Backpacking on a budget: how to find a Workaway

Qixianfeng Tea Plantation Yangshuo

One of the main questions I get when people find out that I’ve been travelling for 1000 days is “how did you travel the world for so long?!”

And the answer is always the same: it’s very easy to do it! backpacking on a budget is so simple and anyone can do it!

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You don’t have to be rich or have lots in savings as luckily there are so many resources available that allow us adventurers and nomads to go and travel the world.

I normally travel on a budget and manage to do so for a long time by volunteering, couchsurfing, camping, hitchhiking, staying at the cheapest hostel I can find (which pretty much always guarantee that those are the places where you meet the most fellow backpackers) and workawaying.

This post is related to the later one as Workaway is a great platform to volunteer abroad, do cool projects, forget about budgets for a period of time, meet amazing people, learn new skills and keep travelling the world! keep reading if you want to learn some first-hand tips on how to find a good Workaway!

I’m not here to write about the features of the platform or “sell it” as this is not sponsored content but just to share my DOs and DON’Ts and general tips when looking for a workaway, as I have had only great experiences but have also heard many bad stories.

There are quite a few alternative platforms to Workaway such as: wwoof, hippohelp, worldpackers, helpX, crewbay, etc. Except Crewbay, I personally haven’t used them but from exchanging stories with other backpackers I can tell you that the following tips apply to all of them. You can also find volunteering opportunities with NGOs but that’s something for a different post.

Why is Workaway a good option for budget backpacking?

Although the platform requires you to pay to be able to contact people (about £37/€40/$44 per year) you can open a free account and see what sort of projects are available all over the world to get an idea of what you could do.

Many workaway hosts will also offer you food in addition to accommodation and sometimes money too which makes it even better.

bedouin camp
The views of my Bedouin Camp when I was workawaying in Jordan

My experiences with Workaway

After joining workaway projects in places like Hawaii, Taiwan, China, South Korea, Jordan and more, I can tell you that you get a lot in return and in savings for that annual membership cost.

As a quick example, a night in the cheapest hostel in Honolulu when I was travelling there in 2019 costed $40. So you can imagine how much you can save in accommodation in different countries.

All my work exchange projects were pretty light in hours so I could still do a lot of exploring. The country where I “worked” the most was in Taiwan. There, I joined a surf hostel and was in charge of the bar four hours every night, pouring a few beers and having a couple myself (free of charge), I also got free surf boards, accommodation in a dorm with other volunteers and got invited to dinner almost on a daily basis, what an amazing summer I had travelling in Taiwan!

In Hawaii, I used to “work” for about 20 minutes a day in exchange of accommodation in an amazing house, some money to buy food/essentials and a scooter to explore the Big Island!

In other countries I have done language exchanges, small DIY/construction projects, photography, light farming, etc.

In Jordan I only volunteered for 5 days taking photos in the Wadi Rum desert while in other places a couple of weeks or a couple of months. There are plenty of options out there to fit your schedule and give you time to explore other areas of the country you’re visiting.

Makalawena beach - Hawaii on a budget
My morning swim beach when I was volunteering in Hawaii!

These are my main tips to find a good Workaway

Create your profile and fill it up honestly: most places don’t require you to have experience but just to have the energy and interest in joining them. List your skills and add all the sort of things that you could do even you have never done them before. Add your hobbies and even tailor your profile to an specific host if you really want to join a particular project.

Send personalised messages: make sure you just don’t copy/paste and bombard every host in the platform as that’s easy to spot. Yes, sometimes you don’t get replies when you contact hosts so this is a good step to make your message stand among all the others they receive. Comment on something you like in particular about their project, address them by their names and even mention their pets if they’re showing in the pics, make it personal and unique. We’re backpacking on a budget but we have to “work” to make things happen as some hosts receive lots of requests, it’s not at all about sending a formal email but sending one that will catch their attention.

Don’t be put off if the host doesn’t have any feedback: Workaway doesn’t have a proper system to track the experiences you do so they don’t send reminders to leave feedback such as it normally happens when booking hostels. I actually don’t have any feedback on my profile and still got accepted in many places. If the project seems right for you just contact them!

Add your travels plan to the Workaway platform: on your profile you can include the dates that you will be in a particular country, this can allow hosts to find you and contact you directly and sometimes it works well! (I also do this in Couchsurfing!)

Be clear on your preferences: from hostels to farms to family houses to eco projects, there are pros and cons to each of them, compare their requirements, check if more volunteers are around or if you will be alone, would they provide food and accommodation? would you have 2 or more days off per week? what can you do in the surrounding areas when you’re not “working”, will you have access to wifi?, whatever is important for you make sure to check it will be there.

Keep in mind that this is not a job! the number of working hours is the most important factor for me to choose a workaway, if they want more than 4 hours work per day I simply don’t even bother to contact them as many hosts out there just want to find free labor. Workaway is supposed to be a two-way collaboration, we help them and they help us to keep travelling.

Compare what they offer: some cities, towns, villages have loooots of projects going on, make a list and compare what each of them offer

Interview them! do not just accept a project because they contacted you, arrange a video call with them (this is mandatory for me) so you can ask them what are they expecting from you, how many hours of work (even if it already says so on their listing), ask, ask, ask about everything! I once declined a project that seemed really exciting at an animal shelter in Tokyo simply because they made me understand that they wanted someone at the shelter 24/7.

No replies from the people you contact? review your profile, ask a fellow traveler to review the tone of your emails. As a last minute resource, go to any hostel and ask them if they need help, almost every hostel in the world runs with the support of volunteers and they’re in most occasions looking for an extra pair of hands!

Enjoy the experience: remember, this is not a job abroad! it’s just a resource to keep backpacking on a budget around the world, experience new cultures, learn new skills and meet people, it’s not supposed to stress you out or let a stranger exploit you for free labor.

Feel free to drop any questions below if you would like to know more about how to find a workaway or any other tips to go backpacking on a budget around the world

2 thoughts on “Backpacking on a budget: how to find a Workaway

    1. Happy you found it useful! feel free to ask anything if you’re looking to go workawaying

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