A Solo Female Traveler's Adventures with Workaway
Travel has a reputation for being expensive – many people say that money is the number one thing holding them back from long-term travel. As a long-term budget traveler I can tell you first-hand, travel doesn’t have to break the bank!
Plenty of women are finding creative ways to extend their travel budget by not paying for accommodations. House sitting, pet sitting and volunteer exchange are some of the most common ways travelers sleep for free. In addition, these opportunities promote cultural exchange and provide unique, local travel experiences that are a bit off the beaten path.
For me, volunteer exchange, specifically with Workaway, has been a great way to meet people, share my skills, and save some money on the road as a solo female traveler.
What is a Volunteer Exchange?
Volunteer work exchange is where you agree to work a set number of hours per day in exchange for accommodation and sometimes meals.
The oldest and perhaps the most famous volunteer exchange program is WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or WWOOF. Also known as WWOOFing, these exchanges take place on organic farms around the world and support the global sustainable food movement.
If experiencing life as a farmer isn’t your thing, there are other options out there for free volunteer exchange. Workaway is the biggest online portal for finding and hosting volunteer work exchange opportunities around the world. Available in over 170 countries! HelpStay and HelpX are similar sites that list free volunteer opportunities for gap year students and other travelers.
Is Workaway Safe?
One of the first things solo women travelers think about when they plan to jet off on an adventure is if they’ll feel safe and comfortable. Whether it’s backpacking through Europe, trekking in Asia, lounging on a beach in a tropical location, or participating in a volunteer work exchange, researching safety concerns is a part of the planning process for women who love to explore the world on their own.
Traveling solo is also a fantastic way to immerse yourself in a new culture and meet people. If you’d like to get a deeper understanding of a country and live like a local, a Workaway experience might be for you. Before applying for an opportunity with this exchange program, read on to learn how to get answers to your burning question, “is Workaway safe?”
As you look through the tons of assignments posted by hosts on Workaway’s website, scroll to the review section at the bottom to take a look at comments left within the past six months from solo women travelers who’ve stayed with your prospective host. The feedback shared by previous volunteers should help ease any concerns you have about feeling safe during a Workaway experience.
Along with looking through Workaway reviews from previous single women who’ve taken a volunteer exchange assignment that you’re interested in, feel free to ask the host to share some of their references too.
Aside from doing diligence by scoping out a Workaway review or two, ask former volunteers in Facebook groups such as She Hit Refresh how about their comfort and safety during their work exchange assignment. By chatting with other single women travelers who’ve done what you’re considering doing, you’ll feel more confident and secure before you set off on your adventure.
In addition to taking these actions, visit Workaway’s safety page to learn more about the company’s procedures and guidelines to ensure you have a positive volunteer work holiday.
If you’re in Europe for your Workaway experience and feeling like you want to stay indefinitely, learn more about the 17 easiest countries you can move to in the digital book I’m Outta Here! An America’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe.
How does Workaway work?
On Workaway, interested volunteers can browse host profiles and work opportunities without signing up. To contact hosts and set up Workaway stays, you’ll need to sign up for an annual membership (see next section for pricing).
Create a Workaway profile
Once you sign up you’ll create a profile including:
- Destinations (for a planned trip or for where you want to go)
- Dates (if your travel is open-ended, just choose a random end date far into the future)
- Type of help (what kinds of work are you willing to do?)
- Languages – Protip: being a native English speaker is helpful
- Smoker or non
- Do you have a car license?
- Dietary requirements
- Plus a “What else” category.
Browse Workaway hosts
Host profiles are similar to yours and include a name, picture, description, type of help they need, languages spoken, etc. All the important information you need is there, such as number of working hours expected, minimum length of stay, details (including photos!) of the accommodations provided, info regarding WiFi, smoking, pets, and of course feedback from other volunteers.
Host profiles contain a photo gallery with pictures of the family or host, the property, your accommodation, and sometimes photos of the work you’ll be doing in action. You’ll also find a calendar showing when the hosts are in need of volunteers.
Each host also has a rating. The rating is calculated based on feedback as well as how active and responsive the host is. It’s true, there are a lot of hosts who don’t seem to check their emails or respond quickly to stay requests. So look for hosts with a good response rate.
You can browse all available hosts, or filter by where you want to go and what you want to do. So you want to teach in Turkey? You can easily narrow down to the 47 hosts in Turkey who offer this kind of work.
Book a Workaway Stay
When you find a fitting opportunity, you can reach out to the host directly. Introduce yourself and why you’re interested in their particular exchange. Then suggest some dates to come and volunteer. Confirm your meeting or pickup spot, date, length of stay, and any special accommodations you might need. Exchange numbers so that you can text or What’sApp if anything happens while you’re trying to meet up.
When you create a membership, your profile becomes searchable as a volunteer by hosts. Therefore, I also had a lot of people contact me out of the blue and offer to have me stay. Either way, once you’re in contact with a potential host you just work out the details with them directly.
It’s up to you to vet the host by looking at their profile description and photos, feedback from other Workawayers, and the general vibe you get from communicating with them. You can also reach out to past volunteers for more info.
Workaway Pricing and Costs
As of July 2021, Workaway cost $44 a year for a single person to register as a volunteer. On the other hand, the Workaway price for a couple is $56 for two. With an annual membership, Workaway volunteers get access to the extensive listings of unique international opportunities like farming in remote areas, helping families out with childcare, and teaching English as a Second Language.
While the price to join Workaway is relatively reasonable, there are many other expenses to consider when you decide to take part in this volunteer exchange program. Following is a snapshot of some of the other Workaway costs to keep in mind when applying for an assignment.
Airfare: Obviously, if you’re already in the country that your upcoming Workaway experience is in, the price for a plane ticket will be less than if you’re traveling from another part of the world. However, if you have a long trip to get to where you’d like to volunteer, make sure to budget accordingly.
Health Insurance: If your private plan doesn’t cover working holidays, it’s a good idea to take out a policy that’ll protect you during your Workaway experience. Although health insurance isn’t included in the Workaway price, the company does offer a World Nomads Explorer Plan.
Food and Transportation: Even though hosts typically provide some meals, be prepared to do your own grocery shopping. Pending where you’re living, make sure to also have money on hand to pay for public transportation or a cab. It’s a good idea to bring extra cash for emergencies too.
As you can see, the Workaway price is so much more than an annual membership. However, it goes without saying that the experiences you’ll have as a volunteer work exchange participant will outweigh the Workaway cost.
If you’re looking to tighten up your budget so that you can keep your expenses down, ask a friend or family member to give you a membership as a gift. And, if you’ll like some ideas on how to keep Workaway cost low by lowering your airfare, take a listen to this She Hit Refresh podcast episode: Fly for Free: How to Start Travel Hacking with Lisette Austin.
What You’ll Do on a Workaway
With Workaway you can do almost anything under the sun. Settings are extremely diverse from orphanages, hostels, dive centers, olive groves, farms and wineries to private homes and everything in between.
The types of work you can do are also wildly diverse, giving you a chance to use your unique skills or learn new ones! If you want to do gardening and outdoor work, offer childcare, teach English, or work in tourism, you will have zero problems finding a stay, as these are super common. But you can also put your marketing and computer skills to work, or countless other things. Use the filters on the search page to help you find the perfect match.
The average work commitment is 4 hours per day, 5 days per week. It can be more or less, though, so be sure to read your host profile carefully (and confirm with them) before committing to a stay.
What You’ll Receive on a Workaway
What you’ll receive in exchange for your services also varies a great deal.
Accommodation ranges from private room, shared room, camping, a bed in a hostel dormitory, and so on. You’ll have better luck finding a host if you’re flexible, but it’s also important to be honest with yourself about what you need.
You may receive anywhere from 1-3 meals per day or have access to a kitchen for cooking. This should also be explicitly stated on the host profile.
Workaway Review and Experience
For my first Workaway stay I joined a Russian family who has been living in Buljarica, Montenegro for almost 3 years. Buljarica is a tiny village about a half hour south of Budva, right on the coast. The “village” consisted of a few scattered houses, a monastery, a few restaurants, a camping place, and a beach.
The family I lived with consisted of parents Ben and Svetlana, and sons Dan (12) and Teo (3). The family’s oldest daughter Valla (21) also lives nearby in Petrovac. Ben and Svetlana own a business together and travel the world while homeschooling the boys. I knew from their profile that they had previously spent a year as Workaway volunteers, so I was confident that they would know exactly how to provide a great Workaway experience for me.
I stayed for 10 days and the whole family was very welcoming to me. When I arrived in Petrovac, Ben and Teo were waiting at the bus station to pick me up. I spent that first day just getting to know the family, the home and the area a bit. Dan took me on a walk through the footpaths behind his house to the monastery. Later they took me into town to see the beach and where some basic stores and amenities were. We also talked about the work and my schedule for the 10 days.
More About My Daily Workaway Experience
- Play with Teo and speak English with him. Our favorite games were dinosaur races, playing with the hose, soccer, and throwing rocks.
- Help Dan with his English lessons and create study projects for him. We decided to learn about the U.S. states and capitals and talked about American history. He taught me some Russian history too.
- Paint the garage with Dan’s help.
My schedule was 4 hours/day, five days/week.
My Workaway Review
Of course, Workaway experience(s) may vary, but many times you will get far more in return than you give, especially if you count the relationships you form.
- Room and board. In my case, the accommodation was a garage apartment with its own entrance and private bathroom. They also fed me – really well! I shared three meals a day and had full access to the kitchen for snacks or cooking.
They were very welcoming, told me to help myself to anything I wanted or needed, to let them know if I needed something, and to feel at home. They asked me lots of questions about my background and travels and I did the same. In a few days we were friends.
- Transport from the bus station and to my train upon departure. This is not required of hosts but I think it’s pretty common.
On your free days, many hosts are willing to take you exploring or at least help you plan something. Dan and I went on an epic 20+ km hike on my day off. It was very remote and definitely an experience I would not have dared on my own!
- Ben did my laundry and sent me off to my train with a care package of mixed berries to snack on. Now that’s just nice and another highlight of my Workaway review!
Benefits of Volunteer Exchange with Workaway
With Workaway, you’ll undoubtedly get a more authentic experience. Your hosts will likely know the area and have some hidden gems to share with you. You’ll see and do things that you might not see and do as a tourist. And staying in one place longer lets you know the community better, it’s cost-effective, and it’s friendlier to the environment.
I absolutely love traveling solo. But the companionship and support from a family was a nice break from the grind of travel. There are so many inspiring stories on the Workaway platform about the great friendships people have made.
Whether you’re helping a family achieve their goals or helping a small business grow, you’re giving back to the community. There are some really inspiring opportunities on the site, like this one working in a school for orphans in Ghana.
Downsides of Volunteer Exchange with Workaway
Of course, there are some downsides. You may have to share a room or a bathroom. You may have to get a little bit dirty and you do have to spend some of your travel time working. But for many Workawayers, that’s part of the experience!
Many hosts require at least 2 weeks stay, which means you may not be able to do this on shorter trips.
As a solo business owner who travels and works remotely, my biggest challenge was managing my own work demands while still fulfilling my Workaway commitment. I was upfront with the family about my situation and luckily they were very flexible and understanding about it. Basically, it just meant I had less time to explore the area after my volunteer work was done for the day. It made for busy days, but it was awesome!
It can be a bit intense walking into a strange home or business and becoming a part of their daily routine. At first I was a little nervous and not sure what their expectations were, but I just tried to show that I was open, friendly and willing to help out.
It was difficult for me, and I suspect it’s similar for many women, to receive so much at one time, especially from strangers. I knew I would be giving something back, but not having done it yet and being given the world was a little bit jarring. In a good way! There are nice people in the world.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Workaway just for students?
It’s not just for students! Besides that fact that I’m an almost 40-year-old woman who recently tried it for the first time (not my last), check out this guy who swapped retirement for a lifetime of travel adventures with Workaway!
How long does a volunteer exchange last?
It depends. While there’s no official minimum or maximum, many hosts require at least a few weeks. There also seems to be lots flexibility to extend your stay if things are working out for both parties.
Can I volunteer with a partner?
Yes you can! Couple accounts are made for friends, couples or families who always travel and apply to hosts together. Or you can sign up as individuals and then link your profiles together so hosts know you are traveling together for a specific time period.
Tips for a Great Workaway Experience
You can check out this Workaway’s own tips, but here are some thoughts from my own experience.
The whole point of Workaway is meeting new people from other cultures, and I believe that’s true for both hosts and volunteers! So I imagine they will welcome you with open arms and want to respect your cultural values as much as you want to respect theirs.
Make your needs known.
If you don’t eat something, don’t be ashamed to say it, politely. And if you need something, don’t be afraid to ask. Politely, of course.
Be honest with yourself.
Before signing on for a stay, get real with yourself about what type of accommodations (including wifi, bathrooms, smoking vs non, etc) you need and what you’re willing to give. Understand that this won’t be 100% percent “your time” and know that it could be a mixed bag! But if you go in with an open mind, you’ll most likely have an awesome (and possibly even life-changing) experience.
Finally, be ready to work.