Workaway and Helpx: Would I Travel with Work Exchanges Again?

Workaway and Helpx are both websites that connect volunteers and hosts to participate in work exchanges. Volunteers agree to work for the host in return for food and accommodation, which adds up to an experience living, eating, and working with a local family. Brent and I traveled for 8 months in Western Europe by participating in 6 back-to-back work exchanges, and moving from the home of one host family to another.

When I first stumbled across the Workaway website, I had only left North America once before, and imagined that long-term travel would require access to some bottomless pool of riches. Discovering work exchanges made me feel like the whole world had suddenly opened up and become accessible to me.

Since that day over 2 years ago,  I’ve learned about innumerable other ways to travel on a budget, and we’ve managed to continue traveling well beyond the time we participated in our last Helpx. So the question is, considering all that I know now, would I still recommend Workaway and Helpx to other travelers? And would I ever do it again myself?

The Pros:

Free! Free! Free!

Volunteer room Workaway France

I feel like it’s a little taboo to draw too much attention to the free-ness of Workaway and Helpx. After all, these programs are meant to focus on cultural exchange and language learning, rather than being viewed as a way to score free food and accommodation. But who am I kidding? The idea of traveling from country to country without worrying about the price of meals and accommodation was the main reason why we became involved with these programs.  The other volunteers we met during our exchanges were all backpackers and budget travelers, so I think I can safely say that Brent and I weren’t the only ones who were drawn to possibility of semi-free travel.

Local-Style

horse show in Spain Workaway

I often feel like we lived in Europe rather than traveled in it. Our time in Europe was less about capital cities and sightseeing; and more about long scenic walks, and home-cooked dinners with our host families. We helped at a charity luncheon in France, joined our neighbours for an Easter bonfire in Germany, and volunteered at a Halloween-themed horse show in Spain. In a sense, we didn’t experience the side of each country that is marketed to tourists. Instead, in a very real way, we experienced life as a local in each country, which included doing everyday things like buying groceries, walking the dog and washing the dishes.  In truth, this aspect of our experience felt like a pro on some days and a con on others. I can’t say this made Workaway and Helpx the best programs to help us check sights off our bucket list, but they did provide undeniably unique experiences.

Rent-A-Job

Helpx B&B Wales

Did I mention that the B&B was a repurposed church? It’s probably the coolest place I’ve ever lived.

Working with each host family felt like trying on a different lifestyle for a few weeks. Among other things, it provided an opportunity to get an inside look at the business of running a B&B in Wales, renting holiday villas in Italy, and operating a retreat centre in Germany. It was the equivalent of taking different possible home countries and occupations for short test-drives.  Owning a B&B was never something we had considered before, but after a positive 3-month experience with helping to manage one, we left with a new long-term goal to open a guesthouse of our own someday.

The Cons:

Farewell Privacy

Helpx retreat centre Germany

I guess I could hide in the trees?

Living and working with a local host family typically means sharing a house with them (although we did luck out by getting our own private villa in Italy). We became reluctant witnesses to countless personal fights between family members, and they were, in turn, fully aware when we were feeling moody.  Our relationship with our hosts was often a strange one. Our very close living arrangements made us all feel like insta-family, yet we were, at the same time, also their guests and their employees.

Usually the people who have the space and need for volunteers are inevitably those who own large properties in rural areas. It wasn’t always easy to find other people to socialize with, or to escape into the city for a few hours.

Good Volunteers Never Sleep

Workaway France kitchen

Cooking dinner for our hosts in France.

Living with our “employers” often created a vague division between “on” time and “off” time.  According to the Workaway and Helpx websites, volunteers should aim to contribute 20-25 hrs. of work per week.  We found that some of our hosts subtly (or, in some cases, not-so-subtly) implied that they expected more than this from us.

It always felt wrong to stop working before our hosts did; if they were putting in 12hr. days, we felt pressured to follow suit. Perhaps we were being a little neurotic, but we really did want to make the exchange worthwhile for our hosts, so we were always looking for reassurance that we were doing “enough” to satisfy them.

We frequently offered to do more work when we didn’t want to, hoping that our hosts would offer us comforting words like “No, you’ve worked enough today – just relax”. This was rarely the outcome. When we offered to work for longer, our hosts almost always found new tasks for us, which made us feel like there was no limit on the contribution that we owed them.

 Skills On Trial

Workaway France building a fence

Build a fence? Sure!

Workaway and Helpx profiles allow volunteers to provide details about their skills and experience, but, somehow this didn’t always translate to our hosts.

I found that our hosts were willing to teach us new skills to a certain extent, but most assumed that we had some basic skills to begin with. And well….sometimes we didn’t.  We spent our first days in France out in a damp, cold field for about 6 hours, panicking because we couldn’t keep a fire going long enough to burn some bramble piles that we’d be assigned to get rid of. (If you think that sounds ridiculous – seriously, try it – fires are surprisingly hard to maintain!) Our hosts only had so much patience for the “well-gosh-I’m-just-a-city-girl-and-I’ve-never-actually-used-a-pitchfork” routine.

There were exceptions; for example, our tasks at the B&B were pretty intuitive and didn’t require previous knowledge and experience. But, based on my conversations with other volunteers, the people who seem to excel at Workaway and Helpx are those who already possess applicable skills like carpentry, plumbing, gardening, or construction.

 

So would I do it again? The answer is no. I don’t regret our experiences for a moment because we did have some wonderful host families, however, we’ve found other budget travel approaches that work better for us. I would recommend Workaway and Helpx for people who have solid manual skills to contribute, as well as to people who aren’t afraid to be direct with their hosts, setting very clear expectations and boundaries both before and during the exchange.  I still believe that they’re fantastic programs for certain people, but for us, it just wasn’t quite the right approach to budget travel.

 

Have you ever done a work exchange like Workaway, Helpx or WWOOF?  

70 Responses to Workaway and Helpx: Would I Travel with Work Exchanges Again?

  1. Vanessa April 24, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    Great post! My husband and I are thinking about WWOOFing around America after we leave Korea, and the cons you mentioned are definitely things we have to think about. Because we would be coming from the same culture as our hosts, we would be sure to tell the them our expectations up front (hopefully!). Did you ever feel like they assigned useless tasks to you? Or was there always something to be done?
    My recent post The Best Kind of Death: the Death of Winter

    • waysofwanderers April 25, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

      Honestly, I think there really always was something to be done, and that's what gave us a serious guilt complex at times. They weren't trying to overwork us, there really just was a lot to do!

      I agree, there were probably some cultural barriers involved in some cases. Also, we had more success when we discussed specific projects that our hosts had in mind for us before arriving – the ones that said they had "a few odd jobs and tasks", or something like that, were almost always that ended up having skewed expectations of our skills. It also helps to have a back-up plan – it's nice to be able to politely leave if it isn't working with a certain host.

  2. @ACruisingCouple April 26, 2013 at 7:52 am #

    This is great! Dan and I have been thinking a lot about using HelpX and the likes when we start long term traveling, mostly because it seems like the easiest way to save money longterm. We're HUGE couchsurfing fans, but normally you can't really settle down with them for a month ;-P We're also looking into housesitting. Since you don't think you would do it again, what's your next-best alternative?
    My recent post Get it Straight: Fact and Fiction of Taiwan

    • waysofwanderers April 27, 2013 at 7:02 am #

      Personally, I'd pick housesitting over Helpx because you still get the benefit of living locally for free.

      Otherwise, I think Helpx can work if you prioritize finding the right host over the right location. I think part of our issue was that we became attached to the idea of going to certain countries/regions, and thus we would agree to exchanges with hosts that we didn't feel certain about, just because they were in that area.

      • @ACruisingCouple May 1, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

        Great advice-thanks so much!
        My recent post Tainan Walking Tour: Retracing Taiwan’s Oldest Streets

      • Tanner Robinson January 17, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

        How do you go about housesitting? Is there a site?

        • Tanner Robinson January 17, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

          Ahh. Trusted Housesitters and Mind My House are jumping out at me. Looks good. I would love to see a comparison post about Workaway, etc. vs Housesitting.

  3. Steph (@20YH) April 27, 2013 at 6:38 am #

    I love how candid and informative this post was! I know so many travelers who feel like they have to volunteer or work while they take their long-term trip, otherwise I suppose they'll feel like they are just being too self-indulgent. We have considered trying out something like WorkAway or HelpX, but I know that in so doing, we'll sacrifice a lot of the flexibility that we have really come to love. I like the idea of really getting under the skin of a place, but I don't think you have to do manual labor to do that. This post definitely gave me a lot to think about, as I'm sure I would experience several of the same pitfalls you did ("guilt complex" is like my middle name!).

    • waysofwanderers April 27, 2013 at 7:59 am #

      Thanks, Steph! You're completely right about the sacrifice in flexibility – and that was something we didn't anticipate when we started work exchanges. We figured that we do a little laundry, wash a few dishes and then go out sightseeing. Then we arrived and realized that we felt seriously wrong about being gone for most of the day, then showing up and saying "So, where's my free dinner?" Our guilt caused us to be pretty housebound in a lot of cases, which is when the whole exchange stopped being worth it for us.

  4. emilylofgren April 27, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    Good post! I've thought about doing a work exchange, but don't have any of those skills. Glad to see your opinion on it. Thanks for your honesty!
    My recent post 6 Easy Ways to Sneak in Exercise

  5. Helen April 29, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    Love! Love! Love this post! In the grand scheme of things me and my other half are considering doing a little volunteering in New Zealand. I totally relate to feeling pressure to work long hours after you should of clocked off, employers, especially small businesses have a knack for this!!! Your pros and cons are definitely food for thought.
    My recent post Arrowtown in Fall

    • waysofwanderers April 29, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

      Thanks so much, Helen! I remember that there were a particularly large number of hosts based in New Zealand/Australia, so it might be easier for you to be selective about finding families with whom you think you'd be compatible. Let me know if you end up doing it! I'd be really interested to hear what kind of experience you have there.

  6. Lauren May 6, 2013 at 8:48 am #

    Great post, thanks for your honest views.

    I've recently started HelpXing and found that my first placement (at an English school in Taiwan) expected 11 hours work a day (their ad didn't say that) 5 days a week which was a shock to the system, and their expectations were very high. I'm on my second placement (renovating a hostel) and loving it – they don't expect an expert and are grateful for the work I'm doing, so I think it's hit and miss.

    One thing I have realised though is that 2 weeks per placement is my limit, so I'm going to move around on that basis and see what happens.
    My recent post A New Vocation in Taiwan

    • waysofwanderers May 6, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

      Thanks, Lauren! You make a good point about the length of the exchange. We tended to stay for about a month with each host, but I think shorter stays are better for most people (and probably would have been for us too!) It's enough time to get to know a host, but not enough time to get sick of each other ;).

  7. Chris.GRRRLTRAVELER May 6, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this, Jess! I was wondering how Help X worked and if travelers had a good experience with this. I'd met a guy in Tokyo who was traveling this way as well… and his experience sounded a bit like yours. Free accommodations was like providing free 9-5 kinda help and then some. Thanks for spelling it out. I think I'd feel the same as you after that experience. I might have walked off earlier.
    My recent post What to do and see in Fukuoka in 24 hours on a shoestring budget

    • waysofwanderers May 7, 2013 at 7:25 am #

      Interesting to hear that you met someone else who feels similarly. We met some volunteers who seemed willing to give themselves over the the host's projects entirely and work endlessly, which kind of made us feel like we were the crazy ones for expecting to have some free time to actually explore the area. Working part-time is giving me way more free time to travel than Workaway and Helpx ever did.

  8. ehiggs88 May 8, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    I've used Helpx for around 5 different placements, in South America, Europe, and Canada, and found my experiences to be really positive. I of course understand what you mean about people throwing in extra duties, working longer hours than you first thought, and the other drawbacks you suggested. However, that just became part ofthe experience to me and I kind of expected it as it's been the same in almost every single volunteer placement. The skills I've learnt haven't been the kind of things I may have thought I would do, but if you really throw yourself into learning all these new things you can use that to your advantage. I've learnt to now go in with a completely open mind and expect the unexpected, and I'm often met with brilliant experiences. (Not that I'm saying you didn't do that of course!! Just a note about my own way of thinking about it) Thanks for sharing though, I think it's useful for people to see both sides of the coin.

    • waysofwanderers May 9, 2013 at 9:37 am #

      Thanks for sharing your experiences. And I think that the way you frame it is totally true: if you really throw yourself into it, then it can definitely be positive. When we were doing exchanges, we were trying to focus on traveling and wanted the volunteering to be secondary. But I think if you're willing to make the exchange itself the priority, then you can really learn a lot.

  9. TammyOnTheMove May 9, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    I have lived in Europe for 30 years and have never heard of this before. Only heard of Whoofing actually. Great idea! It feels more relaxed and homely living with an actual family rather then a hotel I think.
    My recent post Flashback Friday: The time a shaman spat in my face

    • waysofwanderers May 9, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

      It's an interesting concept, isn't it? I think more people have heard of WWOOF than Workaway and Helpx, but they're all based around work exchange. Although with WWOOF, I believe you're guaranteed to be on a farm, whereas the settings for Workaway and Helpx are a little more varied.

  10. monty89 May 10, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

    Thank you for your post, it's great! I am considering the possibility of using Helpx to learn German language while having new experiences. Would you recommend it to me? I've been working in volunteering workcamps before, but never this way.
    And I have another question.. What's better, Helpx or Workaway?

    • waysofwanderers May 11, 2013 at 8:42 am #

      I think that if your goal is language learning then these actually might be good programs for you. I imagine you'd be less concerned about having time off to travel (like I was), and more interested in having conversations with the family – which you would definitely get. As I mentioned in the post, depending on what your skills are, I would just recommend making sure your potential host family understands what kinds of projects you would be able to contribute to, and which you don't have the expertise to do independently. And, as some of the commenters mentioned, I think doing a few shorter exchanges of 1-2 weeks is better than doing one very long one – although that's definitely a personal preference.

      It's free for hosts to register on Workaway and Helpx, so I noticed that many of the same hosts have profiles on both websites – I would definitely say that you only need to sign-up for one of them. The exchange is basically the same – we did about half Helpx and half Workaway for our exchanges, and it never made any difference which website we initially found each host through. You can browse through host profiles for free, so maybe check out both websites, and see which one has more hosts that you think you might want to connect with. Also, I think the registration fee is about 2 Euros cheaper for Helpx.

      Let me know how it goes! Feel free to get in touch if you have any more questions.

  11. Johann the Cabbie July 8, 2013 at 5:56 am #

    Excellent post. I've been traveling Europe for the past year using workaway and wwoof to live. I've loved it until recently when I ended up with an alcoholic host. Fortunately, I had a friend nearby who is putting me up while I search for a new place.

    I'll continue using workaway for the future, as I enjoy some of the cons you mention, and I have the construction and farming skills that many hosts are looking for.
    My recent post Risks of workaway, or boy, I had one hell of a week.

    • waysofwanderers July 9, 2013 at 10:57 am #

      It's fortunate that you were able to find somewhere to go – it's definitely always good to have a back-up plan in case things don't work out with a particular host.

      I'm glad to hear it's been a positive experience for you overall. We met a few other Workawayers with good construction/farming/plumbing skills and they were really enjoying themselves. They had the skills to really make their hosts happy, and the projects fit naturally with their abilities, so it seemed like the ideal situation for everyone.

  12. karmaquinta August 5, 2013 at 7:59 pm #

    Really interesting post. We have just registered with workaway as 'hosts' we could really do with some help. I'd love it if you could be candid, and suggest some tips for how to be a great host. My tendency is to do too much for others . . . so I think I'd probably end up running around after any 'workawayers' – so if you have thoughts on how to make it work . . . that would be great. It did occur to me that privacy could be awkward for both parties. Cheers.

    • waysofwanderers August 6, 2013 at 10:10 am #

      Thanks! It's interesting to think about the exchange from the perspective of a potential host. In many ways, the advice I would give volunteers is the same advice that I would give hosts: Spend some time thinking about what you expect to get out of the exchange and what is your bottom line. Is 25 hrs. of work per week reasonable, or do you want 30-40 hrs. to make it worth your efforts as a host? Are you have happy to feed the volunteers 3 meals a day, or do you expect them to cook for everyone sometimes? Are you willing to train unskilled volunteers or are you hoping to bring in experienced workers who are capable of taking on projects independently? Do you want to play tour guide for your area, or do you want the volunteers to get out on their own and give you some space on their days off?

      I think as long as you have a clear idea of what you want and communicate that to your volunteers, both before and during the exchange, then you'll be a great host. When we had problems with hosts, it always boiled down to a lack of communication. We had some hosts that we didn't feel like we could approach with issues, and in turn, they usually weren't being upfront about what they expected from us. As long as you get a good dialogue going from the initial emails with potential Workawayers, then you almost can't go wrong.

      Feel free to shoot me an email if you have any more questions!

      • karmaquinta August 6, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

        Thanks ever so much for that. It sounds like common sense to me. It seems that it is important to be as clear as possible, upfront, even if it feels like I am stating the obvious – or even re-stating what is on my profile. Better to say it twice, then not at all! I have just replied to an email from a prospective workaway guest, and I have added to my clarification – 'are you happy to work on your own', and 'what are your expectations on your days off'. So that's great . . . Thanks again. :)

        • waysofwanderers August 7, 2013 at 10:21 am #

          Glad I could help! Good luck! Let me know how it turns out :).

  13. Matt August 13, 2013 at 6:47 am #

    I am looking into doing some sort of work exchange as a cheap travel option. You mentioned that you had found other budget travel options that worked better for you, what are some of those approaches?

    • waysofwanderers August 16, 2013 at 9:18 am #

      Teaching English is the main one. It fits better with our skills, plus we earn money and the fixed hours and separate accommodation give us more freedom than work exchanges did. You can even teach online via Skype if you don't want to be locked down to one location. Occasionally, we also find freelance work on sites like fiverr and elance. We've also been utilizing more Couchsurfing, which, for me, feels a lot more low-pressure than work exchanges. Send me an email if you have any more questions!

  14. Downhillfromhere October 8, 2013 at 5:15 am #

    Can I ask what other budget ways of travelling you consider now if not helpx?

    • waysofwanderers October 8, 2013 at 7:37 am #

      Sure! As I mentioned in the above comment, we teach ESL, and I'm also gradually breaking into freelance writing and editing. We're also looking into our first housesit for early next year, which has a lot of the perks of helpxing, but a little more independence.

  15. Naresh Sharma October 13, 2013 at 11:27 pm #

    Hi, thank you for this wonderful post. Very informative. I was wondering if i shud invest in being a member of helpx. I plan to go to San Francisco from India for a month as my girlfriend is studying there and really wants me to come meet her and am more the happy to give my labour to get boarding and food for 24 hrs a week. Do you have any advice? I will be most grateful. Thank you :)

    • waysofwanderers October 14, 2013 at 5:57 am #

      You can browse Helpx hosts for free, so you might want to take a look at the website first and see if there are any hosts in San Francisco that you'd like to stay with. If you find a good match, then you can sign up and contact them.

  16. Jacqueline November 1, 2013 at 1:27 am #

    Awesome article! Our first helpx experience will be teaching English in Thailand so I was looking for some inside perspective.

    We’ve always couchsurfed almost all the time on our trips in South America, Europe, and now 6 months so far in Asia so we were looking for a way to continue saving money but also give a little back in return. There aren’t so many teaching options which are more preferable to us than building fences or planting rice so I was curious how you found teaching jobs and if you have to commit for a whole year?

    • waysofwanderers November 1, 2013 at 8:14 am #

      Check out Dave's ESL Cafe – there are hundreds of teaching jobs from all over the world posted there everyday. Generally you do have to commit to a year, but there are always exceptions.

  17. Anna January 12, 2014 at 6:45 am #

    An interesting read. Thank you for your insight into the other side of the coin. We are hosts and into our 3rd year now and keep on learning . We have found out that the best thing for both sides is to ask lots of questions before deciding. The first year we had over 350 enquiries so now we don't feel we are at pressure to take anyone that we don't feel will enjoy fitting into our lifestyles . We have had bad and good experiences ,learning now if it isn't working to ask the helper to leave .On the other hand we have had wonderful helpers who have been treated to lots of extras and experiences that are above and beyond what is asked of us. 8 course tasting meals at Michelin starred restaurant ,£100 walking boots to take home or a music concert at a stately home .

  18. waysofwanderers January 12, 2014 at 6:58 pm #

    Thanks for your comment, Anna, and I agree – questions are key! I think having a few exchange experiences also helps you realize what those questions are, as you slowly narrow down what works and what doesn't.

  19. The Guy January 29, 2014 at 5:31 am #

    Some good reflections there. Free is definitely my favourite price for anything, especially accommodation. However as you highlight there are trade offs. Mind you I guess with the spirit of the volunteers you'll make some great friends.
    My recent post Hongmei Lu Shanghai – Drinking On The Hongmei Pedestrian Street

    • waysofwanderers January 29, 2014 at 8:05 pm #

      So true! If you're lucky enough to really click with hosts, you can definitely form some amazing friendships.

  20. KaleenasKaleidoscope January 29, 2014 at 4:36 pm #

    Thanks for the honest info! I'm planning a RTW trip next year and looking into various work exchange options so this is some good stuff to keep in mind. I think I could do it for a short period of time but I can see the lack of privacy and blurred line between guest and employee wearing on me after a while. Did you do much WWOOFing? If so, how did the experiences compare? Cheers! :)
    My recent post Cleaning Up the Mess from “Don’t Date a Girl Who Travels”

    • waysofwanderers January 29, 2014 at 8:06 pm #

      We never ended up WWOOFing, but I think the basic arrangement is similar. I think all the programs work well for shorter stays of a few weeks – that way you don't get tired of each other!

  21. Amy February 3, 2014 at 4:34 am #

    Great post! I'm heading off to Europe in April and have been looking into doing some workaway programs as I will be on a bit of a budget. I'm just worried about the visa requirements. Would you mind me asking whether you did the work on a working visa. There seems to be mixed opinions about this issue with some people saying its working illegally and others saying as long as no moneys changing hands its not considered work. I just don't want to run into any trouble! I understand that this is obviously not your area of expertise so I completely understand if you have no idea! Any advice would be great :) Thanks

    • waysofwanderers February 3, 2014 at 6:48 pm #

      Thanks for your comment, Amy! We did all of our work exchanges on tourist visas. That said, I wouldn't mention at borders that you're planning to volunteer in the country (we never did!). Some countries are ok with volunteering, while others are suspicious that money might secretly be changing hands. As far as I know volunteering is legal – immigration is sometimes just concerned that it might be illegal work, instead of genuine volunteering . So, we just said we would be touring/sightseeing to avoid any problems.

  22. Natalie February 8, 2014 at 1:51 am #

    Great post! We were just debating if we wanted to try workaway as both an experience and a way to extend our around-the-world trip by getting free accommodations. It's a tough choice (and we still can't decide) so it's nice to hear some candid information. Thanks!
    My recent post Upstairs Cafe in Siem Reap

  23. Charlie February 15, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

    Really interesting article, thanks for sharing this. I've been thinking about work aways but it's quite difficult to trawl through so many and there are a lot of worries attached as well. Still undecided if my partner and I will actually do it…
    My recent post Picture This: Love & Apples in a Hertfordshire Village

    • waysofwanderers February 15, 2014 at 7:33 pm #

      Definitely! There are hundreds of exchange opportunities on the Workaway website alone. It's kind of exciting that are so many options, but it can be a little overwhelming to go through them all and figure out which ones might work for you.

  24. Oleg February 20, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    Thank you for you great Article and also for all the replies which are all so informative as well! People like you give inspiration!! Now I feel, i know more about the possibility of work exchanges! Hope you don't stop travelling and I just want to wish you well Jessica!

  25. HelpX Host March 4, 2014 at 10:01 pm #

    We have hosted two times through HelpX. We never requested more than 5 hours per day of work, and only asked for 5 days per week. This is an amazing deal for the helper since hotel rooms in our prime urban neighborhood average $300 per night. However, assuming that the guest would do his share without close supervision was a mistake. The first worker was a lovely guy. He followed instructions, asked for help when needed and was meticulously careful. The last guy was horrible. He lied about his skills, submitted references from what we later learned were businesses run by his brother and his friend, didn't follow verbal or written instructions (and English was his first language); didn't do the agreed upon number of hours and damaged our home. We were very disappointed and removed our HelpX listing due to his behavior.

    • waysofwanderers March 5, 2014 at 7:23 am #

      That's too bad. It can be a great arrangement when it works out, but it always comes with a bit of a risk, because how much can you know about a person just from exchanging a few emails?

  26. Montevilla March 7, 2014 at 7:17 pm #

    As a host, I agree with the above post that it can be a double-edge sword. We had great experiences overall, but we did have one that kind of ruined it for us. So the risk goes both ways.

    The other risk is that you as a helper may actually be in an illegal situation if you only have a tourist visa. In Canada where I am, the rules for helpx and workaway are the same as those that apply to wwoofers. On a tourist visa, you can volunteer in exchange for room and board up to 4 weeks at one place. After that, you can move on to another place for another four weeks, up to 6 months total.

    In other countries where this is considered "illegal" (like the US), it might be an idea to pay a token fee to cover your room and board. You could also be more discerning as to what you volunteer for, as workaway and helpx have a much broader scope than wwoofing. Some hosts really are looking for cheap labour and exploit helpx and workaway to these ends.

    Stop for a minute and look past the idyllic description and comments to consider what you are "helping" with. Does it give back, are you truly helping someone with a life goal, or is it simply about making or saving money for someone else?

    Sure it would be great to stay in NYC while you babysit someone's kids a few nights, but is that really the intent behind these websites? I don't think so.

    It's up to you, as a volunteer, to figure out what's best…and legal for you. Don't place yourself in a risky situation where a disgruntled neighbour or laid-off employee could jeopardize your entire trip.

    • waysofwanderers March 9, 2014 at 9:24 am #

      You raise a good point – I initially assumed these exchanges would be legal in all countries because no money was changing hands. Once we looked into it a little further, however, we realized that even volunteering is considered "work" in some countries. It's definitely important to research this kind of thing before committing to an exchange.

  27. Montevilla March 9, 2014 at 11:27 am #

    I was curious as to your conclusion of not doing it again. Would you have done anything differently if you had to do it over? Perhaps mix it up a bit more than you did? Like a few weeks off on your own in-between. Or just plain leaving somewhere in retrospect. As a host, I could never imagine being comfortable enough to fight in front of what we always consider "guests" first and foremost. Maybe that's because we started as couchsurfer hosts (not expecting anything back). When we discovered helpx and workaway, we felt it better met our needs and guests were willing to stay a bit longer. The exchange seemed more genuine and mutually beneficial. The other caveat I would have is not to base your picks solely on positive reviews. Because strangely enough, workaway and helpx are slanted towards positive reviews. If I, as a host, write a negative review for a helper, I can expect one right back. And vice versa. That pretty much raises a red flag for both host and helper. And you may want to consider that a host that has helpers in back-to-back (based on the frequency of reviews) may in fact be using you as cheap labour. Not that you wouldn't enjoy yourself. But it harks back to my point about what you are contributing to as a helper.

    • waysofwanderers March 10, 2014 at 8:31 am #

      I suppose I felt that most exchanges aren't suited to our skills. It seems like the majority of hosts are looking for well-rounded helpers with hands-on skills like gardening, carpentry, or plumbing. We were always willing to help however we could, but our lack of previous experience seemed like a disappointment for many hosts. Frankly, I got discouraged with letting hosts down as a result of not having skills that I never promised to have. I'm sure if I really looked hard, I could find a host who would be happy with what we offer, but it's not something I can see myself bothering to do in the near future.

      You make a good point about the review system. It's nice when a host has reviews, but it's better to base your decision on the feelings you get from the email exchange, rather than on reviews alone.

      • Destiny's Garden March 12, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

        As a host I really appreciate you sharing your experiences. But I must also say that if my helpers offered to do more and I was tired I would assume they really meant they wanted to help. I am one of those hosts who works 12 hour days as a norm, but never would think of asking a volunteer helper to do the same. As far as skills, I have taught each helper I had to do the things that needed to be done, with only one negative experience. I more appreciate someone who is willing to learn and do the work and maybe help with dishes and cleanup after meals than anything else, although some skill sets would be appreciated (never required). We also make our helpers out on the town, sightseeing, etc, and include them in activities like weekend camping trips, parties and movies. It is unfortunate that at times cultural differences can play into a less than enjoyable experience with HelpX or workaway(which sounds like it may have been part of the problem?), but overall I think most hosts are genuine and really appreciate the help more than you know. I know that for many people it poses a strain to have guests for long periods of time – that’s something we learned at the beginning but weren’t expecting. Our first helper ended up staying with us nearly two months total. As a very small family run urban farm, we quickly realized that stays of about three weeks or so were best for us with a short break in between. I get very attached to our helpers… Nearly every one has become family. Don’t get me wrong, our helpers don’t spend 24/7 by our sides… They explore nearby areas on foot, public transport or our bikes, or we drive them there with plans to pick up later. Guess I just felt like sharing because there are many of us using help exchange sites as a fair exchange, would never think of taking advantage of our guests, and really do our best to follow through with what we claim at the onset. Again, thanks for sharing. I will be keeping your experiences in mind when our helpers start arriving in a few weeks. Safe and happy travels!

        • waysofwanderers March 12, 2014 at 6:28 pm #

          Thanks for your thoughts. I agree, I don't think most hosts were trying to take advantage of us – we were equally at fault for not communicating well enough. The bottom line was they weren't expressive enough about what they wanted from us, and likewise, we weren't expressive enough about our concerns and needs. At the time we were intimidated and inexperienced, and if I were to do it again, I'd make sure the expectations were clear both before (when we're emailing back and forth) and during the exchange. A few of our hosts took us out sightseeing etc., as you do, and we really appreciated it. Many others didn't, which was kind of disappointing, since I feel like being introduced to your hosts' community is an unspoken part of the exchange.

  28. tom March 25, 2014 at 12:12 am #

    You should try the free alternative where volunteers don't need to pay a membership to contact hosts :) http://www.volunteersbase.com is new but it has future!

    • waysofwanderers March 25, 2014 at 1:20 am #

      Nice tip!

    • Montevilla March 25, 2014 at 9:31 am #

      That's nice, but as a host I would be leary to subscribe to a site that does not verify helpers in any way. Paying something leaves a trail that keeps subscribers honest in my mind. Even on couchsurfing which is also free (to a point), there is a verification process. Nice idea, but it needs to step up the security aspect.

      • waysofwanderers March 25, 2014 at 8:05 pm #

        Good follow-up point. I hadn't thought about it, but the verification process on workaway, helpx, and couchsurfing definitely adds to peace of mind.

  29. purplewaterhaven July 10, 2014 at 11:00 pm #

    wow thank you so much for this post! It was soooo informative. Now I'm really considering doing this, maybe with a travel buddy. I'm about to be a junior in college and am trying to figure out which direction to go in when I graduate. I was thinking about teaching in korea or somewhere, but this sounds like so much more fun. I think it's great to learn new skills, and i'm sure will be very beneficial on a resume. It's like free work experience…of course i'd need start up money first though. Thanks again! I'm gonna tip toe around this blog now :)

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