Two years ago, when traveling full-time was still a fantasy, I started to look into how we could travel as cheaply as possible, if not for free. I didn’t know how easy it would be to find ways to see the world without having to spend a fortune on accommodation – and in some cases, even food. In short time, I found out about “Couchsurfing," "Housesitting,” different non-profit organizations, and “Workaway."
When Robert and I travel (and probably for you, too), around 60% of our budget goes into accommodation and food. Removing or reducing the cost of one or both of these allows us to expand what our money can do for us and in the end, allows us to travel for longer!
Workaway is a hospitality network that allows future volunteers to connect with more than 30,000 hosts from 170 different countries. These hosts offer room-and-board for an certain period of time in exchange for services, cultural exchanges, assistance with projects, and other kinds of jobs.
How Does it Work?
After creating your profile, you will be able to find a “host” (families and organizations) from all over the world that are looking to collaborate with friendly and hard-working volunteers.
The hours required to volunteer are typically around 20 per week, and some of the most popular types of "jobs" available include teaching language, helping with eco-projects, assisting with incoming tourists, and charity-work projects.
The details of what you’re required to do during your stay is explained on the host's project page, and if you’re interested in the offer, all you have to do is drop a message letting the host know. Everything will then be arranged by messages and emails exchanged directly with the host through Workaway's platform.
This is also when you should present any questions or concerns you might have to the host! Always discuss all of the details with your potential host to make sure that both of you are on the same page.
Is it free?
No, but it’s pretty cheap. Workaway charges an annual fee of $29 per person, or $38 for couples, which then gives you access to the full listing of hosts from all over the world.
Our experience with Workaway
Last year after discovering Workaway, we started to look for a place to volunteer while in Southeast Asia. And, since Indonesia was one of the places where we would be spending a lot of our time, we decided that it was the best place to find an interesting project to involve ourselves with.
Soon we set our eyes on Sukabumi, a city located on the west side of the island of Java. Yudi, his family, and his closest friends were looking for volunteers to practice English with kids at a local school and with people within the city. They were described as a group made up mostly of entrepreneurs, teachers, and musicians. Everything seemed perfect for us and within a couple of days, we had arranged all of the details with Yudi through Workaway.
When the time came, we were picked up by one of his close friends and the teacher of the students, Ade. We had been practically stranded after a hilariously cramped, 5-hour public mini-bus ride left us at a nondescript bus stop "by mistake." Fortunately, the kindness of Indonesian people pulled through for us: a group of men who were there helped us contact Ade (we didn't have internet reception yet!) and let him know exactly where we were.
An hour later, we were with what would be our family for the next 10 days (and the foreseeable future after that).
At the beginning, nothing was as expected: On the way to our new home, we were informed that the schools were closed because of holidays and that it would be impossible to proceed with the usual English lessons. The next 10 days were proof that treading into the unexpected often turns out to be for the best.
So then what were we going to do?
Mochi. We spent our volunteering hours selling and packing Mochi (and eating them). And as weird as it may sound, that ended up being one of the most entertaining things we've done on this trip! We had plenty of free time and they treated us like family (especially while working), and made sure that we were happy throughout the entire day. Then, after "work hours," it only got better.
We were staying at Yudi and his family's home. He's an entrepreneur and the owner of one of the most successful businesses in the city, "Mochi Lampion," a store full of a variety of sweets – although the clear protagonist in the store were the mochi themselves, which are delicious gelatinous rice-balls/cakes filled with different flavors (peanuts, strawberry or blueberry, durian, cheese, and others). Plus, he not only has the store, but the corresponding mochi factory and a very popular cafe/restaurant next door.
From the beginning, the connection created with the whole community was incredible. The acts of kindness, the generous gestures, and the ubiquitous smiles made us realized something that we hadn’t yet discovered: our innate capacity to bond with other humans, even when you’re barely able to verbally communicate with them.
In just 10 days, we did so many things: we learned to speak a little bit of Bahasa Indonesian, sang and danced (they played live Latin music for us to dance to!) at the cafe, played card games with the family after long days at the cafe, ate all kinds of delicious local food that we otherwise might never have tried, went on an adventurous excursion through a delightful forest in the region, and partied at the beach with most of Yudi's employees and friends, dancing batuk, playing games, and laughing the night away. We felt loved by the Sukabumi community in general and had an unforgettable time!
Our time in Sukabumi flew by and we've missed them ever since. The farewell was bittersweet – happy with the memories we created during our stay in Sukabumi but sad that we had to say goodbye to one of the best group of people that we had ever met. We don't know when, but we're absolutely sure that we'll be back to visit sooner rather than later!
In the end, is Workaway a good idea? YES, definitely!
Putting aside the obvious benefits of Workaway (the money that you save), we can say without a doubt that the experiences from our ten days in Sukabumi were some of the most unique and best experiences of our lives yet. The idea of blending and meshing with a community this way while learning from them and their cultures will give you something that nothing else can provide: the opportunity to discover a place as a local, with locals.
After trying Workaway, we're certain that the hospitality networks available online are one of the best ways to travel and we've already made plans to continue using them in the following months.
We recommend you use them, too, and create your own awesome memories!
Have you ever tried Workaway or any other kind of volunteer opportunity?