Extending Your Travels: Workaway

May 04, 2015


We ended our second Workaway volunteer experience two weeks ago and I was once again left feeling grateful for the opportunity to learn new things, make new friends, and most importantly, save money! Obviously the previous two items are the actual important things when it really comes down to it, but when it comes to making every penny count then it’s great to be able to combine all of them into one worthwhile experience.

For those who are unfamiliar with Workaway, it is one of a number of websites that offer volunteer and cultural immersion opportunities around the world. It can include anything from working in hostels (generally reception, housekeeping, bartending and cooking) to helping on a local farm, helping a couple build a chicken coop, helping a yachtsman sail around the Caribbean, to helping a family teach their children a foreign language and with housekeeping, all in exchange for lodging and a meal or two. To become a member of Workaway, you are required to pay a small fee of $29 USD for a single person or $38 USD for a couple/two friends, both are good for two years. The nice thing is that you can connect with other Workawayers and apply to hosts as groups. The site offers a vast listing of hosts around the world for you to choose from.

With two Workaways now under our belt, I can confidently say that they are absolutely worth it in satisfying our desire to save money, make new friends, and learn new things. Financially, in comparing our savings during normal travel and during our Workaway, settling in for a Workaway, on average, costs us 66% less than if we were to continue traveling. This amount will vary of course, depending on where the Workaway is compared to where the traveling is, but in general you can count on your daily costs being significantly lower while staying put and volunteering your time.

Our first Workaway was in Quito, Ecuador at Colonial House hostel. We stayed in a staff

Making a fancy and enticing sign for
our breakfast was a part of the job! 

dorm and had nearly all of our meals provided by the hostel. Free laundry and tours by local tour agency were also included either for free or at a huge discount, and there were also opportunities to earn tips at the hostel reception desk and commission for selling tours to guests. All of these things added up to huge savings in our budget. As for the other positive aspects of volunteering, we made some good friends and had some great times working at Colonial House. We spent time learning Spanish, both in formal lessons and in speaking with the owner who spoke only a little English; we learned a little more each day about hospitality and customer service; and we got to brush up on our selling skills. With new guests came the opportunity to make a new friend, even if it only lasted the duration of their stay. We managed to run into at least two or three guests while on the road later on, some in more than one city! Overall, we were very lucky to have Colonial House as our first Workaway.

Our second Workaway was of a similar nature, this time in Bariloche, Argentina at Universal Travellers Lodge. First off, Bariloche is a great place to settle down for a few weeks, especially if the season is right. There is just so much to do and the landscape is spectacular. And at UTL, the atmosphere is just so warm and cozy, it immediately invites you to cuddle up on the couch and watch a movie. And if the weather is right, you could hop in the heated pool, which was always a treat! For our Workaway, we were lucky enough to all have our own double rooms. Our “room” wasn’t anything special; in fact it was hardly a room at all but a loft space above the garage. But it was a double bed and there was certainly enough space to spread out a bit. The bed did get wet on a couple of rainy days due to a leaky roof and when the hostel owner decided to work on his dirt bike, it did tend to cloud the place up a bit, but it was free and I slept like a baby! Breakfast was the only meal included, though we often did hostel dinners, which I’ll get to later. The responsibilities we had at UTL were slightly different than those at Colonial

20150507IMG_4004.jpg IMG_0089.JPG
Again, making a fancy and enticing 
sign is all in a day's work! 
Reception: sometimes you work there
sometimes you don't! 

All said, both Workaways were great opportunities, which I am so happy to have had. Practicing a new language, working on customer service and hospitality, sales, baking, cooking, and interpersonal relationships all came while making new friends, being immersed in a new and fun place, and all while saving money. It’s the trifecta of travel. I don’t think that we will do another Workaway while in South America, which is unfortunate because our time to continue learn Spanish is dwindling, but we will definitely be doing more of these in the future.House, whereas we needed to be at the reception desk during our shift at Colonial House, we often were “not allowed” to stay behind the desk at UTL for a fear of being caught by the hostel police (that’s sarcasm, I really don’t know who he thought was going to show up and see that he had volunteers working at the front desk..). Anyways, checking guests in, helping them decide on their day’s activities, and pouring them the occasional beer from the tap were a small part of our responsibilities. Changing over beds, cleaning the bathrooms, the kitchen, doing laundry, and my favorite - making homemade scones for breakfast (I’m told I made the best scones, obviously) made up the rest of our shift. When we had enough guests another shift was added to make the hostel dinner. While sometimes difficult in trying to fight off the guests not participating for kitchen time to make the dinner, it always turned out to be a lot of fun and the guests always loved the food and the atmosphere it created. Again, we got to practice our selling skills to get guests to buy in for dinner but we often got repeat customers, which made it easier and more fun.

Some other perks of doing a Workaway, some obvious and not-so-obvious, include, not getting on a long bus ride for weeks on end, unpacking your pack and not touching it for weeks, buying groceries “in bulk” and actually getting to use it all, doing laundry and having the time for it to dry, having “authority,” and feeling like you’re contributing in some way.

If you'd like some more ideas on how to extend your travels by traveling on the cheap, check out these great suggestions from my friend Emma, who spent some serious time traveling the world!


Roam on!





Written by Jen Hays
Jen is a marketer with a passion for the digital world and an insatiable desire to travel and explore all that the physical world has to offer; marrying the two to share her experiences with and inspire all who join her along the way.

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