One of my favourite ways to travel for free is by volunteering abroad using Work exchange programs like Workaway. Workaway is the biggest work exchange website, but there are several other sites like Workaway which work in a similar way, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. I’ve brought together the five of the most popular Workaway alternatives to compare so you can choose the best option for your work exchange. We’ll cover Worldpackers, HelpX, WWOOF, Hippohelp & Volunteers Base, and you’ll also find a $10 discount code for Worldpackers membership if you decide to try them out.
What is a Work Exchange?
Let’s start with the basics. I assume that if you’ve heard of Workaway, you are familiar with the concept of work exchanges, but to be clear; a work exchange means that people offer their time and skills to do volunteer work in exchange for free accommodation and food or other benefits.
It is also known as a kind of work and travel programme, work-trade or voluntourism, although the volunteer placements are often ‘normal’ businesses looking for an extra pair of hands, not necessarily doing work to help others as you may imagine in the traditional sense of ‘volunteering’.
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How to Find Work Exchanges
Usually, this kind of work in exchange for room and board is great for travellers and backpackers who look for international placements, but there is no reason why you can’t do it in your own country (although you won’t be paid for it). So even if you can’t travel abroad right now, you could start exploring your own country then go abroad when travel restrictions are lifted.
The kind of work you do on a work exchange is as varied as the countries and hosts you choose. You might find work in hostels, on a farm, in a family home or at an NGO. I did several work exchanges working at hostels, as well as for a travel agency and website developer but there are lots of different options available.
Work Exchange Websites
One of the best ways to find work exchanges is to use a work exchange website to browse available placements. Work exchange sites like Workaway, Worldpackers and others offer a platform for individuals, families, businesses and organisations to advertise for help they need. Potential volunteers sign up to the websites to search for suitable hosts and volunteer work exchange placements in countries all over the world.
I’ll talk about the work exchange websites I’m aware of, starting with Workaway as it is the biggest, then will move on to five Workaway alternatives for you to choose from.
Workaway is the largest and best-known work exchange site. They have placements all over the world with hosts who advertise volunteer exchange positions in hostels, on farms, in private homes – pretty much everywhere you can imagine – that travellers can search and apply for.
There is a registration fee, but then every work exchange is free of charge. The hosts will provide accommodation and usually some meals but check each individual listing for details. The site is easy to use, and reviews are provided for hosts and travellers so you can see what other people thought about their experience.
Workaway are currently offering an additional 3 months if you use this link, so even if you can’t travel at the moment this works out as a really good deal if you are hoping to travel in the next few months – either in your own country or abroad.
You can also set up a joint account if you are travelling as a couple, or link two individual accounts if you are travelling together for a limited time. The site is easy to navigate and simple to use and costs $44 USD for an individual account or $56 USD for a joint account.
A lot of Workaway reviews are positive, and in my personal experience, I have had some good Workaway placements, but also a not-so-good one. I’ve also had trouble getting a response from potential Workaway hosts who never reply to messages.
Although the site is very professional and there are a lot of placements, I’ve heard that people had trouble getting to speak to their support team if something goes wrong. It says that paid members get access to 24/7 support but I couldn’t find a phone number anywhere on their website, just a contact form to fill in so you need instant help for any reason it looks like you would have to wait.
Cost: $44 USD per year (Currently for 12 months PLUS 3 months extra free if you use this link)
Pros: Well established, most hosts to choose from, good reputation.
Cons: Can be hard to get a response from hosts, not great support.
As you can see, while Workaway is a great work exchange website, some people may prefer to find other options. These alternatives to Workaway may be better for you:
Similar to Workaway, Worldpackers is free to join, and the site is easy to use and navigate. You can sign in via Facebook for ease of access or download the Worldpackers app. Worldpackers started in South America, so they have a lot of opportunities there and have rapidly expanded the number of placements available in the rest of the world, with a network of over 1.5 million hosts and volunteers worldwide.
I’ve used Worldpackers to volunteer and I love the site and how easy it was to find a placement. Check out my full review of my Worldpackers experience here to find out what I got up to.
On Worldpackers there is a wide range of volunteer opportunities available with hostels, campsites, NGOs, social projects, farms, ecovillages, restaurants, and small businesses, families, again – you name it, they’ve got it. To contact hosts and apply for placements you need to pay the membership fee and become a verified member.
They also offer their “Worldpackers Insurance” which covers the cost of a hostel for 3 nights if you need to leave your placement due to problems with the host.
Worldpackers offer 24/7 support to volunteers and hosts, and there is a phone number and email address on the website to get in touch, as well as through their app. With this and the screening process, Worldpackers are proud of the fact that a lot of their volunteers are solo female travellers – 62% apparently – so that is good peace of mind for us ladies!
Check out this video for more information on how Worldpackers works:
I’ve teamed up with Worldpackers to offer all Tales of a Backpacker readers a $10 discount, which means you only need to pay $39 USD for a full year’s verified membership, so what are you waiting for?! Read more about travelling the world for free, or get your Worldpackers promo code here!
Cost: $49 USD for 1 year for a solo membership or $39 USD with this discount code
$59 USD for 1 year for a couple/joint membership or $49 USD with this discount code
Pros: Good range of opportunities. Excellent support for volunteers. Great value with the discount
Cons: More expensive than other sites if you don’t have a discount.
Workaway and Worldpackers are in my opinion the two best work exchange sites, but for me, Worldpackers just tips the scales for the excellent value of membership (with the discount), their level of support and added extras in their community like the Worldpacker Gigs and Worldpacker Academy. I go into more detail about which I think is the best work exchange website in this article comparing Worldpackers and Workaway, if you would like more information.
However, If you are still struggling to decide between Workaway or Worldpackers, the deal-breaker really depends on what work exchange placements are available where you want to go. I have had several successful work exchanges through Workaway, but because of the sheer size of the network, hosts in popular destinations are often bombarded with requests for exchanges and you might be less likely to get a reply from them.
I’ve spoken to several people who have had trouble getting responses from prospective hosts on Workaway, and there is nothing more frustrating than paying for a service where hosts don’t respond. However, if there aren’t any listings on Worldpackers for the destination you want, then you will have better luck with Workaway.
Help Exchange, or HelpX for short was originally set up in 2001 by a traveller who wanted a better system of finding work exchange placements while backpacking in Australia and New Zealand. The website has had a revamp and isn’t as old-fashioned looking as it used to be, but it is missing some of the bells and whistles of Workaway and Worldpackers.
You can browse and search for listings without having to register, but to contact hosts and to read the full reviews of placements you have to upgrade to the premier membership.
Membership is cheap though, at €20 (about $23.50 USD) for 2 years. This site seems to focus primarily on Australia, New Zealand, Canada & Europe, although there are listings in other parts of the world too.
Once you have searched for a location you see when the profile was last updated – some seem quite out of date (as the website has been going for a long time) but it is always worth contacting them. In search results, the profiles which have been updated most recently show up first.
Cost: $23.50 for 2 years
Pros: Cheap. A wide range of opportunities in Europe, Australia, Canada.
Cons: Old website, not easy to see information at a glance. Not many international placements outside their focus area.
WWOOF or World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms does what it says on the tin – working in a similar way to the above sites but solely for placements on organic farms. The farms are offer excellent opportunities to experience rural areas of your chosen countries, but by their nature tend to be more isolated from city centres and offer more basic accommodations than you expect to find in hostels where tourists are.
Most countries have their own WWOOF network, and you have to pay for registration for each country network which tends to be $20 – $30. If there isn’t a specific WWOOF organisation in the country you’re looking for, there are also WWOOF Independents which are clubbed together on their own website.
WWOOFer membership for WWOOF Independents is £20.00 for a single membership or £30.00 for joint membership for one year. There are currently 1020 Organic growers & farmers on WWOOF Independents.
Cost: $20-$30 per country.
Pros: Organic, so great for people wanting to learn more about permaculture and farming
Cons: Payment is per country, so if you are travelling around several countries it can be expensive.
Free Workaway Alternatives
If you are on an even tighter budget, these free Workaway alternatives won’t cost you a penny! Both Hippohelp and Volunteers Base are completely free to join, for hosts and volunteers. Both sites emphasise social and cultural exchanges as the key to their work exchange programmes and could be a really good way to ‘test’ out volunteering before you sign up and pay for sites like Workaway and Worldpackers.
However, as with any free sites, there is more of an element of risk involved as there is no screening process, and if something goes wrong there isn’t a 24/7 support team to help you.
Pros: Good to get a taster if you are a confident traveller and don’t expect to have problems
Cons: Not as much screening of hosts or support if you do need help
Which is the Best Workaway Alternative?
It really depends on what you’re looking for.
The free Workaway alternatives like Hippohelp and Volunteers Base are useful to get a taste of volunteering, but as a female solo traveller, I prefer to have a bit more assurance and a better verification process for hosts so I am as sure as I possibly can be that I will have a good experience.
I found HelpX to be a clunky site to use, so the newer websites like Workaway and Worldpackers were much easier to navigate to quickly find the information I was looking for.
WWOOF is best if you want to focus solely on one country, or on farming and permaculture, whereas Workaway, Helpx and Worldpackers have a much wider range of options for different types of volunteer work in a variety of countries.
Workaway and Worldpackers are the most user-friendly, but Worldpackers have the extra bonus of high level 24/7 support if something goes wrong. So, in my opinion, Worldpackers is the best work exchange website, and easily the best alternative to Workaway.
No matter where you travel, or which work exchange site you choose you should always get travel insurance to cover you in case something does happen. Travel insurance from WorldNomads is available to people from 140 countries, and you can buy and claim online, even after you’ve left home. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities. Get a quote now:
What do you think? Have you had any experience volunteering with work exchange sites like Workaway, Worldpackers or HelpX? Which do you think is the best Workaway alternative? I’d love to hear what you think, please leave your comments below.
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