Work Exchanges: The Secret to Traveling to Far-Flung Places… For Free
One of the biggest costs of travel is where you stay. While you can find cheap accommodation, is is possible to get free room and board? Yes -- and it doesn’t involve any travel hacking or secret handshakes. You’ll just have to work for it. Literally.
I’m talking about work exchanges. With these types of arrangements, you’ll travel to a new place and work for a local host. In return, they’ll offer you room and board.
Though that may not sound like your idea of a vacation, they’re still a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture, experience a new industry, learn a language -- and extend your travels without spending any money.
Here are five types of work exchanges to explore:
1. WorkAway and HelpX
Both of these sites list hosts throughout the world who will give you room and board in exchange for four to six hours of work a day. The work includes everything from tending horses to restoring buildings to managing lodges. Because of their breadth and variety, you’re sure to find an opportunity and location that suits you.
Workaway has over 10,000 active hosts in more than 135 countries. You can view the listings for free, but you’ll need a membership to contact the posters. A two-year membership costs 23 Euros (approximately $30 US).
Though smaller than Workaway, HelpX is great for travellers focused on Australia and New Zealand (popular, yet expensive, places to travel!). You can see listings for free, but you’ll need a premier membership to contact hosts, which costs 20 Euros ($26 US) for two years.
If you’re passionate about sustainable agriculture, WWOOF might be just the ticket. The acronym stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and can be used as a verb (WWOOFing), noun (WWOOFer) or adjective (WWOOF experience).
Like other work exchanges, you’ll work four to six hours a day in return for room and board. The special thing about WWOOF is that its main goal is education, so your hosts will do their best to teach you about ecological farming practices. Opportunities are available on farms of all sizes and types, from family goat farms to massive ranches.
Though WWOOF is available in over 100 countries, each country has their own site and membership fees. A year membership (which allows you to see and contact hosts) costs anywhere from $0 to $72, so be sure to choose where you want to work before joining.
3. Working Holidays
If you’re under the age of 30, you can probably get a “working holiday” visa for another country. Just like it sounds, these visas allow you to work and travel for six months to one year. They’re a great option for recent high-school or college grads seeking a gap year.
The work usually isn’t glamorous, but is a way to pay the bills while living abroad. Common jobs include temp or admin work, fruit picking or farming, and waitressing or bartending. Young Americans can get working holiday visas in Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore and Ireland.
4. Teaching English or Au Pairing
If you’re a native English speaker, you’re in luck. All around the world, people are eager to learn English -- and have someone teach it to their kids.
You can find opportunities to teach English in South America, Europe, Asia and Africa, though the best paying jobs are in Northern Asia and the Middle East. In those regions, your employer will usually pay for your flights, housing, and vacation. Start your research at Dave’s ESL Cafe, or with a recruiter like Footprints.
As for au pairing, most positions are in Europe. You’ll live with a family and care for their children, sometimes helping with cleaning and food preparation. In exchange, you’ll receive free room and board and a small stipend. To learn more, check out this post about how to become an au pair, or visit Au Pair World.
First, let me start with a caveat: Volunteering abroad is not for everyone. Please don’t volunteer as a cheap way to travel. If your heart isn’t in it, you’ll ruin the experience for everyone involved.
If you truly do want to help, then volunteering can be really special. Though some programs charge exorbitant fees to “place” you, they’re only necessary if you need a lot of hand-holding. Otherwise, contact organizations directly to offer up your help.
You’ll usually have to pay a small fee to the organization, and in exchange, they’ll sometimes offer discounted room and board. The knowledge you’re contributing to the greater good (and the accompanying warm fuzzies) should more than make up for the cost.
My favorite sites for finding free or low-cost volunteering opportunities are Volunteers for Peace, Volunteer South America, Volunteer Africa, True Travellers Society, omprakash and Grassroots Volunteering.
Your Turn: Would you try a work exchange to travel for free? Or would you rather just save up your money and have a true vacation?