Updated for 2023
Are you looking for a volunteer abroad experience, but feel overwhelmed by the cost? If so, you’re not alone. Thankfully, there are programs that enable you to afford an otherwise expensive international volunteer experience. One of those programs is called Workaway.
What Is Workaway?
Workaway is an international program that allows travelers to pay for their room and food by helping their host with household work needs, projects, or odd jobs. The program emphasizes cultural exchange between traveler and host. You can find opportunities and hosts by searching on the Workaway website.
Workaway differs from our best volunteer programs such as Maximo Nivel, GoEco, or African Impact in that you search for individual hosts on their platform. The projects that they list usually are not structured volunteer programs and you may not have an opportunity to interact with other volunteers or travelers. You also have a much larger set of choices – over 40,000 hosts – which may be overwhelming to choose from. On the other hand, the volunteer programs we mentioned do all of the vetting of projects and accommodations and provide full support starting from pre-departure. Also, with a structured volunteer program, you may be able to change projects or accommodations part-way through your trip to give you even more peace of mind.
What Are The Benefits Of Workaway?
Price is the most obvious benefit of using Workaway to travel or volunteer; you can avoid paying for food and board when you travel with Workaway. And besides the cost benefit, Workaway invites you to experience the daily life of diverse countries and cultures.
While you can experience the tourist’s version of different countries by visiting the famous cities and staying in hotels, Workaway gives you the opportunity to spend quality time in the home of locals. For example, everyone knows that the food you eat at a fancy restaurant doesn’t accurately represent homemade meals. By staying with a host you’ll be eating–and even living–in a way that lets you absorb new cultural views.
How Do You Get Paid With Workaway?
Whether you get paid on Workaway is a common question – and generally, you can expect the arrangement to be a work exchange, meaning you receive a room and meals for the work you do. Most hosts expect you to work about five hours a day, and some do offer additional pay, which you can find in their bio on the Workaway website.
How Do Meals Work With Workaway?
This differs between hosts, and you can ask them for details if their bio doesn’t thoroughly explain the food plan. The usual options are:
- The host makes you meals and you eat with them
- The host makes you meals that you don’t eat with them
- The host provides ingredients for you to make your own food
- A combination of those three
The visit duration can also affect how meals work – for example, you’ll probably cook some meals yourself if you stay for a few months. And who doesn’t want to learn local recipes?
What Locations And Work Are Offered On Workaway?
Right now, there are more than 40,000 hosts, and each project is very different from the next. There are opportunities for farm work in Canada, restoring a home in the South of France, teaching in Kenya, and even beekeeping in Poland. This article talks about an amateur artist’s experience being hired to paint murals through Workaway. You’ll be surprised at the new skills you can learn and the old ones you will use!
Europe has many popular opportunities in particular, and Antarctica is the only continent where you won’t find projects. Travelers of all ages are welcome to join – so don’t worry if you’re not a student taking a gap year. Workaway Europe can be a fantastic experience if you’re a mid-career professional or even if you’re retired.
When perusing Workaway’s host bios, it’s common to find people looking for someone to “be a part of the family” during their visit. These hosts are welcoming, and typically expect you to help out with their usual household chores–in addition to the standard five hours of daily work.
How Long Can You Stay Through Workaway?
The duration of your stay could be a few days or an entire year; you and the host decide this before you arrive. Since this isn’t a legal contract between you and the host, you are welcome to leave early if you encounter issues. Workaway encourages you to have a backup plan in case the arrangement goes poorly, though this should be an option only in extreme situations. On the flip side, you may find that you love the arrangement and can even stay longer than you expected!
How Do You Get Started With Workaway?
To get started, go to Workaway’s website and start researching the projects that interest you. Workaway offers a lot of information about each host, so you can avoid arriving to their home feeling nervous or frustrated. Spending the time finding the host that best matches your needs and expectations will give you the greatest chance at a fantastic experience. Workawayers are encouraged to leave reviews of their hosts, and vice versa – this helps you learn from others about what to expect. As well, every host has a bio outlining the following:
- Rating from previous visitors
- Description of the hosting individual, couple, family, or organization
- The kind of work they’re looking for
- What kind of cultural experiences you can expect
- Which language(s) the host speaks–or which languages you can learn
- Which language you should know as a worker
- Info about the room they offer
- How many Workawayers they need
- How many hours they expect someone to work each day
How Safe Is Workaway?
Even with all the information you can find about a host, including user reviews, it’s reasonable to be concerned about safety – especially if you’re a first-time traveler, solo female traveler, teen / high school volunteer, or if you’re new to Workaway. Certainly, for under-18 aged volunteers, we would recommend a more structured program such as African Impact – their minimum age requirement for their projects is 16, making African Impact a great option for teen and high school volunteers. Alternatively, teenage travelers may consider Projects Abroad, which has in-country staff available 24/7 to provide a safe environment.
A few tips:
- If you’d like to travel with a buddy, find a host that’s looking for at least two Workawayers, and apply together
- If you’d rather be in a larger town or city instead of a remote location, narrow your search to a community where you’ll feel most comfortable
- Research the local area to learn about the culture and day-to-day life, and decide if it’s a place you are confident traveling to – consider aspects like politics, social norms, health and fitness, weather, and other factors
Many hosts are equally concerned about finding the right Workawayer to stay with them – be sure to reach out and talk with the host so you can get to know one another better and to allay any concerns you both may have.
For more advice, read Workaway’s article on safety.
How Much Does Workaway Cost?
If you’re excited to travel, but aren’t ready to jump in just yet, you’re welcome to look at hosts and experiences without a subscription. Once you’re ready to apply for a position with a host, create an account, which costs $42 per year – if you’d like to travel as a couple, you can create a joint account for $54 per year. From there, you can introduce yourself to potential hosts by filling out your profile.
The Workaway program is an extremely cost effective way to travel, but it isn’t a way to completely volunteer abroad for free. Some of the expenses you’ll need to take on include airfare, in-country transportation, side trips, and extra spending money for souvenirs, restaurants, or personal items. Make sure you budget appropriately for the duration of your project.
A Few More Things To Know About Workaway
Don’t forget the details. Make sure you have all the information you need from your host before you leave on your adventure! Here are a few questions to ask your host:
- Their exact address
- What they recommend for transportation in-country
- How many hours and days you’ll work in a week
- What the sleeping arrangements are
- If there will be other Workawayers staying there at the same time
- Whether they can accommodate special requests – for example, if you’re vegetarian or if you have allergies
Workaway might be a good experience if you’re an experienced and independent traveler. It can open doors for a cultural exchange that you won’t find on a standard vacation. You can travel affordably whether you’re looking for a Workaway program for retirees, a way to spend your gap year abroad, or the opportunity to learn a second language. Check Workaway’s FAQ page if you’re looking for more information, or sign up if you’re ready to go!