to see the world from a new perspective rather than as a reason not to see eye to eye. Having said that, it is important not to take unnecessary risks.
Typical precautions when travelling abroad are not to give out your personal details to strangers and investigate your planned destinations beforehand. Additionally, you may need to get vaccinations beforehand and learn about cultural norms and taboos.
In the rare instances that things don‘t work out, it is usually because the expectations of either party weren‘t met due to lack of communication. It is very important that any arrangements are clear from the outset. Both Workawayers and hosts should read through each other‘s profile information and have a Skype call to agree on details and expectations.
It is advised that you don’t make fixed travel plans until the hosts have confirmed your stay. Also bear in mind that occasionally unforeseen circumstances may mean that a host or a Workawayer has to cancel or postpone a visit. The ability to be flexible helps considerably when you are travelling, or indeed dealing with people who are on the move and frequently revising their plans.
If you are uncomfortable about the volunteer conditions, then it is up to you to try to resolve these issues or back out and say no. It is recommended to have a back-up plan in place just in case the exchange does not work out as expected.
Workaway is a great opportunity for both experienced professionals and amateurs to have a go at something they wouldn’t normally try. This experience and exposure to new cultures may appeal to you if you are retired, taking a gap year, or are simply up for a change. Learn more about the recent experiences of other Workawayers through the blog or the feedback section of the website.
Photos: Shutterstock / Edited by: Martina Advaney
Read more on Alternative Tourism and Volunteering!
All your donations will be used to pay the magazine’s journalists and to support the ongoing costs of maintaining the site.