Travel doesn’t have to be pricey. Thanks to the internet, an entire class of working travelers has emerged, men and women who trade “sweat equity” for free room and board on the road. For short and long periods, they’re heading to destinations around the globe and spending part of the day farming, or answering phones at a hostel, or teaching English, or engaging in some other form of work, in order to do what we all long to do: travel longer on less.
And they get these travel gigs through the following three websites:
WWOOF.org. No, not a site for dog lovers. The acronym stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms and it places eager volunteers in 104 countries currently, from New Zealand to Thailand to France to Madagascar to Canada. Workers and hosts decide together the terms of their arrangement, and they can vary widely from farms where workers will only put in a morning’s worth of work to situations where one will labor a full day for several days a week and then have three or four days off. The various WWOOF organizations—they’re operated on a country-to-country basis--charge a small administrative fee to support the network.
Obviously there’s an ideological component here: most of the volunteers are interested in learning more about organic practices and sustainable agriculture. But that’s not a pre-requisite and doing a WWOOF-stay is a marvelous way to experience life in some of the loveliest rural areas on the planet.
Workaway.info. Like WWOOF, Workaway handles many requests from farmers. But it also introduces volunteers to more unusual short-term live-work situations. You might find yourself crewing a yacht in Turkey; or leading English-language tours at a Bedouin camp in the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan; or caring for sled dogs in Vermont. There are opportunities to work in hostels and hotels, ranches, farms and private homes (where volunteers usually help with home repair and child care) and more. The important element to these arrangements is that both parties have a meaningful cultural experience. “They [the volunteers] should be made to feel part of the family,” write the founders of Workaway. “Hosts should interact with visitors as much as they can. Workaway.info is NOT set up to provide cheap labor. It is an exchange in which both parties should benefit.”
Generally, travelers stay a minimum of three weeks and a maximum of three months. By the terms of Workaway’s policies, they’re expected to work no more than 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, in return for a free, dry room and all meals. Would-be workers pay a fee of 22 euros for a two-year membership.
HelpX.net Very much like Workaway, HelpX is particularly strong on opportunities in Australia and New Zealand, with a similarly robust presence in England, Spain and Germany. Its website, however, is a bit more cumbersome to search; and it has an odd, double-tiered system for “helpers” (their word for volunteers). Helpers can register free, but cannot reach out to the hosts of their choice unless they become a “premium helper” (for an additional fee). With HelpX, volunteers are expected to bring their own sleeping bags and work from 3-6 hours per day.
One note: long term travel often requires special visas, particularly if you’re considering visiting a country other than your own for longer than three months. In some cases, the types of work-stay arrangements described above also require work visas (it will vary from country to country), so make sure to do your research before signing up for one of these types of vacations.