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 essence, Workaway offers free accommodation in exchange for work, however in reality it is so much more. In this Workaway review we will share how we stayed in luxury tree houses in the Swiss countryside, enjoyed delicious Greek feasts on Crete and lived mere minutes from Waikiki beach in Hawaii all for practically pennies.
Better yet, we will share the work in exchange for accommodation that we did and how you can do it too including how to write a winning introduction message, set up a persuasive profile and answer those important FAQs in between.
If you are fed up of the usual package holidays in shiny resorts and crave a more authentic travel experience, then this guide to Workaway 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. You can find a Workaway experience to suit your skills or teach you new ones – all at the click of a button.
No time to read our Workaway review? No problem, watch our YouTube guide instead!
HOW DOES WORKAWAY WORK EXACTLY?
Put simply, Workaway is an online platform of over 40,000 hosts from over 170 countries that provide food & free accommodation in exchange for work. However, it is so much more than that. From yoga retreats in Jamaica, to renovating a French châteaux, to childcare in Bali, as a Workaway volunteer abroad (or locally) you give up to 25 hours (ish) a week of your time, in exchange for bed and board.
So how does Workaway work? Well, after setting up a Workaway volunteer profile, you simply enter the country you plan to visit and begin searching for the Workaway experience of your dreams. Then contact the host with our top tips in mind and cross all fingers for a positive response. It’s that easy.
We were inspired to join Workaway after visiting Greece for a second time and 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, a Workaway experience allows you to learn so much more about the culture, put your skills to good use and make life long friends along the way.
By being a Workaway volunteer and 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 in exchange for work and is an obvious benefit of Workaway, but it should not be your only incentive to join.
If you’re considering a Workaway experience just for the free accommodation, then put simply – 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 or (Workaway alternatives at the end of this post) as it’s a hotel not a host you’re after.
You should join Workaway if you’re willing to work but also to offer conversation, share travel stories, traditions from home, recipes you grew up with – essentially, be prepared to make friends all over the world.
We would never imagine being able to afford backpacking Hawaii but thanks to Workaway we were able to stay in Hawaii for an entire month and made such good friends with our host family, they visited us again when we were touring Australia in a campervan. This is the reasons you join Workaway you will meet unforgettable families and learn so much about people and places that you’d never discover on your own.
Why we chose to do a Workaway experience
- It allows a trial run in grown up things such as running a house, business or 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.
HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR WORKAWAY EXPERIENCES
To date, we have done 3 Workaway experiences in 3 countries. We worked on a glamping site in Switzerland, an olive farm in Crete and with two photographers on Oahu, Hawaii.
Our Workaway experience has been nothing but positive. Just a handful of our highlights have been:
- Trying traditional Swiss Fondue (and even taking part in a “Fondue Battle”)
- Our hosts treating us to a traditional Ice Hockey Game in Bern, Switzerland.
- Ticking olive farming off our bucket list and attending Christmas markets in Crete.
- Our host giving us their car for a road trip on the North Shore of Oahu.
- Darren swam in the sea for the very first time
- Completing world-famous hikes on Oahu, Hawaii which were unforgettable.
- Made lifelong friends all over the world, we are still in touch with our Workaway hosts!
IS WORKAWAY SAFE?
Our very first question was, is Workaway safe? The short answer is yes. Each Workaway volunteer reviews their Workaway experience out of 5 stars in the same way a hotel review system works.
Hosts are rated on various aspects such as how welcoming they were, the room they provided, how easy they were to work with etc. These reviews will give you the best idea of the Workaway experience on offer.
Read all of the hosts’ reviews once, twice or even three times before contacting them. These reviews offer a real insight into what the host is like, written by the Workaway volunteers 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.
If you are wondering if Workaway is safe, our main advice with this is trust your gut, chances are if it’s too good to be true it usually is. Ask as many questions as you can prior (we even tell you the questions to ask later in this post) and ensure you get detailed answers so that you feel the hosts are equally as keen to get to know you as you are them. It should be work in exchange for accommodation, 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 to a Workaway experience and your sparkling personality.
IS WORKAWAY FREE TO JOIN?
Workaway does connect you with free accommodation in exchange for work but for this fabulous service there is a small fee to join.
As a solo traveller it is €39 per year (around £35.) This means it’s less than £3 per month!
Alternatively, you can join Workaway as a couple (or split the cost with a friend) for €49 which is only £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. As you are a Workaway volunteer and not being paid it is usually just a normal “holiday” visa you will require – not a working visa. However, always double check with the government website before you arrange with your host.
HOW TO JOIN WORKAWAY
Once the fee is paid, it’s time to 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 a Workaway experience 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 Workaway profile is the most important step in persuading a host to say yes – we’ve created the ultimate guide in creating a persuasive Workaway profile here with all our top tips.
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 Morocco – the possibilities genuinely are endless.
Step One: Search by Country
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. Then look at Skyscanner for the best flight prices – we have found them cheapest for all our travels.
Step Two: Search by Keywords
Once you search the country then add keywords that interest you such as surfing, animals, music, 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? Or how does Female Empowerment coaching in Sri Lanka sound?
You can also tailor these keywords to suit your lifestyle, for example search the words “Vegan” or “Music” this will help find the perfect host and Workaway experience for you.
Step Three: Check the details
You are now just minutes away from arranging your dream Workaway experience, but there are two vital factors you need to consider.
- Read the host’s 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.
On many occasions I’ve found a perfect Workaway experience and it wasn’t until Darren then read their profile that he spotted something I didn’t – having a second opinion also helps as sometimes our friends know us better than we know ourselves.
- Check their calendar – we found a dream host in Pai, Thailand assisting with social media for their cooking school but unfortunately our dates didn’t match up. 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 and prove you will be the best Workaway volunteer they’ve ever had.
- Be original. 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. Our “5 reasons we’re the Workaway volunteer for you” approach has never failed us. It stands out and it’s quick to read – win win.
- 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 bear that in mind.
- Be ready for rejection. In the world of Tinder, us Millennial’s 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 Wi-Fi isn’t common or simply bear in mind the time difference. Be patient and don’t take it to heart if a host says no.
HOW LONG IS A WORKAWAY EXPERIENCE?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions regarding Workaway. How long your Workaway experience lasts is a combination of factors – how long does your host have a room for? How long will the work would take to complete? How long do you want to travel that country for?
As an example, some hosts only require assistance with certain projects or at specific times of year (such as the olive harvest was only 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 experience, 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 to know 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 to know your way around the local area but we 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? It is free accommodation in exchange for work but do not become a free loader – have the time period agreed before you start.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR WORKAWAY HOST BEFORE YOU ARRIVE
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 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 work in exchange for accommodation – no meals included. 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 in Switzerland with a hot tub! However, in some instances there will be several Workawayers at one host which might mean sharing accommodation in a hostel style set up. Some might only have space for one Workawayer and not suitable if you’re travelling as a couple. We’ve also read many Workaway experiences that simply offer a pitch on their farm and expect you to bring a tent, in which case don’t forget your camping essentials!
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A WORKAWAY EXPERIENCE
You’ve set up your profile, found your dream host and made it this far. 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.
Expect the unexpected
Our best advice is to always expect the unexpected. Say yes to trying new foods (we visited some epic restaurants in Oahu with our hosts), 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.
There will be down days
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, it’s 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.
Have a plan B
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 backup if there is no solution and you decide to leave.
1. Workaway vs WWOOF – What is the difference?
There are many websites that offer work in exchange for accommodation and they connect hosts to volunteers however Wwoofing (world wide opportunities on organic farms) as the name says on the tin, only offers farming volunteer opportunities. Workaway offers far more variety from teaching to construction, animal conservation to childcare. We share a few more Workaway alternatives at the end of this guide.
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 Workaway 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 a Workaway experience not be for us. Thankfully, it was the perfect dress rehearsal as then it encouraged us to embrace Workaway further afield.
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. We’ve also had a few ranch owners in America and even hosts in Thailand get in touch. Save everyone’s time and keep your countries list updated, so only hosts from countries you want to visit will contact you.
4. Is Workaway safe solo, or is it better to join as a couple?
We haven’t joined solo so cannot compare however, we know so many solo Workawayer volunteers who have had experiences that are just as positive as ours. 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 couple 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.
There is also an option on the Workaway website where you can connect with other Workawayers in your area. This is great if you are getting a little lonely, want someone to chat too or even to find other people to explore the area with. Simply search the “Find a Travel Buddy” section on the site or Connect With Travellers section on the homepage.
5. What does a Workaway host look for in a volunteer?
To give you a response to this first hand, we interviewed our Workaway host in Hawaii! We asked our host what they expect from a Workaway volunteer to give you guys some tips and tricks on how to ace your profile and be the best Workaway volunteer you can.
Watch the YouTube video below where we interviewed our host from our Workaway in Hawaii asking him why he chose us and what he loves about using Workaway from a host perspective.
ARE THERE OTHER SITES LIKE WORKAWAY?
We hope sharing our Workaway experience has persuaded you to give it a chance however, perhaps the country you’re going to visit doesn’t have Workaway opportunities available or perhaps you don’t want free accommodation in exchange for work – you just want the free accommodation. If so, we have a few ideas below of sites like Workaway which you may find useful.
- Wwoof: As mentioned, this Workaway alternative offers free accommodation in exchange for work on organic farms.
- HelpX: An ideal Workaway alternative as its cheaper to join (although we find their website a little more confusing.)
- WorldPackers: If searching for sites like Workaway, this is an excellent choice as there are SO many opportunities.
- Hippohelp: An ideal Workaway alternative as it’s completely FREE to join and find volunteer opportunities.
- CouchSurfing: Again if you’re looking for a Workaway alternative because you don’t fancy work in exchange for accommodation, Couch surfing allows you to stay with hosts all over the world without doing any tasks. Personally, we have never used it but have heard it’s particularly popular if you’re backpacking Hawaii as there are over 13000 hosts in Hawaii alone!
- Trusted Housesitters: Instead of free accommodation in exchange for work, you can house sit all over the world and just enjoy the free digs. The joining fee is more expensive BUT through our referral link you’ll receive 25% off and have access to free accommodation in countless countries. We used it in Australia over Christmas and enjoyed 3 weeks in a house with a swimming pool and fridge full of food without spending a single penny.
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!