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Best Work Exchange Site for Travelers

So you want to travel the world?

Maybe funds are a little tight. Maybe you want to travel long term and are looking for ways to cut a few costs. Maybe you have some skills you can gain from. Maybe you want to learn something new and interesting. Maybe you are looking for an experience of a lifetime.  Are you familiar with the concept of working for board? If not, prepare to have your mind blown.

Work Exchange

Work for board is pretty simple. You work, and in return for your work are given a free place to sleep, and depending on the particular gig, you could be offered free food as well.

So this isn’t technically a job (like teaching English, or specifically teaching English in Hong Kong). And this isn’t technically a volunteer gig. It’s in a gray area in between.

In essence, finding work that pays money while traveling can range anywhere from easy to difficult. But finding work that pays in free lodging and food (ie work exchange programs) can be found all over the world, and very easily. Work exchange programs are a very popular concept, and there are hundreds of thousands of opportunities spanning the entire globe that will give you the chance to save some dough and have a really cool experience.

MatadorNetwork contributor Rebecca Bellan said that while work-exchanging in Ecuador “(she) saved an average of $300 , which (she) spent on kite surfing lessons, and got to feast on breakfast burritos and stuffed french toast every morning.” Not a bad life.

What type of work are you expected to do? It’s a long and diverse list. Farms, ranches, odd jobs, handyman jobs, hostels, B&B’s, language instructors, and so much more. These gigs provide clear expectations from their volunteers, ranging from work hours per day/week, job requirements, food options, and everything else.

Most of the time, you will be asked for around 20-30 hours of work a week. Sometimes the host will provide a private room, sometimes travelers prefer to pitch a tent, or sometimes (like my time working in Portugal) the host will provide a bed in a dormitory, sometimes with other workers.

The work will obviously vary, in description, expectations, and level of difficulty. Definitely look to challenge yourself, but don’t do anything you are uncomfortable with or physically incapable of doing. You can find a work exchange program you are comfortable with on basically every country on the planet. Diversity of work options and availability over the entire globe is what makes work for exchange programs so valuable to modern travelers.

It’s a great system because it’s a win win. The host wins because they are getting labor, at the cost of providing lodging and food. It’s much cheaper, and many small organizations have come to depend on this sort of voluntary exchange. The volunteer obviously wins because they are getting food and a bed, fo free!

Below listed are a vast amount of websites and networking opportunities, all aimed to help you cut the cost of travel. Each site provides different job possibilities and overall routes to find work for exchange. The big three are WWOOF, Helpx and WorkAway. I recommend them the most for two reasons.

  1. Popularity

    These have been around for a while, are well tested, and ultimately the best proven ways to find a work exchange program. They are used by millions of people, both hosts and volunteers, therefore providing the greatest sources of prospective work.

  2. Safety

    Each of these sites require an affordable membership fee. A membership fee is essentialfor the vitality of these sorts of programs, as it provides validity to the hosts and volunteers. Every member of these organizations are registered and accountable, so it’s safe. I don’t discourage sites without memberships, I would just rather direct you somewhere that holds volunteers and guests to a standard of verified responsibility.

But which one is the best work exchange site? That completely depends on what you are looking for…

1) WWOOF (check out our Ultimate WWOOFing Guide

WWOOF has been around since 1971, and if you are looking exclusively for farm work, is absolutely your best bet. WWOOF is an acronym for Willing Workers on Organic Farms, and provides a concise median for aspiring volunteers to meet with potential hosts. The farms have to be organic, and the volunteers have to be ready to work. They are an international travelers dream, with farms registered all over the globe, in 103 countries. I personally WWOOFed for 2+ months in South Portugal, and I consistently cite it as one of the greatest, and most rewarding experiences of my life.

It’ a really nice website.

Talk about options!

Membership Fee – Depends on country, but usually $15-$40 USD for a year

Pros – Largest online directory of farms seeking volunteers, all organic, fulfilling work, outside, immersion in culture, free meals.

Cons – Farm work can possibly be challenging or difficult (but that’s also half the fun!), membership fee unfortunately is per country

2) Helpx

This is a big one. Launched in 2001, Helpx has become one of the most popular ways that travelers obtain free accommodation. Similar to WWOOF, Helpx has an enormous amount of farming work exchange options, but they then take it a step further. Hostel work, homestays, B&B’s, even sailing work is offered on this site, spread over the entire planet. When compared to the other “big three” a lot of people do prefer Helpx, claiming it consistently has the most current postings and the quickest response rates.

Another nice site.

Above is an example of an ad on Helpx. The family is looking for someone to watch their kids and teach them a new language for a few hours a day, and in return are rewarded with free food and free accommodation. This is an awesome opportunity if you want to spend some time in France, and it was the first ad to come up! If you go through the site, you will see there are an enormous amount of similar opportunities. It’s all there for the picking! Just notice at the top left… there are 1,514 different hosts in France alone!

I also took the liberty to investigate this mysterious town of Aubusson…

Yup. Count me in. And obviously that was just one example. Hundreds more opportunities exist.

Membership Free – $27 for two years

Pros – Larger variety of kinds of work, one database for all types of gigs, cool maps application lets you see exactly where host is

Cons – As long as you clearly communicate with hosts, none

3) WorkAway

Same as Helpx, WorkAway is an enormous online median between volunteers and hosts. It too provides potential work exchange possibilities all over the world, in hundreds of countries. WorkAway is one of the newer kids on the block but has really improved it’s popularity by having a neat format, and adding cool applications (see pros below).

Above is an example of some of the hosts in the Europe section of the site. Work varies from English teaching, to hostel work, to farms and so much more.

Membership fee – $30 USD for 2 years.

Pros – Diverse array of types of jobs, “meet up” option to meet other travelers, can “favorite” hosts, hosts can search for you based on skills and location

Cons – The usual, do your research, make sure the expectations are clear, to avoid any miscommunications. If so, no cons.

My Advice

First off, if you are interested in work exchange programs, good for you! It’s an incredible opportunity to really experience something interesting and new, which is what travel is all about, isn’t it? I would probably recommend considering exactly what it is you want. If you are certain you want to work with your hands outside and work exclusively on farms, I’d say WWOOF is definitely the way to go, and then research each country based on your individual traveling preference.

If you are open to different types of work, the choice between which Helpx or WorkAway will depend on where you are interested in traveling and the work you are interested in doing. What kind of work? Scrolling through the hosts you will see a variety of options, but some are much more recurring than others…

Typical types of work

Hostel Work

Farm Work

Language Teaching

House Sitting

Baby Sitting

Handy Man Work

Artistic Work (Painting, drawing, etc)

Eco Tourism Hotels

Gardening

The two sites offer the same kind of work and basically provide the same service, one may just provide more opportunities in different areas of the world than the other. Let’s evaluate.

If you are interested in Europe, it’s a pretty close tie. At the time of writing, this is the largest number of hosts in each country per site….

  • HelpX Europe – France 1,500, Spain, 850, Ireland 650, England 590, Italy 500, Portugal 350, Germany 230, Scotland 220
  • Workaway Europe – France 1300, Spain 1,100, Italy 750, United Kingdom 570, Ireland 450, Germany 350, Portugal 300

It’s a pretty close race. Like neck and neck. Winner? Flip a coin.

  • HelpX Oceania – Australia 4,300, New Zealand 2,300
  • Workaway Oceania – Australia 578, New Zealand 300

This is one category of the world where HelpX shows it’s utter dominance. When it comes to Work Exchange opportunities in Oceania, HelpX is Lebron James, and Workaway is just a normal human being. Winner? Lebron James.

  • HelpX South America – 324
  • Workaway South America – 621

Although an incredible amount of opportunities exist, Work Exchange programs are nowhere near as popular outside of Europe and Oceania. But, it’s obvious, Workaway wins in South America.Winner? El Workaway.

  • HelpX Asia – 680
  • Workaway Asia – 610

Yet again, basically the same thing. I would recommend checking out particular countries of interest. Check em both our for free, scan the sites, consider the options, then pay for whichever one best benefits your wants and needs. Winner? Both.

  • HelpX North America –Canada 990, USA 490
  • Workaway North America –USA 660, Canada 590

Pretty close with the USA, and a significant lead for HelpX in Canada. Winner? HelpX

Ok, so overall it’s pretty evenly matched. Both sites have their potential, outdoing each other in different parts of the planet. Personally if I had to choose one, I give the slightest edge to Helpx. I like it’s website, program, and reputation just the teensiest, tiniest more than Workaway… But I vow to you, they are both incredible resources, neither of which you can go wrong with. The best thing to do is browse the sites for free, look at the options, and then when you feel confident in a particular country or host, put up the dough and get traveling!

Other Programs

There are a lot of websites marketing similar types of work exchange options. I don’t really know much about them, but some seem pretty legit so I figured I’d share them.

www.backdoorjobs.com

www.idealist.org

bunac.org

housecareers.com

workandwine.com

Fin

 

There are a lot of ways to find work-for-accommodation, but I specifically recommend the “Big Three”. WWOOF is unique to itself, and HELPx and WorkAway provide similarly great services.

These three are the best work exchange site, and which you choose will depend on what exactly you want.

A lot of travelers, will pay for memberships for both Helpx and WanderAway, to properly equip and prepare themselves for low cost international travel. Then, if I am considering WWOOFing in a particular area, get a membership for the necessary country.

Consider the membership fee a small investment, one that maintains the site and keeps you from being kidnapped. The investment will pay for itself on the first day of the first job. My two months doing a work-exchange on a farm in Portugal were some of the best of my life. Take the dive.

Any experience with these programs? Gotta favorite? Bad experience? Let’s hear it!

Written by Aaron Radcliffe

City dweller. Dumpling crusher. Aaron is a serial entrepreneur, and the founder of Nomads Nation. Connect with Aaron Radcliffe -

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