This is a guest post by Laura Pollard from Write Kind Travels.
The organisation Workaway connects potential volunteers with host families across the world for a meaningful travel, work and cultural exchange. It is a great way to travel cheaply, as the Workaway hosts provide accommodation and (usually) food in exchange for a few hours’ work each day. It also allows you to see parts of the world you might not otherwise encounter.
However, before embarking on a Workaway exchange, it is important to consider whether this type of travel is right for you.
The range of work available is enormous; animal and farm helpers, language teachers and aux pairs are all in demand. Before making any decisions, be honest with yourself about the sort of work you realistically can – and want – to do.
If you’ve never been around animals then working on a farm can certainly be exciting and eye-opening, but it could potentially be overwhelming. Likewise, if you’re used to a 9-5 office job, engaging in physical labour on a daily basis could be a bit of a shock to the system.
Of course, the learning aspect of Workaway can be one of the most appealing. Some hosts’ profiles may only offer limited details on the work expected; if you are unsure, don’t be afraid to ask them.
How long do you want to Workaway? On our trip, we found that two to three weeks with each host was perfect. Less time could mean that you don’t learn as much or won’t have time to get into a good routine, whereas a month or more could be too long if there are any aspects of the experience you don’t enjoy.
You should also consider how long you want to Workaway overall. We found that after three months of ‘Working-away’ we were craving some relaxation. Meaningful travel is about learning new things, meeting new people and seeing new places. While Workaway allows you to tick these boxes, you should bear in mind that simply enjoying yourself and relaxing are also important aspects of travelling.
If you are planning to Workaway for a number of months and flit between several hosts, it may be worth booking in long weekends in a hostel or hotel between stints. This will give you some down-time and can also break up long journeys between hosts.
This brings us to the location of your travel and Workaway experience. Hosts will often be based in rural areas, particularly if you are looking at working on a farm or small-holding. Even host families looking for aux pairs may be in lesser-known towns or villages. This is one of the many benefits of Workaway, as it takes you to places that might not feature in the guidebooks and can give you a taste of authentic, local life.
While rural areas are great for nature lovers, if you tend to gravitate towards the hustle and bustle of large cities, you ought to be realistic about how much time you want to spend in a sleepy village off the beaten track. Luckily, there are still plenty of Workaway hosts based in large cities, particularly those looking for help around the house or with language learning.
If you are planning to stay with a number of different Workaway hosts, you ought to look into public transport options. Hosts will usually offer to pick you up if they are very remote, but you should speak to them well in advance to get their advice on local travel.
Another factor to consider is the weather, especially if you are going to be working outside. Beach-lovers may be lured to the gorgeous coast lines of South-east Asian or Caribbean countries, but bear in mind that outside work in the sun can take its toll. Conversely, working outside in cold and wet conditions can be difficult too. Try to look at climate charts and speak to your hosts about working hours; in hot countries hosts will sometimes ask volunteers to work early in the morning to avoid the midday heat.
Having a good idea about the weather will also help you to pack appropriately. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re planning to work outside in the garden or on farms, you should bring a sturdy pair of boots, a sun-hat and some trousers which you don’t mind getting dirty.
Of course, you won’t be spending all of your time working – in fact, most volunteers only work around five hours per day. This allows you plenty of time to explore the local area. Make sure to pack nicer clothes and keep these for your own personal time to ensure they don’t get messy.
One of the reassuring things about Workaway is that your hosts will often have supplies and medication in case you forget anything or need something additional. However, as always when travelling, it is important to bring some basic medication and a small first-aid kit.
It is definitely worth talking with your hosts as much as possible before your trip. This helps you to build up a relationship and get to know each other, and also allows you to ask more questions about the area and the sort of work you’ll be expected to do. The hosts whom we’d spoken to the most before arriving were the ones we hit it off with the quickest once we arrived.
Before contacting any hosts you should read through their Workaway profile very carefully. You’ll often get indicators of the type of people they are simply from the way they’ve worded their profile. Many hosts will have reviews at the bottom and this again will give you a good insight into their personality and host style.
The people you meet and the friendships you make during your Workaway experience are the best parts of the exchange. For us, we met some wonderful people whom we continue to stay in touch with long after we’ve left. Take the time to read through each profile carefully, and don’t feel compelled to stay with a host family if you change your mind or see something that you don’t like.
Workaway may take you out of your comfort zone: a different country, a different lifestyle, new people and maybe even a different language. It is a great opportunity to widen your horizons, travel cheaply and experience new and exciting places. However, try to think honestly about what you want to do, what you are able to do, and what you want to achieve from the Workaway experience.
When you’re there, be sure to immerse yourself in the area, work and lifestyle; we found that the places where we relaxed and got really ‘stuck in’ to the work were the ones where we learnt the most.
Have you been on a Workaway exchange, or something similar?
Share your experience and tips with us in the comments section below.
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