The Work Exchange Way to See the World
So you want to explore the world and don't have the dough for it. Plus, you just aren't into the whole teaching scene. Or maybe you don't have the qualifications for that yet. No worries. There are other low-cost ways to work your way around the world — if you’re flexible and adaptable, you like living in communal situations, and you want to contribute to the world in meaningful ways. There are amazing volunteer opportunities all around where you can work for room and board in exotic locations all over the globe. All you have to do is hit a few key sites and you’ll soon be on your way to somewhere exotic and intriguing either near home or far away.
Take Help Exchange, for instance. This website lists a ton of work-exchange opportunities around the globe. Positions range from short-short-term, maybe two or three days working on a farm in California, to longer-term stints of six months or more working and helping around a ranch or organic garden. It all depends on what you’re looking for and what you like to do. Some of the places, such as the Dandelion Sustainability Farm in northern California, require an in-depth application and a trial period before they accept you. Which gives you a chance to see if you like it there and them a chance to see if you have the skills they are looking for.
Other places, like Buddhist temples and Hindi ashrams, offer gardening positions as well as immersion in their meditation and chanting practices. Hostels often give you a place to crash out in a stellar spot in exchange for a few hours of work with housekeeping and possibly some cooking each day.
Another great way to contribute to the world while traveling is through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). Focused exclusively on organic farming, most of these farms are located in small rural areas far from urban centers. The work varies depending on what the season is and what they harvest. The work hours also differ depending on the place. Some places require full-time work and offer once-weekly trips into nearby towns. Others offer more frequent trips to other spots or even some guided sightseeing around the local area. If you like gardening, want to learn more about working with the land and want to check out different locales in your free time, WWOOF-ing it is the way to go.
Like the idea of exploring the world, but prefer to live solo? Check out the housesitting opportunities all around. HouseCarers has tons of listings, mostly in Australia and New Zealand. You can find a cool spot to hang out in exchange for taking care of someone’s house and pets. It could be on a ranch in the wilds of western Canada or in a house in Sydney while someone takes a six month vacation. The opportunities are all across the board, as are the owners. Some just do a straight exchange: You watch the house for them at no cost and they don’t charge you rent or utilities. Others want you to cover the utilities while you’re staying there. The positions also last from a few days to six or eight months. The bonus point here is that if you find a position you like and you get on great with the owners, you could land yourself an annual job taking care of their space.
As with any work or living situation, it pays to do some groundwork before you commit. Make sure you clarify what it is that they want volunteers to be doing and what skills you bring to the table that you really want to be using. Sometimes different spots want more technical skills, like computer programming or website design, instead of gardening or outdoor work. Other times a place may advertise a position working 20 or 25 hours a week and, when you arrive, they expect full-time hours from volunteers. Don’t expect to be on vacation, but don’t let anyone take advantage of your time. The situation should be mutually beneficial and fair.
It’s also prudent to verify what the living conditions and free time activities are. You may arrive to find that you will be camping out as opposed to staying in dorms or vice-versa. Or that your free time is more structured than you thought. Clear communication from the very beginning is key to making this work.
Doing a little background research, reading reviews from former workers and volunteers and finding out more about the location where you will be staying can alleviate problems and give you a clear picture about the situation. Also, trying out a few positions closer to home before you take it overseas can also provide insights into whether this style of travel will work for you.
The work-exchange is just another style of work-cation. So pick what you like and start hitting the trails. You never know what you’ll learn on the road.