Travel on the Cheap Through Work or Help Exchange Networks
Working for your keep isn’t a new way to save money on our travels but in the last decade numerous work exchange networks have sprung up to help connect hosts and helpers – though some have since disappeared. We list some of them on every country page of Free (or Cheap) Volunteer Work Abroad but there are many more to choose from, some offering a free service, others narrowing their focus to a particular activity or region.
For those that aren’t familiar with the concept cash strapped travellers hoping to stay on the road for longer spend time and sweat rather than hard cash for food and a bed for the night, while hosts cut wage costs by sticking a stranger in the spare room.
While put like this it can sound a little exploitative, work exchanges are an ideal way for small projects to grow when they otherwise couldn’t afford to pay for help. Work exchanges are often centred on alternative lifestyles and hosts can be just as keen to exchange ideas, skills and experience as they are to benefit from the practicalities of an extra pair of hands. Many a project was conceived when the now host helped on someone else’s dream.
Membership: €34 for one year or €44 for couples
HelpStay provides a highly vetted and trustworthy online community where Helpers can connect with Hosts to find a safe stay, that suits their skills and interests for giving back, and to travel the world on a limited budget. As a member of the HelpStay community, you will have unlimited access to 1000+ volunteer opportunities in over 100 countries. Not only can you contact hosts through their safe and secure platform, you can also connect with like minded travellers, dreamers and explorers.
Membership: It’s free to join but a $10 service fee applies once a stay between a host and a volunteer has been established.
This general purpose help exchange network’s unique selling point is a chance to use the site without paying until a deal has been struck with a host. The site continues to grow: a quick seach in Thailand found over 50 hosts and overall Hovos has a couple of thousand hosts and around 15000 volunteers using the site.
Membership: To apply for trips, it’s $49 for one year and six months. There is also an advanced plan for $99 with additional membership benefits.
Initially concentrating on volunteering for hostels worldwide, Worldpackers has expanded considerably past the critical mass of hosts and helpers needed to be worth joining, and now oversees a slick operation involved with a wide range of work exchange options, plus volunteering with NGOs. There is a lot going on with the interface and all the bells and whistles and icons can make it all a little confusing at times but things get simpler once you spot the ‘Learn more’ links on the right hand side of each listing. A great feature is narrowing down hosts by selecting your best skill: cleaning, nightshift, tour guide, social media, etc, and Worldpackers’ decision to invest in smartphone apps helps the platform to stand out from an increasingly crowded field.
Membership: varies from country to country.
Exchanging work for food and lodging began as an organised concept in 1971 when Sue Coppard arranged a trial weekend for herself and three other Londoners on an organic farm in East Sussex. Other organic farms got in touch to offer their hospitality to volunteers and World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms has since grown into a global phenomenon with over 6,000 hosts in 100 countries. Each national group is independently owned and operated with its own set of rules and membership of one group doesn’t transfer to others.
Membership: €20 for two years.
While it was founded in 2001, much of the work in establishing HelpX as WWOOF’s first serious rival occurred a couple of years later when founder Rob Prince was injured and left housebound in a paragliding accident. Australia and New Zealand, the scene of Rob’s own working for accommodation experiences, are particularly well represented, as is Europe. Listings can be read for free with more details revealed on free registration, but premier membership is required in order to view contact details, weblinks and complete reviews. Designwise, the site is showing its age compared to newer networks, but HelpX remains a heavyweight in its field with thousands of hosts to choose from.
Membership: €39 for one year or €49 for a couple or two friends.
Workaway has grown into a substantial and slick network since its beginnings in 2003. Like HelpX, Workaway took work exchanges beyond organic farms and today matches volunteers with thousands of hosts ranging from family homes to ranches and sail boats. The joy of navigating this site is in the suggestive sidebars: dipping in for a moment for a specific search can quickly lead to getting lost for hours in a virtual volunteering journey around the globe via castles in the Loire Valley, house restoration in Chile or helping to develop a self-sufficient community in the jungles of Peru.
Membership: There are four membership options, from £10 to £25 for two years, each granting additional privileges.
Though I wouldn’t quite class VLA as a work exchange site it has enough similarities to merit inclusion here. After paying for membership users of the site have full access to the hundreds of listed projects, including many opportunities to volunteer for free in the region. Unlike other networks the projects here tend to be NGOs rather than individual hosts. The same people have a similar setups for Thailand.
Membership: Free until you wish to post references to your profile, then €10 a year. People who don’t think they fit into the typical traveller mold and want to look for professional work can join for €100 a year.
How could we forget Working Traveller, a network with the same name (but otherwise no connection) as our blog who registered their domain name just before us, leaving our URL a many-hyphened-thing. It took a while before they launched but Working Traveller has since quickly grown into a social network matching thousands of work placements around the world with travellers looking for work experience. There’s a noticeable career ethos present, with the great, good and no good – on both sides of the table – filtered by a handshake reference system similar to that used by ebay.
Developing a small piece of land in a Chinese region popular with backpackers gave Leopold Huber and his wife the idea to help travellers save money by, in turn, helping them out. Now, along with growing vegetables and potatoes in Guilin, Leopold is growing this site into a global work exchange platform. Despite still being quite new there are now quite a few listings on Hippohelp. A map interface navigates users around the site to find and connect with hosts.
VB promotes itself as a free alternative to HelpX, WWOOF, WorkAway and similar websites, and, in the years since it begun, seems to be ticking along quite nicely as a simple to use website with a good number of hosts and volunteers.
Membership: Beginning at $36 for one year or $48 for two years.
Yoga Trade links yoga instructors, students, and wellness professionals with work trade and job opportunities around the world. A handful of roles are listed everyday, but considering the niche we wouldn’t expect too many more.
Unlike other work exchange sites, Staydu combines a little bit of Couchsurfing by allowing travellers to simply stay somewhere for free. The site can also be used to find paid work. Over 15,000 members use the service to hook up with 3000 hosts.
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Prices are correct at the time or writing but may change.
Image courtesy Ängsbacka