Be Specific About Your Skills
When Brent and I began helpxing, I barely knew a screwdriver from a wrench, which came as quite an unpleasant surprise to a few of our hosts. When you register on workaway or helpx, you create a helper profile in which you outline your skills and experience; however, don’t rely on your profile alone to give your potential hosts a clear picture of what you can do for them. Make sure you understand exactly what tasks a host has in mind for you, and what skills those tasks will require. Unless you’re an all-around handyperson extraordinaire, don’t just agree to “help out with a few projects”. Ask your hosts if they expect to teach you, or whether they need someone who can already work independently. Before you commit, be certain that your skills match up with your hosts’ expectations.
Make Sure 25 hrs. Means 25 hrs.
This was the biggest source of stress during our 9 months of helpxing. We figured that 25 hrs. of work per week would leave us with plenty of time for touring. And it probably would have…if we actually ended up working for only 25 hrs. Many hosts think of 25 hrs. as an absolute minimum, and we often felt an unspoken pressure to put in extra time in order to show our gratitude. In addition, the unclear boundaries between “on” and “off” time left us feeling guilty and conflicted during our free time. Discuss which days you will have free and what the structure of your “work days” will look like. Put in your best effort during your work time, and then don’t be afraid to enjoy your free time. You’ve earned it.
In general, the travelers who seem the most satisfied with their helpx experiences participate in an exchange for a week or two, and then travel independently for a few weeks. Work exchanges can be combined with independent backpacking to extend your stay in a particular region and get to know a community better; to provide a change of environment from hostels; or to give your budget a break. Back-to-back exchanges tend to take a harder physical and emotional toll.
Know the Region
It was impossible for me to imagine when I was day-dreaming at home in Canada, but, as it turns out, there are actually boring places in France. In some places, you could go for days without seeing anyone besides your host. This is perfect if you’re hoping to escape from the city, but if you’re hoping to sightsee, it might come as a bit of a disappointment. When considering an exchange, research the local attractions, and consider if the area can provide the kind of experience you want to have. Some hosts are willing to lend vehicles to helpers, or provide drop-offs at train/bus stations. It’s a good idea to look into what kind of public transport is available if you plan to visit any neighbouring cities.
Work exchanges reduce travel expenses and provide the unique experience of living and working with local families. We stayed with many fantastic hosts who genuinely wanted to share their homes and their countries with us. However, in an exchange where you are part-employee/part-guest, it’s important to communicate well with your hosts both before and during the exchange, and to have a clear idea of what you’re willing to contribute.
Have you ever participated in a work exchange? Leave a comment and tell me about your experience.