After hearing about WorkAway from a friend who spent two weeks on a horse farm in northern France with it, I decided to take my chances and spend the remaining 2.5 weeks of my 2017 Schengen visa validity outside the tiny town of Bayonne in Basque Country, France. Nothing like extending a study abroad trip until the very last possible moment…. Although I was initially hesitant, the experience has been incredible – I have met new people and learned new cultures, all well relaxing in the countryside waking up to cows mooing and eating onions pulled straight from the garden. I would return to this location in a heartbeat. In fact, I am writing this post from a brightly colored hammock under a plum tree with a view that overlooks a valley of cows and mountains in the distance. It can’t be beat.
Many people are shocked that for such a well-traveled 20-something, I hadn’t heard of WorkAway until a few months ago. In case you’re like me, here’s a quick run-down of exactly what this program is and why you should strongly consider it, abroad or in your own country!
What is WorkAway?
A program through which travelers can exchange 4-5 hours of volunteer work for free housing and food, anywhere in the world. Hosts can include hostels, farms, even families looking for a babysitter with an intercultural flair. WorkAway is a way for travelers to spend longer periods of time (typically between 1 week and 3 months) learning the culture of one location for almost no cost. It’s also a way for hosts to fill part time job positions requiring few skills that may not be desirable for long periods of time. Hosts experience a cultural exchange and an extra set of hands wherever they may need them.
How is it organized?
The website WorkAway.info lists all of the registered hosts and holds the profiles of all registered workers. The host lists are available to see free of charge, however to message a host and organize a WorkAway trip, one must pay a once yearly $30 registration fee. Couples can pay a reduced rate of $45/year. I promise you, as an extreme budget traveler, this fee is very worth it.
Is it safe?
With the same safety guidelines as Couchsurfing or Airbnb, WorkAway runs off reviews (of hosts and of workers). They caution workers to communicate carefully, read all reviews cautiously and only participate with hosts that they feel comfortable with. Hosts are cautioned the same things and are easily able to say no to any request to work that they feel uncomfortable with.
How do I get involved?
Check out the website! Use a school break to do a short trial run before embarking on your WorkAway trip around the world. Use the site to create a host list of people you might be interested in working for in the future! Find a WorkAway in your own country if you’re nervous about an extreme cultural difference but have a few weeks of empty time.
The only costs involved in WorkAway are the initial registration fee and the cost of transportation to the host’s location. It truly is an incredible way to see and experience the world.