Workaway Hostel in Rotterdam

Is Workaway Worth It for a Budget Traveler?

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

What is Workaway

Workaway 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 40,000 hosts in more than 170 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.

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 usually three square meals. There’s even a small handful of jobs where an allowance or commissions are offered, but this isn’t officially part of the program. The cost to join for an individual is currently about $27 $43, 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, and the cost for the year nearly doubled more recently.

Sign up for Worldpackers Volunteering now with code SKYETRAVELS and get $20 off (40%) a year’s membership, plus 6 months free! Click here!

Selfie Training Horse #4

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. 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, tasting or even learning homemade cooking of the local cuisine, and maybe some local parties or tours.

Of course, the most obvious advantage to the budget traveler is the bed provided, and sometimes food too depending on the job. 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 shown 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.

Floating Bungalow at Zanzibara Camping in Riga, Latvia

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

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.

Clearing the Trees for Workaway in Sarzana

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.

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.

Travel Hub Workaway

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 simplest details of what other volunteers could expect (the 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 know 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 safe, 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.

Switching to WorldPackers

Now that I’ve been harping on Workaway, I should probably point out that I’m actually not a fan of the platform. The Workaway reviews are too-easily misleading, volunteers and hosts both have problems with maintaining their end of the exchange, there’s absolutely no support system, etc. Recently, I’ve found the perfect alternative. Worldpackers is a volunteer platform that offers everything Workaway does, plus everything Workaway doesn’t. Worldpackers screens all their hosts and focuses on quality over quantity. They also offer a way better support system for the volunteers, even going so far as to offer a place to stay away from a host if things go bad, and then setting up an alternative volunteer location.

They focus a lot more on social impact and eco projects, which instantly grabbed my interest when I saw it. They already have hosts all over the world, and over 1.5 million volunteers (so you need to join quick and get ahead of the competition).

Sign up for Worldpackers Volunteering now with code SKYETRAVELS and get $20 off (40%) a year’s membership, plus 6 months free! Click here!

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!

Click to Pin It

Workaway Volunteering Pin

Further Reading

I believe that giving back in your travels is a huge plus, and I’ll always spend a few months out of every year doing volunteer jobs. Here are some more articles that cover volunteering, the pros and cons, and some of the experiences I’ve had.

Affiliate Disclosure
This post may contain affiliate links. These links help give me the wherewithal to continue traveling at no additional cost to you. For more information, click here.

About Skye Class

Hi, I'm Skye. Writer, photographer, adventurer, foodie, teacher, masseur, friend, dreamer, etc. I think "normal sucks." Let's aim for extraordinary. SkyeTravels seeks to find the good around the world, focusing on adventures, food and wellness. Be inspired. Be yourself.
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79 comments

  1. Awesome read <3

    We started doing workaway last year before the pandemic and we only got a solid month in Montenegro before everything started shutting down. Now we actually do workaway for holidays overseas and many a trip to Poland organised on workaway for the end of the year to do workaway.

    Super informational page Skye thank you for putting all the info together šŸ™‚

    Ciaran – Maptreking.com

    • Awesome! Thank you for the feedback, and I hope you find many more awesome volunteer jobs around the world. I’m just about to publish a more in-depth guide on volunteering around the world.

  2. Hi, my daughter is looking to go away this year and is in talks to go to new Zealand, helping out at a horse yard (she was supposed to be working at a summer camp in America but it got cancelled) what’s the best insurance to get her? I’ve looked around and too be honest find it all a bit confusing.

  3. Gabriella Cordova

    Hi Skye,

    Thank you for this article. We’ve just gotten started hosting with Workaway, and we want to make sure we’re doing it right. What do you think a good balance would be between hard work, which there is plenty of on our 40-acre farm and cultural experiences? We’re having our first volunteers right now and it’s going pretty well.

    I’ve read some things that are confusing to me. Volunteers seem to pick hosts based on the experience they want to have and on a desire to contribute to the projects the hosts are doing (farming, forestry, community building, festival making, or whatever) but, there seems to be some feeling on the part of volunteers that hosts are just using them for their labor. Isn’t that what the exchange is about? Is there something else we hosts should do beyond sharing our homes, feeding our volunteers, and sharing our families, cultures, and dreams with them? I’ve traveled extensively and paid for hotel and food, but without getting the benefit of really getting to be in local’s homes. To me, getting to volunteer on a project I believed in for 4 or 5 hours a day while getting my room and board paid for feels like a win-win.

    If you have a “guide to being the perfect host” I would love to read it.

    Thank you,

    Gabriella

  4. hi Skye, i visited India a couple of years ago and was so pleased it lived up to my expectations . I am hoping to return there and do voluntary work in some capacity and having found your page i’m again hoping you may be able to point me in the right direction. I’m a carpenter of 30 years and ideally would like to help with charity building projects .Not concerned about paying for food but obviously somewhere safe to sleep would be preferable.

    • Thanks for your comment. I haven’t been to India myself so I can’t help you with specific hosts there. I would recommend signing up for Worldpackers instead, as they seem to focus more on charity and NGO-style projects. You can get a big savings if you use my link here. Good luck with finding hosts!

  5. HI, I have been a Workaway Host for over 6 months, and I feel I have a very great offering, I run a Raku Ceramic Studio, and look for help in my studio. However, when workers want to make clay, and fire them, I ask for a materials fee, of 25 euro, which I think is completely reasonable. Well Workaway has just removed my profile, without saying anything to me, because I mention this fee, at the beginning. It is crazy, because they are making money and I have a very unique and value added listing, and they are unreasonable to believe they can just do that, without reason. I feel it’s better to tell people in the beginning. Anyways I just wanted to put that out there, because there is absolutely no way to make any review of comment on Workaway to complain about the actual administration.

    • Great comment. I do understand that charging a fee violates Workaway’s T&Cs, but sometimes you do have to get some operational costs. Then again, the operational costs could also be covered by the value of the work provided, as is usual with any employee (volunteer or otherwise). If interested, you can apply to be a host on Worldpackers if you fit their criteria. Just put me down as the scout name and skye@skyetravels.com as the scout email.

  6. Hi Skye,
    I’m looking to breakaway from my life, and am getting the courage to leave everything behind and get new experiences. I am Mozambican, was partially raised in Belgium (from 0-5 years old) so my mother language is French and Portuguese, which is the official language in my country. I am also fluent in english and speak pretty good spanish – which was self-taught. Last year I went on holiday for the first time to France, Belgium and Spain and I am eager for so much more…
    I stumbled upon workaway now, as I am a bit lost on how to do the “moving abroad” thing, and also decided to google some reviews and found your incredibly helpful website. To be honest, I am inclined to subscribe to either Workaway or Worldpackers just to give it a try. I’m 34, single and childfree so no reason to stay.
    Anyway I guess I’m writing to you to know if you would have any advice for me, and I must admit I am a bit hesitant as well because I am black, and I am a woman.
    Should I have special attention to some countries, or cities, or keep an eye for red flags? I wouldn’t want to leave my country to have a terrible experience elsewhere.

    Anyway, I hope to hear from you. I will keep reading your articles. šŸ™‚

    • Dear Mingas,
      Thank you very much for your comment. I’m very excited to hear about your future travels! I would personally recommend Worldpackers, as I think their platform is better, and they also have a really cool “insurance” plan if a host turns out to be unfavorable (although you should always make the effort to resolve things). You can use this link to save $20 (or your respective currency).
      As to where you should travel as a solo black female traveler, I would say nearly everywhere. But the person to go to for that is my good friend Gloria Atanmo and her blog The Blog Aborad.
      Good luck with everything, and thank you so much for reading my blog!
      Sincerely, Skye

  7. hey skye, very interesting article!

    i am a very generous host [both with time, food and even an allowance] and it’s sad for me to read about some of your experiences. i’ve been a homestay for years and traveller so i have tonnes of experience with how to treat guests – in fact my guests are always #1 for me and i want them to have a lovely time and leave with a good impression of manchester and its people. one workawayer i had i let him stay for a week with no work because his host was so horrible! he’s now a good friend of mine šŸ™‚

    on the flip side i’ve had workawayers who just want free food and accommodation and who are not interested in the cultural exchange. it’s such a shame as we have so much to offer – sometimes i think of all the opportunities the workwayers are missing by not hanging out with me and my friends and family.

    it’s very interesting for me to read your perspective from the other side!

    my advice would be to get straight on whatsapp and have a bit of a fun chat with the host/workawayer and you will get a good idea of intention [from both sides!]

    anyone interested in a nice trip to manchester uk i’m on workaway!!

    i wish you all the best,

    eusle

    • Thank you for the great comment! That really does add some important information. Your place sounds like a great opportunity, and I wish you the best of luck getting more good volunteers there.

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