For those of you that haven’t heard of WorkAway.info, you’re missing out. That’s the one thing I can’t emphasise enough after having just come off the back of my very first volunteer experience thanks to the site. Bridging travel and volunteering, WorkAway is a great way to explore a new place, get close to the local culture and learn interesting new skills.
For Brits like myself, looking to spend a couple of weeks away during the summer, WorkAway offers a way to do something a little different to the usual package holiday or backpacking trip. With most of the sites’ ‘hosts’ being based in Western Europe, there are many options worth exploring for people looking to head out from British Airports. My trip, for that matter, started in London and ended in Lanzarote.
The Canary Islands are pretty easy to reach from mainland UK. A 4-hour flight away from London, all that stood in the way between myself and a four-week volunteer adventure was Gatwick Parking and a long amble through the airport’s conveniently placed duty free shop. Finding my way through both, I hopped on my flight to Arrecife, Lanzarote’s small capital, and was met the other end by my first ever WorkAway host.
Roy, the man in question, had found me a couple of days earlier via my profile listing on the site. Looking for someone to help head up his marketing efforts for his rural guesthouse situated in the small island town of Tao, Roy chose me because I’d mentioned a thing or two about knowing how to build a website and market businesses online. KalindiLanzarote.com, as the project came to be known, was born from the fruits of my labour 5-hours a day, 5 days a week.
The way that WorkAway works is exactly like that. You give up your time and your skills and you get board and room in exchange. No salary but no expenses either.
For travellers who like to get below the surface of the destinations they visit, scenarios like this are perfect. At Kalindi I was able to work on a tangible project with a defined outcome (that could be finished in the time frame I planned to be there), improve and practice my Spanish (Roy and his partner, Nohemi, are Catalonian) and hang out and learn about a place from a locals perspective. Couple that with sharing your experience with other volunteers – and, in my case, paying guests – and you get to meet great people too.
Spending the first couple of days helping the guys clean and spruce up the place for the expected guests, I was able to get off the computer and get more into manual work like painting, cleaning and clearing before settling down later in the placement to round off the web stuff. As the guests began to arrive, the marketing efforts ramped up. I started fleshing out the site and building the content, following Roy’s vision and design directions where possible and also making sure we got the place listed on as many accommodation websites as humanly as possible.
For a nomad worker like myself, who has been out of the office game for the best part of three years, I had a few reservations about whether I’d fit well into a project that wasn’t one of my own entrepreneurial dabbling. Needless to say I really enjoyed the structure working the defined hours as a volunteer brought me. Waking up at 7:30, I’d hit the yoga salon at 7:45, do some stretching and breathing and then hit the project at 9am, working all the way through to 2pm and then enjoy the communal lunch.
In some ways this WorkAway ‘virgin’ seems somewhat spoiled. Not only was the schedule just what I was looking for, but my hosts too, were also some of the warmest, kindest and most welcoming people I’d ever met. Some might say they might have well as shot themselves in the foot, because, as I’m sure I’ll find out soon, the reputation they’re building as excellent hosts is going to be something incredibly difficult to live up to.
One thing is for sure; if you want to travel and do something a bit different, give WorkAway a try. Alternatively, if Lanzarote is on your radar, check out their rural offering too. It’s a welcome change to the resort horror that abounds elsewhere on the island.