Workaway for the Eternal Win

All work and no play made Jack a dull boy, but Workaway for no pay made me a full (filled) girl. Ehh this is probably not a shining way to begin a post that is essentially about the joys of staying in strange houses, but hey irony is my MO.

I briefly touched on Workaway in a former post, How to Ball on a Budget Around the World (basketball not included) but because I get paid NOTHING to endorse this platform to the highest degree, I have decided to expand on the topic. Why? Simple, this. Is. My. Favorite. Way. To. Travel. Period. I could sing Workaway’s praises all day long, but I’ve been told forcing terrorists to listen to my singing would border on cruel and unusual punishment, so I’ll type about it instead.

Workaway.info is an adventurous, curious-in-wanderlust, budget-savvy traveler’s best friend. The basic idea is to create a cultural exchange to inspire lasting connections around the globe. I honestly don’t remember how I learned about this site, but man oh man has Workaway changed my life. Like a path of dominoes tipped into forward commotion, Workaway led me to the East Sierra’s in the summer of 2017. Through my host’s friend of a friend, I landed myself a dream job in northern California. Here I met a friend who turned into a 5 month African & European travel buddy who has since turned into a boyfriend of nearly a year. Now I’m not guarantying this site will lead you to the love of your life. However, Workaway absolutely holds the power to connect you with true-blue, salt of the Earth, folks who will become “your people” for life. Alright, I’ve gotten ahead of myself, allow me to disconnect the dots and set y’all up with the basics.

(Before you aww too hard at that meet-cute, boyfriend actually vetoed the idea of me coming to work before I arrived. However, like a sloth backpack I hung in there and now the rest is history… I told y’all I’m bound in irony. )

Money 

  • You (typically) don’t make any money through Workaway. Instead you receive a free place to lay your head and 2-3 meals a day in exchange for 5 hours of work a day, 5 days a week
    • Described above is the most common situation. A few hosts will pay, some may not include meals, and others will want you to work 4 hours a day for 6 days a week. No matter the parameters, you and your host will agree upon the arrangement via email before you commit to volunteering.
  • Workaway costs a $42 annual fee for an individual account or $54 for a couple account
    • If you do not renew your account exactly after one year no worries. Whenever you do decide to renew your account, all of your profile information will still be there
    • Y’all, I cannot over stress how great of a deal this is! Simply set away a single dollar every day for 6 weeks and you’ve gained access a world-wide volunteer data base 37,000 hosts strong in 184 countries
  • Not convinced? Let me try another approach. *Conjuring infomercial announcer voice* “In just, ONE easssy payment of $41.99 (and 1¢) you have an UNLIMITED access pass to fr-fr-freeeee travel around the world. Utilizing Workaway for merely 1 out of 52 weeks, and the money you’ll save on accommodation and food will completely offset the annual fee, so sign up today!”

Setting Up Your Account

  • You will create a profile so hosts can get an idea about who you are
    • It includes; where and when you intend to travel, a personal description, what type of help you are interested in, any special skills you possess, which languages you speak, your age, nationality, and some more information
    • This extra information includes; if you are a smoker, have a driver’s license, and if you possess any allergies or special dietary requirements
  • You will have the option to link your Facebook account (all it will show is how many friends you have) and add photos as well
    • Obviously this is not necessary buuuut it definitively helps prove you are not a robot or more importantly, not a creeper. Since we are living in the grand old age of, “if I read it on the internet it must be true” more information is always better.
    • And vice versa. I get a better feeling about a host when their profile contains detailed content and more that 1 or 2 photos. When it comes to initially emailing a host it’s all about the gut feeling you get from reading their profile.
  • Searcher General’s Warning:
    • I have never had a bad experience with a host, nor have I talked to anyone else who has had a negative experience.
    • I have never felt unsafe or uncomfortable. Nor have I felt that a host misrepresented the work/living situation, or that I put myself in a dangerous situation.
    • With that being said, when you come to an agreement with a host this is NOT a binding contract. If at any point during your Workaway experience you feel like it was not what you signed up for you are allowed to leave early. Alright, back to the fun stuff.

Connecting with a Host

  • Under the “host list” tab you’ll be prompted to indicate which continent, country, and country’s region you’re interested in
    • Don’t have a certain region or country in mind? No worries, you don’t have to be that specific
  • After you’ve refined your search you’ll be presented with a list containing scores of volunteer opportunities.
    • A host will describe their project in a brief overview stating the aim and where they are located. When something catches your interest, simply click on the post and it will take you to the host’s full profile.
    • You can save posts to the “my host list” for easy organization
  • If you want a more detailed search, you can add extra parameters such as; internet access, type of accommodation, whether you want to stay with a family/ individual/ community, the dates you are looking to volunteer, the type of help you are interested in, etc.
  • Keep in mind it is important to plan at least a few weeks ahead when looking for a Workaway opportunity
    • Typically it is on you to send the initial email
    • In general I email 8 or 9 hosts at once and hear back from 2 or 3 of them
    • It then takes time to communicate back and forth with a host to determine exactly what is expected of you and if you are a good fit for their project
  • Don’t be afraid to ask detailed questions about accommodation, meals, work hours, etc. It is important for you and your host to have an open dialog and be on the same page
    • Don’t stress! Many hosts are former travelers themselves. Typically anyone who is open to sharing their home with a stranger is a down to Earth, easily-approachable, open-minded person. Remember it’s an exchange on both sides.
  • It is possible to add yourself to “last minute listings”
    • This is when hosts need work immediately and will typically email you first
  • Don’t be discouraged if your number one choice doesn’t pan out. Maybe (definitively) it’s my laissez faire, I’m-in-the-Universe’s-palm, extra-crunch granola side speaking here, but I feel I have always ended up exactly where I was supposed to be
  • Host profiles will be similar to yours and include; a calendar of availability, project description, type of help needed, languages spoken, photos, and extra information including internet access, pets, smokers, etc.
  • Host’s profiles will also include; the hours expected of you, the accommodation situation, cultural exchange/ learning opportunities, the date of their latest activity on the site and their host rating.
    • The host’s rating is based on their reply rate / average reply time and the feedback they’ve received.
    • Both hosts and volunteers are able to leave feedback for the other after the volunteer experience is over
  • Some hosts have a minimum or maximum length of time they require workers to volunteer.
    • I’ve found two weeks to be a common minimum length requirement
    • Most guest houses and hostels will require a minimum length of at least 1 month although 3 months is more common

Why Workaway?

  • Setting the money saving factor aside, Workaway is a grand method beyond compare for the less debonair when beginning solo traveling

-Workaway will allow you to build your confidence, and gain some sure footing when tip-toeing out in the world for the first time. By meeting locals you’ll get a crash course in culture and customs. Through the added security of knowing where your meals will be coming from and having a definitive place to sleep, Workaway will reduce the, “Oh no what have I done I have no idea what I’m doing” panic that will inevitable set in before beginning the first solo adventure. (100% speaking from personal experience here, elaboration to come)

  • Workaway takes you off the beaten path

-Hostelworld.com and inter-city transportation makes it fairly simply to get around major metropolises without advanced planning or a stone-set plan. While Workaway is available in big cities, its true power is the ability to take you to far off patches of Earth beyond the soul-splat of asphalt and the hub-bub of public transportation flub-dub. From the depths of lush forests, to edges of rushing rivers, from rocky mountain tops, to glistening South Asian seas, from Montana’s cattle range, to Peru’s village sage, Workaway is the platform that will transform the pages of “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” from illustrated dreams to in-person scenes. Across the board my hosts have encouraged me not to work more than the hours I signed up for, and explore the surrounding area during my free days. Which has included; canal walks interspersed with flowered footpaths, a bevy of national parks and lake bends, secluded waterfalls, Mayan temples, bustling Asian markets, and an iguana sanctuary… Ya know the usual.

IMG_1350

  • Full-filling to the soul / beats the travel fatigue

-After being on the road for months on end it’s easy to become fatigued from the constant movement. Workaway offers a soul-recharge by allowing you to settle into a semi-constant rhythm. I didn’t realize how tiring the over-stimulation of constantly discovering new places was until I stopped for three weeks to volunteer in a guesthouse after I had been traveling for four months straight. It was a refreshing to leave my bag unpacked and not feel the need to go, go, go all day, every day. I took the time to wake up slowly in the morning and enjoy my coffee with a side of paperback. As crazy as it sounds, it’s a welcome change to work, give back, and do something tangible for stints of time. Through Workaway I discovered I love to work outdoors on projects that allow my mind to wander while my hands stay busy with, painting, laying stone, digging in the Earth, etc.

In my Experience as…

  • A Community art space (Artshram) volunteer in Phnom Penh, Cambodia:
    • I did some general house cleaning and rehung curtains. (Really that’s it.) Not every Workaway will be so lackadaisical when it comes to physical work, but it goes to show some host’s are more in it for the cultural exchange DSC_0231
    • Artshram was a collaborative space for dreamers, artists, creators, movers n’ thinkers to come together and share in music, dance, merriment, meditation and conversation. Nights were spent on the rooftop bathing in star glow and days were spent exploring the city or lounging on couches trying to hide from the immortal sun.
    • Remember my, “Oh no what am I doing?” comment? Well Artshram eased all my woes about traveling to South East Asia. On the eve of my departure from Spain I was a tightly wound ball of anxiety. A fatigued 36 hours later I stepped through the gates of Artshram where my hosts welcomed me with open arms. Instantly all my fears about the grand unknown melted away. During the next week my hosts taught me about the flow of life in this corner of the world, showed me around town, and always invited me out to dinner or for a night on the town with their friends. Here I met a community of expats who inspired in me the notion that I too could become a nomad for the foreseeable future and live outside the bounds of normal society.
  • Guesthouse Tout* in Luang Prabang, Laos:
    • I handed out flyers from 4-6pm to other backpackers in an effort to encourage them to stay at Sok Dee, the family run guesthouse that housed me. The office “views” included swirls of melted-sherbet sunsets over the Mekong river, watching the “hustle” and “bustle” of kids retiring from school, young monks walking to temple, or men and women setting up for the evening market. I had the chance to work on my photography skills and just be a fly on the street, quietly observing the day to day life in this petite Laotian town. DSC_0623
    • Traditional meals weren’t included in this deal, but boss-man did give us free noodles and a bottle of whiskey every night plus the occasional round of beers when we filled all the beds. As a bonus we got to sample some treats? (Inflection every bit intentional) Ever dine on sticky rice dipped in a savory sauce made of ducks-blood? Or taste ox ear soaked in the nectar of the potato-gods (vodka) ehh?
    • My “coworkers” quickly became some of my best friends. We spent much of DSC_0607our time around the outdoor table conversing with whatever gaggle of travelers we convinced to stay with us. One night I vividly remember sitting quietly and just listening to the bits of four separate conversations happening around me. Four separate languages brilliantly inter-laid to form an audio-mosaic which delighted my American ear-drums.
    • The toughest part of the “job” was coming to terms that I switched to the dark side, from traveler to tout.
  • Jack of all trades in Tring, England:
    • I lived with a family for two weeks and helped out around their canal-side cottage and permaculture farm. I did an assortment of odd jobs like; scraping plaster off a wall, fencing in plants, collecting the chicken and duck eggs, weeding, dog-walking, and wig maintenance.
      • Allow me to comb over the details of that last one: My hosts went to a show in London, leaving me alone for the weekend. While they were rocking away I was sitting with my feet propped up, glass a wine at the ready, watching a documentary on Linda Kasabian* while working on my given task. Aka brushing the tangles out of a waist length rainbow wig. Hey, maybe I didn’t get invited to the ball, but you won’t hear this but Cinderella complaining about a free place to stay with a fridge full of home-cooked goodness.
    • Here I had my own camper in the backyard complete with a space heater to get my socks toasty warm on those brisk English April mornings
    • It was on this Workaway voyage I got into listening to podcasts. One particular afternoon the topic at hand was “Stockholm Syndrome.” I momentarily debated to which level of awkward it would be for my hosts to come home and get a load of that irony. Then I did my best Fresh Prince and thought, nah forget it. Ian and Tanya were hip as can be and eclectic as hell. One night as the kids were doing homework the three of us had a dance party in the living room with the dog as we listened to electric swing music, so believe me when I say they made me feel right at home. IMG_1313
  • Land maintenance manicurist extraordinaire in Crowley Lake, California:
    • I made tree wells, spread hay, un-earthed stones then laid them in paths, pulled three trailers worth of dead sage brush from the ground, and cleaned an Airbnb unit.
    • How I came to be here (twice:) It was blistering July afternoon in Bend, OR when I was crunching the numbers of my ever-lessening bank account and highly stressing. But! Like a flash of lighting I was struck with a brain blast, “Workaway!” I got on the google machine and found my way to the East Sierra’s for three weeks where bada-bing, bada-boom I met my soul sister, Jamie. Candle-making, yoga-practicing, Woodstock documentary-watching, natural hot spring soaking, and apple dabble baking quickly ensued.
    • Two weeks later I returned with my best friend who had since met me in Reno. We were only going to stay two nights for a flower essence symposium, but ended up volunteering for two weeks. Jamie knew we were trying to find paid work so she put out word and well y’all already know how that story ends. IMG_3531
  • Guesthouse helping hand in San Ignacio, Belize:
    • I acted as a painter, deep-cleaner, carpenter’s third hand and Lost Boy wrangler
    • In Belize I volunteered for a family who owned three guesthouses; one in the city, one in the jungle, and one on the islands. I ended up bubbling back and forth between all of them during my two weeks of volunteering. By the end I was told Belize is my second home and I am welcome any time. IMG_2433

When it comes to Workaway remember above all flexibility is key. You get out what you put in.  If you bring a positive attitude, keen work ethic, and open mind, then you can expect massive growth in life experience, personal development, technical skills, and social connection.

 

 

*Tout: attempt to sell something, typically by pestering people in a bold manner.

*Linda Kasabian: former member of Charles Manson’s “Family.” She was the prosecution’s key witness against Manson and his followers for the Tate-LaBianca murders

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