Work exchanges are an amazing way to spice up normal travel. They’re even a great lifestyle option!
Right now, let’s talk travel. Everyone knows that too much normal travel sucks. Here’s why. Tl;dr – it’s boring and kills your budget. Solution: work exchange to add fantastic variety and gain priceless access to cultures. A work exchange is a backstage pass that can’t be bought for all the money in the world.
Here are some work exchange FAQ’s to get you started:
1. What is a work-exchange?
2. How are the hours fair?
3. Who gets the better deal?
4. Is it worth it?
5. What do hosts get?
6. What about introverts?
7. Why should I ‘waste’ my vacation?
8. How do I find a work exchange?
9. How long is the average work exchange?
10. How do I pick a host?
11. Do I need a work visa?
12. How do I become a good helper?
13. Which platform should I use?
1. What is a work-exchange?
People need help. In exchange for helping them, you get a place to sleep and food to eat. Much of the help people need is farm-based. However, there are plenty of non-farm and non-physical helping opportunities mostly available through work exchange programs. The original program was WWOOF, so many people refer to work exchanging as wwoofing or being a wwoofer, even when the exchange isn’t secured through the WWOOF websites.
Work examples: I’ve re-finished sail boats, built fences, fed lambs, milked sheep, made cheese, built trellises, rendered walls, harvested honey, and repaired plaster. On the less-physical side, I’ve also organized computer files, designed templates for a service organization, given pony haircuts, made butter, babysat, and folded laundry. 1#1, 3, 4, 5 were as a wwoofer, the rest were wwoofing -like positions through other exchange programs or word of mouth
Opportunities involve volunteering two to six hours of your time each day in exchange for room and board. This varies hugely. Some hosts ask for up to 40 hours a week of your time, however the bulk ask for around 20 hours. I’ve also work exchanged at several places in the 10-15 hour range.
2. Twenty hours is a lot. And some places want more than that? How is that fair?
I don’t work exchange at places asking for more than 20 hours unless they have an amazing profile or a project/skill I really want to learn. Because I have the generous kind of orientation that I think makes for the best work exchange experience, I know I’m going to end up doing extra hours anyway.
My guess is places asking for more than four hours have experienced lots of helpers who give at much lower levels than anticipated. For example, at a property in Portugal, the farmer came to see how I was doing with reviving irrigation channels. (Read: swinging heavy tools and digging.) When he saw how much I’d cleared, his jaw dropped. He said I completed more in a morning than a wonderful but slow previous helper had completed in an entire week. So there’s a chance that places asking for six hours of work feel like that’s how long it takes the average worker to produce the contribution that makes it worth hosting them.
3. Even at 4 hour or less, aren’t the hosts are still getting the better end of the deal?
Short answer: no. The exchange is as equal as any subjective thing can be.
Some people argue that, especially in countries with a high minimum wage, the host is getting more — monetarily- than the helper. Trying to keep tabs like this is a slippery slope that easily ends in unhappiness. When you spend more time thinking about what you should be getting instead of what you should be giving, you’re bound to be dissatisfied. 2This goes for hosts, too!
For the math, see this footnote -> 3Let’s use Australia’s nice, average minimum wage of $20 an hour. At that rate, helpers’ daily labor is worth $80 a day and $450 a week. A quick survey of flatmates.com.au says you can get a utilities paid room in a house for between $125 and $300 a week. So if you were working somewhere and renting instead, you’d have $150 to $325 leftover for groceries, transport, beer money, and hopefully saving toward future goals and travel. That’s heaps! Ah, but wait. You forgot taxes! Backpackers in Australia are taxed at 33% (actually 32.5%). So your take home pay on a 20-hour work week would actually be $300 — at least half of which would go to rent. Best case scenario — you have $175 leftover for transport and food. That’s not a lot for Australia where your bus ride to and from work can be $5-$10 a day, a beer can be $10 at the pub, and a basic coffee is $5. Long story short — you more or less break even. When it seems like your host might be coming out a little bit ahead financially, put yourself in their shoes.
Being a host takes lots of energy. Constantly re-explaining how to do everything in their home, dealing with the onslaught of e-communication, reading profiles, vetting people, organizing pick-ups and drop-offs, washing sheets, making beds, grocery shopping, meal planning, answering questions, connecting helpers to resources, tour guiding, problem solving communication issues, etc. are all unpaid tasks that they do.
Sure, we could talk about the similar unpaid tasks you’re also doing for them beyond your scheduled hours. Slippery slope, my friend. With unhappiness at the bottom.
Set your boundaries around what you want in a work exchange. Then, go into the situation determined to give a little bit more than you get. Find hosts with the same attitude, and work exchanging will rock your socks off!
4. I don’t know. It still seems like an awful lot of volunteering for just food and a bed. Why do people do this?
You get so much more than food and a place to sleep. Cultural exchange, being part of a family, the giver’s high, routine, a sense of purpose, work-life balance, insider-information, automatic networking, locals only sightseeing, education, skill building, and variety – the spice of life!
Working together bonds people quickly, so it’s easy to end up with new friends, too! I’m still in regular contact with several former hosts and other helpers I’ve worked with.
5. If I get all that, what do the hosts get?
Besides your help, having you in their lives helps them get motivated to tackle or finish projects they’ve been dreaming about completing for ten years. Most hosts are saddled with never-ending responsibility and too little time for their personal aspirations. They get an education, too: learning about your culture, your background, and your personality. One host I know has gone on to visit a few of her helpers, getting the local experience in several countries around the world. Having a guest to steward often motivates hosts to make the time to do a hike just a few miles down the road that they’ve been meaning to do for years, or finally check out a beach a friend told them about.
6. But I’m a raging introvert. 24/7 with strangers makes me want to sad my pants.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. People who choose to live on isolated properties… don’t tend to be extroverts. There are plenty of hosts who just want their “me” time at the end of the day and have the same feelings you do about so much stranger interaction. These folks often provide completely separate accommodation, sometimes even with your own kitchen for cooking if you want!
I’ve stayed in separate RVs with fully functioning kitchen and bath, separate cabins, and even a separate house. I’ve stayed in tents outside and RVs outside and had plenty of situations with tons of privacy.
7. But I don’t want to waste time on my vacation doing work. Why should I?
It’s best to think about work-exchanges as a whole new style of travel. If you can’t find a way to make it feel like rich, deep, valuable travel, don’t do it.
But here’s why it is valuable travel. It allows you to access more quality experiences. The model you probably have for vacation is wake up, go buy something (breakfast), go see something (walk? park? museum? tour?), buy something again (lunch, souvenirs?), go see more things (plaza? waterfall? fountain? show?), buy something again (dinner, souvenirs?), buy a place to sleep (hotel, hostel, B&B). Rinse and repeat!
So, yes. If you do a work exchange, you will deprive yourself of going out and buying breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You will deprive yourself of being herded with throngs of other tourists through popular cultural sites on tours.
Instead you might wake up in a small village and share a traditional breakfast with an eighth-generation family. You might go for a walk, see the same park, or possibly even visit the same museum. But then you’ll get to partake in a living museum: the lives of your hosts! Their culture, their day-to-day existence, is what you’re interested in, is it not? Do you not come to a country to see the citizens’ way of life, to learn about the country’s history, to experience the land and its people?
You won’t just read a plaque on a display case about agricultural production, you’ll go out into the fields and try your hand at the craft and join them on their trip to the community market. You’ll eat a traditional lunch on the patio of their 200 year old stone home. You’ll spend an afternoon walking a historic path up a mountain overlooking multiple valleys. You’ll share a traditional dinner complimented with wine handmade by their neighbors from a process perfected by their ancestors. You’ll sleep in the same kind of bedroom slept in by many of the country’s denizens down the hall from a bathroom that hasn’t had the local culture westernized out of it.
I won’t get deep into the way fast travel isolates you from the very cultures you intend to experience and insulates you so you can have the westernized, most comfortable version of the experiences possible in that country. A work exchange allows you to see a place in ways that are impossible if you are just sleeping at hotels, eating in restaurants, and running around in groups of tourists. A work exchange is a backstage pass that can’t be bought for all the money in the world.
8. Okay, sold. So how do I do a work exchange? How do I find one?
You’re excited about meeting locals, like helping people, and are happy to work hard, right? Then the internet is the primary way to connect with hosts excited about meeting travelers and in need of help.
Several work exchange websites exist to connect people who need help with people who are willing to help.
I’ve also found work-exchanges through word-of-mouth. Sometimes other travelers tell me about an awesome host. Sometimes a host I contact doesn’t have any spots available, but refers me to a friend who isn’t on the website. Sometimes hosts pass me onto their friends who live in my next destination. Once I even put up posters in an area where I knew I wanted to spend more time.
For websites, Workaway, Wwoof, and HelpX are the main choices. Here are descriptions and reviews of these three top work exchange organizations.
9. I don’t have that much time. How long is the average work exchange?
Work exchanges are as long or short as the host and helper agree upon. There is no average. Hosts usually indicate on their profiles how long they’d like to have helpers. Some hosts want at least a week, or at least a month. Some hosts only want to host over weekends. Or want to host no longer than a week. In terms of timing, there’s a great chance you’ll find a host with the same desired length of exchange.
A note: hosting is hard and takes a lot of energy. New hosts are more likely to agree to a shorter time frame as they are less likely to have experienced the burnout of constantly getting to know new people.
10. How do I pick a host?
First: start by being a great helper. You can’t expect your host to be excited about all the things they’re going to do for you (feeding you, connecting you to their community, giving you a place to sleep, helping you figure out the local scene) if you aren’t excited about doing things for them.
Second: read their profiles. It’s fine to look at hosts based on their proximity to your ideal locale. But actually read. Don’t just contact someone because they’re in a perfect location. If you don’t approach the situation caring about who you’re going to be spending time with, you can’t expect more than that from your host. Look for people whose profiles are fun for you to read, whose projects and lives sound interesting to you. Hosts who have been thoughtful enough to write a comprehensive profile are generally fun to work and spend time with.
Third: read between the lines. Few people are willing to write a bad review — both hosts and helpers. Especially when the mediocre experience might have had more to do with mismatched personalities or expectations. How do you know if a host might be a bad apple? Lackluster reviews. Below are two host reviews I made up. Which hosts would you want to stay with?
“Jack and Kathy were great hosts. We spent each morning working together and the afternoons we were free to explore around the property. We really enjoyed our time at their farm.”
“Jim and Kim have the best farm in the world. Work exchanging with them was the highlight of our entire trip! They are both amazing cooks, took time to show us local sights on our days off, and were a total blast to work with. Count yourself lucky if you ever get to come to this awesome farm!”
Fourth:— write a great profile. I mentioned above that the thoughtfulness it takes to write a comprehensive profile is a good sign the host will provide an enjoyable experience. Those kinds of hosts aren’t going to want you if you don’t return the favor. Which one of these profile snippets would you want to invite into your home:
Alex W. – I’m just traveling around Europe and I love meeting people and seeing local cultures. I’m from Australia and will be starting Uni next year. In the meantime, I’m just traveling and taking in as much of the world as I can. I can’t wait to get out and see as much of Europe as possible!
Alex M. – I really look forward to helping locals with their projects. I’ve volunteered in community gardens and help my friend’s grandfather on his farm a few times. I’m enthusiastic and a quick learner. Connecting with local families will be the highlight of my trip in Europe, I hope!
It was a trick! They’re the same person — one profile highlights what they have to offer hosts, the other is just sort of a bio.
11. I’ve heard you need a work visa to do a work exchange. Is that true?
Eh. Sometimes. Kind of. In some industrialized nations, doing a work-exchange is technically illegal if you don’t have a work visa.
“But why?” you ask. “If I’m not getting paid, how is that work?”
Ironically, the incentive for originally starting work-exchanges sometimes causes them to be illegalized. Remember it all started with WWOOF. Organic farming can be more labor intensive than growing things using synthetic poison and fertilizer. WWOOF was established to connect people passionate about advancing the organic farming movement with farmers who didn’t have the capital to get the labor needed to start or grow their organic farm.
Here’s the problem. If you — the foreign visitor — weren’t happy to volunteer your help hoeing a giant field of vegetables in exchange for community, friendship, and eating some of those veggies, what would that farmer do?
Anyone familiar with farming knows that farmer would mostly likely either work harder or be able to grow less. The government thinks, however, that the farmer would be forced to hired someone to do all that hoeing. And if that’s true, that you the foreign volunteer are taking a job out of the economy.
So, thanks to that line of thinking, in some countries it’s technically illegal for you to be part of local family’s life in exchange for helping them build their backyard pizza oven. You and I know that in most cases, the family would just input more of their own labor or not build the oven, but the government policy is designed with the hope that it will force job creation.
In countries where you’re supposed to have a visa to work exchange and you don’t, the safest thing to do is not work exchange. However — while I’m not advocating that anyone break the law, I’ve heard plenty of stories about people work exchanging anyway and not having any troubles. It’s the sharing economy, people!
12. How do I become a good helper?
I think this is the most important question! Let’s paraphrase JFK here:
“Ask not what your host can do for you, but what you can do for your host.”
Get good at picking people who have generous personalities and BE a generous personality and you will have amazing, amazing, amazing experiences.
Rather than explain what you should do, it’s easier to tell you about the struggles hosts have shared with me.
1. A common theme is a (generally youthful) helper who has never owned or managed a household and so isn’t aware of their impact. Examples:
- taking really long showers when five other people are depending on the same hot water
- using a good kitchen knife to cut things other than food
- helping themselves to expensive household treats like alcohol and gourmet ice cream
- not being conscious of water use when the farm’s rainwater tank is especially low
- not using a cutting board and scarring countertops
- tracking in mud or dirt and not cleaning it up
- wanting to count time spent helping with community living tasks toward their hours worked
2. Regarding the latter, remember that at the end of your four hours of labor, the host will likely continue working another four, five, eight, or even twelve more hours. If the discrepancy between what a helper is contributing to the farm community and what the host is contributing becomes too large, the host may begin to feel that it isn’t worth having a helper around. If a helper isn’t keen to lighten the burden of preparing and tidying the communal meal 4a community that now includes them!, in addition to their work hours, things can begin to feel a bit unbalanced from the host’s perspective.
3. The third common theme is an urban person not accustomed to the farm-standard of work. I’ve heard many stories about helpers who were exhausted after just an hour of a task that hosts will spend 12 hours a day completing. Hosts have also told me about helpers who were reluctant to get to work, squeamish about getting dirty, took lots of breaks, and were generally unenthusiastic. If you’re just not much of a giver, that’s okay. However, it’s not great karma to sign up for a work exchange program with mostly receiving in mind.
13. Which platform should I use?
See WWOOF, HelpX, Workaway, Worldpackers, HippoHelp Reviews to pick which work exchange organization is your best fit.
Are you planning to work exchange on your trip? What percentage of time do you think you’ll spend work exchanging? Tell us in the comments!
Happy Traveling! ♣
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|↑1||#1, 3, 4, 5 were as a wwoofer, the rest were wwoofing -like positions through other exchange programs or word of mouth|
|↑2||This goes for hosts, too!|
|↑3||Let’s use Australia’s nice, average minimum wage of $20 an hour. At that rate, helpers’ daily labor is worth $80 a day and $450 a week. A quick survey of flatmates.com.au says you can get a utilities paid room in a house for between $125 and $300 a week. So if you were working somewhere and renting instead, you’d have $150 to $325 leftover for groceries, transport, beer money, and hopefully saving toward future goals and travel. That’s heaps! Ah, but wait. You forgot taxes! Backpackers in Australia are taxed at 33% (actually 32.5%). So your take home pay on a 20-hour work week would actually be $300 — at least half of which would go to rent. Best case scenario — you have $175 leftover for transport and food. That’s not a lot for Australia where your bus ride to and from work can be $5-$10 a day, a beer can be $10 at the pub, and a basic coffee is $5.|
|↑4||a community that now includes them!|
Im searching for experiences of helpx that have been bad so I can turn around my feelings to try again, in an informed way, to try another stay.
What kind of bad experiences have you had?, it appears none. Bad experiences entail unjust, hurtful or abusive experiences, theres nothing you say about the real things that happen. Can you discuss when a host is too exhausted, too broke financially and certainly years past concerning themselves with the safety of those they invite to live in their ususually isolated homes.These type of hosts usually have emotional issues and thats where the helper is really at risk.
Im not even going into detail but when hosts have marital issues, combined with alchohol issues or a host may believe they can drill you endlessly for personal details and say they will “fix you”, another host may claim they have right to yell at you but you have no right to reply, or a host may neglect to tell you that theres already helpers there, to which you never would have agreed in the first place, these helpers will do everything to make sure you leave.
Leaving the above situations ranged from staying to the end and right through to being stuck out in the rain on desolate country road, taking from 4pm to 11pm to get to civilisation. The financial cost is massive as is the re planning of these agreed stays. The emotional cost is what you imagine it is, unless you have no imagination or never endured such things.
The most recent bad experience was where the host didnt even look at the state of the house he dumped me in to, and subsequently, the couple suffering from extreme territorial syndrome managed to get rid of me. As the bigger contributors to the work of the hosts business, the hosts didnt bother helping me with the bullying even though they liked me, my work ethic and my love of the property and animals.
Nothing I did well, politely, with good humour or warmth meant anything to these people.
I have found sheer desperation and panic in these hosts. After all, if you had money and were comfortable, would you be messing around with strangers marching through your place, training them, feeding and the admin involved?
If I could screen these hosts for people in their prime who are hosting with some enthusiasm for the interest that new people bring, the furthering of their projects and work and who are in a good mental place, who are strong and attract mainly good helpers too, I want in.
These bad hosts would have had a prime time where they offered and were able to accept the fun, goodwill and happiness that comes of giving and recieving, and really care about the safety of the people they invite in.
Im so shocked at how abusive some are but then those who are clinging to the facade they are into the helpx system when actually they are so destitute, this is their only way of scraping through financially.
To those desperate, fatigued hosts, please let people know they need to be next level tough and look after their own welfare. Thats is only fair.
I have committed time, money and my friend drive me hours to participate in my last helpx stay.
I am really grateful and accepting of the expectations of my host and hope to be accepted and to contribute work that makes a difference.
I have a friendly and helpful demeanor outside of the formal work requireme
I’m really sorry to hear about your challenging experiences! I can empathize a bit – I’ve only had a few frustrating experiences out of a 100+ hosts, but in each case it was because I ignored a gut feeling. And it was most often with people who had reached out to me instead of the other way around.
After lots of experience, I am pretty picky about who I am willing to help. Instead of repeating what I said in #10, I’ll just wish you good luck in matching with a host situation you and the host are both happy with!
Thankyou very much Jema
I will take your advice about being the chooser not chosen
Maybe my helpx success will be slower and not as many stays
Yes gut instinct and red flags are there
Im trying to get others opinions about hosts as I search for them
I seem to not ask all the questions I need to and that is exactly where things go wrong
I really want to have great exchanges
Thanks for making me feel better about my helpx so far
HI, I hope you can help with some advice. I love travel, and have travelled in Europe/New Zealand/Tasmania with friends and also solo. Solo travel can be lonely, and most of my friends are getting older and less adventurous. I also would prefer to participate more in the actual country itself and its way of life, rather than just being an outsider travelling through. So I think a work exchange programme would be ideal BUT here’s the problem – I am a fit and healthy 65 year old female and I wonder if hosts might think me too “old” to be useful??? Obviously I can’t do heavy physical work, but I can help with general chores, gardening, etc. etc, or hostel/hospitality work. I am thinking about trying a host in my home country UK for this year, considering the covid travel restrictions etc, and then maybe Europe next year. I am sure I can be useful to hosts, I am 100% reliable, and very keen to learn new skills. Does this sound feasible to you, and could you please recommend which agency is best for me to use? Many thanks
Hi Helen – I think there’s a large range of needs out there, and you don’t have to be a strapping young person to meet all of them. Do you like kids? There are plenty of families who delight in having an auntie/grandma figure around while THEY themselves do the heavy lifting on their own property. And I’ve done such a huge range of tasks, many that didn’t require heavy physical work. If you have computer skills, lots of folks need that sort of help. As far as which of the work exchange platforms, here are my reviews. Basically – the best one is the one that has hosts you want to work with in areas when you want to visit. Good luck, and happy travels!
Wow, reading about work exchange sounds like it would be a great adventure! I have recently got an apartment with my now ex fiance. I recently left my job from all the stress at my job and than all of the stress from the situation of my newly ex. Being a helper sounds would be great. I love meeting new people. And i love learning new jobs and and I’m a fast learner. I would like to know how i can start the process of doing work exchange!
Hi Lori – check out the sites listed here, pick the one that has hosts in your desired area, and start contacting them! Good luck with your adventures!!
Awesome, practical and detailed advice. I am just starting to think about using an old cottage on our property to host volunter workers, after some upgrades. I have had live in nannies, house and pet sitters before, but not live for board workers. You hit the nail on the head about writing honest profiles and details about location. I found with house sitters so many didn’t read our decription (paid recruitment companies were the worst for both nannies and pet sitters). So they would suggest people who had full time jobs in Auckland, we are 2.5 hours away and the trip needs a 4wd and a ferry! Or who worked from home with large internet needa, rural broadband which is limited. I would also be realistic about how much money the volunteers might need to travel in and out from your property to see the local sights and enjoy them. Eg. I live on an Island and we are remote on that Island so car is the only travel option to get to town, vineyards, medical, other beaches. While I love my coastal property with it’s own private beach others might not want to be confined to staying on it because they can’t get to town because they don’t drive, or don’t have a car or cannot afford the $50 needed in fuel. Ditto use of internet if yours is rural and really expensive. I have found a set of rules and guidelines about things like that can really help. Eg. Use of a car. Pay own fuel. Estimated cost per round trip on Island $50. I also learnt it is sometimes nice to give expectation about meals and how to contribute, eg, we will cook and you can clean. We will host one special dinner each Thursday with cooking lessons. Use of washing machines, especially with tank water. No 2 socks and a pair of undies loads
My grandma hosted more than 100 students and she would say about food, you caneat everything you find. If I don’t want you to have it, you won’t find it! Also re things like alcohol be clear if it is included or not. I don’t
believe in having things I am not sharing. Supply of like over the counter pain relief, allergy and bites meds or basic cold remedies. Sometimes it is nice to be prepared to supply things like that along with a good first aid kit. Especially if it is a long way to shops and they are open limited times.
Hi Joanne! Sounds like you’ve had some truly incredible experiences and have been patient with folks who haven’t yet had an opportunity in life to appreciate the fortunes that seem commonplace – like unlimited water, cheap transit, not having to partake in cleaning and maintenance for all. Thanks for hosting and being part of a collaborative, interdependent web of humans!!
Hi Jemma, thanks for your blog. I was looking at Workaway (possibility in Galapagos) when house sitting in Costa Rica a couple of years ago but ended up coming back to Australia to care for my father. Today I was looking for the best platform to seek exchange of upper ‘parent retreat apartment’ for offering companionship for my elderly but fit mother as well as keeping an eye on my newly planted urban permaculture edible forest. I have a 3 month work contract interstate, so won’t be here to be a host. I don’t think my Mum can be a great host other than keeping the house clean. That sort of puts it between house sitting and work/culture exchange. Any ideas? Thank you.
Hi Merrilee – I think you can put yourself out there on whichever platform most appeals to you! Some work exchangers are happy to have a less cultural/interactive experience. House sitters are more often looking for something that’s less integrated that work exchanging often is. I think if you’re very clear about expectations and what you’re offering, people will be able to decide for themselves if it’s a fit. Hope that helps!
Thanks a lot, this was really helpful!
Thank you for taking the time to write this. It really is appreciated!
You really contributed to our trip
You’re so welcome! I’m glad you had a great trip!
I found your blog last year and used it to plan a 4 month Europe trip where I worked for 4 different hosts, and now I’m heading back in two weeks for an indefinite adventure of work exchanging! I’ve been using Workaway and just downloaded the app, so glad they finally created one! I’m going to be documenting my travels and was hoping it would be okay to mention your blog as a recommendation for how to plan? Thank you for being so detailed, it really helped me feel super prepared for everything.
Grace – hi! So lovely to hear, and I’m thrilled for your adventures! You’re most welcome to to mention the resources here in how to plan. I’m excited for your indefinite adventure of work exchanging! I started mine nine years ago and still haven’t stopped. Happy travels!!
Very informative. I’m at the very beginning of trying to figure out how to afford and get my family to Egypt or some Arabic speaking country. I have a 16 year old son who has a passion be sand talent for the Arabic language as well as a wealth of computer skills. My daughter is a very beginner with the Arabic language and has a seat for life, is a good communicator and is v especially good working with kids. I’m an occupational therapist and my husband is a physical therapist. I would love to figure out how to organize a trip this summer for 3 to possibly 6 weeks and am feeling a bit overwhelmed especially with knowing how to choose opportunities that are safe and appropriate for a family with teenagers. I don’t know where to start. Would love some suggestions.
Hi Theresa! In your shoes, I would start by looking for people wanting to host who either have kids and also magically have space for a whole extra family or for empty nesters who have had kids. Of course, there are also people who like me who love kids, and understand kids, and appreciate all the logistics that come along with the joy of children, so I wouldn’t necessarily discount any hosts. I think the biggest thing is to read between the lines of host reviews (look for exceptionally enthusiastic reviews. Not just “staying with Marta and Steve was great.” but “Marta and Steve are the absolute BEST hosts anyone could ask for! They welcomed us beautifully, and we enjoyed every single moment of our time with them, and are incredibly sad to leave!!!”). Another huge thing is to be really honest with yourself. Don’t pick a host you don’t feel 100% excited about, just because they happen to be located exactly in the place you’d like to be.
This is kind of random, but don’t forget that just because you’re planning really far ahead and would love the security of knowing what’s going to happen 5-8 months from now (I presume “this summer” means Arabic/N. hemisphere summer?), many hosts will be much less eager to have a commitment like hosting a whole family on their calendar months and months away. (When I host, I have to really be excited and think people are an amazing, perfect fit if I’m going to commit to them more than 3-6 weeks out). If you are hoping to secure such a commitment from someone, I’d recommend expressing some sensitivity about what a big commitment that is and how much space you’re asking them to create in their life for you. Maybe also an opportunity to get clear about how committed you are to THEM and notice how close to equal those commitments are. Maybe none of this paragraph even needs said for you, but this is something that can come up between hosts and helpers. THought it was worth mentioning just in case!
Let me know if you have any other questions, and happy travels!
I love all the information on exploring cultures through work exchange. I am married with three children. I love gardening and roving Africa is my passion. I am hoping it could be possible to wwoof with my hubby and three children. Is it possible? What should be my concerns?
Work exchange hosts definitely welcome families! I think for anyone work exchanging (or hosting!), it’s very very important to get really clear about what your needs are. What are the minimums, what works and doesn’t work for you in a situation. Knowing that and then communicating it is a big key to happy work exchanging! Have a great time!
This year I suddenly decided to travel via volunteering, making a difference and experiencing as much culture around the globe as possible. I already have travel visa’s for USA and Canada so thought to start there first, although discovered the USA class work-exchange as actual work. Do you know how I can travel down the west coast to S.America without having to leave every 90 days, even if I got a working visa? Seems impossible without spending all my savings travelling in and out to work my way down south?
I know – restrictive immigration policies are so annoying. This problem is a global one, unfortunately. (The Philippines is the worst – 21 days! And it’s a bunch of islands so far from everything, and visa extensions are possible but time consuming and expensive.) I think your best bet is actually just to find the cheapest flights possible to hop out and back. Or, you can bus back to the border. I’m not seeing anything from a major airport to Mexico and back in Feb and March 2019 for under $200. A bus would be much more time consuming, but potentially cheaper. I didn’t look at flights to the border. E.g. you might be able to fly San Francisco to San Diego, then take a bus to Tijuana or Rosarita and stay there for a day or two before bussing all the way back to where ever you were at visa time.
Visa runs are the worst, but a fact of life for those of us lucky enough to even qualify for visas in the first place. Good luck to you! 🙂
I am.a new host but some.of.the helper turn down.and didn’t show up last minute when they apply before because it might be very far
Do u think I need to.change the adress
Hi Nus – not really clear on your question, but I do think it’s important to have as accurate a location as possible. The other unfortunate reality with any online platform is that you encounter the entire range of humans – true for dating, work exchanging, etc. So… some people are just flakes. And that’s unfortunate! But I tend to let those things go and keep a positive attitude, because my experiences are mostly good. Hope that helps!
Hi Jema. This is a fantastic article! Iâ€™ve done a lot of research on travelling through Australia and this is the first time I have come across â€˜work exchangesâ€™. I was just wondering, how long in advance should you look for a host? Iâ€™m flying out to Australia (Perth) in June (2018), so should I start looking at hosts now or look nearer the time?
Hi Kerry – I’m so excited for you! Work exchanges are the best. I’m doing one right now!
Hosts have a wide variety of preferences, but I find some tend to prefer being contacted no more than a month or two out. If you came across a profile and really really liked the person/people/family or were really excited to learn about a project their doing, maybe reach out early. But a few months out will be plenty of advance notice to send out your first requests.
Hope that helps – Happy travels!
I stumbled upon your site today when I was trying to find some info about HelpX.
I was thinking of going somewhere abroad, probably to some European country like Norway or Iceland. I was thinking of staying in that place for 12 months. I was wondering if some of these hosts agree to pay their workers some money. For example 4 hours you work as a volunteer and the other 4 hours you work for money. Have you ever worked on such conditions? At the very beginning I was thinking of going to Australia, but itâ€™s too far away and itâ€™s too expensive, so I thought that maybe Iâ€™ll stay in Europe.
Of course I could work as a volunteer, but Iâ€™m not sure I would like to do it for the whole 12 months. IF I decide to stay somewhere for the whole year then I would like to be able to earn some money on the side. Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m curious if it ever happened to you that the hosts wanted to pay you for your work? Iâ€™m also hoping that maybe some hosts, after, say, one month of working for them, would be willing to help me find some paid work nearby (but maybe Iâ€™m naÃ¯ve thinking so).
It’s definitely possible, but not common, to find hosts who are willing to pay long-term workers. I’ve seen hosts offering to pay if people stayed for a long time (which you seem to be willing to do) or if they worked beyond the 20 hours. I’ve also heard of people who work-exchanged a number of hours and then worked somewhere at a job off-site. I do think that once you have stayed a few weeks with hosts, you often become friends. As such, they become as interested in your welfare as you are in theirs and are often willing to help you find paid work.
I haven’t personally ever entered into a situation where I was being partially paid or working offsite. Although technically you could say when I work exchanged while going to circus school, I did spend hours at coffee shops working on this website. So maybe I did work exchange AND work!
Hope that helps! Happy work-exchanging! 🙂
Hi Jema, i have found your blog very interesting and full of very helpfull information. It made me think in a lot of things. I have been thinking on working on England for a long time (more than 10 years), the two main reasons are culture exchange and improve my english. I hadnt paid much attention at this kind of work, the helpers world, untill a few days ago, and I cant decide yet if this is what I am looking for. There are a couple of things that I am worried about:
1- I only can get a Tourism Visa (3 months for most of the european countries), so I am afraid that some hosts (or all of then?) would avoid me… How true is this? I have seen that some hosts explicity say ‘Only workers with proper visa’, but most of them dont say anything. I would be willing to initiate visa work, but i dont think the hosts can be sponsor me.
2- i am hard worker, but mostly work in a computer: apart of i am software engineer (but since i dont want to work of that) i like research about a lot if things, organize travels, etc… Of course I am willing to help with physical tasks in a home like cleaning, organizing, take care of pets (i love Cats and dogs), shopping… But i feel i wont be the best cooking and gardering for example… Or decorating or working in a farm… And I have seen that most of the offers are in those areas.
As you have a lot of experience… Do you have any comment about my 2 main concerns? Specially the first one. Thanks in advance!
Hi Eli – I’m so excited for you! Glad also that you’re finding Half the Clothes helpful.
1. In my experience, no hosts have ever asked me to have a “proper visa.” It is true that some countries count work-exchange volunteering as work. I’m sure you read about why this is in #11 above. I do think you’re right that a host wouldn’t be willing to sponsor you without having met you before. I haven’t heard of any crackdowns on hosts hosting work-exchangers, but maybe they are saying they want you to have a proper visa for liability reasons? Maybe they can get in trouble or fined for essentially hiring you to “work” illegally? I wonder what kind of hosts are calling for work visas. Are they mostly families looking for help with a garden? Hostels? Anyone running a proper business with volunteer labor would definitely be taking a big risk in a country where a visa is required. (For the record, I don’t recommend volunteering with people who are using volunteers to run their business, especially if you’re looking for cultural exchange.)
2. The best hosts (and in my experience most hosts) will let you choose your tasks. People who own a property with which they need help usually have an endless list of things they dream of accomplishing. Unless something really critical is going on (finishing the barn before winter, etc.), they are generally happy for helpers to pick the tasks they want to do. Happy workers are also motivated and enthusiastic! If you’re willing to utilize some of your computer skills, hosts might really appreciate it. E.g. This summer, I did a work exchange at a farm in Alaska. While my preference is always outdoor physical labor, they really needed help with their website. I spent most of my volunteer hours moving their content to a new platform and search-engine-optimizing the new site. While it isn’t the work I love doing, I saved them thousands of dollars they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to spend. Another example: A woman I work-exchanged with in Australia had me organize her gmail inbox, do admin for a travel club she volunteered with, and organize all her photos for her. I also got to get outside, work in the garden, build her a kiwi trellis, etc., but she really needed me to help her with tech tasks.
If you don’t see any tasks listed in a profile that you’d really like to do, but you really want to meet the people, write them and say so. Tell them why you want to work-exchange with them and what your concerns are about being a good helper. You can also mention the things you are good at (hosts are very, very busy and don’t always have time to read the profiles of every single person with whom they’re messaging) and ask if they need help in those areas.
Hope that helps! Happy work-trading! 🙂
Hey @Eli , you should clarify with the host by email, but the way I would interpret “only workers with proper visa” is with a “tourist visa” in you case. I’ve never had any host asking for a working visa, only some of them do appreciate you having travel insurance in case of an accident or signing some paper acknowledging you are volunteering at your own risk and decline any attempt to sue your host in case of accident.
Best approach in my opinion with authorities if they ask you at the border/airport is always say you are visiting friends, not working and no need to mention volunteer-work either.
Have a good time in the English countryside!
@Jema, great blog and a very nice writing style (:up:). I really share some of your opinions on work-exchange and traveling minimalistically, you also brought back funny memories from my NZ trip and you definitely made me want to visit Alaska! 🙂
Thanks so much for chiming in. Great perspective on the “visa” – I didn’t think about people who might be in the country illegally.
I appreciate the accolades – fuel for the fire to write moremoremore. What are your funny NZ memories? Yay for Alaska dreams!
If I’d met you 30 years ago Jema, I would be a very very different person today. But now I can’t concieve living my life without my fur babies by my side, so I’ll just have to keep living my life thru your awesome blogs – and that’s fine with me darl! You really are due to come back to NZ and visit us, you know. And perhaps you can help me turn my back shed into a proper self-contained sleepout. Love you Jem x
You’re so sweet, V! Glad to be a provider of vicarious travel and happy I got to partake in your fur babies. I desperately want to come back to NZ. Who knows… maybe I’ll do Te Araroa?! Back shed sleepout construction sounds super fun, too!