Is Workaway Worth It for a Budget Traveler?

I was introduced to Workaway in my first couple weeks of international travel. In the past year, I’ve worked for nearly a dozen hosts. While the service can be amazing, at other times it’s the far opposite. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages to volunteering in your travels using Workaway.

What is Workaway

Workaway.info is a site where volunteers from around the world can work for hosts at a huge variety of jobs. At this time there are over 18,000 hosts in more than 135 countries across the world. Jobs range from working in hostels, training horses, working on farms, babysitting, teaching languages, cooking, etc. Nearly any skill you have will be useful somewhere on Workaway.

Staff-prepared dinner at Montenegro Hostel 4U
Staff-prepared dinner at Montenegro Hostel 4U

The premise is that you work for 20-25 hours a week (usually 4-5 hours a day, 5 days a week) in exchange for a place to stay and sometimes food. There are even some jobs where an allowance or commissions are offered. The cost to join for an individual is currently about $27, or the equivalent in your local currency. Two people can sign up with a joint account for a little more money. The account lasts for two one year from the payment date. Update: The subscription plan was changed from two years to one sometime in 2016, but the cost remains the same.

Advantages of Workaway

What I consider to be the biggest advantage of Workaway is the ability to meet up with amazing people around the world to get the experience of living and volunteering in their country. Many times it’s individual families looking for volunteers, and other times it’s hostels or large establishments who will have lots of travelers passing through and people to meet. Other benefits could include learning a new language, trying or even learning homemade cooking of the local cuisine and maybe some local parties or tours.

Floating Bungalow at Zanzibara Camping in Riga, Latvia
Floating bungalow at Zanzibara Camping

Of course, the most obvious advantage to the budget traveler is the free room, and sometimes free food. While Workaway is not for paid jobs, there are sometimes hosts who offer small salaries, and others who have commissions if you sell tours, activities or other products. In Italy at two different Workaways, my hosts cooked me the most fabulous Italian dishes, and taught me how to cook them as well!

Another advantage of using the website is the advanced planning it offers. Showing up at a hostel and asking to help is doable but not always successful. I’ve showed up at businesses and offered to help in exchange for a meal or place to stay, but they can be hard to find and not every country will allow it. Workaway allows you to contact multiple hosts in advance and work out your plans.

Finally, staying for a longer period of time allows you to absorb the culture more. Many hosts want you to stay at least a couple weeks, if not a couple months. Work will usually be for 4-5 days, allowing you 2-3 days to explore the city or country where the host is. Some jobs will actually involve traveling around the country, giving tours, etc.

Disadvantages of Workaway

The biggest disadvantage to Workaway is you don’t always get what you signed up for. Profiles can be falsified or lacking, circumstances can change and some hosts might just be looking for free labor. Workaway puts this disclaimer on their site: “Workaway is for cultural exchange or learning possibilities and a way of making new friends. It is not a way for hosts to substitute paid employees with volunteers.” Usually that’s true, but not always.

Personally I run into the difficulty of hosts that don’t answer. I will sometimes send out a dozen personalized requests to different places to volunteer at and only hear back from one or two, if any. I’m not alone in this either. Jillian Kozak writes a great article on her blog comparing Helpx.net and Workaway.info, highlighting the same difficulty.

Workaway hosts do not always operate on the same level of exchange as one another. The site says you will work 20-25 hours a week. Some hosts expect less, while others will try to get more. Five hours might be worth the cost of a hostel room in a few countries like Sweden or Switzerland, but not in most. This is simply something you should work out with your host. When I worked in Belgium, I came to an agreement to do some extra work in exchange for meals, as the profile only mentioned a place to stay. I saw after I left that the host changed the profile to include meals. You’re welcome.

Workaway feedback could also be improved. You can read details about this in my post on Workaway feedback.

My Workaway Experiences

Clearing the Trees for Workaway in Sarzana
Clearing the trees for Workaway in Sarzana

I would have to say my favorite Workaway experience was in Sarzana, a tiny town just south of Cinque Terre, Italy. When I was helping on this Italian villa doing landscaping, renovations and building boats, I had a place to stay in one of the most beautiful locations in the world, with ungodly delicious Italian meals cooked by the mother of my hosts. The work was hard, but I enjoyed it so much I would put in extra time. I was only there a week but wished I had stayed much longer.

In Albania, the hostel I helped at had no frills or meals, but the work was hardly the most difficult I’ve ever done. In fact, it was a blast! The manager Linda was one of the most fun individuals I’ve ever worked with.

The campground I worked at in Lithuania was definitely hard, fun work and while the meals weren’t always on a schedule, they were delicious. The location couldn’t be better.

The hostel I worked at in Bangkok was a little confusing, as the shifts kept being switched between volunteers at the last minute. There was no food provided, but the work wasn’t that hard. Just cleaning and reception duties.

Travel Hub Workaway
Travel Hub Hostel and The Attic Bar

The most interesting hostel was the one in Kuala Lumpur. I went there expecting to be doing shifts at reception, but instead was told I would help at the bar. On my way to the bar, the owners stopped me, said they had seen my blog and wanted me to design the hostel website instead. I happily agreed. Later some friends were surprised I was doing that kind of work (which usually pays very well) in exchange for a dorm room worth less than €4 a night. The amount of work over the next two weeks wasn’t much, and it was good to develop my skills even more with website design. I was also treated to some very nice Indian meals by the owners while I was there, as well as a couple delicious specialty cocktails by Warren, the bar manager.

On the other hand, my experience in France could almost be called as bad as it gets. I’m sure there have been worse, but not for me. The host was in Touzac, a tiny village in the Midi-Pyrenees. Population: 355, and about 10 km away from the next decent-sized town. The only services in town were a beauty salon (obviously, it’s France) and a bar which my hosts ran. My hosts were British, not French. The mom was drunk the whole time, and the dad was high on pot. The first words out the woman’s mouth when she met me at the bus stop were, “Hi, I’m Simone. I’ll need to vet [censor] your feedback before you leave.” Alarm bells were already going off in my head, but since I had just traveled 29 hours to get there and I was starving, I chose to get some food instead of question what she meant.

It got worse. The food she gave me from the bar was so bad I couldn’t finish it. Then, while I had signed up to do landscaping, I was told I was going to be painting the bar instead. When I said I didn’t have a pair of clothes I could get paint on, I was told “too bad.” (As a comparison, my host in Sarzana said the first thing they needed was painting, but before I could say anything, added that they had a jumpsuit for me!) The food for the next week in Touzac was either leftovers from the hosts’ own meals, more meals from the bar or a couple items (potatoes and eggs) purchased for the volunteers to cook by ourselves. Otherwise I had to travel 10 km to get my own groceries. The house had no heating, no hot water most of the time, no internet and the work was nothing as it was listed on the profile.

Finally, when I left and wrote a negative review (a very watered-down version of the above with the most simplest details of what what other volunteers could expect (type of work, no heat or hot water, etc), Workaway.info wouldn’t post the review. When I questioned them on this, they said they didn’t want “bad blood” between hosts and volunteers.

Advice

I learned from the France experience that just glancing at the reviews isn’t enough. They might all have just been written by the host on the volunteers to make the host look good. The references might be months old (as in the case with the hostel in Kuala Lumpur), or the reference might just be blocked by Workaway. My suggestion would be to email one of the most recent volunteers (which the site lets you do) and get the true facts.

Since a disadvantage is the lack of response, don’t be afraid to send out multiple requests. In some areas there aren’t many to choose from and I’ve ended up applying to them all (and not heard back from any). You might also have a problem like I had in Kuala Lumpur where I was accepted by four hosts and I had to choose the one I liked the best!

You should now that you are not obligated to stay for the whole time if things go bad. You might get a bad review from the host if you leave early, but a bad experience in your travels is not worth it. If things go wrong, try to resolve it with the host. If it doesn’t resolve, don’t be afraid to leave. You are not contracted to stay, and you should never be in a position where you aren’t happy or don’t feel safe (although Workaway is usually very save, just like Couchsurfing).

My own verdict is that volunteering is a great way to travel the world, learn new cultures and exchange for your room and board. There are definitely some improvements that could be made to Workaway.info. As long as you follow the advice you should have a great time. Otherwise, there are the other options of Helpx.net and WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or Willing Workers on Organic Farms) at wwoof.net. I don’t have personal experience with those yet so I can’t comment or compare.

Myself, I’ll probably switch to HelpX when my membership is up with Workaway. I want to try the other site out, and I like the idea of hosts responding to me when I write.

How Can I Help?

If you would like my help in getting you started with Workaway, volunteering or just traveling around the world, feel free to contact me via the comments below!

I was introduced to Workaway in my first couple weeks of international travel. In the past year, I've worked for nearly a dozen hosts. While the service can be amazing, at other times it's the far opposite. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages to volunteering in your travels using Workaway. What is Workaway Workaway.info is a site where volunteers from around the world can work for hosts at a huge variety of jobs. At this time there are over 18,000 hosts in more than 135 countries across the world. Jobs range from working in hostels, training horses, working on…

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33 comments

  1. I would like to find another website similar to workaway that is honest and not biased.
    Yeah, I am a bit disappointed with workaway . The fact that they don’t allow less than stellar feedback is a form of false advertising to me. I was in a situation that was not as described. I left accurate feedback as gently as I could. The host even admitted to a neighbor that it was the truth. But workaway would not allow it to show. It appears they cater to hosts – not fee to be a member and they present them sometimes in a false light.
    They also somehow read private messages. Here is part of a conversation between me and workaway: “Workaway does not read your messages, we care a great deal about our user’s privacy. However there are filters on accounts that check for profiles being used by people who are not registered. This is to protect users of the website.”
    My Response: This was not a profile being used by someone not registered. It was a message sent by me and I wasn’t sure if it would just be me as I was also entertaining the possibility of traveling with someone else. And, by the way, another workaway contacted me asking if I wanted to travel together. I did not make mention in my message specifically who I was thinking of so there is no way to be flagging someone who didn’t have a profile or not.
    There is more but you get the picture…. Thank You ~

  2. World Tour without being worried about your travel and accommodation expenses!!!!

    Welcome to HOVOS.com. We offer people an opportunity to fulfill their dreams to travel abroad.

    Connecting in a very unique way the host and volunteers. Volunteers in finding the best choice of place for stay and Hosts with the choice of work they want to get done in exchange. Get to choose your destination of travel and place in your bucket list. Check the project details and connect for details. Help people in need and get to experience the place through the locals.

    • This looks like a great alternative to Workaway, or more so for TrustedHouseSitters (Skyetravels.com/trusted-house-sitters). The minimum hours is a bit more than Workaway, but then again, as I mention, Workaway hosts don’t always hold to that minimum. At least this site allows them to be more honest in what’s required, as well as the meals provided (something Workaway definitely doesn’t do). The interface also looks good to work with. I’m looking forward to it building traction and more hosts signing up!

  3. Nice write up. I like to start international travels. I need your help on starting with workaway.

  4. Hi I read about your experience with workaway. I’ve done volunteer work abroad before, so I really love this idea and I’m looking to be traveling over seas for about a year soon. My question is how did you get by with money? Did you save up before hand and bring that with you? Did you find paid jobs over there? I’m just worried about not having money for my travels like transportation, activities, etc.

    • I didn’t really have any savings before I left, so finding the volunteer jobs was a blessing. I’ve been able to find a bit of paid work in my travels, but I’m still living on a tight budget. There are always ways to get by, like hitchhiking, getting the cheaper food from markets at the end of the day, etc. There are also places which will hire you as a temp job while you’re in town, but you have to look into the customs and such. Working under the table can be risky, but people do it all the time. I do prefer Workaway, although I’ve also started using Trusted House Sitters. The main thing is not to let that stop you from traveling. Things will always sort themselves out, and you will be able to find ways to exchange for what you receive from others. There are 101 ways to fund your travels, including busking, farms, etc.

  5. I’m planning on being a host and I really like Workaway’s user interface a lot better, helpX looks dated and with less users. I know UI isn’t everything but it gives the impression that Workaway is more professional. However, having read these comments, it may not be the case. I will sign up for both and see how they compare.

    • Thanks. The Workaway UI has definitely come a long way recently. The number of host has almost more than doubled since I signed up less than two years ago. Hopefully you can post an update later on with your thoughts from using both.

      • Well I can report that Workaway wouldn’t post my profile that I spent an hour working on. They said it sounds too much like a job, even though I listed copious cultural activities in the city and surrounding. I mean, I’m in Baltimore, they won’t be building a school out of palm fronds. it’s a US city sandwiched between DC and New York, but there is such a thing as urban cultural experience too. I find they were just being arbitrary. Oh well, onto HelpX!

        • Interesting. Sounds like someone should write a blog post for those looking to become hosts on Workaway. I did sign up one person in Verona who had a non-profit and I don’t think they had any problems.

  6. Hi! Thanks for your article. I am considering traveling for one year using workaway but I had two questions I hope you can answer.
    1. How much money should I take with me leave for one year…not considering flights to and from. For example to go to Europe and just go to like 5 different countries next to each other.
    2. Do you have any recommendations or places/countries to avoid being a female solo traveler?

    • You’re very welcome. As far as expenses for a year using Workaway, it’s definitely hard to estimate. If you have back-to-back hosts that provide both a bed and food, you would only need to pay for activities, snacks and travel between cities, and could get away with as little as $1000 for a year! Use Flixbus for traveling around Europe. You can also use Couchsurfing between hosts.
      In regards to being a solo female traveler, it’s really hard to say. I could give a general rule to avoid party cities and districts at night, as drunk men add an unknown element. Beyond that, it’s more about using common sense. I know a young, blonde girl who’s been hitchhiking around Turkey for the past three years! Then again, one of the only bad stories I know of is from Albania. But that doesn’t make all Albanians bad. It’s still one of the friendliest countries I’ve been to.
      I’d recommend simply researching solo female blogs for the country you’re planning to go to, and see if they have any advice. And you can always ask me for more help regarding Workaway.

  7. Hi! This is a very interesting article. Thank you so much for writing about workaway. I am actually planning to be a workawayer in Germany. To think that I will be travelling alone and I’ve never been to Europe so I have so many fears. Though I have a friend in Germany, I still need to be independent in exploring different places. I’m super excited about this but scared at the same time. Maybe you could give me some tips on how you mentally, emotionally and physically prepare yourself on your first travel experience. Thank you so much.

    • Dear Lizzie,
      Thanks for your comment. Preparation is about as diverse as the number of jobs. I’ve worked in hostels where there was hardly anything to do, and virtually spent hours chilling with the guests, while other hostels are intense work for 2-3 hours. I’ve worked on farms when there were countless chores to do all day, and others where I was just given duties as needed. Germany sounds like a great place to start (my first was in Belgium). The make sure the conditions are clear before you start (hours, food, etc). Courage is the result of actions; traveling and getting out of the comfort zone is what makes you less afraid. Feel free to ask me any other questions, or check in with me after you start if you need further help.
      Sincerely, Skye

      • This was indeed a very helpful response. Thank you very much. I just would like to know if there are important papers that you need to have in order for you to volunteer. And how about insurance and visa?
        Sorry I have a lot of questions..

        Thank you Skye. 🙂

        • Usually no papers, as you aren’t getting paid. But some countries can be a little prickly on the matter. Best is to ask your host. If it’s a farm or something, there shouldn’t be any problem. Some hostels might need a work permit, but again that’s a questionable point. Insurance is a separate matter, and up to the traveler. I’ve never traveled with insurance. While I’ve never had insurance myself, and I’ve had expenses that it would have covered, I don’t think I’ve spent 1000 a year, which is what it would cost for the cheapest travel insurance in America. PS: it’s closer to $150 a year in the UK! And Visas are different in every country, but as an American the only fully European country (not Russia or Turkey) that you need a visa for is Belarus. Hope that helps.

  8. Hovos.com is the most accurate developed website for volunteering.
    Searching for an host or a volunteer is really simple and intuitive, the graphic is clean and straight to the point.
    You have a lot of option to choose when searching.

    Another great thing is that you can contact people also without paying. This is a great help for the ones who can’t afford to pay.
    ]Anyway the yearly subscription costs just 25 euros and they totally deserve that money.

  9. hey thanks for this post!

    im travelling the balkans and hoping to volunteer for free but it seems all those site are always requiring you to pay! 🙁 do you have any idea of whether the register fee is paid to these sites or the hosts?

    also would you say usd29 per year is worth it for workaway? helpx seems to be cheaper – eur20 two years?

    and wow i didnt know there are so many ppl using workaway to get volunteers in KL! 😀 (im from penang 🙂 )

    • You’re welcome. I think the title of this post hints that Workaway isn’t always worth it, but usually it is. First of all, the $29 is for two years, which isn’t much more than HelpX. But since I’ve never used HelpX, I can’t really compare. I’m pretty sure that Workaway has far more hosts. Then factor in that a single night in a hostel in some cities is nearly $30. Thus, a single day of volunteering pays for the subscription cost. Yes, the subscription goes to the site, not the hosts. Good luck on finding hosts, and enjoy your travels.

      • hey im pretty sure workaway is $29 for one year i just tried to sign up last night

        but i think i’ll stick with couchsurfing for now and learn more skills before offering them by volunteering 🙂

        cheers

  10. Thank you for linking to my blog! This is such a hot topic! I’m glad we could work together to bring people answers. 🙂

  11. Your article has been very helpful. I’ve been deliberating whether to do workaway.info and I’m not sure if it’s worth my time. I’m a travel looking for local experiences, but if the host doesn’t fill their side of the deal then what’s the point. Furthermore, I’m thinking there must be better alternatives to give you a local experience i.e. couchsurfing.

    • You’re definitely correct. Couchsurfing is a wonderful alternative. It’s also easy in many countries around the world simply to walk into a hostel and ask for a job. The hardest ones to justify are those where you work full time on a farm or something for sub-par accommodations. But sometimes even that is still worth it, like my five weeks on a farm in Sweden. Good luck on your travels. I’m sure they will work out.

  12. Your article was great and resonated so much with me. Response rate from hosts runs at around 10% which can be soul destroying – it takes only 30 seconds to respond with ‘no thanks’, at least you are not kept waiting. Personally I think the problem with both Workaway and Helpex is that hosts do not have to pay a fee (and many hosts use both sites), therefore there are a lot of time wasters on there and certainly people looking for cheap labour. I spent 5 months in South Africa on 5 hostings and only worked less than 7 hours on one of them. Its difficult to turn round and say ‘ok that’s 5 hours up’ as you don’t want to appear to be a clock watcher.

    With regards to feedback the best advice is to always contact a couple of previous volunteers for further feedback, and believe me, on a few occasions the feedback received personally was very different to the feedback that person had left on the site. The reason being, no-one wants bad feedback – you leave the host bad feedback, then they will leave it for you. I am now in Canada and I’ve been on the verge of returning home due to hosts cancelling, and getting no responses from applications. I have come across a diamond of a host now though who has saved my soul so to speak.

    Everything is a learning curve. Workaway has a great user friendly site, Helpx doesn’t, but if I could find a site that worked much better than these two, then I definitely would not be using them. Another thing to point out is that Workaway advocates the ‘fair exchange’ as being up to 5 hrs work 5 days a week in exchange for board and lodging, yet they allow many hosts to advertise hours far in excess of this. A bed in a dorm and no food is not a fair exchange either unless you are working 1-2hrs a day and by prior agreement.

    I recently had a host contact me from Hawaii and offer me a position as she said she had liked my profile and thought I would fit in well. I got so excited about this and asked for more info which she sent me. It stipulated working 7 days although only 2 hrs on a sat and Sunday. I asked how this would work if I wanted to travel around a bit on my days off and she promptly withdrew her offer.

    I feel I’m more at a disadvantage due to being in my mid fifties, yet I’ve worked harder to prove that I can work as well as anyone and I also have life experience to add too, but many people have told me they have an issue with hosting an ‘older’ volunteer. Anyhow, at the end of the day you should always make sure you have a back up plan, a credit card, and a mobile phone and if you are not happy – DONT STAY – good luck everyone and enjoy the journey.

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