Workaway: What it is, How it Works, & My Advice
I am currently doing my second Workaway in Valparaiso, Chile helping to build a hotel made from recycled shipping containers. My first was in Malaga, Spain doing reception at a hostel. Both experiences have been polar opposites, which I will talk about more in depth in a different post.
What It Is
For travelers interested in culture immersion, staying in one place for a longer period of time, saving money on accommodation and food, and trying something new and interesting or putting their skills to good use, Workaway might be the perfect outlet.
Workaway is a platform where hosts from all around the world can post jobs that they need volunteers for, ranging from farming, reception at hostels/hotels, child care, teaching, construction, and everything under the sun. So you will be able to find something that interests you.
How It Works
The website is fairly easy to navigate - you select the continent you are traveling to (country and region are option but will help narrow down the list) then you can look for volunteer jobs that catches your eye. In order to message the host, you have to pay a fee of $29 USD per year. You can also register as a couple or with a friend if you are traveling in pairs and wanting to volunteer together. The price raises to $38 USD per year.
The fun part is researching the different opportunities, reading previous reviews (I don't apply unless there have been prior positive reviews), and imagining what it would be like to live in that city and be doing that job. Then the anticipating begins... while you wait to get a response from the hosts. Not every host will message you back so don't be discouraged if the one volunteer opportunities you had your heart set on doesn't reply to you. Not everyone checks their messages daily, especially in more rural areas, and I've read about glitches in the system where messages don't get sent. Therefore, I normally message multiple jobs for the area I'm traveling to ensure better odds. In my personal experience, out of 10 messages, I will get replies from about 6.
Once they respond and are interested, you will go back and forth to set up the exact day you are coming and for how long. They should provide you with directions and everything you need to arrive at the location.
By committing to work a few hours a day (20 - 25 hours a week), accommodation and food will be provided. It varies from one host to another but some will only give you one meal a day while others will give you all three meals. Some jobs will be more glamorous than others while some hosts will be more interactive than others. Each experience will be vastly different from one another so while you may have heard of great Workaway experience, there are as many not so great experiences. Therefore, you need to vet out the volunteer job to make sure it is what you want to do - do your research, reach out to previous volunteers, ask questions. It would be terrible if you finally arrive at the volunteer location after hours of traveling to find out it was nothing like how you had imagined.
As for accommodation, you will either have your own room in a separate apartment with other volunteers, in the host's house, in the hostel, or share a dorm style room. If you want to go even more rugged, you can camp out in tents as well. Again, it varies depending on the location, your host, and the type of job you will be doing.
How to Increase your Chances
Write personalized messages to each host: this was something I did not do when I first started using Workaway. I wrote generic messages and just copy-and-paste for each person. I was not seeing a high response rate, especially for the more popular places and ones I was interested in. So I altered my approach and spent a longer time on each message, including (1) bits from their bios, (2) why I wanted to volunteer there, and (3) about myself (and what you can offer and want to get out of the experience).
- For example, if you are doing construction and have technical skills, add that because you will have a higher chance of getting accepted.
- Don't write a message too short or too long
- Update your profile: upload a few pictures of yourself, or at least one that shows your face but it shouldn't be anything seductive or to give off the wrong message. Write in your bio about yourself, why you are traveling, and anything else you want them to know about you, especially skills you have or things you can offer. They do read it!
* My current host showed me his profile and the different messages he gets so I got an insider look at what they think when looking for new volunteers
What to Expect
My best advice is not expect too much from your experience. It's very different from many other things you may have done because you are in a different country, you may not speak the language, you are working at their business and living at their house, and you may not like the food they cook. Come in with an open mind and absorb everything that the volunteering has to offer. You may come out of it with new friends, new skills, new language and much more.
The job you end up doing might be very different from what was listed on the site so be flexible with what is assigned to you. If you are living under the same roof as your house, understand that it's their place so be respectful to their belongings and follow their rules. They are opening their home up to complete strangers so there needs to be mutual trust. Offer to cook, maybe something from your own heritage, or if you can't cook offer to clean up afterwards. Contribute to the cleaning and tidying of the place since there will probably be more than just you living there.
However, if there are things you are unhappy about, do bring it up to your host. Hopefully you will be able to find a happy medium that will satisfy both party.
Now, go out and WorkAway! Tell me about your expreiences, good and bad.