A Workaway experience is something I have been super curious about for a really long time. Despite knowing about it for years I never really looked into it, and when a friend of mine was considering it I decided to reach out and see what a bunch of travel bloggers and long term travel addicts to see what they thought to put together my very own Workaway blog post. Over all the comments I got from people were overwhelmingly positive, with a cautionary tale or two thrown in for good measure.
What exactly is Workaway?
Workaway is a hospitality service, it matches travellers with hosts. Hosts who want help with specific tasks or projects list themselves on the site and you, as a Workaway volunteer, browse through them and get in touch with people who interest you.
Tasks range from child care, to housework, to painting walls. There is basically anything and everything on the site, the one that is killing me with FOMO right now is looking after 17 dogs in the south of Italy. Because dogs and pizza … duh.
The other one is a wine museum in Greece which needs tour guides, because also duh.
There are also a lot of people looking for language help, either personally or for a language school, which can be an awesome choice for people wanting to get an intro to teaching experience. The other one which surprised me is just the general help request – working on agricultural land or ‘whatever needs doing’ stays. This could be interesting for people dreaming of buying a property in the area but don’t know what the practical realities are.
Is Workaway free?
You don’t pay the hosts, and the hosts don’t pay you, but you do pay Workaway to be an intermediary.
It’s a yearly membership which grants you the ability to contact the hosts. You can always browse and see what is on offer for free before deciding to sign up.
MY TWO CENTS: it’s worth it. There is a temptation to use the details available to track them down on their social media and contact them without paying the Workaway fee. Yeah ok, it might be alright, but by doing this you are – by nature – choosing a host who is happy to break the rules of Workaway. So who knows what other rules they’re willing to break? Plus, using the Workaway platform means that you have all your communication within the Workaway framework. Plus *again* – it’s not all that expensive.
How much does Workaway cost?
There are a few options and this is entirely dependent on whether you are travelling alone or in a pair.
Individual Workaway Program Membership is $38 USD per year
Dual Workaway Program Membership is $48 USD per year
The membership levels are pretty strict – if you are registered as an individual then you cannot just message a host and say “oh by the way I’m travelling with a friend can they come too?”. So if you travel a mixture of solo and in a pair then you both need to register as an individual and apply separately.
Real life experiences of the Work away program!
The reviews are the place to go for individual host reference, but I was interested in peoples *first* Work away program experience so below we have
Workaway Europe: Rebecca from Almost Ginger
Rebecca wrote in detail about her experience in Grenada on Almost Ginger and let us have the link to the exact listing – so if this sounds like something you want to do, check the Hacienda Yoga Retreat.
(the photographs in this article are from Rebecca too, so check our her Instagram!)
Rebecca’s Workaway Experience
The key to finding a good Workaway exchange – in my eyes – is finding an opportunity with great reviews, a detailed profile and a communicative host. In September 2017 I was about to embark on my first ever Workaway, and The Hacienda Yoga Retreat in Granada, Spain put me right at ease with all three requirements ticked.
They hire sporadically throughout the year for different yoga retreats and for my retreat they needed three Workawayers to help with simple tasks like setting the table, serving food, and generally being available to assist the guests. We would only spend 4/5 hours each day working in shifts and our free time could be spent reading in the sun and practising yoga (sometimes in class with the retreat guests) and enjoying walks through the beautiful Andalucian countryside. It sounded too good to be true! The reviews were overwhelmingly positive – so much so that I was sceptical.
But I shouldn’t have been because working the retreat was a fantastic experience. I worked with two friendly girls, one from Finland and the other from Germany, and for a work exchange, we had the most relaxing week. We worked 5 hours each but one of those hours was spent eating a delicious, vegetarian, chef-cooked meal and I could barely call what we were doing ‘work’. We would literally set up for meals and clean and tidy afterwards. It sounds strange that a Workaway experience could be so relaxing but we had so much free time and, with the retreat being very remote in the countryside and the WiFi hit and miss, I was able to disconnect and make the most of my experience. Being able to pick figs from the tree down the road and drinking wine with new friends while watching the most amazing sunsets every night made me feel like I was on the retreat myself. It’s hard to believe it was only one week because it made such an impression on me and I know I will absolutely go back.
Workaway South America: Bailey from Destinationless Travel
Bailey’s Workaway Experience
My first ever Workaway experience is one I will always remember. I was in Cusco, Peru and had just finished a few days of partying way too hard (Cusco is a great place for backpackers to party) and decided I need to get out into the wilderness for a while to detox and recharge.
I ended up finding a Workaway in the Amazon Jungle building eco-lodges. It sounded like an awesome opportunity so my boyfriend and I jumped at the chance to go.
Our hosts arranged for a driver to pick us up in Cusco and drive us four hours to the lodges. When we arrived we were greeted by the owners, two Canadian men, and a group of about 10 Peruvian workers. We spent the next day getting settled, the owners arranged for us to have our own private cabin and although there was no electricity, it was beautiful and was just the “escape” we were looking for. That first night the owners took us for a drive to a beautiful viewpoint that evening. They seemed to just like having some people around to chat with and have a few beers.
The next morning the owners showed us what we would be doing for work, which was sanding wooden beams in the eco-lodges for four hours a day five days a week. It wasn’t easy work, but it wasn’t necessarily hard either. We worked in the morning and had the afternoons off to explore the surrounding Amazon Jungle, fish in the river, or just relax in our cabin and read.
After our second day, the owners left to go back to Cusco. We were left alone with the group of Peruvian workers who also lived there. The only problem was that none of them spoke a word of English. It’s safe to say our Spanish skills were put to the test over the next few days. But in the end, we left speaking pretty decent Spanish and a bunch of new friends. The workers had dinner and drinks with us each night, made campfires, showed us how to fish with just a line, and even took us on walks through the jungle.
We had a true authentic Amazon experience and didn’t have to pay a penny for it! What more could you ask for!”
Is Workaway Safe – Workaway Bad Experience Stories
In general, yes. Always use the common sense bone and all the good advice usually given. Sharing these Workaway bad reviews is in no way a condemnation of the site or the concept, more like a condemnation of humans because there is always someone out there who ruins the nice things for everyone else.
The two Workaway bad experience stories (out of about fifteen responses – not a bad percentage) that were told to me were both pretty low key negative. I am sure there are some horror stories out there that the people who saw my question were not willing to share in a public forum (disclaimer – this is total conjecture on my part, based on the “people ruin stuff” concept previously mentioned). The people who shared these stories were not keen on writing a piece for me but the non-identifying gist of each is below.
The Greedy Host – the concept of Workaway is that you work a maximum of five hours a day, five days a week. The first story that I was told about was a child care Workaway where the parents actually just wanted a full time nanny. While they didn’t explicitly say that the volunteer had to stay in and look after the child that wasn’t in school, they just let the volunteer feel like they had to. More along the lines of “oh the 4 year old FINE on his own, if you WANT to stay in the house then that’s ok too”. (not an actual quote, just the gist)
The Creepy Host – because of course *eye roll*. This person had the heebie jeebies from the get go which just boosts my “if you feel like the thing is not ok – DON’T DO THE THING” (or, in less shouty typing – Trust Your Travel Intuition). This person went to a host which was way out of the main town and was pretty sure the host was drunk, yet still offered to drive, and kept asking weird questions. This person, in my humble opinion, did the right thing by calling a taxi and making an excuse to GTFO of there and reporting the creep to Workaway.
The review system on Workaway seems to be quote thorough, if a host or a Workawayer gets two negative reviews within a short time then they are actively investigated by the site. Negative reviews are not able to be read publicly but the person leaving them can be contacted by paid up members of the site to get the details. This is done just to protect Workaway from slander suits etc, which I can understand. They also address why there are so few hosts with negative reviews on the site – they ban the hosts that get bad reviews.
Top 3 Tips For Choosing Your First Workaway
- Choose Something That You’re Comfortable With
If you don’t like kids – don’t do a child care/teaching stay.
If you’re not outdoorsy – don’t choose a renovation stay.
This is not so much of a ‘duh’ as you’d first think, a lot of people doing the Workaway program for the first time are hoping for a new challenge so I can see the appeal of jumping right in. Especially if it is a long term stay then make sure it’s a thing you can do for the whole time. I mean – if you REALLY want to try out being an au pair or repairing an old barn in the Tuscan countryside then go for it, but just make sure you think it through first.
- Choose someone reliable
While everyone does deserve a chance and everyone starts from the bottom, if it’s your first stay then just go with someone who is the most likely to be a good choice.
By reliable I mean, if they have a 12% response rate or last logged on seven months ago – they probably aren’t getting back to you.
- Read the Reviews
Yes, new hosts deserve stays too. However. For your first stay choose hosts that have experience and you can fall back on other volunteers experiences to guide your expectations of the stay.
TAKE NOTE: negative reviews aren’t the end of the world. Not everyone will get along with every host. Sometimes you just don’t get on with an experience and your review should reflect that. Get in touch with anyone who leaves negative feedback for a host, see what the issue was and make your own judgement.
Sites like Workaway
If the concept is something you like but aren’t keen to jump into the Work away program then there are some websites like Workaway that might be the right choice for you.
Wwoof stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or Willing Workers on Organic Farms. As you may guess from the O and the F there, the focus is agriculture and organic farming.
Calling themselves Wwooffers, easily my favourite ever name for program participants, these peeps travel around working for between 4 and 6 hours a day in exchange for accommodation and food.
There is a real focus on the Wwoof sites about learning agriculture skills as well as the culture exchange aspect.
Cost: Wwoof doesn’t have an international membership so you have to join each program individually, which ranges depending on which country you are looking at.
Similarly to the Work away program there is an individual and dual membership depending on if you’re travelling alone or with someone. The memberships for an individual seem to be around the $30 USD but, for example, the Australian yearly single membership is $70 AUD which translates to about $50 USD.
With this price point it might be better suited to those who are going to be staying in a country for a longer period of time and looking to do multiple stays within that country.
Something that makes me think twice is the fact that Wwoof doesn’t allow feedback, so there are no reviews to read while you make your choice.
Help X is a broader range of experiences, you can choose to stay in hostels, farm stays, ranches, sailing boats, as well as organic and non-organic farms.
Between 4 and 6 hours a day is the usual workload and with rewards like stay specific lessons like yoga classes or hikes in addition to your accommodation and food. The hours are flexible, so you may work 8 hours one day and 2 hours the next – so make sure that you keep a tab on it to make sure that you’re no exceeding your hours.
Cost: The membership on HelpX is much more affordable, 20 Euros for 2 years allows you to read full listings and reviews. Free memberships can only browse basic listings.
On HelpX helpers can also reach out and look for travel companions, which is an aspect a lot of people don’t seem to be aware of.
Other Alternatives to Workaway
There are several other alternatives to HelpX and the like, such as Hippo Help and Help Stay.
Hippo Help in particular is free for everyone, but their website states that they don’t screen each and every host and traveller so it’s entirely up to the user to make sure they’re meeting someone legit.
Part of what a payment system does is that it verifies the users identity. While normally I adore anything free, this puts me off Hippo Help because it feels too much like meeting a random stranger off a chatroom.
Help Stay gives me better vibes, the website is great and it is comparable in yearly cost – 32 euros for a single and 42 for a double membership. However, they talk about 1000+ hosts, and while this sounds like a lot when you think about the global nature of the service it isn’t really. For comparison, at the time of update, Workaway had 35,888 hosts worldwide.
Workaway vs HelpX vs Wwoof
When choosing Workaway or HelpX or Wwoof (or any of the work exchange websites) you just need to move away from the question of “which one should I choose” and just spend some time on each of them and choose the one that has the stay you’re interested in.
Weigh up the pros and cons for yourself – the safety aspects and the experiences. Personally, I believe I will be going with Workaway, purely because of the huge number of hosts worldwide and their experience in the sector.
The Work Exchange Website Visa Stuff
I am not an expert, I am not even well versed in visa issues because I have the huge privilege of strong citizenships so I have only had to apply for two (?) visas proper. I do know that the rules around working and tourist visas and volunteering is COMPLICATED and you should check with the official recommendations for that actual country rather than taking the word of someone who just did it and didn’t get in trouble so it must ok right….
No. Talk to someone who knows what they are on about.
Dream Workaway Wish List
So because I am incapable of writing an article without my healthy dose of FOMO and general wanderlust I had to include some of the most amazing looking stays I could find while poking around the site! I limited myself to five, because otherwise this would just turn into a less effective, badly organised, list of what you can find on the Workaway site itself.
Dream Workaway New Zealand
With over 700 hosts with feedback in New Zealand there are plenty of places to choose from, from general helping out to eco-farming and renovation.
Even though I don’t surf, I do love the beach, and this stay at Piha Beach sounds incredible. 3 hours a day of cleaning, general chores, and housekeeping in exchange for gorgeous views and crashing waves – dream. Maybe I could even learn to surf if we visited long enough!
Dream Workaway Costa Ria
With slightly less options to choose from Costa Rica boasts 223 hosts with feedback. There are fantastic options, animal welfare features heavily as do yoga retreats. I have to be honest me Dream Workaway Costa Rica was a tough one to pick and several ended up on my list.
However, one of my great obsessions is sea turtles, and when I saw the opportunity to support the volunteers for a non for profit turtle organisation I was over the top excited and maybe searched for some flights (definitely searched for some flights).
Even though this stay isn’t actually in the turtle conservation side, it is awesome to support the organisation in its conservation efforts. As a stayer your responsibilities are to help look after and prep the rooms for the conservation volunteers, and looking after the other animals.
And all of this is in addition to the fact that it’s on a small Caribbean island.
Dream Workaway Greece
Now, any regular reader would know that I am a card carrying philhellene and so the list of Workaways I’d like to do in Greece is … lengthy. This one however just stood out from the 250 hosts with feedback. Syros is a beautiful island and casts are beautiful creatures. Not much could be better than looking after cats on Syros. The photographs look absolutely mind blowing.
Dream Workaway Canada
The west coast of Canada is, in a word, epic. I have long harboured desires to go and spend a few months there and this wonderful stay provides an opportunity to really live in the area. Helping out with gardening and house work in exchange for views that defy belief – yeah ok!
Dream Workaway UK
Now, this is a bit of an odd one for me because I actually live in London. However, I think one of the greatest missed opportunities is assuming that living somewhere makes it untenable as a travel destination.
Somehow in all my time in the UK I still have not made it over to Ireland – a travesty. After going through the listings – I want to Workaway Ireland so bad. (and I want to Workaway France, and Italy…. and ok I’ll stop)
This listing in Ireland jumped out to me because of the sheer … Irishness of it. Working in tourism in the Ring of Kerry, with folklore and archaeology and a 6th century Monastery! Additionally just go and look at the photographs in their listing because oh em gee.
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