A Different Way to Go Backpacking

Workaway is one of the best things I’ve done on my travels. In fact, I’ve done it three times now! The basic idea is that you can travel the world on a budget by exchanging your hard graft for bed and board. It’s an interesting alternative to backpacking, you’ll get a better standard of accommodation (hopefully) and you’re more likely to be able to interact with locals off the beaten track rather than following the well trodden route of someone else.

I’ve done Workaway projects in the Czech Republic, in Spain and in Italy and am always on the look out for another one that fits my plans. I want to share the Workaway dream with you, and show you how you can have a unique experience on a budget.

What is Workaway?

Workaway project in Spain

Workaway is a unique concept that introduces travellers to hosts – people who need an extra pair of hands around the house, on a project or with their business. In exchange for a few hours of work per day (suggested, 5) a Workawayer receives accommodation and food for the duration of their stay.

Because you stay with a host rather than in a hotel or hostel you get the opportunity to experience your destination for real; you’ll get a taste of its true culture and not just the usual tourist haunts. You’re likely to get to meet and mix with the locals and, because many hosts live quite remotely, you’ll get an insight into what it’s like to live day-to-day in that country, more than you ever could as a tourist.

Why participate in Workaway?

Workaway means different things to different people. It’s a way of travelling the world on a shoestring; it’s a way to learn a new language or pick up a new skill; it’s a chance to meet people and authentically experience an alternative culture. Workawayers all have one thing in common, though – a positive attitude and a good appetite for some adventure.  

How does it work?

Painting at Workaway

You agree to work a minimum of five hours a day (ish) for the duration of your stay (some jobs will be a bit more, others a bit less) and your host will provide bed and board, free of charge. Bear in mind, this is a voluntary arrangement and you will not be paid for the work you do while on a Workaway. Some projects offer the opportunity to do a bit on the side to earn some cash, but generally, the whole point is that it’s volunteer work.

Jobs vary from a few days to a few months, some a year or more, depending on the nature of the job. You apply for jobs that match your existing skills or for jobs involving skills you’d like to learn. With each Workaway you decide how long you want to stay – but of course, you can always leave if you don’t feel comfortable; you’re not in any sort of legal contract. Equally, if you’re having an amazing time you might choose to stay longer!

There are several on site filters you can target your search by:

●  Host rating: Workaway encourages hosts and travellers to review each other after a visit; the higher the rating the better the host.

●  Type of host: hosts range from individuals and families, to charities and businesses.

●  Location: currently, there are jobs available on all major continents.

●  Types of help: check the boxes to narrow your search, do you want to use a skill you already have, or learn a new one?

●  Number of Workawayers needed: handy if you’re travelling as a group.

●  Creature comforts: search by the things you just can’t live without! 

With over 18,000 hosts in more than 130 countries, prepare to be spoilt for choice! The locations and jobs are awesome – you might feel pretty overwhelmed to start. I’d suggest you save the jobs that interest you in ‘My Host List’ and return to them later to review in more detail. The more jobs you look at the more you’ll learn – what you are or aren’t prepared to do, where you will or won’t travel to, what you’re willing (or unwilling) to go without.

How do I sign up?

You can browse the site and save any jobs that interest you for free. When you’re ready to start applying simply purchase a subscription and register your details to build a profile – this is a chance for you to sell yourself, keep your bio light and friendly and remember to add a few photos.

How much does it cost?

A stack of coins

Whilst it’s free to browse the Workaway site you must pay a subscription to apply for jobs. Currently there are two levels of subscription on offer – single or couple. As of December 2015, the cost for a single person’s two year subscription is USD $29 (roughly £20) and the cost of a couple’s two year subscription is USD $38 (roughly £25).

Where can I work?

Or to put it another way, where do you want to work?! With thousands of hosts needing help on every continent, it’s entirely up to you. If you’re travelling on a budget, bear in mind the further afield the job, the more it will cost to get there. That said, it can be equally expensive to travel around countries closer to home. Choosing to do a Workaway in Europe, for example, can save hundreds of pounds on the average cost of travelling Europe as a backpacker. This is what  I did when I travelled Europe for a few months – the Workaway projects were the most interesting and rewarding weeks of all.

What sort of jobs can I do?

There are around 20 different types of help you can choose from, ranging from general odd-job help, animal care and helping around the house, to those that require more specialised skills, such as teaching, farming and construction. While some hosts request certain skills from their helpers, for example needing electricians or plumbers on a renovation job, most hosts welcome anyone who is willing and able to muck in. Willingness to help is one of the most important attributes of a good Workawayer, according to host feedback, so be prepared to get stuck into anything and everything!

Is it safe?

Given that many projects can be in remote locations, safety is a worry for some, and rightly so. That’s why the Workaway website encourages hosts and Workawayers to leave each other feedback after a visit. The site operates a simple star rating system and provides the opportunity to write a short review of your experience. This information is gold dust for prospective Workawayers, trying to gauge what a project or host is really like. Bear in mind this is a two-way street; hosts can be just as nervous about letting a stranger into their home.

There are several thing you can do to allay your nerves, depending on what exactly’s worrying you. If it’s the remote location, why not try a city Workaway instead? If it’s the prospect of travelling alone, why not use the site’s Meet Up app to connect with other Workawayers or travel with a friend? If you’re worried about getting on with your host, strike up some email or social media chatter in the weeks leading up to your trip and get to know each other better.

Where will I stay?

This depends on the host and your accommodation. You may have to bring a tent, you might be allocated a private or shared room, you might even have your own apartment. I stayed in a villa in Spain, a tumbling-down cottage in the Czech Republic and then a fancy spare room in Italy. Whatever the arrangements, if you’re sharing facilities with your host it’s nice to help out where you can; preparing dinner, washing up, tidying and so forth. Most jobs will outline the accommodation set up so you can decide before you apply if you’re comfortable with the arrangements.

What will I eat?

Fry up breakfast

Again, this really depends on the host. Some hosts prepare food and invite you to eat with them and their families, others will cook and serve Workawayers separately, some will provide the  groceries and let you get on with it. Remember to inform your host of any allergies or dietary requirements well in advance of your arrival, and check it’s cool.

How much will I earn?

Workaway is unpaid. In exchange for working a minimum of 5 hours a day you receive free bed and board. Some hosts provide Workawayers with a small subsistence allowance but this is not compulsory and entirely at the discretion of the host. We suggest you take sufficient spending money with you, just in case you need it and just in case there aren’t any banks or ATMs close by.

What’s the smallprint?

Make sure you’re clear on everything over email before you arrive. You’re totally within your rights to ask questions such as the exact address (some jobs are very remote), transport arrangements, the number of hours/days you will be expected to work, the sleeping and eating arrangements and whether any other Workawayers will be working with you.

It’s also a good idea to build up some rapport over email before you arrive, that way it won’t be so daunting when you turn up on their doorstep.. Even if it’s not a contract it’s always good to know what and where you’re going to – preparation is the best way!