This year I tried Workaway for the first time and immediately became a huge promoter of the platform. If you’re not familiar with Workaway experiences or the greater Workaway international exchange program, here’s the lowdown: you trade your skills and volunteer services for free accommodation, cultural exchange, and sometimes meals (!) with hosts from around the world. You can only work a maximum of 5 hours per day on whatever project you agree to, which leaves you the rest of the time to socialize, explore, relax, or work on personal projects. I want to share a bit more about how it works and 8 reasons why you should consider Workaway yourself.
Workaway is truly an international exchange program, currently with more than 30,000 hosts in over 170 countries around the world. The database of Workaway includes hosts ranging from individuals to businesses to organizations. The needs can be anything from help on the farm, babysitting, or tending to animals, language practice, website development and social media, or building and crafting projects.
You can peruse all the listings online (careful – it’s easy to get sucked in!), but I’ll share about my first two Workaway experiences to give an idea of what it can be like.
My Workaway Experiences:
So far, I’ve spent three weeks volunteering through the Workaway international project and feel like I could write a book on why you should consider Workaway. My first gig was a week-long exchange in the South Moravia region of the Czech Republic. I stayed with a young English teacher and her husband, helping my host during her summer English camp for teens from her regular English classes.
As a native English speaker my job was to help in the classroom however I could. Often, I would read or recite activity instructions so students could hear a native accent. Other times I would walk around helping students through conversation activities, or proofreading their writing assignments and video scripts for projects.
I was working part-time while traveling this year, so after class I’d spent some time at the house working on personal projects. In the evening, I’d normally hang out with my hosts sometimes relaxing at the house and having conversation over dinner, and other times visiting their friends at the nearby lake or pub. I was able to get an inside look at the schooling system in Czech Republic, befriend a lot of the students, and taste the wonderful cooking of my host as she made lunch and dinner every day.
My second Workaway gig was in South Korea and a totally different experience. I volunteered at a hostel for international backpackers which had a focus on sustainability. The Redo Backpacker Hostel and Pub is almost entirely furnished by donated and recycled goods, from the kitchen ware and appliances, to the bunk beds and pub bar designed and built by volunteers, to the art that decorates the walls of the hostel.
A very new project, the hostel just opened a few months before I arrived so I spent a lot of my time helping with some promotional videos to be used for fundraising projects and marketing campaigns. I worked alongside some 6-8 other volunteers from around the world and our Korean host, who took us around to protests, beach clean-ups, and music festivals, in between hosting cookouts and parties at the hostel itself as often as possible.
Located minutes from the ocean and 1-2 kilometers from several beaches, my free days were spent riding bikes along the coast and exploring the many fish markets before returning to the hostel to work my part-time gig and stuff my face with whatever food people had made for the group.
In both cases, I got the chance to talk closely with the hosts and learn so much about the culture of the local region which would have taken me weeks or months to accumulate on my own. I also had the opportunity to gain some valuable volunteer experience and put some of my work skills to use helping others on a project where they really needed extra assistance. And practically, I was able to save several hundreds of dollars on accommodations and food during the weeks I was traveling, extending my adventures further than I could have otherwise.
>>> Sign up for Workaway now! <<<
Why You Should Consider Workaway:
1. Meet New People
I love to travel solo but I’m also a little bit of an introvert. It can be difficult and tiring to try and meet people when I’m exploring on my own. That means that it’s not uncommon for me to find myself a little lonely. The great thing about Workaway experiences is that you’re meeting people by design, whom you live with for an extended duration. These people agreed to host you (or volunteer in a place where they knew other volunteers would be working) so they want to meet you. Its basically like having some built-in friends!
If you’re like me and worry that you might get exhausted being with people all the time, don’t worry about that either. I’ve found that I have plenty of opportunities to escape to my room or a café alone after work is done if I need a little me-time.
If you’re one of these people, I might even suggest choosing a workaway with more volunteers. It’s a bit counterintuitive but with multiple volunteers, people have more options of who to interact with and you won’t feel like you’re ignoring your host or other guests by taking an afternoon alone.
2. Learn about the Culture
I think this is one of the best and most valuable parts of the Workaway international exchange. Living with a host and eating with them provides a much better look at the culture than you’ll ever be able to get on your own, even after dining out at different restaurants every and hitting up museums all day. You’ll see what their daily routine looks like without having to really ask, but at the same time you’ll have plenty of opportunities to ask about whatever aspects of the culture you might be curious about.
I’ve learned so much about education and prison systems, politics and political beliefs, gender roles, family dynamics and many other subtler practices of a country all by observing and conversing with my hosts. Most of these lessons I wouldn’t have thought to ask or seek out formally through a book or text. Still, it gave me such a better understanding of life in the Czech Republic and South Korea, and I’m certain will do the same for you wherever you visit.
3. Save Money
Free accommodations for the week(s) you’re volunteering and with some or all of your meals included obviously saves a fortune. Typically, there are some other perks thrown in too like having a bike to use rather than rent, or having your host take you around the city/town as an informal tour guide rather than hiring your own.
If you’re working remotely part-time while volunteering with Workaway, you can be making money at the same time as your saving it on accommodations and meals. I don’t need to explain how this can help your travel budget last a lot longer and keep you exploring indefinitely.
4. Help a Cause You’re Passionate About
It doesn’t matter what you love to do. There’s almost certainly a Workaway experience for you that would give you the opportunity to do just that. And don’t get me wrong, I love traveling and exploring more than almost anything. But sometimes I feel guilty or conflicted that I’m not doing something to help others – travel tends to be a very self-serving experience.
This gives me a chance to give back in a way that I know is needed. I know it’s needed because someone took the time to register with Workaway, post a listing, and hand-pick someone to do a specific task. The Workaway international exchange allows you to give back a bit and stay involved with issues that are important to you. And honestly, I think this is one of the biggest reasons why you should consider Workaway.
5. Build Your Resume
One of the challenges about long-term travel (when you’re not simultaneously working) is that you have a giant gap in your resume that can make the job search challenging when you return home. Volunteering through unpaid gigs shows you care about your global community and also gives you opportunities to utilize your skills.
If you ask your host for a reference through the Workaway site, you can get an official letter of reference sent to you from Workaway. Depending on what you do, you might even have some work to show in your “portfolio” (if you build a website or help create a marketing campaign for a hostel, for example).
*Note: If you are considering volunteering abroad, be aware that there are many ethical considerations you should keep in mind. Check out my post for some tips on sustainable travel before you go.
6. Keep Travel Burnout Away
Long-term travel can be exhausting. Although its a privilege to experience “travel burnout,” it happens and is something you obviously want to avoid. At a certain point, you just don’t feel motivated to go on another walking tour or visit that museum and you just want to relax a bit in one place.
As gigs range from one week to several months, you can learn about the culture of a new country in a completely different way and break the sometimes-monotonous sequence of traveling from place to place. While you’re still a tourist as a Workaway volunteer, the experience gives a very different feel than short visits to a place without a local guide.
7. Get Local Tips on How to Explore the Region
Not sure how to navigate the public transportation to that national park you wanted to visit? Can’t decide whether the day trip to a certain island is worth the effort? Struggling with the language barriers or deciding what foods to try at the local restaurants? Your host will almost certainly be willing to answer these questions for you. It’s like having a live-in travel agent/tour guide!
8. Home Base While You Explore in Your Free Time
For those of you on long-term trips, you understand how quickly you can tire of packing and unpacking your luggage/suitcase at every new destination. If you’re in the middle of a Workaway experience, you can leave your bags at your hosts home over the weekend while you take a smaller day-pack to explore. I think it’s also super nice to begin familiarizing yourself with your local neighborhood on work days, but to have the freedom to wander farther on days off.
>>> Get signed up for Workaway <<<
I’m sure I could come up with a much longer list of reasons why you should try Workaway, but I hope that this gives you a convincing initial look at the Workaway international exchange program. There’s so much to learn and so many chances to give back. I couldn’t recommend it more, especially for the super low annual fee ($34) that it costs to sign up. You will literally make that back in about a day of free accommodation and food.
I hope you try a Workaway experience for yourself. And if you do – shoot me a message and let me know how you find it! I can’t wait to hear about all your adventures through this new lens.
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