Being on the road for longer and cheaper is a serious goal for many travellers.
As much as I love the thought of spending a good chunk of time away, this kind of trip can come at a high cost.
So when I found out about Workaway I couldn’t believe there was a solution to the kind of travel I loved. I was genuinely excited to be able to settle into a place and work rather than moving around a lot, trying to cover all the top sites.
If you’ve never heard of Workaway, or maybe you have but you still haven’t landed a dream ‘job’, and you really want to give it a good shot, this post is for you.
What is Workaway?
Workaway is a work exchange between a traveller and a host. The host offers 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 skill 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 people without these skills.
Receiving accommodation for 25 hours of work per week is the standard. Some hosts will offer all or a portion of meals as well, and 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 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. This was our first AMAZING one.
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.
Our major expenses were covered, however, we still spent money on things like tapas, going out for breakfast, drinks or clothes purchases.
With this Workaway gig we got free accommodation in a beautiful house, simple daily breakfast included, free tea and coffee and 50€ as a food allowance per week, between the two of us. And in exchange for this, we worked 25 hours per week, each, doing work we love doing anyway – building and home renovations. While we were there, another girl who was working as an artist painted beautiful designs all over the house, while also doing the reception work and cleaning.
Since then we’ve had an incredible three month stay in a hostel in Wilderness, South Africa and also a month in the quiet surf village of Tamraght in Morocco. (We also ended up going back to the Workaway in Tarifa for another 3 months because we loved it so much!!)
I recommend you have a look on the site just to see what’s available. But just be mindful that you’ll get sucked in and three hours will simply disappear. It’s a fab place to procrastinate!
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.
How To Land Your Own Dream Workaway Experience
These are the steps I used to get a few incredible Workaways. I believe that with some effort, you’ll be able to find the perfect place 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. 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 up front. It also cuts out lots of back and forth emailing saving you both time.
Hosts 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 pretty darn 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 specific.
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 annoyed 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 want. 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 see loads opportunities you may have never considered so try to 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 (like guest check-ins and showing them around). I also love the idea of working on an organic farm, but I’m just not a farm work kind of person and would volunteer only if I could do other stuff as well (like cooking with the beautiful produce!).
You have to be clear about what exactly you’re willing to do when you apply. And if something in a listing doesn’t feel right, keep searching until you find something more suitable for you.
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 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.
We were accepted to an amazing hostel and restaurant in Vieques, Puerto Rico which seemed extremely popular and had a pretty extensive application process. Unfortunately, our route changed and the costs almost doubled to get there. It was a sad moment having to turn that one down 🙁
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 😉