ALTERNATIVE TRAVEL: WHAT IS A WORK EXCHANGE
Work exchanges are an interesting way to travel and experience an exotic destination while keeping costs to a minimum because essentially you work in exchange for meals and accommodation.
Two summers ago, I did two work exchanges in Italy which you can read all about here. I loved it. I ate delicious food, got really fit, learned a lot about organic farming and cooking (both were goals) and explored two gorgeous regions I’m not sure I would have if I hadn’t volunteered in them.
There are a few different organisations that facilitate work exchanges and make them possible. Some of them are region specific, allowing travellers to find seasonal work such as fruit picking but the bigger players are WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), Helpx and Workaway which are international networks.
WWOOF is where it all began, an organisation that has allowed travellers to find volunteer opportunities on organic farms with thousands of hosts in countries across the world for decades now. Individuals, couples and groups may volunteer for a short period of time such as one or two weeks to several months and even years depending on the host.
However WWOOF is directory based and made up of several independent organisations each requiring individual membership.
I have heard of people having both positive and negative experiences with WWOOF and have not used it myself simply because I find it a bit dated. You pay a membership fee for each country which quickly adds up if you’re keen on doing work exchanges in several, and they offer you a directory of available farms. Members have to essentially scan a text based document and contact the host with the description and/or location they find most appealing.
The directory isn’t updated in real time and does not offer multimedia and references, which to me was indispensable.
Helpx and Workaway
The websites helpx and Workaway are similar in that they list opportunities for work exchanges around the world but are not restricted to farms and gardens, and volunteers can find work in hostels, bed and breakfasts or small establishments, schools and community centres, communes, lodges, stables and even on boats.
I used helpx but some of the other helpers at my farms had used Workaway. Many hosts use both sites simultaneously to increase their chances of finding willing workers.
Unlike WWOOF the two websites have a flat membership fee worldwide and allow hosts and volunteers full control to create their own in-depth profiles and update their listings with pictures or videos. Workaway has a more user friendly interface, but helpx has maps which are very useful when planning. Additionally both parties can leave references for one another on both sites making them the favoured choices for work exchanges.
Workaway is US $29 for a single person, and US $38 for a couple or two friends, while helpx is 20 euros for everyone. Memberships on both sites last two years and are easily worth the joining fees.
The only piece of advice I'd offer to somebody interested in a work exchange is to figure out your arrangement before you go. Verify how many hours a day you will need to work and outline what tasks you will be expected to complete and decide if you are happy with that. The standard arrangement is supposed to be 4-5 hours a day in exchange for board though I know not many hosts adhere to that. Also know that you will most likely share in regular household chores as most of these farms or small businesses are family affairs.
This post is the first in my series on Alternative Travel. My next post will address why you should do a work exchange.
Image: Cheese making at an organic farm in Italy.