It’s been more than two years since I’ve done a work exchange, but these programs will always feel special for me because they’re part of my “origin story” as a traveler. More than three years ago, before I had ever even read a travel blog, Brent reconnected with an old friend who had been WWOOFing in South America. We did some research and read about other programs like Workaway and Helpx, all of which involved volunteering with local families around the world in exchange for free meals and accommodation. It opened us up to the idea that the factor that had always stopped us from traveling before -money- didn’t actually have to stand in our way.
Although we used work exchange as a way to make long-term travel more affordable, I think they’re a great option for short-term travelers as well. Many families are willing to host volunteers for a few weeks or even a few days. It does mean spending part of your vacation working, but if you’re interested in cultural travel and language exchange, traveling doesn’t get much more local than literally living with a local family and sharing in their daily activities.
So what exactly is the difference between Workaway, Helpx and WWOOF, and which work exchange should you sign up for?
Workaway is a database of people and organizations located around the world that are looking for volunteers to help them with a huge range of tasks. Some are looking for people to babysit their kids; others need help with farming or the upkeep of a large property, and some are hostel owners that want volunteers to clean rooms and manage bookings.
The basic Workaway arrangement is 5 hours of work for 5 days a week in exchange for food and a room. A two-year membership is 23 Euros for a single person and 30 Euros for couples and friends. Once you sign-up, you create a profile explaining your background and skills and then start browsing the list of hosts. You can email hosts that interest you and start a discussion with them to figure out if you’re a good match for each other. If you match you can begin your first work exchange.
Helpx is a similar database of hosts looking for volunteers to help with a wide variety of projects. Accommodation ranges from farm stays to B&Bs, and there’s even a category for boats (which I regret never investigating!). Just like with Workaway, you create a profile and send messages to hosts that you’d like to volunteer for.
According to the site, the standard arrangement is 4 hours of work per day in exchange for food and a room. Although, for both Helpx and Workaway, it’s a good idea to verify this arrangement with any potential host because 4 hours is just a guideline. A 2-year membership is 20 Euros for everyone, regardless of whether you’re a single person, a couple or friends.
As you can tell, Workaway and Helpx both use the same model. I signed up for both, but once I started browsing the sites, I realized that a lot of hosts have profiles on both of them. Although volunteers have to pay to register, it’s free for hosts to create a listing, and therefore there’s no reason for hosts not to take advantage of both websites. Since you’ll get a similar selection of hosts on either website, I recommend saving your money and only signing up for just one of the work exchange websites.
The cool part about this is that both Workaway and Helpx allow users to browse the host listings for free before paying for a membership. This means you can check out both sites, and make your decision based on which one you find easier to use and which one has hosts that you’re most interested in contacting.
Personally, if I could do it over again, I’d go with Helpx. The registration fee is a little cheaper (particularly if you’re volunteering as a pair), and I found I preferred browsing their site. The Workaway site looks a little cleaner on first glance, but I find the host profiles are organized better on Helpx, making them easier to skim through.
WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) basically invented the work exchange concept as far as I can tell, with early incarnations of the organization dating back to the 1970s. As the name suggests, WWOOF is a database of organic farms and smallholdings owned by people who are willing to provide food and accommodation in exchange for 4-6 hours of volunteer work per day.
The concept seems identical to Workaway/Helpx, but there are a few key differences. WWOOF emphasizes that it provides an opportunity to learn about organic lifestyles; therefore, it could be a better fit if you’re interested in learning about sustainable farming practices while you’re volunteering, as opposed to simply carrying out the menial tasks you’ll often be assigned by Workaway/Helpx hosts. That said, numerous hosts on Workaway and Helpx offer organic farm stays, and I’m sure plenty are happy to teach you about their lifestyle as well.
The main drawback to WWOOF (and the reason I never actually signed up for it), is that each country has its own WWOOF organization, and you need to pay a membership fee for each one. If your trip is going to take you to multiple countries, the membership fees can add up pretty quickly, and your money definitely gets you access to more hosts in more countries on Workaway and Helpx.
What Work Exchange Program Would You Choose?
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