I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about how I’m funding my travels so I thought I’d address the biggest way that I’m able to travel longer for less: Workaway.info.
What is Workaway?
In their own words, “Workaway.info is a site set up to promote fair exchange between budget travelers, language learners or culture seekers and families, individuals or organizations who are looking for help with a range of varied and interesting activities. A few hours honest help per day in exchange for food and accommodation and an opportunity to learn about the local lifestyle and community, with friendly hosts in varying situations and surroundings.”
It costs €22 for a 2 year membership. You set up a profile highlighting your skills, personality, where you want to travel to and the things you’re interested in learning. From there you are able to contact hosts (or have them contact you) from all over the world.
So, why travel through Workaway?
1. Save money
Let’s start with the most obvious benefit. I have saved an enormous amount of money not having to pay for meals or accommodation. Sure, there are budget hostels but even €10-15 a night adds up. Not to mention food and drinks. I tend to succumb to peer pressure more easily when I stay in hostels, which leads to more drinking and more money spent.
2. Get to know the local culture
There is no better way to really immerse yourself in a destination’s culture than to travel slowly and get involved in the community. You learn about different lifestyles in a way that you never could spending only a day or two walking around taking photos. The hosts that I’ve stayed with have been amazing, showing me around the area & teaching me the stories, politics, and historical significance of different places. It’s like having a personal tour guide that doesn’t cost a thing.
3. Make lasting connections
Anyone who’s stayed in a hostel knows the deal. You drink with your new “best friends” during happy hour, vow to stay in touch, and then never talk to each other again except for the occasional Facebook update. When you live with people for weeks, you really get to know what makes them tick, not just how long they’ve been on the road or how many countries they’ve been to. I have been lucky enough to enjoy quite a few late night, wine-fueled conversations about life, relationships, dreams & love. I will definitely keep in contact with my hosts, and I hope to visit some of them again some day.
4. Learn new skills (and brush up on old ones)
Some hosts require certain experience, especially if you will be helping with a specific technical project. However, in most cases all you need is a positive attitude and a willingness to learn. Even though I had never tried stand up paddleboarding, because of my background in various water sports I was contacted to help out with a new paddleboarding business on a beautiful Greek island for a month. Not only can you learn totally new skills, it’s a great chance to develop a talent you may not have used in years.
5. Experience life in someone else’s shoes
It’s always a good idea to step out of your own life every now and then. It gives you a fresh perspective and helps you appreciate things you may have taken for granted (like your own bathroom!) You might learn something about a different way of life that you’d like to incorporate into your own when returning home. For example, my host in Greece is a professionally trained chef. I never thought vegetarian cooking would appeal to me but I have learned some delicious new recipes that I can’t wait to try out at home. Camping out on top of a mountain has been simply incredible, but I will never again underestimate the sheer paradise of a comfortable bed.
6. Discover the unexpected value of your own talents
I’ve always been bad about undervaluing myself. I will promote the hell out of anyone else, but when it comes to tooting my own horn I’m pretty meek. In America it feels like every third person is a “web designer.” I’m pretty sure there are 12 year-olds who can code these days. Things that I take for granted like knowing how to use social media or simple Photoshop techniques are wildly sought-after in other parts of the world. I’ve also been editing the English on flyers and web pages, which is something that I never even thought of as a particular skill. Getting to help people in so many ways has made me realize how much I have to offer. It has given me so much more confidence in myself and my abilities.
7. Help out great causes
Few things are more rewarding than the feeling that you’ve truly made a difference in someone’s life. Whether it’s working in an organic garden or getting a start-up business off the ground, your help matters. When I was working in my corporate job I felt empty and soulless. I hated the way that the company didn’t really care about their customers; it was all about the bottom line. Nothing feels good about making money for a company like that. But helping someone research and document stories about their lineage? Or helping a man who’s dream is to build a business that allows him to spend more time with his daughter? Yeah, these are causes I can get behind. There are thousands of opportunities to use your unique skill set to help out with something worthwhile.
8. Discover your passions
If you’re anything like me, your attention span goes a little like “ooh, this sounds awesome, I’d be really good at this, wow, I’d love to learn that, maybe I could try this, yep, I’m totally going back to school to study this, right after I do this-SQUIRREL!” While learning so many new and different things, you might surprise yourself and discover something that you keep going back to again and again. For me, that something has been building websites. Every time I get to put together a site for someone I get to experience the joy of creating something new; of expressing that person’s voice and vision in a way they might not have been able to. Even though it’s a similar process every time, each project is something totally different which allows me to fully indulge my ADD. 🙂
9. Learn a new language
The best way to learn any new language is to be immersed in it. Even someone as thick-headed as myself when it comes to languages will be able to speak a few simple phrases after living in an area for awhile. The good thing is that most people don’t care that your accent is terrible and you’re mispronouncing half the things you’re trying to say. They care that you’re trying. It took me about a week before I got brave enough to try some Greek phrases (I had never spoken a word of Greek before) but now it’s becoming easy to greet someone with “yassas” or “kali̱méra.”
10. Stay on the road longer
Traveling slowly is such a great way to travel. When you’re not spending money on meals & accommodation you can afford to travel so much further! My main expense has been transportation, and so far I’ve managed to get cheap bus tickets or pick up €20 Ryanair flights. Yes, traveling around Europe in the summer can be expensive, but with Workaway you can see much more for less.
There are a few other sites that you can use to volunteer in exchange for room and board. Two other popular options are HelpX, which is similar to Workaway, and WWOOF, where the focus is primarily on organic farming. I chose Workaway over HelpX simply because I found it a little more user-friendly, and while I think WWOOF is a fantastic cause, personally I don’t have much interest in organic farming or gardening. I don’t think I’d be much use to anyone because I can’t tell a plant from a weed. Also, there is no global WWOOF signup. You have to pay to join each country’s organization, and that can get pricey for someone looking to backpack around, like me. I like the fact that you can really do anything you want through Workaway, and the emphasis is on a cultural exchange.
Learn more about Workaway.info here.
Have you ever traveled through a volunteer program? What was your experience like?