Workaway and similar services

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Workaway and similar services

Postby garyb » Thu Nov 17, 2016 5:19 pm

I've recently decided to leave my job, take a break, and do some travelling. I've heard about the site Workway and similar ones, and it seems like a great idea: you work as a volunteer for, say, a couple of months in a place and you get free room and board. Typically you work a few hours per day so you still have plenty time left for sightseeing and socialising. It could be a good way to practise languages, stay for more time in places and experience the culture, meet people, and travel cheaply since accommodation and food costs can really add up. As well as the typical opportunities like working in hostels and on farms or teaching English, there are also more specialised ones like translation and IT.

Does anyone here have experience with services like this and have advice? I'm seriously considering giving it a try for my time off. It appears to tick a lot of the boxes: budget travel, language immersion (to some degree at least), experiencing cultures, and possibly even professional experience.

This is a list of tips that Serpent sent me (as she suggested that I start this topic after I mentioned it in my log):

-focus on the new or updated positions
-check the last visit date, the reply rate and expected timeframe
-many hosts don't update their page to show the actual available dates
-monitor your preferred search and get in touch asap if you see smth interesting
-communicate to ensure it's honestly a good fit. otherwise you'll get negative comments. but if things are really bad, leave. (and generally, always have backup options!)


The site also has advice for language learners, which includes being clear with the host that language learning is a priority for you.
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Re: Workaway and similar services

Postby Serpent » Thu Nov 17, 2016 8:57 pm

Thanks for starting the thread :)
To be clear, I'm new to this myself, and I just asked Gary because I assumed he was familiar with the site. I've not had a workaway experience yet but yeah these are my experiences from searching and contacting multiple hosts.

-You need to pay a fee to contact the hosts (if you want to host people, you can create a profile for free). It's 29$ pear year for a personal account and 38$ for a couple. That's a lot for many, yes. Try to think of it as paying a dollar or euro for each host you contact. Unless you're extremely lucky (or in-demand) you'll probably contact at least a dozen hosts before getting accepted somewhere. Not because others are better than you, but because they got in touch sooner.
-Each host has a profile. New and recently updated profiles are clearly indicated with the words "new host" and "updated" :) Be sure to read everything in order not to waste your time applying for positions that don't match your needs/abilities/etc.
-All sorts of help are wanted, but the most common one is physical help with building/renovating or at a farm :roll: Many hostels offer a bed in exchange for work. Lots of people want help with cooking/cleaning/babysitting/English practice (especially for kids and older people). Non-natives are often welcome too.
-If you're into music or visual art, there are projects like that too. There seems to be a lot of competition so try to find someone who shares your views on art. You can upload some photos of your work on your page.
-Many hosts don't like planning in advance and will tell you to get in touch closer to your available dates :?
-When applying to volunteer for a business, if you can come up with your own project, that's great! Something like marketing or some specialist help you can offer :)
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Re: Workaway and similar services

Postby tiia » Fri Nov 18, 2016 7:54 pm

Just as a reminder: Especially when it comes to work with children, take care that you're not supporting orphanage voluntourism or alike. This can create more harm, than it does for good. Also children require a more consistent caretaker, than someone just coming for a few weeks or months.

I had to do some construction work as part of my university studies and therefore participated in two work camps within Germany together with other volunteers. Not through workaway, but another organisation, that only offers construction work camps (mainly within Germany/Europe). At one project we had four Russian volunteers. Only one of them spoke German (but no English), so I think he could practice German quite a lot. As a learner of Russian it would have been very easy to practice the language there. At the other work camp most of the volunteers were German students like me.

Construction work - I picked camps where the work would be accepted for my studies, so the ones that sounded more demanding - is not as bad as you might think. You should be able to lift some stuff, but that's all. There's no special training required. The physically hardest work I had to do was standing 8 hours and using an angle grinder over my head. (My arms were aching in the end.) However, I don't think this is some kind of standard task, so I wouldn't rule out all the farming and construction work.
When you're not sure, ask beforehand if you can get someone helping you to carry heavy stuff, or whether you're expected to do everything on your own.

If there's an organisation in between, double check in case of any special diet (e.g. vegetarian) or other special needs. Just make sure the host knows this beforehand. (I asked the organisation before, but they still forgot to tell this one of the camps. - Meaning there was no food for me the first evening.)
With the first camp we had more contact with the locals, which I think was pretty nice. You could get a feeling how life works there. Otherwise the contact was mainly with the other volunteers. I got along with those of the first camp (the one with Russian volunteers) much better than with those of the second one. So if you're not comfortable with every random person, this is not a perfect setting.

I guess that the workaway places are somehow set differently as there are usually only few (often just one) volunteers at each project, so you'll have closer contact with the hosts.
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Re: Workaway and similar services

Postby Serpent » Fri Nov 18, 2016 10:13 pm

On workaway it's always pretty clear whether the host is a family, a single parent or a school/kindergarten (I've not seen any orphanage so far). You also list your diet requirements and allergies in the profile, and the hosts generally clarify what kind of meals they offer (if any). Normally it's possible to cook for yourself as well.
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Re: Workaway and similar services

Postby tiia » Sat Nov 19, 2016 12:00 pm

Serpent wrote:On workaway it's always pretty clear whether the host is a family, a single parent or a school/kindergarten (I've not seen any orphanage so far). You also list your diet requirements and allergies in the profile, and the hosts generally clarify what kind of meals they offer (if any). Normally it's possible to cook for yourself as well.

Honestly, I didn't look too close at the volunteer profiles. I don't know how detailed you list special diets there, but from my own experience (not with workaway though) I'm always sceptical whether people really read the profiles or whether they have the same definition of "vegetarian". (There are people out there who think you would eat fish as vegetarian, so that's why I would advise anyone to make this kind of requirements absolutely clear.)
The direct contact with the host in case of workaway is definitely a plus, as you can clarify such things easily before going!

Actually I found a few orphanages, but got sceptical because I saw schools/kindergardens, where people only spend 1-3 weeks to teach children. In my opinion this (usually) doesn't make too much sense for such a short time.

This is really not ment to argue against using workaway or similar services - I even might consider using it myself - but rather as general advice, what you should consider beforehand. The thread seemed not to be limited to this one website only.
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Re: Workaway and similar services

Postby Serpent » Sun Jan 01, 2017 10:08 pm

With the caveat that I'm still in the process of looking for hosts...

-you will be seeing the same host profiles all the time. so if a specific profile picture bothers you (dog pictures in my case), block it.
-when I find myself checking the same profile more than once (and then remembering exactly why I've seen it before but didn't apply), I use the "note" function to add a quick reminder for myself.
-search for relatively specific things you can do. search for some accomodation features (I searched for sauna :D)
-contacting people in their country's language is great and many love it, but bear in mind that many hosts are expats. (you'll see the host's name AFTER you've messaged them)
-if something sounds simply.amazing (like catsitting), I don't apply unless the host has literally just registered. If they registered a few days ago they already got tons of messages.
-similarly, try not to put off contacting the hosts. especially if you see a new profile, apply asap. (by "new" i mean that you've browsed many pages and you know this host wasn't listed before, not just anyone who's marked as a "new host" - this is how one is listed for the first two months. you can probably figure out by the url how new is new)
-according to the site you shouldn't copy-paste messages. It sounds like lots of people sign up, write a generic message and send it to dozens of hosts in one go. Don't do that. However, I've not had any problems with writing a personalized message and then later sending it to a similar host, maybe 10 minutes later or next week. So the site owners have a lot of common sense. They understand that when you write about yourself to 20 people, your messages will be fairly similar.
-my impression is that there are PLENTY of hosts in the UK, Ireland and France, but maybe that's because I'm not considering these countries :D Lots of them are not in London/Paris.
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Re: Workaway and similar services

Postby Serpent » Mon Jan 09, 2017 9:25 pm

an EVS opportunity for Esperanto speakers and enthusiasts (Netherlands)

I'm very interested in EVS too but it's a more formal kind of projects, with deadlines, fixed duration.. and EU funding. That's the main positive side - you get a travel compensation.
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Re: Workaway and similar services

Postby crush » Tue Jan 10, 2017 10:37 am

Wish i had an EU passport...
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Re: Workaway and similar services

Postby Serpent » Wed Jan 25, 2017 1:55 am

Well, I'm now in Madeira :D In a strange twist of fate, I found English-speaking hosts who used to live in Spain and wanted someone to speak Spanish with their kids :D Sounds like a very portuñol-inducing experience? Honestly I expected much more interference. I did say branco instead of blanco, and also slipped in a random interaction on my day off, but otherwise I've been able to switch smoothly between the languages :D (In fact it was much worse when I heard a lot of German today and couldn't stop thinking in German :lol:) In the beginning the hardest part language-wise was to speak Spanish to the kids but English to the parents. This has got better very quickly.

Anyway I can definitely confirm the things I've mentioned before. Especially, double-check the things that really matter even if they're mentioned in the profile (and have a backup plan). For example it's important for me to have a good internet connection, and I avoided hosts who ask you to wash the dishes for them. My hosts even gave me their address, but it turned out they were merely planning to move to that place - something went wrong and they didn't. This means that for the first 4 days we lived at a place with no dishwasher, then on Saturday of all days (arghhhh) we moved together to a nicer flat (and had to clean up the old one as thoroughly as possible) :? The new place had no Internet yet so I spent nearly 6 hours at a café. Well, it's nice to have been able to explore two different neighbourhoods but I definitely didn't sign up to help them with the move :x

Also random but they're backpackers which is something I admire, but this means the kids have relatively few toys :roll:

I won't count exactly but I had contacted over 50 hosts before them (possibly 60-70, not sure). By now I've contacted 85. Definitely don't stop contacting new hosts until you've reached a definitive agreement with someone. For some reason several hosts from Spain stopped replying when I asked about their daily routine, like at what time the kids go to bed. Most likely they just found someone better.

Also if you're told that you can pick any dates (say, any after XX/YY), PICK THEM ASAP or explicitly ask the host to wait.

My biggest disappointment so far was maybe when I was one of the first people to contact a new host in Málaga (a vegan/yoga place), they were very enthusiastic at first but then stopped replying. I don't know if I made a faux pas or they just got so many requests from people who are actually knowledgeable about the vegan&yoga stuff that I was no longer an interesting candidate. (they wanted me to translate their stuff into Russian... I definitely understand the topics well enough to be able to translate into my L1 :D) So don't get your hopes up even if someone is enthusiastic, maybe unless you can do things like carpentry, plumbing and whatnot.... My impression is that the site is full of digital nomads :lol:

More thoughts... Your profile is mostly important for getting hosts to contact you. So far I've always been making sure that it lists the skills I offer and the country where the host is, but if most hosts check anything it's probably the reviews only. My current host didn't even know I speak Finnish :roll:
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Re: Workaway and similar services

Postby tiia » Thu Jan 26, 2017 9:31 am

Thanks for sharing your experience so far. How long will you stay with the family in Madeira? I hope you're having a good time despite the inconveniences you mentioned.

You contacted 50 hosts until you found one that accepted you? Or did you already had another host before? Although it's not really surprising at such a website, 50 is quite a lot. :shock:
Although I had my concerns, I still had somehow hoped, that the hosts would read the profiles a bit more carefully, especially once they agreed to host someone. :? Do you think that your current host is typical for the site or are other hosts more likely to read the profile?
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