Travelling for free (or at least for very cheap) is a serious goal for many wanderers. As much as we love the idea of being wild and free, this liberty can come at a high cost, particularly if you’re not working remotely as well.
So when I found out about Workaway I couldn’t believe there was finally an answer to my calls. There was a way I could finally go travelling without having to live on peas for a year to save the money to go.
What is Workaway?
Workaway is a work exchange which allows you to travel with free accommodation in exchange for your time. There are SO many Workaway options in all corners of the world and you don’t need a specific trade to participate. Sure, some jobs require a builder or someone with previous experience in a specific area, but there are still plenty of opportunities for absolute newbies.
Getting accommodation for 25 hours of work per week is standard, some will offer all or a portion of meals as well, and then there are some organisations which ask for a small donation to cover your costs for being there. Don’t be put off by these, it’s a very small amount and if you believe in the organisation and their mission then there’s no reason not to support them in the most direct way.
Our Workaway experience in Spain
Rewind back to October of 2015, my husband and I spent a month living and working in the charming town of Tarifa. We got to live on the coast in a beautiful part of the world, surrounded by lovely people, having access to some stunning sites nearby and with some of the most amazing food and tapas bars I’ve ever had, for ‘free’. Our major expenses were covered, however, we still spent extra because the Spanish lifestyle in summer is so festive so it’s hard to stay in the house to avoid spending money!
With this Workaway gig we got free accommodation in a beautiful house, simple daily breakfast included, free coffee (which is a lot for us :-/ ) and a 50€ food allowance per week between the two of us. And in exchange for this dream life all we needed to do was work 25 hours per week each doing work we love doing anyway – building and home renovations.
I never thought I’d be obsessed with something else more than travel, but Workaway is the pathway giving me all of the experiences I love about travelling, with a minimal expense.
I recommend you have a look on the site just to see what’s available. But beware, you’ll be sucked in and three hours will just fly by so make sure you have some time to spare before hopping on!
FYI: Workaway is NOT paying me to write this. I’m just an ordinary traveller obsessed with the wonders of Workaway and what it’s done for me. I simply want to share my knowledge of how you can land these awesome gigs, too.
1. Read the host’s profile carefully
Hosts put a lot of time and effort into their listings to be sure they get the very best people for their business. If you come across a listing you love, slow down and read the whole description carefully. Don’t just skim over it to the parts that sound interesting because every bit of information in there is important.
The hosts try to give people as much information as possible so you know what you need to know right up, and it cuts out lots of back and forth emailing saving you both time. They will sometimes write specific dates they need volunteers and if you’re not available for the whole time they’ve stated, don’t apply. Respect these requests unless you have a damn good reason they should take you in, in which case, prove it to them!
2. Treat is as a job interview
Hosts can get hundreds of applications for their listing, many of which they don’t even respond to. Only about 10% of hosts I’ve emailed have actually replied to us (and I put a lot of time and effort into our ‘applications’ and our profile is quite detailed). You need to stand out from the rest of the applicants and tell the host very quickly and efficiently how you can help them and why you’d be the best fit.
Just like you’re trying to win over a new boss, you want to convince your host to choose you, and reply to you, out of all of the emails they receive. So if you really want to be part of the team, don’t send a generic message saying you’re interested and would love to help.
Tell them why you’re interested, how you’re able to help and when you can be there. Be clear and precise.
3. Don’t waste everyone’s time
If you aren’t a good fit or don’t have the skills required, don’t message them just for the sake of it. It’s very time-consuming reading through so many emails and replying to people to see who fits the requirements. The host will be pretty pissed when they see you’re just writing in hopes of some free accommodation.
Most listings will have a clear outline of what they will need you to do and what will be expected of you as a volunteer. Read through this properly and make sure you understand. If it still sounds great, and you’re still interested, then you can message them. That way you’re not wasting their time or yours.
4. Acknowledge that you’re both doing each other a favour
Yes, they need you. Yes, they are after your skills. But you also need them. It’s two-sided and don’t think just because you’re “working for free” that you’re owed something and can do whatever you please. You’re getting FREE ACCOMMODATION, sometimes food, and in our case, a food allowance. A comfortable place to stay is usually the most expensive part of travelling so, really, you’re getting a darn good deal.
Workaway is an amazing platform that allows you to travel at a minimal cost, but it’s based on the mutual respect of host and volunteer, and that’s the only way it’ll succeed. Respect the relationship and you’ll get the same respect back.
5. Get out of your comfort zone
The whole point of travelling is to have the most amazing experiences which you wouldn’t usually have at home, otherwise what’s the point of leaving? Spend some time looking through not only certain countries but surrounding regions and continents as well.
The awesome thing about Workaway is you’re presented with thousands of opportunities all in one place. The more you search, the more suggested volunteering experiences show up in the site’s sidebar. You’ll be shown various opportunities you may have never considered and all you have to do is be open to them.
6. Get clear on how far you’d go
We all have our limits and it’s OK to turn down opportunities if the job is something you would just hate doing, no matter the location. You’ll never enjoy a country if the thought of getting through the work required makes you cringe. It’s totally OK to not want to do certain jobs and the great thing about Workaway is that there are so many more opportunities to do other things instead.
I don’t mind cleaning bathrooms if there is a balance with other work, especially if I can spend time with people too. I also love the idea of living on a self-sustained property and eating only organic, home-grown produce, but I’m just not a farm work kind of person and would volunteer only if I could do other stuff as well.
No one is going to make fun of you if you don’t want to do certain jobs, but you just have to be clear about that when you apply. If the listing says it’s a job that’s mandatory to do as a volunteer then keep searching until you find something more suitable for you.
The amazing sunsets in Tarifa. No filter, just good ol’ iPhone camera.
7. Check the costs of transport before committing
Although your living expenses are minimal when you arrive, it may still cost too much to get there in the first place. Do you want to live the dream with island life in the Caribbean? The flights alone may be out of your budget if you’re on the other side of the globe.
Check how much it’ll cost to get there before you confirm dates with your host to avoid changing too many times. While searching you may find out that going a month later would cut the flight costs in half so it’d be smart to go then. Doing it this way you can both confidently confirm an arrival date and you can book your tickets right away knowing what costs to expect.
8. Be flexible
Having specific dates in mind will make it more difficult for both a host and for your budget. The more flexible you are the more open you make yourself to more opportunities. Be as flexible as you can when searching for volunteering opportunities then as soon as you have confirmed something, set it in and don’t change your plans. You want to show that you take your responsibilities seriously and you value your commitment.
As with anything important in life, to get these incredible experiences you need to build strong relationships with people first; everything you accomplish will be because of these bonds. So to make sure you’re able to land the very best gigs, you’ll need to put in a bit of extra work. I promise you, it’ll all be worth it in the end!
Have you ever used Workaway or any other volunteering site? I’d love to know about the best experience you’ve had. Or, if not, have I convinced you to start looking? Do it now and you can thank me later 😉