Thinking about doing a work exchange aoften called wwoofing – either as part of a round-the-world trip or an alternative lifestyle at home? Excellent!
Work exchanges are usually arranged through online platforms. People needing help and people wanting to help make accounts and connect with each other.
The two main websites are HelpX and WWOOF. Workaway is another viable option, but not quite as big.Update 2017: I started using Workaway when HelpX didn’t have any fun hosts in the Austin, Texas area where I traveled in January. Poor HelpX hasn’t invested in their infrastructure, and they are beginning to fade from the work exchange scene. WWOOF is still very popular, but it’s not as clear-cut as Workaway. Hippohelp is a brand new player on the scene.
I’m here to help you choose which platform is best for you.
I’ve done work exchanges in over 23 locations in six countries around the world… and counting! It’s one of my favorite ways to travel and to live. I highly recommend it!
For more about work exchanges, see Work Exchange: Budget Travel’s Crown Jewel.
WWOOF vs.HelpX vs. Workaway vs. HippoHelp –
Which do I choose?
I often have a membership to more than one platform. I also find that hosts (who usually pay nothing to join) will often list themselves on more than one site. With the exception of HippoHelp, don’t be fooled by “free” memberships. These allow you look, but you can’t contact hosts in any organization without paying.
The platform you choose will depend on your travel, or education, or lifestyle goals. If you have very little interest in farming, WWOOF is probably not the platform for you. It is the original work-exchange network, however, so let’s start there:
Officially World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (but sometimes called Willing Workers On Organic Farms), WWOOF was the original work exchange network. It’s made up of several chapters around the world, all with their own rules and membership fees. You don’t have to love farming to be a wwoofer – remember work exchanges are also about cultural exchanging! However, if getting dirty just isn’t your cup of tea, move on to Workaway or HelpX.
Cost: Up to $72 (56€) a year, depending on which WWOOF organization you join. I usually pay around $40 (35€) for a one-year membership to whichever chapter controls the area I want to WWOOF in.
Pros: If learning sustainable farming skills is high on your list, WWOOF is the best place to start. With “organic farming” in it’s name, most WWOOF hosts tend to at least be attempting to farm organically. bAlthough I’ve stayed with WWOOF hosts in cities usually doing gardening and odd jobs like helping restore a classic yacht. Additionally, thanks to its age, sometimes WWOOF offers opportunities in areas where other work exchange networks are still gaining a foothold. WWOOF turns 46 in 2017!
Cons: Since it started before the internet, its infrastructure isn’t optimized for the modern world. Most crippling are the regional divisions – you could go to Europe but need to pay for one-year memberships in three different WWOOF organizations, all run in different ways with different interfaces and (usually lack of) technologies. cThe reason WWOOF hasn’t magically streamlined with the efficiency of the world wide web: the leaders for each of dozens of organizations would have to gather, agree on a single model, go back home, get all the hosts to agree to stay involved when they change everything, and then find themselves out of a job once all WWOOF organizations were operating on identical systems. In the U.S. the host previews before paying are abominable. I contacted WWOOF USA about this, and they said they’ll give you your money back if you don’t find a host within 30 days.
HippoHelp is brand new, and they’re free! The site’s creator thought that other platforms felt outdated, unnecessary complicated or too expensive (I don’t disagree!). Why Hippohelp? A combination of branding research and “who doesn’t love hippos?”
Cost: Free. For everyone.
Pros: Aside from that “free” part? The map is the foundation of the platform, which is incredibly helpful. I can’t tell you how laborious it was to find a geographically suitable farm in Italy using their WWOOF’s archaic documents. And I hate that when I login to HelpX that I have to click two or three times to find a map view of a region. With HippoHelp, you can’t not look at a map. Also, if having 9,000 tabs open drives you crazy, this platform has your back. The founder explains, “If you, for example, click on a hostmarker, the information appears on the same screen instead of in a new tab, making it easy and fast browsing through all hosts in an area.” Next, you can join through Facebook if you hate logins, but they have a username/password option, too. Finally, they encourage you to complete your profile before looking around at what’s available, but I was able to click past the prompts so I could have a look around before committing the time it takes to fill out a profile.
Cons: It’s brand-spanking-new (as of mid-2017), so it’s a bit too early to tell. I predicted this platform was going to have a gazillion helpers and virtually no hosts, but the founder really did his homework. Currently they have more hosts than travelers, so this may be a goldmine for helpers at the moment!
Update 2017: I’m a convert! Sorry HelpX, but Workaway just does a better job of giving users what they need.
is was sort of the kid brother to HelpX – same concept, similar set up, and – critically – same population of users. Full disclosure: I’ve Until 2017, I’d never done an exchange through Workaway. It’s not that I hadn’t tried. In all six countries where I’ve been a wwoofer or helpx-er, the latter platforms just offered more opportunities. I turned to Workaway several times when an area I wanted to visit doesn’t didn’t have any or many HelpX hosts. But each time Previously Workaway had fewer or none. Update 2017: Workaway is now my platform of choice! And I’m a late adopter, so that’s really saying something.
Cost: $38 (34€) a year for a couple, $29 (26€) a year for one person. I think it’s a bit cheeky that Workaway charges a different price for your profile based on how many people are using it. dIn their defense, I assume because they
are were smaller they have to put in more effort to grow. And effort = $. However, higher membership prices aren’t the way to win the game when their population base of helpers is primarily budget-restricted travelers – IMHO.
Pros: Workaway is now my platform of choice. They have all the modern bells and whistles, they have a beautiful user interface, hosts are signing up in droves. They’ve out-competed HelpX, and they offer many organic farming opportunities. Unlike WWOOF, one website covers the entire world. I’ve got nothing bad to say about Workaway anymore! Update 2017: Workaway has even added a cool feature so you won’t have a resume gap – you can generate a letter of reference for future job/school applications based on feedback from hosts!
Ummm… Well… If you have a specific destination that doesn’t have many WWOOF or HelpX listings, it’s great to be able to check Workaway. (Although, I’ve never found Workaway listings in places where there weren’t HelpX or WWOOF listings). Um, I guess if you want to go to a country or region that has an expensive WWOOF membership, you could save a few dollars if Workaway has lots of hosts listed. But… you could save even more if HelpX has lots of hosts listed… and they probably do.
Cons: I guess if you’re primarily seeking organic farming opportunities, then sorting through the confusing WWOOF networks might be preferable to using Workaway.
They’re charging too much for what they have to offer, in my opinion. Since Workaway has no significant advantage over HelpX, and since HelpX is slightly older and much more established, and since HelpX is cheaper and therefore attracts more users, most hosts and helpers who aren’t already wwoofing use HelpX causing it to self-perpetuate as the preferred network.
is used to be my favorite work exchange website. Instead of WWOOF’s focus on growing the organic farming movement, the HelpX network just focuses on cultural exchange between people needing help and people wanting to help. To be sure, there are plenty of farming opportunities on HelpX.
Cost: $11 (10€) a year, but you can only get a two-year, $23 (20€) subscription. It’s actually a good thing. Their price for two years is the same or less than most other platforms for one year!
Pros: It’s one affordable membership good for two years that allows you to access hosts world wide. Second, it’s full of variety: there are farms, but also a couple in a small town needing help renovating an apartment, farmers in remote mountain valleys who need childcare, and business owners who need staff. eFor the record, I don’t really recommend working for a business via HelpX unless they’ve got tons of amazing reviews. Work exchanges are fun because they’re about culture and community. If the business owner is just trying to get out of paying for labor, the experience will generally be mediocre. And what the owner is doing may actually be illegal in some countries. It
is used to be the work exchange site with the highest number of users and the most diverse range of experiences, which is why I keep kept renewing my membership!
Cons: Update 2017: HelpX, for whatever reason, has failed to invest in their digital infrastructure. The website still looks like 1999 and is more difficult to use than Workaway, which is full of useful, modern bells and whistles. As a relatively new organization (Help X is 16 years old this year – 2017) fWWOOF has been around 30 years longer, turning 45 in 2016., there are places – e.g. Africa – that don’t offer many HelpX opportunities.
I don’t recommend this site unless you desperately want to work for free in South America AND there are no suitable hosts on any other platform.
Cost: $49 USD (10€) a year.
Pros: These guys dominate the market in South America.
Cons: Their original business model was to charge you (a lot!) for every single host you stayed with. Ironic: the concept of work exchange platforms is to save $ on accommodation while having a cultural exchange. This platform brilliantly thrived on taking a large chunk ($50 each time) of the very money you saved by using it. Wow. No surprise that they switched to the annual membership model expected by users. Shockingly they are charging more than competitors despite offering less (except in South America). I feel like Worldpackers is a thinly veiled human trafficking operation. Okay, I’m being dramatic. But way too many of their hosts are people who are squirming out of hiring employees, but then acquiring volunteers through this platform to act as employees. Do you really want to “volunteer” (work!) for someone who was just too selfish to hire employees? Worldpackers charges too much and has too many hosts who are going to treat helpers like a number. Bad juju all around. Worth checking into only if you’re traveling in South America and find hosts who are clearly the exception to the rule. But probably those hosts have an identical profile on a competing and better platform.
Remember, just as with house sitting, the right platform is really whichever one is used by the host with whom you want to work exchange!
Have another work exchange website you want to share? Tell us in the comments!
Happy Traveling! ♣
References [ + ]
|a.||↑||often called wwoofing|
|b.||↑||Although I’ve stayed with WWOOF hosts in cities usually doing gardening and odd jobs like helping restore a classic yacht.|
|c.||↑||The reason WWOOF hasn’t magically streamlined with the efficiency of the world wide web: the leaders for each of dozens of organizations would have to gather, agree on a single model, go back home, get all the hosts to agree to stay involved when they change everything, and then find themselves out of a job once all WWOOF organizations were operating on identical systems.|
|d.||↑||In their defense, I assume because they |
|e.||↑||For the record, I don’t really recommend working for a business via HelpX unless they’ve got tons of amazing reviews. Work exchanges are fun because they’re about culture and community. If the business owner is just trying to get out of paying for labor, the experience will generally be mediocre. And what the owner is doing may actually be illegal in some countries.|
|f.||↑||WWOOF has been around 30 years longer, turning 45 in 2016.|