Work exchange is the exchange of work for room and board. One of the biggest excuses people have for not traveling as much as they would like to, is that it is too expensive. And yes, if you’re staying in fancy hotels, going on extravagant excursions and eating out for every meal, of course that would be expensive!
When you volunteer for a work exchange, you can stay in a location for free in exchange for a few hours of your time. It is definitely possible to travel the world on a tight budget. The three most expensive elements of travel are transportation, accommodation and food. When you do a work exchange, you can cut out one, or even two of those costs! Work exchanges allow you to have a culturally immersive experience while traveling for cheap.
How A Work Exchange Works
On websites like Worldpackers and Workaway, they have thousands of listings of people looking for volunteers to do various jobs. You could do any job from building someone’s shed to managing the social media for a bed and breakfast. There are a lot of au pair-style jobs as well. These allow you to stay with a family and teach their children English or other languages.
Each site has an annual fee of $50 for a membership. This is completely worth it if you’re comparing the price to one night in a hotel to have access to both services. Some hosts don’t have a minimum required stay but most ask you to stay for at least a week. Some hosts need you to stay for two months. It just depends on the type of help they need.
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Worldpackers VS Workaway
I found my first volunteer experience through Worldpackers. Both are websites with phone apps that allows you to search for volunteer experiences around the world. You can use filters for your search to find something specific in your desired city or type of work. Some hosts offer you more benefits than just a bed. Hosts can offer you meals, laundry, free pub crawls and more. On Workaway, you can find actual paid jobs as well.
Each host has a page with a description of who they are and what sort of work they need. Their page will also include photos, the host response time and reviews from other travelers who stayed with them. The application process for these sites is a bit different. On Workaway, all you need to do is send a message stating your interest in their program and what you can offer them. For both, you need to provide the date you will be available to volunteer. On Worldpackers, each application is different. You will be prompted to answer a few questions about yourself or the job that you want to do.
If something goes wrong and there is a problem with your host on Worldpackers, they have an insurance program. If the host does not abide by what was agreed upon, Worldpackers will relocate you to another host somewhere nearby or pay for a hostel for three nights. Workaway does not provide this type of support.
My Work Exchange Experience
For my first work away experience, I was a social media manager for a co-working space in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. My duties included posting once a day on the Instagram feed and posting stories. I also needed to create two videos for their website. I was lucky enough not to have a strict schedule or deadline with these tasks.
In exchange for my services, I was given a single bed in a shared room. We had a shared bathroom, kitchen and living area. My food was not included. Not only was the work fun, easy and resume building, I met incredible people from all over the world while staying in the co-living apartment. I got to stay in Las Palmas for two weeks for free. My only regret is not volunteering for longer!
Advice & Tips
There are many different hosts to choose from which is a blessing and a curse. When you first begin searching for your host, it may become overwhelming. Here are three tips for choosing which volunteer opportunity to apply to:
1. Use the filters wisely
With thousands of volunteer opportunities floating around out there, using filters is crucial to finding the volunteer experience of your dreams. On Workaway you can even search for a keyword/phrase. If you want a host that will feed you vegan food, that’s a great way to find them!
2. Check the reviews
If possible, stay away from hosts that don’t have any reviews. Keep in mind that when you leave a review for a host, they also review you. This could be why a host doesn’t have any reviews because volunteers don’t want to leave an honest review about a bad experience, then have a host leave a bad review for them. Sometimes a host might not have reviews because they’re a new host. With these, just be cautious.
3. Ask previous volunteers about their experiences
Workaway allows you to contact other travelers who have volunteered for a host you are interested in. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them.
There are a lot of people who apply to these positions, especially in the more popular tourist destinations. Here are three tips to make your work exchange profile stand out:
- Flaunt your skills: Like any other job application, you have to sell yourself to the host. Talk about what makes you special on your profile and in your messages to hosts. Emphasize any skills you have that would be useful to them.
- Be genuine: Do not copy and paste the same message to all of your potential hosts. They’ll be able to tell if you’re sending them something generic.
- Include great pictures: A picture is worth a thousand words. Include pictures of yourself traveling and doing other things you love. It’s their first impression of you so make it count.
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