How to Travel for Free: The Workaway Program

When traveling extensively there comes an inevitable point when you run out of money and have to go back to work, sell an organ or smuggle some drugs. But traveling with extremely little money (even nothing) is entirely possible and could be done for years if you are open to new experiences and have few responsibilities.

For a twenty euro membership, enables you to contact a list of hosts who provide temporary or long term experiences to work for them. The kinds of work are extremely varied and generally flexible: from farming, babysitting, helping teach English, web-design, construction, cooking – really anything. The locations of these experiences are disparate; in my searches I’ve come across a couple looking for photographers in central Paris, owners of a remote island and lighthouse in arctic Norway requiring house-sitters for the summer and a Costa Rican surf lodge seeking staff.

How to Travel for Free: The Workaway Situation

Each situation is unique but generally you work five hours a day for five days a week and are provided in return food and board, leaving you plenty of time to explore the area in your free time. Often hosts are seeking individuals, couples or groups to stay a minimum period of time, generally three weeks at the minimum, but if you aren’t happy you are free to leave at any time. You can also stay longer – I remember seeing a guy in Morocco’s Rif mountains looking for someone to tend his goats for a minimum of a one year stay.

To be sure, the workaway experience shouldn’t be seen as an extension of your vacation as you are there to work, but the benefits are great; you are given a chance to really interact with the country and culture you are visiting, more often than not spending time in areas not whored out with tourists, living with individuals who are from that place and know it well and treated to home cooked meals..

How to Travel for Free: The Workaway Benefits

A great benefit of workaway is the chance to pick up skills, simple or complex, from home renovation and cooking to language practice, permaculture farming and building boats. There are also the simple and profound things you learn from spending time with new and interesting people; new philosophies, ideas, ways of life.

I spent 3 weeks in August with a young couple in rural Belgium, in between Brussels and Gent in Meldert, Aalst. I’ll be honest that at first I was weary; from their profile I knew they were vegetarians and lived entirely off of what they grew in their gardens. My love of meat and food was in danger of weeks of fasting on grass, weeds and mosses with some dirty hippies. As a city boy my first day with them was a little startling. They provided me with a bucket to shit in which would be added to compost later. Thankfully though, after adjusting, my time there was amazing.

How to Travel for Free: The Workaway Experience

I never ate so well in my life. Oh god, the food. Not using a refrigerator, we picked the food from the gardens before we ate. With dinner we had local Belgian beer kept cool in the basement, or some of their homemade elderberry wine. On the weekend they lent me a bicycle and a map and I biked to Gent.

The couple were extremely relaxed and open to creativity, their home a malleable space which could be transformed by any work-awayer’s who travel through. While staying with them I helped build what will eventually be a massive indoor garden/rainforest/green lung which channels rainwater and filters for drinking water, eventually providing them with subtropical plants such as lemons, garlic and pineapples. The day I left we picked up a massive rotting tree trunk and plonked it in the rubber lined indoor rainforest. Kickstarting their indoor ecology, the trunk came complete with insects and a toad.

In my time as a workaway I learned about permaculture, how to identify plants and detect edible food, how to be creative cooking with limited foods, how to build and work with existing materials, and a whole bunch more of things about a unique alternative lifestyle.

Workaway? Do it. It’ll keep you from going home, that’s for sure.