Have you ever asked yourself the question, how can I travel the world for free?
If you have, we’re going to let you in on our biggest secret to cheap travel – Workaway.
In this Workaway review we share how we enjoyed tree houses nestled in the Swiss countryside, delicious Greek feasts and Hawaiian beaches for practically pennies and explain how you can too.
If you are fed up of the usual package holidays in shiny resorts surrounded by Union Jack swim short wearers and crave a more authentic experience, then this Workaway info is definitely for you.
Perhaps you’ve dreamed of living in a different country but you’re scared of the huge commitment and would love a month or two trial run?
Is your dream to make your own wine/renovate a property/run an organic farm/learn to surf/become fluent in French or all at the same time? Well my friend, your wish is our command.
Don’t have time to read? No problem, watch our YouTube Workaway review below instead!
What Is Workaway?
Put simply, Workaway is an online platform of over 30,000 hosts from over 170 countries that provide food & accommodation in exchange for work. However, it is so much more than that. From yoga retreats in Jamaica, to renovating French châteaux, to childcare in Bali, you volunteer abroad (or locally) for up to 25 hours (ish) a week, in exchange for bed and board.
After visiting Greece for a second time, despite the 5 star resort (and hot tub on the balcony) we left feeling as if we hadn’t seen the “real deal”. We vowed if we ever returned to Greece, we wanted to live like a local, eat like a local and ultimately never stay in a resort again – 5 star or otherwise. In resorts and hostels you only stay with other travellers and tourists, Workaway allows you to Volun-tour.
In exchange for sharing your time, skills and culture you receive a place to sleep, food and a wealth of cultural experience which you could not get from the guidebooks.
Why Join Workaway?
A wise philosopher Jessie J once said, “it’s not about the money, money, money” and allowing free accommodation and food is a benefit of Workaway, but it should not be your only incentive to join.
If this is appealing to you simply for the free digs then apologies, Workaway is not for you. It is not an easy route to free accommodation. It is very much a work exchange. If you are looking to get up in the morning and just go, returning late at night and close your door then we’ll point you in the direction of alternative accommodation as that’s a hotel not a host you’re after.
Be willing to work, to offer conversation, share travel stories, traditions from home, recipes you grew up with – be prepared to make friends all over the world.
From our own personal experience, we chose Workaway for the following reasons –
- It allows a trial run in grown up things such as running a house and looking after children.
- Our dream was to run an olive farm. We had romantic visions of living on the Cretan coast and thanks to Workaway we were able to do this and realise farm life is not for us but the Greek food so is.
- It allowed us to practise our language skills, inspiring us to learn new languages as well as teaching English to others.
- We wanted to live like locals, away from the tourist traps or hostels filled with other backpackers. Exposing us to hidden gems, traditions and tasty foods we’d never discover without an insider’s knowledge.
We only have positive reviews of Workaway and have had the most amazing experiences. Just a handful of our highlights have been –
- Trying traditional Swiss Fondue (And even taking part in a “Fondue Battle”)
- Ticking olive farming off our bucket list
- Attending our first ever Superbowl party in Hawaii
- Darren swam in the sea for the very first time!!
- Made life long friends all over the world
Is Workaway Safe?
The short answer is yes. You can review your Workaway experience for each host out of 5 stars in the same way a hotel review system works. Read all of these reviews once, twice or even three times before contacting the host. These reviews offer a real insight into what the host is like, written by the workawayers who have lived and worked with them. If a host has a low rating, the same way you wouldn’t dine at a 1 star restaurant – avoid.
In saying that, hosts also have a percentage rating. A host may have 100% but no feedback reviews on their profile and this is because the percentage rating is not provided by workawayers. This number is calculated by how often the host uses the site, how quickly they respond to requests, as well as their reviews. We have stayed with amazing hosts, where we dined like royalty and they only have 65% so also take this into account.
Our main advice with this is trust your gut, chances are if its too good to be true it usually is. Ask as many questions as you can prior, ensure you get full answers and you feel hosts are equally as keen to get to know you as you are them. It should be an exchange, not an exploitation of free labour or equally a free place to crash for a month.
If you still find it hard to read someone via email then we definitely recommend setting up a Skype call – offering to chat for 5/10 minutes face to face will instantly settle any worries as well as show your host your commitment and your sparkling personality.
Is Workaway Free?
There is a small fee to join. As a solo traveler it is $34 for the year or alternatively you can join as a couple (or split the cost with a friend) for $44. Personally, we agree with the small fee as it shows you’re committed. It is also a small price to pay to have access to over 30,000 homes, in 170 countries and endless free volunteer opportunities. Join Here.
Do I Need A Visa For Workaway?
This varies country to country. The website is useful in that they do display a red warning (depending on which country you search) that says “important information about visiting…..” this usually informs you of Visa details. As British Citizens we didn’t require a Visa for any Workaways in Europe. However, we did require a Visa Waiver (ESTA) for our Workaway in Hawaii, in the US. Essentially, as no money is being paid you are only volunteering so it is a normal “holiday” visa you will require. Always double check with the government website before you arrange with your host.
How To Join Workaway
Once the fee is paid, you set up a profile – think Facebook meets CV. You want it to show your personality but at the same time share your skills.
Make sure to include a friendly photo. If you want to work with children, it’s probably wise not to include photos of you necking Jaeger bombs. If you’re telling hosts you’re an animal lover, don’t be wearing a fur coat in your profile pic – borrow a dog for a selfie or two instead.
Also, as pretty as they are don’t share photos of just your travels, hosts don’t care much for sunsets and mountains – they care if you’re smiley and approachable. Include a healthy mix of both, that way hosts know you’re up for an adventure and if you’ve similar interests but also what you actually look like.
A good profile is the most important step in hosts saying yes – read our top tips here!
How To Find A Workaway Host
This is where the fun starts. Pour yourself a large cuppa and kiss goodbye to the next 5 hours of your life as you will get sucked in very quickly. From Eco reserves in India, to Scuba instructors in Portugal, English teachers in Sri Lanka, to cattle farms in Morrocco – the possibilities genuinely are endless.
We suggest firstly searching by country, after all you will have to pay to get there. Imagine getting your heart set on a reindeer farm in Norway or grape picking in New Zealand and then you realise flights are crazy expensive. Keep your budget in mind. You should work out which country you want to do a Workaway in and which month you’re going to be there. Take a peek at Sky Scanner for the best flight prices.
Once you search the country then add keywords that interest you such as surfing, animals, olive picking or leave the keyword blank and simply scroll through all hosts. This is what we did and were amazed by the variety of work available. Bee keeping in Spain anyone?
There are two vital factors to consider once you have found a host you feel is a perfect match.
- Read their entire profile, again – they might only be accepting Spanish speakers or have a strict vegan diet. Perhaps they don’t accept couples or smokers. It may sound boring, but it will save you time in the long run. No point in contacting hosts and wasting both your time if you’re not exactly what they require.
- Check their calendar – the year ahead will be colour coded on the host’s profile. Red shows they are not available to host Workaways that month. Orange means they are partly available for hosting and green means there’s a bed available so get writing that email.
How To Contact A Workaway Host
First impressions are always hard, but here’s our top tips on how to write that sparkling opening email to guarantee that dream host.
- Whether you find 2 or 20 hosts that sound amazing DO NOT copy & paste emails introducing yourselves. It’s lazy and it’s obvious. Hosts receive hundreds of messages – take a few more minutes to tailor your email so you stand out against the competition.
- Use the host’s name. This shows you have read their profile and that you haven’t copied and pasted your email.
- Be concise. No one needs to read your life story – a simple name/age/nationality, why you joined Workaway, your travel plans and skills you offer is suffice. Equally don’t be rude, at the end of the day you’re inviting yourself into their home so bare that in mind.
- Be ready for rejection. In the world of Tinder, us Millennials are pretty good at rejection. Do not be put off a country simply because the first 5 or 10 hosts didn’t get back to you. Some hosts (farms for example) simply don’t check emails regularly as they are constantly outdoors, some are so remote WiFi isn’t common or simply bare in mind the time difference. Be patient and don’t take it to heart if a host says no.
We sent emails to nearly 40 hosts in Hawaii but there was so much competition in comparison to available hosts that nearly all were booked up or simply didn’t reply. We refreshed the host list constantly, when finally a brand new host popped up that sounded ideal. It was literally a week before we were due to fly that a host said yes. We are firm believers in everything is meant to happen for a reason, should hosts say no, or not respond double check if there’s anything you can do to tweak your opening email and try a different host.
How Long To Stay With A Workaway Host
This is one of the most frequently asked questions regarding Workaway. This is very much up to the host – how long they have a spare room for and how long the work would take to complete. For example some hosts only require assistance with certain projects or at specific times of year (such as the olive harvest – 2/3 weeks in November) others require help all year round. It is likely the host will have the minimum amount of weeks (and maximum) listed on their profile, so check this before applying.
For your first Workaway, we recommend staying 3 weeks. This is feedback from both our hosts and from our own experience. A week is simply far too short, both parties are just getting used to each other – with us, it takes a good 5 days to even understand our ridiculous accents. After two weeks you are finally in a routine and likely know your way around the local area but still feel it’s slightly too short to really get to know the culture and feel completely comfortable. Three weeks is the optimum amount of time to feel comfortable in someone else’s home but not too complacent with the home comforts. It means you leave with an excitement to return and see them again yet still have itchy feet to keep travelling.
Personally, we find it abuses the system if you use Workaway as a way to live rent free round the globe for 6 months at a time. Are you really still learning and exchanging after that time or are you simply moving your life into someone else’s house for a free roof over your head?
What To Ask A Workaway Host
In order to make the most from your Workaway experience we recommend asking the following questions before you arrive, otherwise you may be in for a few surprises. In order to make the most of your work exchange make sure both parties are on the same page –
- TIME : What hours will you be working – (Workaway recommends 25 hours a week) will these be set hours with set days off?
- TASKS: What tasks will you be expected to do? No one wants to turn up to discover you’ve to give surf lessons if you can’t swim. Ensure you can actually do the task asked of you and if the correct training/equipment is provided for you to do so.
- FOOD: Is food provided? Although we have always been provided with more than enough (local) food and had extremely generous hosts, there are some that either don’t provide meals, provide a small allowance for you to buy your own or only feed you on days you are working – on days off you buy your own. Some only offer a work for accommodation exchange. As well as checking this, double check you’re not moving into a vegan household if you’re a meat lover or let them know you’re lactose intolerant etc.
- ACCOMMODATION: What are the sleeping arrangements? Again, we have been ridiculously lucky with the rooms we have had – we were even treated to a tree house with a hot tub! However, in some instances there will be several workawayers at one host’s which might mean sharing accommodation in a hostel style set up. Some might only have space for one workawayer and not suitable for couples. We’ve heard of so many that simply offer a patch of land and expect you to bring a tent.
What To Expect From Workaway
You’ve made it this far and you’re about to step off the boat/bus/car/plane and into the home of a complete stranger. Got butterflies? Firstly, if you’ve done your research and asked the questions above you’re already off to a fail safe start. Our best advice is to always expect the unexpected. Say yes to trying new foods, don’t feel silly joining in traditional dancing or practising a new language, shove yourself out of your comfort zone and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Like any work experience or heck, even holidays there will be down days. Some days you don’t feel like socialising, you maybe feel homesick or it simply didn’t live up to your expectations. Our best advice is let your host know as soon as you can. At the end of the day, its a two way deal – if you’re not loving it, your host might not even realise. If you’re struggling with something – speak up. They want to make the most of this exchange just as much as you do.
At the end of the day, absolutely nothing is contractual, if you are uncomfortable with any task or host you can simply opt out. Always have a plan B as you never know when you might need it. Don’t rock up expecting to stay for 3 months with $20 in your pocket for it then to not work out. Explain any doubts to your host asap and have a back up if there is no solution.
1. Workaway vs WWOOF – What is the difference?
There are many work exchange sites that connect hosts to volunteers however Wwoofing (world wide opportunities on organic farms) as the name says on the tin, only offers farming volunteer oppotunitites. Workaway offers far more variety from teaching to construction, animal conservation to childcare.
2. Is Workaway available in the UK?
Yes – from hostels in the Highlands to kayaking in Cornwall if you are unsure where to start, home is the perfect place! If you can’t afford the flight just yet, why not try a volunteer experience in your home country first. That way you can receive your first review, sample what it is like and if it’s not for you, you don’t have to pay hundreds to travel all the way home. There are so many volunteer opportunities in Europe, which is why we chose a Workaway in Europe as our first. The two hour flight meant we could return easily (and quite cheaply) should Workaway not be for us.
3. Can a Workaway host contact me first?
Yes. Contact works both ways so it is important to have a rough itinerary in mind when you join the site. That way you can list the countries you will be going to and hosts can contact you from those countries. We made an error with this and forgot to take Italy off our profile when our plans changed, resulting in numerous emails from hosts in Italy offering us projects. Save everyone time and keep your countries list updated, so only hosts from countries you want will contact you.
4. Is it better joining Workaway as a couple?
We haven’t joined solo so cannot compare however, we know so many solo workawayers who have had equally as positive experiences. If anything, there are more opportunities if you are a solo traveller, but it can be less daunting staying with a stranger when you have someone else with you. To be honest, whether travelling as a twosome or braving it alone you will meet so many like minded, kind people that it won’t matter who you arrived with, it’s the friends you leave with that count.
5. What does a Workaway host want to see?
We asked our host what they expect from a Workaway and to give you guys some tips and tricks. See the YouTube video below for a host interview from our Workaway in Hawaii.
To us, in order to travel slowly, safely and cheaply Workaway has been a dream. We have learned so much more travelling this way and really hope more people shun the usual tourist traps in order to embrace authenticity, meet locals, share skills and properly explore new cultures. What are you waiting for? Join Now!
Please note this post may contain affiliate links, which add no extra cost to your purchase but earns us a small commission to keep the adventure going.
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