For most travelers, the sheer cost of food and accommodations can be a barrier to actually getting out into the world. But what if you didn’t have to pay those expenses, and you could spend time getting to know local families and cultures?
A few months ago, I was introduced to WorkAway. It’s a site that connects people who need help (whether they simply run a household, or run a bed and breakfast or even farm) and travelers who are willing to do a little work in exchange for room and board.
Creating an Extended (Temporary) Family
I first encountered people who’d used WorkAway when I visited the San Diego Spiritual Retreat Center in Julian, California. Then, I met a young French man who’d hitchhiked across the US and was spending several days doing outdoor work at the center. Then there was the Brazilian woman who was traveling the US to improve her English.
What was amazing was how quickly this group (and subsequent WorkAwayers) bonded and became a community. There’s something about likeminded travelers that fosters a strong connection, and fast.
On my last visit to the Retreat Center, I was introduced to another organization that offers similar exchange of work for room and board: WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). This website is specific to farms, and travelers can have a firsthand experience getting their hands in the dirt. The Retreat Center is working to build a farm, and on this visit, I met a couple of young men from North Carolina who were creating a documentary of different farms that worked with WWOF in the US. I also met a woman from Northern California who was on a mission to find the next area she wanted to settle down in. She’d worked on an avocado farm in Central California, and had a great experience.
Though they’d only known each other days or weeks, the group had formed a close-knit community. They cooked together, performed at the local mic night, and had those amazing late-night conversations you’ll never forget.
Being around so many people who have had these unique travel experiences has lit the fire for me! I haven’t had the chance to volunteer through WorkAway or WWOOF yet, but it’s on my list.
How to Get Started
Visit either WorkAway or WWOOF, and you can search for opportunities based on where you’re traveling. I think this is a nice way to add in some local experience if you already have a trip planned and are flexible. I wanted to do this in Italy, but because I only had a couple of days free, I couldn’t find any place that would accept me. Most want you there at least a week, if not several. After all, if they’re taking the time to train you on tasks to help them out, they benefit the longer you’re there!
You can search by city or country, and filter by the types of tasks you want to help with. On WorkAway, you can help with anything from practicing English with the kids to checking in guests at a B&B. When you create your profile, make sure to include all skills, experience, and interests that you have, because you never know what will appeal to your hosts. Some locations are harder to get approved for, especially ones in popular areas. But if you’re willing to go out in the middle of nowhere, your options open up.
I see these volunteer sites as a fantastic way to not only subsidize the cost of travel but also give you the opportunity to really experience a place through the eyes of a local.