Travel on the Cheap Through Work or Help Exchange Networks

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Volunteer Abroad with Work or Help Exchanges

 

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. We list the four main ones 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.

HelpStay
Membership: €29 for one year or €49 for couples
From the oldest, we move to one of the newest hospitality networks. The founder personally checks every project listed on the site and the network is quickly fulfilling its long term goal of enabling travellers to travel the world perpetually on a limited budget.

Worldpackers
Membership: Free to get started, $49 per year for full membership.
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 discover 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.

WWOOF
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.

HelpX
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.

Workaway
Membership: $29 for one year or $38 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 over 9000 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.

VolunteerLatinAmerica
Membership: £10 for two years. A £20 premium membership grants 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 similar setups for Thailand and Africa.

Go Cambio
Membership: Free.
The large and experienced team behind Go Cambio - plus investment from i-to-i founder Deirdre Bounds -.has enabled this site to be ambitious and push on quickly towards that critical mass of having enough hosts and helpers to be worthwhile. The idea here is to connect people who want to travel with people who want to learn new languages and skills. Guests get meals and a place to stay in return for giving a few hours of tuition to their host. Though we would have expected Go Cambio to sooner or later introduce a membership fee, they have stated that the "service will remain free to use and stay part of the online sharing community."

Culture Go Go
Membership: Free basic membership. Full membership £21 for three months.
Francesca Luke fulfilled her ambition to live in a sunny Mediterranean country when she moved to Madrid to work as an English Teacher, where she later co-founded My Family Abroad. Originally the organisation took a more hands on approach, placing English speaking volunteers to live with Spanish families to help them with their English, but has since expanded to Latin America, changed its name and the format to volunteers arranging their own volunteer stay with a host family via the website. Volunteers teach their hosts English for a few hours a day with games, activities and sports and in return your host family provides accommodation and food.

Hippohelp
Membership: Free.
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. There are only a few listings right now on Hippohelp but it is new and free, using a map interface to navigate users around the site to find and connect with hosts.

ThePOOSH.org
Membership: Free.
A Couchsurfing invitation to stay in an off-the-grid community in Oregon lies behind the conception of the People’s Organization on Sustainable Housing, which takes work exchanges back to their alternative living roots. Self-build project hosts are encouraged to share sustainable self build techniques along with offering volunteers food and accommodation. Navigation is via the build project map which could use a facility to remove out of date projects.

Volunteers Base
Membership: Free.
VB promotes itself as a free alternative to HelpX, WWOOF, WorkAway and similar websites, and, in the couple of years since it begun, seems to be ticking along quite nicely as an easy to use website with a good number of hosts and volunteers.

Tuanys.com
Membership: None required. Free to use.
Tuanys presents voluntary and paid work, along with trips and activities, by way of a clickable map. The site is still in beta and at the moment the number of listings is in the hundreds rather than the thousands. French and Spanish versions of the site are also available.

KeyBoots
Membership: Free.
Noticing in Thailand that travellers working for their keep is similar to Israeli's kibbutz volunteering system, the founder of KeyBoots decided to formailse this barter system with a web platform. There are no hard and fast rules what hosts (keys) and travellers (boots) trade with each other and some hosts may offer wages too.

Working Traveller
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.

Staydu
Membership: Free.
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.

Se7en
Membership: €15 for one year.
Concentrating on low cost and free to join social and environmental volunteering, Se7en's 5000 members can peruse over 700 host projects in 124 countries.

HostelTravelJobs
Membership: €10 lifetime membership or €15 for access to all their sites.
A partner website to Staydu concentrating solely on hostel work, both exchanges and paid jobs. This is just one of a number of Staydu sites, each with a smattering of listings and following a similar format. Others cover general volunteering, surfing, farm, yoga, diving, and hairdressing salon jobs.

Trade For Design
Membership: A one time fee of €19, or €26 for two people, €30 for three.
Inspired by their own travels where they exchange their design for services or products, Ana and Tiago launched this platform for others to do the same.

GigRove
Membership: Free.
Skilled travellers are connected with local startups who have a place to spare and need help with short term tasks. We thought on first glance this was wholly aimed at tech or IT type skills but gigs aimed at, for example, hairdressers and session musicians are also offered, This site is still quite new so only a couple of hundred hosts are available.

Yoga Trade
Membership: Community membership is free but a one year $18 premium membership grants extra privileges.
If GigRove is aimed at travellers in sensible shoes, Yoga Trade users will go about their business in flip flops or bare feet. As the name suggests, 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 but the site seems busy rather than neglected.

Hovos
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. A quick seach in Thailand found five hosts, where we switched over to the map to get a handy overview where the projects are located. Overall Hovos has between three and four hundred hosts and around 2000 volunteers using the site.

Bed & Learn
Membership: Free.
This Italian network can be used in English though a lot of the listings themselves are in Italian. The idea here is hosts offer a bed to travellers who can teach them something: English or another language, cooking, dancing, massage, etc. Bed and breakfasts are also encouraged to join so Belearners, as users of this site are known, can organise a pottery course for guests, do some renovation, or expand the culinary diversity of the menu.

 

Prices are correct at the time or writing but may change.

Image courtesy Ängsbacka