Vicky writes about travel and festivals at vickyflipfloptravels.com. She’s not paid by Workaway or anything but genuinely thinks it’s one of the best things she’s ever done, and the cheapest, so she’s out to spread the word.
“Those who say travelling is too expensive have no imagination” – I quote myself there.
There are many, many ways you can can travel on the cheap and Workaway is one of the best of them. The concept saved me a fortune and kept me travelling much longer than I would’ve been able to afford on my four-month European trip.
The main premise behind Workaway is that you work for 5 hours a day for 5 hours a week and in return get your bed and board sorted.
“Workaway.info is a site set up to promote fair exchange between budget travellers, language learners or culture seekers and families, individuals or organizations who are looking for help with a range of varied and interesting activities.” – Workaway
I’ve done three projects with Workaway in Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic – I’m looking forward to my fourth in Belize. I’m in no way affiliated with these guys but I just think it’s one of the best ways to travel on a budget and whether you’re a solo, loved up or ‘just friends’ kind of traveller.
What is Workaway?
‘Hosts’ sign up to Workaway.info with a description of their project, the surroundings, the work ethos and a bit about themselves. Potential Workawayers can then scour the projects to find their perfect host to spend anything from a week to forever with. In many ways it’s like the old idea of WOOFing, except the projects aren’t limited to farm work – the choice of things you can do seems infinite. Explore the site for the first time and a few hours of your life are sure to slowly slip by as you scroll through the opportunities on offer.
What kind of things can you do?
Seriously, there’s something for everyone on Workaway. You could work on an orphan project in Thailand, a tea plantation in India, nurture husky dogs in Lapland or teach English in France. Or, work on a vineyard in Argentina, a farm in South Africa, volunteer in a B&B in California or a community project in Kenya. Opportunities are plentiful, and you can search by your desired work style too, which includes…
- Babysitting / child care
- Elderly care
- Cooking / shopping
- General maintenance
- Help with eco project
- Help in the house
- Animal care
- Helping with tourists
- Charity work
- Language practise
- Art project
- Help with computers / internet
My experiences with Workaway
When I did Workaway in Spain I worked for a Spanish lady called Isabelle. She was a Pilates teacher and had some holiday villas in Conil, Southern Spain, that she wanted painting and some gardening to be done. During my two-week stay with her I perfected the art of painting blue squares around windows and enjoyed the instant gratification of gardening. I worked for 4-5 hours in the morning and then had the afternoon to explore.
In Italy I got up to all sorts. I built a path in the orange grove, moved stones to create flower beds around the trees (!), chainsawed wood, gardened, smashed up cement with a pickaxe, pruned trees… whatever tasks my host Jane could think of really. I was expected to work longer hours here, about 8-9 hours a day for five days a week. If anyone is looking to lose a bit of weight this would be a great project for you, it was tough work and I ended the two weeks 10lbs lighter.
In the Czech Republic I had a comparatively easy ride for the week I was there. I got on with my host John so well that we sat around chatting a lot.
I did get some work done though: cleaning guttering, plastering walls, mowing fields on a sit-down tractor and working in the Bechyne Tourist Information Centre with his wife Ilona.
What’s the deal with bed and board?
Your Workaway accommodation could be in tents, caravans, hammocks, bunk beds, a proper bed, in the main house, in a specially constructed house, in a hotel, a hostel, a treehouse… anywhere. When the host fills in their profile on Workaway.info they’ll explain the accommodation and hopefully include a photo too.
I was in Spain in April, out of season, so I could stay in one of the host’s villas. It was brilliant. I’d just come from working on a kids camp in Madrid and living in bunks so it was perfect timing. I was with my then boyfriend and we had two rooms, a bathroom, a lounge and a kitchen. She bought us supplies to make our own meals.
In Italy we lived in Jane’s incredible house on a retreat in Puglia. The two of us had a room and bathroom to ourselves. She made us lunch and a late dinner and was one of the best cooks I’ve known. The food was amazing – it was locally sourced and she definitely knew what she was doing.
In the Czech Republic we stayed in Bechyne in South Bohemia, in one of my host John’s other properties nearby that he was planning on turning into a hostel. John. my ex-boyfriend, another Workawayer who was there at the same time, Sarah, and I worked together to create the meals. John got all the supplies in.
How do you use Workaway.info?
The site is simple to use. You can search for projects by continent, country, type of work or by a key phrase and just scroll on through to see what’s on offer. Once you have an account you can save your favourite projects to your ‘My host list’ until you’re ready to contact them.
How do I apply for Workaway?
If you’re set in working in a particular destination I’d recommend you apply to two or three to see who gets back to you. Make sure to send a nice explanatory email about why you want to work on their project, what you can offer, a little about yourself and your dates that you want to come. Remember they’re taking a chance on you too, so make them feel as comfortable as possible about having you in their home or on their project.
Questions to ask when you email
- How many hours am I expected to work a day?
- Are there any specific days to take off?
- What’s the food situation?
- Where will I sleep?
- Is it easy to go exploring? Will I have access to a car / bike?
- Will there be any other Workawayers?
- Shall I bring anything?
How much is it?
You can sign up to the site for €23 for an individual for two years, and €30 if you’re joining as a couple. Cheap hey?!
Most of the projects are free to work on, that’s the whole point. But some of the ones in developing countries charge a very small fee to cover your bed and board costs as they literally don’t have any money. This will be clearly marked on their profile.
How safe is it?
When I travelled before I was with my ex-boyfriend so felt a little safer. Looking around this time for my project in Belize there were a few things I made sure of before I even applied.
- Must have reviews. I didn’t even consider ones without at least two reviews.
- And a good host rating at the top of the page.
- I read the profile multiple times and scoured the photos carefully to make sure I was totally comfortable with everything.
- Once I had a host’s real name and location I deep dived on Google to check for any juice.
Like a lot of things Workaway works on trust and understanding. As unsure as you might be about going to stay in a stranger’s home, they may feel the same about having you there. They’ve welcomed you into their lives, sometimes their children’s lives too and alongside all their possessions.
Be a good Workawayer. Work hard, don’t keep doubts and reservations to yourself and be kind and courteous. Don’t spoil things for potential future Workawayers by being an imbecile. If you say you’re going to go, go. And at least let them know you’re not if something comes up.
Take a little something along as a present at the start, or buy something at the end as a thank you. A small gift from your home country is a nice idea.
Make sure to leave a review on the site once the project is done. It’s one of the most important aspects of the site and is really important for enticing new Workawayers to a project.
The best thing about Workaway
It’s not the seemingly ‘free’ food and accommodation or the chance to do something really cool around the world – it’s the chance to live a local lifestyle within the community and really see how the natives go on about their daily business. My hosts were all very different in their approach to Workaway and to us, but what they all had in common were that the weeks spent on my Workaway projects were the best weeks of the whole four-month trip.
The projects on the site are a unique opportunity to see how real people live and to have a priceless experience, or one you’d usually have to pay a lot of money for. Some of the projects are genuinely really good causes for people in need, others are just a chance to have fun in a different location. Workaway is a great opportunity for budget travellers to get to know the world and some of the eclectic people who live in it.