Being a broke kind-of-student leaving midway through the year, I don’t exactly have a ton of money to spend nearly half a year travelling the world however I like. This is why I’m a huge fan of websites like Couchsurfing (see my beginner’s guide HERE!) and Workaway.
But Bea, what is Workaway?
So many volunteering projects charge participants extortionate amounts, knowing that naïve gap-year students will willingly pay a lot of money to go to a developing country and make some kind of contribution. But a lot of this money is never seen by the people it’s supposedly helping, so it’s my opinion that you’re much better off skipping the middle man and contacting NGOs and projects directly.
This is where Workaway comes in. It’s a work-exchange website where NGOs and individuals can post requests for volunteers to come and help them at short notice, throughout the year. The sheer range of placements is amazing, and with hosts in pretty much every country in the world, wanting help with all kinds of projects and jobs, there’s something for everyone.
You set up a profile with a picture, a few paragraphs about yourself, and an idea of how long you’re travelling for, where you’re wanting to go, and what you’re willing to help with when staying with a host, and hey presto, you’re ready to find a host!
How much does it cost?
There is a sign-up cost of around 25 Euros, which gives you unlimited access to the host list and guidebook for two years. Other than that, no charges at all! Pretty sweet deal, right? RIGHT! Once you’ve signed up, you can browse the host list at your leisure, narrowing down options by region of the world or type of work you’re wanting to do.
The general idea is that you’re provided with food and accommodation in exchange for about 5 hours of work per day, 5 days a week. This is the maximum amount of work which hosts ask for; some want less, and some even offer the opportunity for paid work later on, if you’re staying for a longer time.
Be aware that a few hosts, mainly orphanages and schools, or smaller NGOs in developing countries, do charge a fee of around $5 per day for accommodation and upkeep costs. I try to avoid these, mainly because I’m stingy. Sorry.
What can I do?
Many hosts are looking for someone who can stay more than just a couple of weeks, but if you’re just wanting to go for a shirt time, you’re bound to find something which suits you. Hosts range from families looking for au-pairs, to hostels and guesthouses wanting help with cleaning or front-of-house, to village schools wanting English teachers, to individuals wanting help redecorating or building a house, or starting an art project! There really is something for everyone.
What can I get from it?
I highly recommend at least taking a look at the website; if you’re wanting to travel slowly and cheaply, I really do think this is one of the best options out there. By staying with a host as opposed to in hostels, you get a chance to immerse yourself in a new culture, and get an insight into places which you wouldn’t get if you were just a tourist there. You make lifelong friends, and often your hosts become like family.
There’s also the enormous benefit of paying only for your transport to your host, and any leisure activities you choose to partake in in your time off. There’s also something to be said for staying in smaller communities as opposed to just flitting between cities; you’re more likely to meet local people and be able to get a taste of the real spirit of a place rather than just the guidebook recommendations.
My first placement was in Southern Germany, in a small town in Bavaria not too far from Nuremberg and Munich. It was March, I’d recently quit my first university degree, and I wanted to get out and explore rather than sit at home doubting myself before starting a different course in September.
I found a post on Workaway from a family of five – parents and three young children – living in a small town in rural Bavaria, who wanted someone to come and lend a hand with housework and childcare before the birth of a fourth child into the family. The family was bilingual, speaking both Czech and German at home, and so the situation was ideal for me to revive my conversational German as well as getting back into my other first language, Czech, which I rarely speak at home. Due to my inconsistent planning and intention to go to Asia the next month, I only stayed there for two weeks.
My work was very easy – a few hours of light housework, five days a week – and I felt like I was getting a lot for very little; I felt at home in the family almost immediately, and everyone was very welcoming. The area was beautiful, and although I only stayed there for a relatively short time, I managed to see quite a lot of the local area, as well as some bigger towns and cities like Bamberg and Nuremberg.
I had the chance to be completely immersed in small-town German culture, and was lucky in that my hosts were extremely friendly and full of recommendations about what to see and do in my time off. The children were also extraordinarily well behaved!
I left with the offer of returning in the future, which I really hope to be able to take my hosts up on one day! After I’d stayed for a couple of weeks, I headed back to Munich to spend a couple of nights Couchsurfing before flying home.
I’m currently in India on my second Workaway project; volunteering at a women and children’s shelter in Dehradun, an hour’s flight north of Delhi. I’ve been here a month and a half, and I can’t believe I’ll be leaving in less than three weeks! Time really has flown! Here, my work has consisted of teaching English to the children at the shelter as well as at a local school. It’s been an overwhelming and immensely rewarding experience, and a chance to live in a culture so different to my own, which I would have only touched upon if I’d just backpacked through the area.
I don’t think I’ll be doing any placements in South East Asia over the next couple of months, due to some serious time constraints, but I will DEFINITELY continue to use Workaway in the future, and you should too!
- Find out what you’ll be doing before you arrive!
It’s best not to have any expectations, and just to go with the flow, but it’s a good idea to have an idea of the work you’ll be doing before you arrive, and work out what you’re willing to help with – usually you’ll have a lot of options!
- Make sure you know where you’re going… Look it up on Google Maps!
Although I was given an address, I learnt this the hard way when wandering the streets of an unknown town at 2am after arriving on a night train and bus! Usually, your hosts will be more than willing to help you arrange transport.
- Choose your placement carefully
It’s no use signing up for a project you know you’ll find boring, or where you’ll clash with the interests and expectations of your host!
- Leave some feedback after you’ve left your host!
Once you’ve finished your placement, it’s polite to leave a note on your host’s profile reviewing your experience – hopefully they’ll do the same for you!
So what are you waiting for? Go to www.workaway.info and sign up now!