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Ever since I posted my experience of volunteering with Workaway in Italy, I’ve received tons of queries on various channels asking me for tips and suggestions on how to volunteer internationally with Workaway. Curious to find out more on Workaway program, volunteering jobs to apply for, tips to stay safe, and so on. Hence, thought of penning this post to serve as a one-stop source talking about the ins-and-outs of volunteering with Workaway based on my own experience, and of that, I’ve met on the road.
Keep in mind, that no two Workaway experiences are the same. It depends on the location of your program, your background, the hosts you are staying with, and the work you are helping them out with. Having said that there are some customary traits that apply to all Workaway programs around the world, and that’s what we’ll be focusing on in this post.
If you’d rather watch a video, this is for you:
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So, what is a Workaway Program?
For the uninitiated, Workaway is a cultural exchange program which connects volunteers with hosts from around the world. They currently have 30,000 active hosts from 170 countries.
Head to Workaway website, and register yourself as a Volunteer. It costs about 36 USD per year for one person and 46 USD per year for two friends or a couple. Set up your Workaway profile, add a photo as it builds more trust factor, and fill in necessary details. Then choose a location that you are heading to, and find relevant hosts offering work exchange programs based on your background and experience (Workaway jobs may also vary depending on the location). Then apply for the volunteering opportunities stating your details and your available dates.
Ideally, you should be able to volunteer for at least two weeks with a particular host. However, it depends on the host and the kind of work you are applying for as well. Some look for a longer term, while others are flexible with the dates. If you get accepted, you’d get food and accommodation in exchange for volunteer work. As simple as that.
You can register for Workaway here.
Most of the jobs come with accommodation and free food. Apart from that, there are some paid Workaway programs as well. But it’s few and far in between.
Check out the Workaway FAQ page for more information.
What if you don’t have any relevant skill set?
There are tons of Workaway opportunities for people from a diverse background on the site. It’s not necessary to be particularly skillful at something. However, if you are, it might tip the scale in your favor on getting accepted to relevant opportunities. Like most of the European countries with their own native language, they are always on the lookout for English speakers to learn and fine-tune their English speaking skills. Also, if you like kids, then maybe you can consider being an Au pair, where you stay with the host family and share responsibility for childcare and household work for a longer duration say a month or two at least.
Sometimes, they are just looking for an extra hand in cases of gardening, painting, carpentering, or normal household chores.
How to travel the World for Free?
I feel traveling the World for free is a myth glamourized by social media. No one truly travels the world for FREE. Those who do, usually offer up their skills – time and years of experience, to travel the world for FREE. The same goes for a workaway program. I wouldn’t qualify it as free travel. With work away, it’s an unwritten rule that you will be spending at least 5 hours a day and 5 days a week as a Workaway volunteer and help out your hosts, in exchange for food and accommodation. Most of the leisurely travel happens over the weekends, or on off days.
But yes, it’s possible to travel long-term with a limited budget with Workaway. Since you can find free accommodation and food in exchange for work, it’s possible to save money while traveling abroad. The remainder of the expenses is either transport or various personal expenses. Which brings down the expenses by quite a lot, as the days add up. For instance, my friend had a budget of $10,000 for a year, and she didn’t even finish half of that in 6 months into her travels in Europe while volunteering with Workaway for the majority of that duration.
Are there any programs similar to Workaway?
Sure. There are many websites like Workaway where you can volunteer and save money while traveling. HelpX and WWOOF are some of the alternative ways to travel on a budget. However, I would recommend Workaway as they have a huge base of hosts (30,000 hosts over 170 countries as of now) with varied opportunities and comes at a reasonable price as well.
Top Tips While Choosing a Workaway host
I had my maiden experience with Workaway on March 2018 volunteering in an Italian countryside near Rome for about a week. I was helping the hosts with social media and blogging. It felt like I was part of a family, and we always had meals together. I had the best Workaway hosts. They were pretty chilled out about the timings and didn’t keep track of time as long as the task was done. They took me around town, introduced me to some wonderful Italian cheeses and wines, and were always there to help out if I needed something. Gathering from my own experience and from what I’ve heard so far about the programs, the reviews have been mostly positive. Having said that, it’s vital to choose the right host, and do your research before choosing one.
Read: How to get started with Blogging
Go by User Reviews
Go by the reviews left by other users, and see if it’s the right fit for you. Some hosts may only accept a couple travelers or some might accept only solo travelers. Read up the details of the hosts, and go through user reviews. Do they talk fondly of their hosts? Were there any bad reviews left for the host? Even if there is one bad review, for me, that usually is a deal breaker especially while volunteering as a solo female traveler.
On the other hand, some hosts may not have any reviews, particularly if they are new, but maybe more willing to accept new Workawayers. So, make your decision accordingly always keeping safety in mind.
Research on your hosts or their business
Also, do a quick research to see if they have a website online, or if you can find reviews outside of Workaway as well. A little stalking can go a long way in easing your decision! Additionally, if they own a facebook page, you could probably find out more information there as well!
Like, for instance, my host was running a Bed & Breakfast (Olive Tree Hill) on the outskirts of Rome. So, apart from checking reviews on Workaway, I checked reviews on TripAdvisor and Booking.com as well. That helped in corroborating the reviews, and any concerns about my safety were out of my mind, even before I reached there. Unsurprisingly, my hosts turned out to be very generous, and I had a blast staying with a lovely Italian family volunteering in an Italian countryside near Rome. I lived life the Italian way, devoured on delicious Italian meals, and hopped around town with my fellow volunteer friends every day.
What skill sets are you offering?
Sometimes, the hosts look for individuals with a specific skill set, be it teaching a new language, or yoga instructor, or graphic designer. And, at other times, they are just looking for an extra hand in and around the house. So decide what kind of work you’d like to do and capable of contributing to as well.
Have a conversation with your future hosts
Once you shortlist on the locations, and the volunteering jobs you’d like to apply for, go ahead and apply for the jobs. You can provide them with more details about you when you are available, and in what ways can you help them out. Be courteous, and polite. If you make a good first impression, you will have a better chance of getting the opportunity.
Once you are done with the introductions, converse with your potential hosts to understand your responsibilities better. Find out about their expectations of you. Understand your working hours, and see if you can provide value to them. Some hosts might be more demanding than the others and have certain stipulations that you might have to work with. So, knowing these details prior will facilitate in making a sound decision.
Workaway Tips while volunteering internationally
Break the Language Barrier
If you don’t share a common language with your hosts, then you might have to find a better way to communicate with offline translation apps, or learning the common phrases of the language before you head there.
Buy a Local Sim Card
Local sim card can help reach your hosts when you are out and in need of help or suggestions, or to use mobile data on the go. Particularly useful when traveling solo. I’ve relied entirely on Google Maps, to find trains, and chart out my itinerary, and track my location. And, I knew if I had any issues with finding my hosts or reaching my work away location, they are always just a phone call away.
Ask for local travel suggestions from your hosts – They might have a wealth of hidden treasures for you!
Talk to your hosts, and ask for suggestions on things to do, and see nearby, and also neighborhoods to avoid (if any) as a traveler. They can offer valuable information, something far superior to any guidebooks or online articles!
Learn to trust your instincts
If you think someone is being overly friendly, and something is too good to be true ( like someone offering you free drinks at a bar), maybe it is. It’s alright to have your guard up. And walk away from anything that you think might put you in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation. Remember, you don’t owe anyone anything.
Stay connected with your friends or family
Keep your family and friends informed about your whereabouts, especially if you’re a solo traveler. Again having a local sim card might help you in this regard as you don’t have to rely on wifi (which is usually spotty at best at most of the locations I’ve been to!) to stay connected. Bonus if you know someone who lives close by. This might prove useful in case of any emergencies or mishaps.
Be generous and friendly
You will be provided with free food and accommodation, and someone else in the world is opening up their home for you. So be generous, and open-minded, and help out in any way you can. Remember that you are representing your entire country, so make sure you present yourself in your best light for your hosts.
Incidents While Workawaying Internationally
Although my experience has been pretty EPIC, I’ve heard some pretty bad experience on a Workaway program too. Rather than paint a rosy picture, I wanted to put it out there, that it could be nasty as well. This incident happened to my friend of mine. She was planning to travel and volunteer on Workaway for a year. Six months into her volunteering, her host’s college-going son used to record videos in the bathroom, while she was taking showers. And she only got to know about this at the end of her volunteering time. She said that she was fortunate enough, that she wasn’t assaulted or worse. And, that it was her only bad experience from the entire time she has been a Workawayer around Europe.
And yes, these incidents happen, however few and far in between. There’s always a risk involved, and a lot of life experience to learn from. Proceed with caution, and do your research, and learn to trust your instincts.
Until you give it a shot, you never know, right?
Applying for Visa – To mention Workaway Program or Not?
I have been skeptical about citing volunteering with a Workaway program in my Schengen visa cover letter. Coming from a country with a weak passport-like India, and already buried in paperwork, I didn’t want to give the visa authorities more grounds for rejecting my visa. As it might seemingly come out as an avenue to overstay on Schengen visa. And, this is usually what the authorities are wary of from visa applicants. They bury you with loads of paperwork, just to make sure this doesn’t happen. So, to be on the safer side, I didn’t mention a thing about my volunteering program and just showed hotel bookings (with free cancellation) from Booking.com for the entire duration. Later, I promptly canceled my bookings after I received my visa.
Also, I’m not aware of anyone who has mentioned being a Workawayer in their cover letter either. I’ll add more updates on the same here if I find out!
If you’re applying for Schengen visa from India for Italy, then look no further! I’ve written a monster post to guide you through the (insanely long) process!
So, have you ever tried a Workaway program? How was your experience like? Or you planning to be a Workawyer anytime soon? Let me know in the comments below!
Watch the Workaway video here.
HollyJul 21, 2018
Great post, I would love to do a workaway placement and have been thinking about it a lot lately. Maybe on my next long trip I’ll do one to help extend it a little bit!
Raksha RaoAug 2, 2018
That’s nice Holly. Go for it 🙂
AnnaJul 21, 2018
These workaway programs have been on my mind and I have looked at the different places and opportunities they offer. So many interesting things! I want to try it soon. Just have to figure out a place where I could take my dog with me or have someone look after him I would be away.
Raksha RaoAug 2, 2018
I know right! So many interesting opportunities. It was hard for me to pin point on one for volunteering. Yeah, there are some places who are ok with you having a dog. In fact, my host allowed volunteering with a dog as well. You will have to talk to the hosts to figure that out 🙂 All the best for your volunteering experience!
rajJun 19, 2022
you wrote a very informative article. I’m planning to backpack abroad using workaway platform and huge thanks for your article. happy travelling!