Work exchanges are a wonderful way to travel for free and to learn more about a different culture. You can even enjoy your own country while working in exchange for accommodation! Two of the biggest work exchange websites are Workaway and Worldpackers, and people often wonder which is the best work exchange site. I’m here to share everything I know about the two sites to help you decide which is best for you: Workaway or Worldpackers! I’ll compare the advantages and disadvantages of each website in the ultimate showdown of Worldpackers vs Workaway.
What is a Work Exchange?
A work exchange is where you volunteer your time and skills in exchange for free accommodation.
Work exchange programs can also be called voluntourism or kind of work trade program, but they differ from traditional volunteering because they aren’t usually for non-profit organisations. They are also not the same as work abroad programs because you don’t usually get paid for your work.
There are exceptions to this of course, as some work exchanges are with NGOs and other non-profit organisations, and some work exchanges are paid – but most are simply working for a business, individual or family, in exchange for accommodation.
This article doesn’t go into all of the benefits of work exchange programs, but you can find all of my work exchange articles here which have more information.
If travel abroad isn’t possible at the moment, don’t forget that you can still apply work exchanges in your own country. Even if lockdown means that you can’t travel, there are usually exceptions if you are travelling for work. Just make sure you talk it through with the host and agree on the measures you will take to keep everyone safe.
Using Work Exchange Websites to Find Work Exchanges
Hosts advertise available placements on these work exchange sites, and volunteers apply for suitable positions and they arrange the details between themselves.
Please note, these aren’t the only work exchange websites out there; you can find out more about work alternatives such as Helpx, WOOFF and Hippohelp in my other article here.
Worldpackers vs Workaway
Now we’ve covered the basics of work exchanges, I’ll go into detail about these two work exchange websites. I’ll share my own experiences, research and information I’ve got from other volunteers to summarise the pros and cons of each, so you can decide which is the best work exchange site for you – Worldpackers or Workaway.
Let’s start with the underdog – Worldpackers:
Worldpackers is the newer of the two work exchange websites, and according to their website, Worldpackers is “a community based on collaboration and honest relationships that make travel more accessible to those seeking a profound cultural experience”.
Founded in 2013 by two friends, Eric and Riq, Worldpackers wanted to help empower budget travellers to travel by exchanging their skills for accommodation across the world. Worldpackers is free to join and browse, but you need to pay a membership fee to contact hosts and to take part in a work exchange.
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 hosts in 170 countries and a network of around 2 million volunteers.
There is a wide range of volunteer opportunities available with hostels, campsites, NGOs, social projects, farms, ecovillages, restaurants, and small businesses, families – you name it, they’ve got it.
No matter where you decide to go, you should be able to find Worldpackers placements – even if they are in your own country!
You can choose to travel and volunteer alone, or travel with a partner or friend and take out a joint membership so you can apply for work exchange placements together.
Previously, Worldpackers used to charge the same amount for 12 months, but this year they have changed their model to bring extra value to their members. Switching to 18 months is a big change – perhaps brought on by the pandemic and uncertainty for travel – and is a great way to get extra value even if you can’t travel abroad right now.
To save you even more money, I’ve teamed up with Worldpackers to offer all Tales of a Backpacker readers a $20 discount on membership fees, so you can get 18 months of Worldpackers membership for just $29 USD with the discount code!
Once you are a verified member you can apply to and message all the hosts on Worldpackers and volunteer all over the world. What are you waiting for?! Read more about travelling the world for free, or get your Worldpackers promo code here!
Worldpackers also have an extra membership option for people who want to access their Worldpackers Academy. Access to the Academy as well as all of the membership benefits costs $99 USD for 18 months, so an extra $50 USD on top of the standard membership. The Academy includes over 400 lessons from Worldpackers experts who are digital nomads, so you can learn how to create a sustainable lifestyle and work while you are travelling.
However, at the moment there are only 2 courses which are available in English (the rest are in Spanish and Portuguese) so I wouldn’t recommend this extra option until there are more resources available for English speakers. If you speak Spanish or Portuguese though, it could be very useful for you!
Benefits of Worldpackers
The Worldpackers website is easy to use and navigate. You can sign with your email or via Facebook for ease of access or you can even download the Worldpackers app and use that to search and apply for placements.
Worldpackers is very focussed on safety and security, verifying each host before they are accepted on the platform to make sure that they offer a safe, Worldpacker worthy experience for travelers.
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 – about 60% apparently – so that is good peace of mind for us ladies!
I haven’t needed to get in touch with the support team myself, so I’m not sure in practise how easy it is to get help, but if they do what they say they will, that is definitely reassuring!
Another thing I really like about Worldpackers is that they offer “Worldpackers Insurance”. This means that if the host does not abide by what has been previously agreed, Worldpackers will help you find another host nearby. If they cannot relocate you, Worldpackers will pay up to 3 nights of accommodation in another hostel in the same city to give you time to figure out what to do next.
Worldpackers also have a strong community where experienced Worldpackers members are available to chat with newer travelers for peer-to-peer advice. They also frequently contribute as writers to the site, including with videos and advice on how to have the best Worldpacker experience possible.
If you’d like to sign up for Worldpackers, use the code below to get $20 discount on the membership fee:
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. They even have pet and house-sitting opportunities!
Workaway started years ago, although I couldn’t find much information about the details it seems that Workaway began in 2002 and has grown to a global work exchange site since then. Over half of the 40,000 hosts on Workaway are in Europe, so if you plan to do a work exchange in Europe, this is a good place to start.
Don’t forget that you can also use Workaway in your own country, so like Worldpackers it is a great way to travel for free even if you can’t go abroad at the moment.
Similar to Worldpackers, Workaway also offers the option to travel alone, or to pair up with a partner or friend and take out a joint membership. They are currently offering 3 months extra free, so 15 months membership for the price of 12.
Workaway costs 45 USD (39€) per year for a solo membership, or $57 USD (49€) for a couple/joint membership.
Once you have paid the registration fee, every work exchange during your membership year 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.
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.
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 also spoken to 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 may have better luck with Workaway.
So which is best – Worldpackers or Workaway?
Workaway and Worldpackers are in my opinion the two best work exchange sites out there, but with the excellent value of the Worldpackers membership (especially with the $20 USD discount), their level of support and optional extras in their community like the Academy gives Worldpackers the edge over Workaway.
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. Before you sign up for either platform, have a look at the opportunities available on the sites for your chosen destination and choose the one which has the best opportunities.
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Last updated: November 2, 2020