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If you’ve ever considered taking part in a volunteering work exchange during your travels, you likely came across WorkAway as one of the platforms to use, but is it worth it?
It’s a popular voluntourism website that connects hosts (local residents in multiple destinations) with budget-conscious travellers who wish to have authentic experiences during their travels. It’s where people can volunteer their time and energy in exchange for a place to stay and typically help their hosts for 1 week or more.
Since it is a huge platform with users all around the world there is an abundance of placements available for people to apply to. But what is the value of the subscription and is it worth your time, money and effort during your own gap year?
Throughout this article, I want to share with you the different features the platform offers and help you decide if they’re worth using during your upcoming trip.
Before you consider heading out on your gap year as a volunteer, make sure you have the right visas and insurance to cover you for volunteering. Not every country has the same rules regarding volunteering on a tourist visa so in some instances you may require a work permit.
Don’t forget to get travel insurance to cover you if something bad happens. One company I have personal experience with is Safety Wing. Not everyone needs the same coverage, so make sure you get a personalised quote that suits you and your trip plans.
Is WorkAway worth it? Let’s find out
To decide whether WorkAway is worth it during your gap year, you should start by looking at the site subscription and what you get included for the cost. If you want to know if the site is safe to use check out this post on the safety features provided.
The cost is $49 USD for individual accounts or $59 USD for travel partner accounts.
The exchange rate for GPB at the time of writing was £38.80 = $49. So for the sake of the article, I’ll round up.
You pay £40 for a WorkAway subscription which allows you full access to the site for 1 year. This includes:
- A personal profile about you, your experience and your travel plans
- Access to the full host and placement list worldwide
- A dedicated support team to help before, during and after your volunteer trips
- 247 customer service during placements
- Access to the community to meet other travellers
This is all before you have even signed up for a host’s volunteer placement! Already this seems to be worth the £40 WorkAway payment for 12 months, but let’s see how else you can get value from subscribing to it.
When you apply for a WorkAway placement and get approved, you will be in a virtual agreement to work for a few hours a day for the mutually agreed duration with the host. This is known as a “workaway” which we go into in more detail below.
This “work” you do for them is in exchange for staying in the host’s accommodation for free (or at least no monetary cost). This is also known as a work stay. Technically you are paying for the stay with your time and effort instead – a perfect arrangement for travellers on a long-term trip or tight budget and hosts who need a helping hand.
The shortest stay hosts request volunteers for is 1 week/7 days but the average is around 2 weeks. There are many placements that request longer or are happy to accept if you ask to volunteer for a longer period. It all just depends on their workload and whether they have a vacancy.
When you consider the cost of accommodation in different parts of the world, getting any portion of your accommodation for free can be a great saving. When you save money on a place to stay, you can travel for longer or do more activities at each destination.
Let’s make a comparison of hostels (since most of my readers use hostels while backpacking) around the world. I will use the average cost so of course there will be some places more expensive or cheaper. This is just an example.
Some popular backpacking routes include:
The Banana Pancake Trail (typically low cost)
- Thailand hostels = £10 pn in a dorm ($12.50) / £23 pn in a private ($29)
- Cambodia hostels = £6.50 pn in a dorm ($8) / £12 pn in a private ($15)
- Vietnam hostels = £7 pn in a dorm ($9) / £10.30 pn in a private ($13)
- Malaysia hostels = £5 pn in a dorm ($7) / £8 pn in a private ($10)
So if we do a best and worst case scenario here using the above figures, 1 week in southeast Asia could cost you £35 – £70 if staying in dorms, or £56 – £160 if you’re staying in private rooms.
2 weeks would cost £70 – £140 and £112 – £320 respectively.
New Zealand (higher cost)
- Auckland hostels = £15 pn in a dorm ($18.50) / £21 pn in a private ($26.50)
- Wellington hostels = £14 pn in a dorm ($18) / £22 pn in a private ($27.50)
- Christchurch hostels = £17 pn in a dorm ($21) / £24 pn in a private ($28)
- Queenstown hostels = £17 pn in a dorm ($21) / £24 pn in a private ($28)
New Zealand is known for being more expensive than Southeast Asia, so using the above estimated nightly costs, 1 week could cost you £98 – £119 if you’re in dorm rooms vs £147 – £168 in private rooms.
2 weeks across New Zealand’s islands could cost you £196 – £238 and £294 – £336 instead.
As you can see, depending on where you travel to, your accommodation costs on a trip can vary significantly. So if you were on a year-long gap year or extended trip, you can imagine how those accommodation costs add up even more.
Comparison of accommodation vs subscription cost
The value of a WorkAway subscription varies with regard to the monetary aspect depending on where you travel to. However, when you consider that it only costs you £40 to join the WorkAway platform for an entire year, just 1 or 2 weeks of placements out of 52 makes it worth it in that regard.
1 week in a very low-cost hostel in Southeast Asia is on par with the cost of the subscription.
If you are already travelling an extensive amount and spending a lot on accommodation costs, you can really see a financial benefit when you participate in multiple WorkAway placements throughout your trip. The more weeks you work on exchange programs, the less accommodation you actually pay for. It’s a win-win for both parties.
But saving money is not the only benefit!
When you take part in a WorkAway placement you’ll see that it’s worth it when you realise the experiences you can have too.
When you need to transfer money or check exchange rates during your overseas trip, consider using Wise. They have competitive rates and make exchanging foreign funds easy.
Plus, when you embark on international WorkAway experiences, you’ll likely want to stay connected with family and friends back home. I’d recommend making sure you have a SIM that works at your destination. Airalo offers eSIMS for most countries worldwide and they can be downloaded straight to your phone.
The people you’ll meet
Each WorkAway experience is completely unique and allows you to meet people from all walks of life. You’ll meet those raised in the city, those from the countryside, people from the mountains, beaches and anywhere else imaginable.
Some will be monolingual, and others will be able to communicate in multiple languages. Each of these people offers something unique to them that you may not find elsewhere. This helps create a real and authentic experience throughout your WorkAway adventures.
When you embark on a Work Away experience, you can learn about the local culture and environment from the hosts and locals. This is much more useful when it comes to learning about a place than anything you can read in a book or online. Plus, you can make new friends with the hosts who so graciously invite you into their life, and offer you a place to stay. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing you have connections around the world.
Some WorkAway experiences allow more than one traveller (also known as “workawayers”) to join at a time. This can be beneficial for multiple reasons. It means that the workload is split so not just one person is doing everything and tiring themselves out.
It also allows the traveller to feel a little more comfortable knowing they have someone else in the same boat as them when taking part in a work exchange. This can lower anxiety and make you feel better and less alone.
Not only that, but you can make friends with the travellers too! This could include finding someone that really matches your personality that you continue to travel with after the WorkAway placement is over, or someone you continue a friendship with long after you’ve both returned home.
I made one of my closest friends on a WorkAway experience in Korea and we speak on a daily basis still, well over a year after we met! I never would have met someone who would become such a huge part of my life, had I not joined the platform.
When you consider the people you’ll meet along the way, £40 a year is an outstanding deal when you could potentially make friends for life.
The Experiences You’ll Have
Every WorkAway experience is different, even those with similarities, are never exactly the same.
This means you’ll get to enjoy activities and tasks you may not have experienced before, which is one of the top reasons people travel.
You could end up working in an environment the polar opposite of where you’re from which alone will bring some tasks that you may not have completed at home.
I’m from central London which is a huge city, so when I join WorkAway I prefer to find placements in the countryside or near the coast – two environments significantly different to my home city of London.
When you try to decide whether WorkAway is worth it or not during your gap year, think about the types of experiences you actually want to have. If you want to spend time with animals, there are placements for that. If you want to stay in a bustling city hostel and meet lots of other travellers, there are WorkAways for that too!
By having thousands of available opportunities in so many countries, there is a WorkAway experience for everyone, you just need to look for them on the site. Luckily, you can filter the many opportunities to only show the ones that resonate with you and what you’d like to experience so you’re more likely to enjoy where you stay.
When you’re constantly having brand new experiences and getting out of your comfort zone to maximise your time away from home, you once again get to see the value in the WorkAway platform and it’s another way I think the subscription is worth it for a year of travelling.
Skills you can learn or improve
Generally speaking when you apply for a WorkAway program you have at least one or two of the required skills that the host is looking for. If they are hosting a program that doesn’t ask for certain skills but instead someone who is open to learning and having an open mind, then typically anyone can still apply.
My first WorkAway
Having a customer service background before I started my travel journey I opted for volunteering programs that allowed me to speak to new people as it was already something I was comfortable doing. The perk of being a huge extrovert! For example, in a busy party hostel in Chiang Mai Thailand, I was part of the entertainment team.
I had to introduce myself to guests and give them options on different events we were holding each day. This way we could get numbers and arrange tickets for those interested. It was a great way to stay in a popular accommodation while also meeting travellers on a daily basis – some I travelled with to the next two cities.
Other examples of skills
On a completely different placement, you might have an artistic eye and be required to help decorate a property with brightly coloured murals or art pieces. If you’re just starting out in the art world this could be a great addition to a portfolio, or if you are already established it’s a great way to leave your mark.
Maybe you love animals but haven’t had much experience with them to date, there are countless experiences around the world that allow you to get hands-on with farm animals and pets. If you don’t already have this experience, many of the hosts are happy to train you and teach you what you need to know – providing you stay for longer than 1 week.
You could be required to be an extra pair of green hands helping a host with their yard work and building a permaculture or eco-friendly living space. These may be basic skills you have from home or they could become part of a brand new skillset you acquire along the way. There are so many different types of workaways that the skills you can learn are almost infinite!
Go and take a look at what’s available: Check out the host list
Is WorkAway worth it? Final thoughts
As you can probably tell, I am a huge advocate for WorkAway and the general work stay movement – but all of the thoughts and opinions on whether it is worth the cost or not, are my own.
Some people need logic and physical math equations to see if something is worth it on a financial basis and others just need to see how it makes them feel to establish value. That’s why one person may see something as much more valuable than someone else and vice versa.
When I get people asking how to afford to travel for longer or how to have the most authentic travel experiences, I often recommend trying a work exchange and pointing them in the direction of WorkAway. I have been extremely lucky to have a good experience with them and now I’m an advocate for recommending the platform to others heading out on a gap year.