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Work Exchanges: What I Wish I Had Known

Posted By in Volunteer Abroad, What I've Learned | 7 comments

Work Exchanges: What I Wish I Had Known
Work Exchange websites like workaway, helpx, and wwoof, connect travelers with hosts who are willing to provide food and housing in exchange for 25 hrs. of volunteer work per week. Sounds like a fantastic deal, right? These exchanges can provide an amazing opportunity to experience life like a local anywhere in the world, if you know how to avoid a few potential pitfalls.
work exchanges: helpx, workaway

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.

work exchanges: helpx, workaway

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.

Take Breaks

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.

work exchanges: helpx, workaway

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.


  1. Robert July 31, 2013

    Very helpful and informative! My girlfriend, and I, are on our second WWOOFing commitment right now and are looking into HelpX and Workaway. After reading one of your other articles about whether or not you would do it again I have been attempting to research more in depth. I remember reading (in the other article) about how you would not do this again, even though you had some good experiences, because you now know of other ways to travel that are better for your time and money. What are your secrets?!?!? Haha…but seriously. Is there another article I haven't read yet that delves further into what you were alluding to??? As we have less than a week to figure out our next stop(s) from Tuscany, anything and everything will be greatly appreciated! Thanks for all of the amazing insight; I'll find your facebook page ASAP.

    • waysofwanderers August 2, 2013

      Thanks, Robert! I'm really glad you found the articles helpful. We've mostly been teaching ESL since we stopped Workawaying. There are plenty of opportunities all over the world, and for us, the skills come more naturally than Workawaying did. Check out "Teach English" under the "Live Abroad" tab on the homepage, if you're interested in more info on how to get started. Or, we haven't tried it ourselves, but I know a lot of travelers who have had good experiences with housesitting. Feel free to email me if you have any questions!

  2. Angela August 15, 2013

    We were thinking about doing this a few weeks ago. But plans changed, as they always do. I will remember these tips for when we maybe someday decide to do it anyway.
    How much did you guys like it?
    My recent post Travelogue // 03: Inspiration

    • waysofwanderers August 16, 2013

      It varied hugely from host to host. We really got along well with some, and not so well with others. We're pretty easy-going people, so I thought that we'd be able to click with anyone – but that wasn't the case. It's kind of a crapshoot that way, unfortunately.

  3. @cynthj January 30, 2014

    Just found your blog, hello! I have highly enjoyed my Helpx experiences so far (1.5 months around Scotland) and even got my mom involved as a host! I am considering going out on the road again in 2015 for a much longer period, so I considered these tips of yours very valuable to know– thank you 🙂 My biggest problem with Helpxing is when a host is not clear on what exactly it is they want you to do for your job which lead to one sort of negative experience. Had you ever had an issue like that?
    My recent post czech eats + winter lately

    • waysofwanderers January 30, 2014

      Thanks for stopping by! And definitely! If I were to do it over again, I would exchange more detailed emails beforehand until I felt like I understood exactly what my tasks would be. There's nothing worse then arriving and finding out that the tasks are either outside your skill set, or just plain unclear.

  4. Renārs November 2, 2017

    Back in 2014 or so I workwaway’ed for a week in the south of India. One of the hosts was an American snake guru and his wife (an Indian) was the business part of the family as it seemed to me. Regardless, they had some Nepalese workers (paid) and were completely dissatisfied that I would contribute the 5 hours agreed at odd times. While I thought this was completely reasonable as the work was voluntary and definitely much more than a small room and the same meal over and over again (Indians and Nepalese don’t mind). They were quite impolite about the free time as well. All in all the short stay ended abruptly and they even called the police on me while I was in train for the next big city. Their reasoning was that I had to return the SIM card I got (for my own money on my own name) because of filling out their address as proof of residence (required by local law). This experience ruined my whole outlook of the country and quite soon after I left it.

    It’s been a little while since I’ve last traveled, but soon I plan to have another, more serious go at it. This time to South America. ESL is what I’m aiming for income, while also consider staying at permaculture projects and such. Currently studying for an ESL Bachelor’s but the level is not as high as I’d hoped, making me skeptic about it’s relevance regarding teaching English in developing countries. Would you guys have an opinion in this regard?

    Thanks for sharing your story and looking forward to further developments.

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