Travel with inspiration: why you should give Workaway a shot

Do you think about those things you should/want to do at least once in your lifetime? Warning: this post may add a new item to that list of yours.

My first experience with Workaway dates to 2015, before settling in Germany my husband and I travelled for three months in a volunteer/work-exchange agreement through France and Germany. And it was eye-opening. I realized there was a whole new layer of travelling that I’d never touched before. A deeper one, where we could not just pass through a place, but also engage in exciting projects, meet (very) interesting people and listen to their stories while learning different ways to see and do things, besides getting to know places we’d probably never visit otherwise. In these three months we collected so many memories that we’ve spent a good part of the following years talking about them and remembering the feelings of being in those places. It is a true “I’ll remember this for the rest of my life” kind of thing.

This kind of set the tone of our whole experience living in Germany. What could’ve been a difficult adaptation for first time immigrants became way more pleasant after taking this time to know more about the culture. And it opened us up to all these possibilities, including making friends that became our family abroad. When we came to Portugal, we just moved in and started our life, and even after three years here, we still hadn’t achieved that type of connection and cultural immersion, despite speaking the same language. That was one of the reasons we decided to workaway through Portugal and it’s what we have been doing since January here in the Azores. I talk more about that decision in this post. And more about Azores in this one.

Most people we meet outside the Workaway community don’t know about this type of travelling. Which is a pity because it’s very affordable and everyone can do it. There is someone out there in the world needing your help to bring a special project to life, no matter what you do or what you’re good at, no matter your age or where you come from. And Workaway is just one of many that can connect you to that person. I’ll be focusing on this platform, though, because is the one we’ve been using since the beginning and works well, with lots of opportunities all over the world, but specially in Europe. I’m not affiliated with them in any way besides being an active user, but if you join the community through this link, both you and I get an extension on our memberships – something available to every member that refers the site to a friend.

Patricia has an amazing property and she relies on volunteers to help her with maintenance and improvements. In this picture my fellow workawayer Maria, our host, and I, in front of the bamboo wall we built together. 

What is Workaway? 

It’s a platform, accessible through a website and an app, that connects people willing to receive others (hosts), provide accommodation and sometimes food and other perks for your daily life there, in exchange for a few hours a week (25 hours max, but often less) of your dedication and contribution to one of their projects. I wasn’t sure if I should call it work, since many times it didn’t feel like it, especially with creative tasks or playing and taking care of pets. But it’s work, and sometimes really hard work. That is the core of the agreement. But every host and every workawayer has its own set of offerings and expectations.

We’ve been to places where cultural exchange was expected. We had dinners where every workawayer should bring a meal from its country, we travelled together in the weekends, and we spent our free time with the hosts so we could learn their language and they could learn a bit of ours. All the cultural exchange is not included in your work hours, it’s you, willing and open to share your free time with them, because you enjoy doing so. On the other hand, we’ve also been to places where the host expected us to be independent, to engage in their projects during the work hours and be on our own the rest of the time. I talk more about my own experience and places I’ve been in this post.

What you will get from your experience is directly related to the time you spend on the website choosing the right host and place to go, according to your capabilities, interests, and willingness to participate or not. More tips on having the best experience at the end of this text.

Despite researching a lot about São Miguel and the Azores before coming here, we have never read a word about this beach. If it wasn't the suggestion of our host, it is likely that we would have passed through it without seeing it. And it's so beautiful! Praia da Pedreira on São Miguel Island, by the way.

How does it work?

Every host has a profile on the website, describing who they are, what kind of projects they need help with, their availability, how many people they can accommodate (meaning that you can be at it alone or with a group), if they accept families with kids, if internet is included and so on. They also state what they expect from you, including how many hours a day and how many days a week of work. And of course, what they are willing to offer to you for that, including description and photos of the type of accommodation you will get.

This profile contains a rating that, besides the feedback from workawayers, also reflects how active they are on the website. I understand this rating as host commitment, which gives you an idea of how much you can trust their word, what they are offering and how much experience they have in hosting. All the feedbacks are at the bottom of the profile page, it’s through these reviews left by other volunteers and by the hosts themselves that you can validate what the host is stating in the profile description, or identify potential issues like miscommunication, or even take the word of other volunteers when they say how amazing (or not) their stay was.

You can search hosts and offers available by country, by city, in a map, by type of work, by any keyword of your choice. For instance, if you’d like to stay in a place close to the beach, use beach as a keyword. The list is huge.

After deciding on a host or a few hosts, you’ll need to send them a message shortly presenting yourself and asking if they’re willing to receive you on the desired dates. To contact hosts, you’ll need to be a member of the Workaway community, by paying the annual fee and creating your own profile, which they will validate before you’re ready to go.  The annual fee costs 49 euros for couples and 39 euros for everyone else.

Some hosts reply to messages faster than others – the reply rate and the date of last activity will give you a hint. Our first workaway host took more than 4 weeks to reach back to us. Luckily, we contacted them long before the trip, so it didn’t mess up our plans, and we waited because we really wanted to go that place. But it varies a lot: the other day we sent a last-minute message to a host, and she replied in the same day offering us a spot. Some will not reply at all. It’s normal as well for the host to require a video call to get to know you before making any commitment, this way you both can ask questions and be sure about your decision.

All that to say that everything is well organized and safe. If you do your homework, reading the profile, the reviews, finding the best place for you through the tools available on the website, you’re set to have your expectations met (or surpassed) and have a great time in your adventure.  

Cleaning the land for a future vineyard - Did I mention hard work? We collected around one hundred bags of dirty, nasty, and even curious objects that outsiders had thrown into the property. And surprisingly, it felt good and we had fun doing it.

Do I need to speak English?

Not, really, but it also depends on where you’d like to go. You can start doing workaway in your own country, for instance. That part of your country you always wanted to get to know and never had the money or the chance to – why don’t you try to find a host there or close by? Probably knowing the country’s language will be enough to do the job, even though you may have trouble communicating or interacting with other volunteers you may find there.

You can totally do it without speaking English, but you’ll probably get the most out of it if you do know how to communicate in a more universal language. Communicate, I’m not talking about fluency. If you’re shy about your skill in a foreign language, Workaway is also a good opportunity for you to improve that. This is a community of open-minded people from all over the world – most likely you’ll find cooperation and understanding rather than bullying in this atmosphere. Try to be clear in your profile and to the host regarding your language skills. Remember, you’re going there to work, sometimes in a team. Miscommunication issues can mean trouble for you, for the host, and sometimes it might even be dangerous, especially if you’re expected to use machinery in your tasks.

Can I workaway with my family?

Yes! There are many hosts that gladly accept families. The first time I read about Workaway was through a blog by a couple with two kids, they were doing it for three years nonstop. If you Google it you will find many stories about it, but you can start by checking this interview on the Workaway website,  or get some helpful tips to workaway with kids here, or get to know why this family loves it. I recently found a profile of a single mom workawaying (yes, it’s even a verb :P) with her 2-year-old son to learn the skills she needed to build her own permaculture farm. Isn’t that inspiring? There are no limits when it comes to Workaway and chasing your dreams. Whatever your dreams are.

All my workaway experiences included gardening, just because it was the type of help I was looking for when searching for hosts. I love to spend time in nature and I find it very rewarding being able to harvest vegetables and fruits we helped to cultivate. But you can find all kinds of tasks and projects to engage with on the platform, from more technical to more humanitarian ones.

Workaway is a good option for you if:

  • You have an adventurer spirit – there are endless possibilities for those who know how to find them
  • You love to travel but you don’t have the budget to do it frequently – if you find a host that provides food and accommodation, your expenses will be very reduced. Even if it’s just accommodation, in a few countries the food is very affordable, if you’re willing to go to local markets and supermarkets and cook for yourself.
  • You usually look for deeper and local experiences while travelling – living with locals means that you’ll most likely get to know places and eat the best of local food. There’s no better way to find experiences, trust me.
  • You like to meet people that have different opinions and do things in a different way – remember, you’ll be living in family homes, working and sharing spaces with volunteers from all over the world, you must be flexible and humble in order to enjoy this experience and make the most out of it. Besides, these travelers have a bunch of interesting stories to tell.
  • You’d like to try out different ways of doing things yourself – Maybe you learn a special and better practice or way of doing mundane tasks that will improve your own life.
  • You like to learn new skills and share the ones you know – I’m sure there’s at least one skill you have that you think is useless, write it down in your profile and share it with your hosts, they may put it to good use.
  • You like to embrace challenges – sometimes the host doesn’t know how to do the task, either, and there will be no one to teach you besides Google.  
  • You are curious and open minded – Only you can define how much you’ll learn and experiment while workawaying. Even if not through the job itself, there is the possibility to engage in local community projects. I bet your host will know someone that can connect you to the right people for the exact thing you’re willing to experience.
  • You don’t shy away from work – Sometimes is just taking care of dogs, most of the time it isn’t.Even though you signed up to a specific array of tasks before arriving to the place, new things may come up and they may need your help. When the time comes, they’ll expect you to be there and do your best.
  • You wanna a sense of living in a community and you enjoy doing so – Even if youfind hosts that don’t expect you to engage in anything else besides work, you are still part of a community, the Workaway community. There will be volunteers arriving after you. If you really mess things up, the host may start to be picky while choosing other workawayers, or even stop receiving people. One of our hosts mentioned that she had so many problems with past workawayers that she was considering dropping out. And that would be one awesome place less for people like you and me to enjoy. If you have this sense of community, you know that being respectful and responsible is a must.
  • You can easily give up your idea of comfort on behalf of other benefits – the standards for comfort may vary a lot from different cultures as well as from different families and they’ll probably be different from your reality.
  • You are a digital nomad working part time – if you don’t have a busy agenda, Workaway may be a nice way of changing your travel routine and the way you experience the places you go.
  • You are a creative, writer, painter, (you name it) looking for inspiration – oh boy, what can I say.Sometimes the inspiration is so loud and surrounding you in so many ways that is impossible to not just put your head down and do the creative work. I’ve been photographing and taking notes of new ideas many times a day. Workaway is a golden pot for creative people.

If some of these statements describe what you are and believe in, you definitively should give Workaway a try. You can start small, travel through your country, and even invite friends to go with you if you are shy. Or go and cross the world in a very intense and exciting adventure. You can stay a few days, a whole month, or way more. I highly recommend you try it at least once.

By practicing slow travel we end up exploring places just because they are close by. That's when the surprises that change your whole experience happen. The beauty and energy of this place are unbelievable: Lagoa do Fogo hiking trail, São Miguel Island, Azores.

Tips on having the best experience with Workaway

  • Choose your host wisely. This might mean hours and even days searching the Workaway website, reading all the details of the offer, and taking the time to read the feedbacks. We never went to a new host, someone that had a very low rating or no feedback – I guess we’re not such adventurers after all. We know that good and new hosts exist but staying in the safe zone means that you are reducing the chances of having a bad experience. And bad experiences do happen. We got to know a few unpleasant stories from other workawayers. So, if you’re starting out is better to stay in the safe zone, filter your search by hosts that have higher ratings and many feedbacks. And read the feedbacks! There are so much more that you can learn doing that.
  • Write a good profile. Be sincere and clear about what you want and are willing to exchange. As well as describing your skills and knowledge. Being truthful is the best way to attract the right hosts (they can see your profile and invite you as well) and the right opportunities. By right I mean the one that will make you and your host happy. Remember that your profile is the first impression they’ll have when you send them a message.
  • State your travelling dates and the countries you are willing to travel to. Hosts researchvolunteers as well,if someone is looking for help in your desired destination and period of travel, chances are that you’ll receive a message and an invitation.
  • Consider staying longer in the same place. Some hosts allow you to stay just a week or even less. But I highly recommend that you stay at least two weeks. There is a limit of what you can learn, see and experiment in a short period. Plus, there are so many beautiful connections, with hosts, other volunteers and even locals, that you miss out by leaving so soon.
  • Plan in advance. The first time we searched for hosts six months in advance, we messaged them four months before our trip, and a few of them replied weeks later, some never replied at all. Don’t take it personal, we never know what struggles they are facing at that moment. That’s why having a list of potential hosts is a good option – if you don’t hear back in a few days, send a message to the next. When you join the Workaway community you have the option to save hosts in a personal list, that makes it easier to add notes and keep it organized.


Continue reading: Workaway for digital nomads and creatives

Are you joining Workaway? This link gives you a membership extension.  🙂

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