Now, I’ve been on the road for quite some time, and quite often, I’m asked “how have I been backpacking for so long?” Well, in a short answer, voluntary work.
There are quite a few schemes out there that offer volunteer work abroad; a quick online search will provide a few different agencies that will arrange this for you. However, when I looked into these before I started travelling, I could only find agencies that charged quite a lot of money in exchange for you doing the work, some of which have prices starting at just $595 (for one week!). In my opinion, this is absolutely absurd as volunteer work as its foundation shouldn’t really cost you as you’ll be the one doing the actual work.
Then when I actually started my travels, I was recommended a site called WorkAway. This is a site in which you sign up (pay a minimal subscription fee) and you can chat with a range of different hosts around the world. This is different than just using an agency as they don’t actually arrange everything for you, they simply put you in contact with the hosts and then you can organise everything between the two of you.
I prefer this type of venture, one where it’s more open, freer for discussion, and I can personally recommend WorkAway as for me they offer a great variety of opportunities ranging from hostel work, working with families, agriculture and animal welfare, and even labour intensive work such as construction. In return for the work, depending on the host, they should offer accommodation and food, which is usually a backpacker’s biggest expense. In contrast with normal agency work, this is more considered a cultural exchange, as you are given the opportunity to get a more in depth look at the world instead of just passing through.
My first voyage into this was in Italy, I contacted a host who said he had availability and within a few hours I had confirmed a stay with him. Now that’s something I should mention, a lot of hosts prefer for their volunteers to stay around a month as it means they don’t have to constantly train new people too much plus it gives the volunteers a better chance at exploring the place. I was given the chance to spend my time in the middle of the Italian countryside, working in a kitchen/bar/café with an outdoor pool, and in return I not only got a bed and food, but I also got to see the insights of Italian culture. With my host, and other volunteers, we hiked up the nearby Mount Soratte; we visited a WWII bunker, partied and drank with the locals at their summer festivals, and even took a weekend trip to Pompeii. I not only got the chance to see and do some incredible things, but the work itself also varied depending on the day and even the month. I was able to learn a little bit of Italian, I got to do some manual labour when we made a treehouse, and even got to let my artistic side free when we did some painting.
My second one was just as zany. Having stayed in nearly 30 different hostels by then, I thought I’d try my hand at the other side of the table, and volunteer in one. I contacted a hostel in Prague and I got to see a different world. This was a very social hostel and as a volunteer we took guests out every night so I got to see loads of different local watering holes, I went to places tourists don’t usually go to, took guests to a bone church just outside Prague itself, I head banged my way through some intense metal bands and even got to ring in 2017 with some incredibly close friends!
The next couple were hostel work again just, basic cleaning work in exchange for a bed and breakfast as before but these places actually allowed me to see the proper inner workings of a hostel. This also gave me the chance to spend longer in these cities and get a closer look into local life. I found a new favourite dive bar, I went to a ska/punk festival, and I also got the chance to make some incredible friends.
Now, not every volunteer experience is going to be as eccentric as mine have been, that sort of experience may not be for you, maybe you’d prefer somewhere quieter, so it’s always best to check the reviews of the hosts, see exactly what they offer in exchange for the work you’re expected to be doing and seriously ask them if you have any questions beforehand.
If you have any questions about volunteer work, I am always happy to answer, all my contact details can be found here and as usual, there is also an accompanying video below which actually has loads of photos and videos from my exchange work, which can be found at: Volunteering On Vacation.
This article is not sponsored by WorkAway, unless they want to sponsor me.