Life

Workaways: How to travel the world without spending a penny

So-called workaways are a great way to travel for cheap, get an authentic insight into your destination and make life-long connections

people constructing a timber frame

Building huts i the jungle. Image: Supplied

If someone had told me a year ago I would be building huts in the jungle, swimming with sea turtles in the Caribbean and learning craft and cuisine from an Indigenous gender nonconforming community while not paying a single penny, I wouldn’t have believed it.

I found out about workaway when I didn’t have much cash in the bank and wanted to experience something different from staying in hotels while travelling solo. I was craving meaningful connections with people and places, so when I saw the wealth of opportunities out there, I was astounded at what I had just stumbled on.

With the rise of eco-sustainable travelling, workaways are a feasible way forward: by staying with local communities and families, you decrease the demand for holiday lets, and by helping on local projects you contribute positively to the area you are visiting while making long-lasting connections. 

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It’s true, you need to give your time and energy in exchange, which is not suitable for every trip, but I think it’s worth considering if you are staying in a place for a longer period of time.

Workaways are often associated with voluntourism opportunities, but the two are very different. Voluntourism is supported by international charities or travel agencies, who charge participants fees before they even board the plane. There is no way to track the hard-earned money you spent to see if it ever reached the communities, and even when you go and help, a lot of the time it ends up being counter-productive.

Workawaying has no middle man. Families and communities advertise what they need on digital platforms open to workawayers, and they personally choose who they want to host based on their skills and passions.

I used workaway.info as my main platform, which is globally recognised and has strict safeguarding policies in place for travellers.

Planning a workaway requires some budgeting and some working, but it allows you to save a lot of money in the long run and experience the place like a local. 

Having spent six months on the road, I’ve gathered the ultimate planning advice to begin making your workaway dreams come true.

Planning and budgeting successfully

The first key step is deciding how long you want to be on the road for, roughly where in the world, and to measure it against the amount of money you can spend.

For example: I knew I had roughly £1,500 and six months in Mexico, where everyday life is much cheaper than in the UK, but a plane ticket is a big expense. 

To use my funds wisely, I planned between three and four workaway experiences in different places, each lasting from two weeks to a month and a half, so I could spend my money on transportation (bus tickets £20-£40 each way) and save on accommodation and a few meals.

My tip is to nail the ‘big’ tickets – planes, trains, buses, hostels – in advance, and leave the small expenses for later.

Always make plans based on your circumstances, and think flexibly – have a rainy-day fund, and travel insurance to make your trip more stress-free. 

Choosing the right project 

Based on my plans, it made sense for me to look for projects which had accommodation, and possibly one meal covered per day, in exchange for… Well, cool things to do!

The project page will always tell you:

1. Who your host is – a family, a couple, expats or locals, a single dad with kids, a whole village, you name it.

2. What type of activities they want you to get involved in: language exchange, cooking and tidying, general maintenance, building and DIY, or animal care, babysitting, etc.

3. What commitment is expected of you – this is never more than four or five hours a day.

4. What is given in exchange – including where you’ll stay, if accommodation is part of the deal. This can be a spare room, a hut or tiny house, or even a hammock on the beach if you are adventurous, and if any meals are included per day.

Reaching out to projects

When you select the projects you’re interested in, it’s time to reflect on how you meet the criteria. When reaching out, tell them a bit about yourself. 

Why have you chosen this part of the world? Are you learning a new language or teaching your own? Do you have experience with the activity they request? What do you love about their project?

Reach out to two or three projects for each location to avoid disappointment.

Everyone can and should do it

Workawaying is ideal for those travelling solo or in pairs. When in a group it gets slightly more complicated, usually because most (not all) projects are looking for three or four people in any given period of time. 

You will be given agency in what you can and want to do, and you are ultimately in charge of the impact you make when you leave the place to go back home. On top of that, you will become part of a global community with people from different backgrounds, sharing this exact mission.

Rory Buccheri is a member of The Big Issue’s Breakthrough programme.

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