Workaway: 9 Tips to Live Like a Local and Travel the World Through Work Exchanges
My friends Daniel Bakken and Alinne Fernanda are a couple who fell in love when Daniel, an American, lived in Brazil for work as a stunt coordinator. They knew they wanted to stay together, but the U.S. denied Alinne, who’s a Brazilian kindergarten teacher, a visa. To avoid the bureaucracy that plagues multi-national relationships, they decided to travel the world together instead of sticking to one place — and this journey has continued for nearly two years.
While they saved up their money before hitting the road, It’s volunteering through Workaway that’s financially enabled them to keep traveling as long as they have. If you listened to my episode on house-sitting your way around the world and other free accommodation tips, you heard a little about Workaway.
In exchange for a about five hours of work a day, the hosts you find through Workaway will give you free room and board. But this experience is not just about scoring free accommodation or providing free labor. This is a cultural exchange in which the hosts and the guest workers get to learn from each other.
On this episode of the Postcard Academy, Daniel and Alinne share the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to work exchanges. But it’s mostly good. Fantastic, in fact, according to them.
Listen to their hilarious tales about working around the world on the Postcard Academy podcast and subscribe for free. Here are their top tips for making Workaway a great experience.
Decide where you want to travel
“We choose a region that we want to visit and then we see what kind of work is there,” Daniel says.
Know what kind of experience you want
Are you looking for alone time, or do you want to meet other Workawayers? Do you want to be in an urban area, or in the middle of nowhere? Daniel and Alinne like to find a balance. “We love working with animals, but every so often need a break from that,” Daniel says. “Like, after this will travel to the island of Milos and repair holiday rental places in the off season for a few weeks, and then we'll travel on to Crete for the olive harvest.”
Learn from the locals
Workaway is not just about work, “It’s a cultural exchange,” Alinne says. “Look for hosts that are locals or people that have lived in the place for 10 years or more. Because then you can have more of a cultural exchange there. You learn a little bit of local language, customs, food, everything.”
Safety comes first
If you feel uncomfortable with your host or work, contact Workaway. “If you have some problems with the host, you can report it to Workaway. Actually, you need to do that because they really need to know what happens in place. Also, if they are not providing the things they put in their profile, you should contact Workaway.
Be skeptical about reviews
On workaway.info, hosts review workers, and workers review hosts. Are they honest? Welll…“They skew very positive,” Daniel says. “Let’s say I write a less-than-stellar review, what I fear is that the next person I contact for work will look at my profile, see that review and be like, ‘Whoa, this guy’s going to come here and write a terrible review of me.’ So we adopted the policy of, ‘If it's not a five-star place, we just don't review them at all.” So, look for a Workaway with tons of five-star ratings, or talk to other Workawayers for a true sense of what the work will be like.
The Workaway fee is worth it
Workers have to pay Workaway an annual fee of 34 euro for a single person or 44 euro per couple. “That pays for itself within your first week of working away,” Daniel says.
Keep mum about working when crossing borders
If you’re going through immigration, do not mention Workaway. This will only confuse border control, which does not take kindly to foreigners entering their country for work, especially without a visa (which Workaway does not manage). “We always just say we're here as tourists and we have some friends that we're going to go stay with,” Daniel says. Technically true.
Make the most of your free time
“You do your five hours of work a day and then the rest of your time should be exploring the place where you’re staying,” Daniel says. “Just keep an open mind about everything be open to new experiences.”
Buy travel insurance
Daniel and Alinne have catastrophic coverage through their credit cards. Thankfully, they haven’t had to use it, though Daniel did pay about 100 euro out of pocket for a root canal in Montenegro. I purchase travel insurance through World Nomads.
If you found this article useful, please share it, and subscribe to the Postcard Academy podcast. Each week, expats and adventurers share their insider travel tips on the best food, nightlife, and cultural experiences in the most interesting places around the globe. I’m your host, Sarah Mikutel, an American who's spent the last 8 years living in, and traveling around, Europe.