I’ve been intrigued by the idea of work exchange while traveling; picking strawberries or grooming horses on a farm, but never had the time to spare two weeks or so for it until I quit my job!
Why volunteer/ work-exchange?
What makes volunteering through websites like workaway great for a traveler/ backpacker is being budget friendly, you get free accommodation and free meals (not always though) in exchange for 4-5 hours of work per day and having the weekend all to yourself to go around, explore and whatever else you feel like doing. Yes, you don’t get paid but every traveler knows that the bulk of their budget goes into accommodation (after the plane ticket, of course)
The experience is undeniably great, you get to try activities out of your comfort zone and step in a country’s culture through meeting the locals and living with some of them, leaving you with great memories and the essence of a visiting a foreign country.
When you’re sure that workaway is the perfect website for you to volunteer while traveling, you sign up and become a member by paying the fee of 29 USD for an individual account or 38 USD for a couple one which gets you a subscription for two years.
-When sending a message to the host, have a template message ready and personalise it a bit to suit each project/host, making it seem that you haven’t sent this message to 100+ hosts.
-Contact more than one host because they may reply too late, may not reply at all or aren’t free during your requested dates.
-Always mention your dates in the subject and your desired position or main skill if they’re offering several in their project, this makes it easier for the host to notice your message because you never know how many messages they’re receiving daily.
-For better chances in getting picked and especially in your desired dates, contact the hosts not less than a month (or even 3 during summer vacations) before your arrival dates.
-If you settled on a project, make sure to also send a message to the hosts who replied to you and not leave them hanging, telling them that you already found a project because you never know, you might be contacting them again in the future.
WORKAWAYING WITH A FRIEND
If you’re going to be traveling and workawaying with a friend of yours, and you both have registered for an individual account, you can link your accounts ( How? ).
It’s better for the hosts so they would be able to view both of your profiles.
But if you’ll always be workawaying together then you may want to go for the couple account option to save money (and no you don’t have to be in a relationship for that)
From my experience, it’s better to stay from 10-14 days at one place because usually you’ll still be getting used to the project and your host in your first week. If you’re not so sure about the project then that is the perfect period of time and it’s a good idea also to ask your host beforehand about the possibility of extending your stay, so when you get there and you’re happy with the project you could then extend your stay.
You can never be sure how perfect the project is going to be for you but here are some tips to know what to expect:
MATCHING YOUR INTERESTS
Well, duh? Choose something that excites you, something that you haven’t tried yet.
It doesn’t have to be related to your profession, so don’t go looking for a host who needs a graphic designer while you could try something new that you won’t get to do back home like farming and preparing jam for instance!
In my recent trip in SE Asia, I became a farmer then a translator for a football website in Thailand, sold tickets and prepared popcorn at a movie theater in Cambodia and a videographer in Indonesia.
CONTACT PREVIOUS VOLUNTEERS
Each project has reviews from previous volunteers but not everyone’s going to mention the negative things about the project/host to avoid getting a negative review in return. You should get in touch with the previous volunteers and ask about any specifics or concerns you might have like how clean the place is or how far it is from the city center.
Don’t choose a project that is in a small town or a secluded farm if you know you’re going to get bored.
Although you shouldn’t necessarily avoid small towns that are off the beaten path since not many tourists will be passing by, giving you a chance to discover hidden treasures with your host (if they’re free to go out and about with you) and experience how the locals there live without being influenced by the tourism industry. Nevertheless choosing a project in a capital is a good budget saver as well since you’ll get to see all the main attractions on your free time and might have more things to do, that is if the capital of the country you’re heading to is interesting.
Is it safe to volunteer through websites like workaway, especially for females traveling solo?
Through my volunteering experience I haven’t felt unsafe or had any problems with the hosts.
Which is why you should also contact previous volunteers and to preferably choose hosts with reviews.
Also, keep your friends or family updated about the projects you’ll be heading to; send them the link of the project, personal number of the host and their social links if they provided one, and the location of the project along with the dates of your stay.
It’s always useful to ask the hosts about safety tips in their city and things or places to avoid going to if they haven’t already told you so.
LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE
If you’re keen on learning a new language, what better way to learn it other than practicing it with the locals!
I’ve met a girl who was volunteering at a hostel in Portugal while learning and practicing her portuguese. But that also means its better to stay for a longer period of time if you’re serious about the language.