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A work stay is a growing travel style that overlaps with voluntourism. It’s a type of travel where everyday people (also known as hosts) seek out travellers who would like to give back to a different community than their own, while also saving money during their travels.
A work stay is effectively a type of volunteering that benefits both parties involved. It’s a way for newcomers to a destination to be able to get a more authentic travel experience while lending a hand to those who need it.
If you grew up in a city, you could choose to take part in a work stay in the countryside on a rural farm. Or maybe you consider volunteering in a small village where not many locals speak English or your native language.
There are so many different ways you can enjoy a volunteering placement considering there are work stay experiences all around the world. Helping to run a business, working in a bustling city with a family, working with a single farmer to grow crops.
There really are endless possibilities for you to meet locals and see how they live on a daily basis.
Whatever work stay opportunity you sign up to complete, you will certainly be stepping outside your comfort zone which will lead to you having unique and interesting experiences during your travels.
What is a work stay?
In short, a work stay is a way of travelling that puts people in contact with volunteering opportunities in exchange for free accommodation. This is a relatively new way of travelling that has gained popularity in the last 10 years and more and more people are taking advantage of the opportunities.
But why are they so popular?
Each work stay helps locals meet travellers who are willing to lend a hand while offering an authentic experience during their trip. It’s a great way to see how the residents of their chosen destination live their lives.
Plus, many of the volunteering opportunities allow each traveller to try out new activities and get out of their comfort zone. You’d get to meet new people, try new things, improve your skills, and more – without spending money on accommodation.
Where can you find a work stay?
First, let’s see where you can find a work stay experience. With the work stay becoming more popular, there are multiple places to find these opportunities. There are some websites which help you find international placements (we will get into below).
Plus, you can sometimes find advertisements locally. For example, you could be staying in a hostel or guesthouse and see a volunteer placement opportunity posted on a message board or hear through word of mouth.
WorkAway – This is one of the two sites I use the most. They’ve been active since 2002 and have a huge collection of volunteer and work stay placements around the world. With everything from hostels, permaculture, animal care and more, there really is something for everyone to experience.
Worldpackers – The second of two main sites I use. They have been around since 2014 and have many amazing opportunities across most areas of the world. They too have a wide range of work stay placements including helping with childcare, language exchange, environmental sustainability and more.
Wwoofing – The oldest of the platforms, Wwoofing started in 1971. Unlike the others already discussed, this website focuses solely on rural placements and each work stay experience is based around agriculture in some way. You could be growing fruit, picking vegetables, planting seeds or caring for farm animals.
HelpStay – The least known of the big 5, HelpStay also started in 2014. They have a platform with a mixture of volunteering programs without focusing just on one type of placement.
Help X – Founded in 2001, this company also focuses strongly on agricultural placements and farming communities. It helps those on working holiday visas worldwide to connect with farmers worldwide to sign up for volunteer exchanges.
How long is a work stay?
If you are signing up for a work stay placement through one of the above websites, you should know about the length of the placement ahead of time. Each placement usually has in its description the minimal time requirement the hosts would like their guests to stay for so you have no surprises.
If you are only travelling for 6 weeks and the hosts require a minimum stay of 4 weeks, then you can look for a different placement with a shorter stay so you can do more placements. Or, on the other hand, if you want to experience one work stay for the duration of your trip, you can find places that are happy to accept people for more than one month. There is a lot of flexibility in placements
But why would there be a minimum stay requirement?
Because you would be staying with the local hosts, it can be more expensive in transport costs if they have to change guests every 2-3 days. Plus if they have any tasks they need to train you for, it is often more valuable for them to have guests that stay a little longer to really make the time worth spent instead of teaching people over and over again.
On each placement listing it would say if they require guests to stay for 1 week, 2 weeks or more. Of course, you still get to speak with the hosts before signing up to arrange with them dates, and times and ask any questions you may have before confirming your stay.
What’s also great about the minimum requirements, is as long as the hosts have availability and don’t have other guest bookings, you can usually stay longer than the minimum. I have personally stayed on placements closer to 1 month even when they only required 1 week.
What are the different types of work stay?
Although all work stay opportunities have a key feature in common of connecting volunteering travellers with hosts, it does not mean they’re all the same. Many differences create unique placements around the world for you to choose from.
Farming & Agricultural
This is typically the type of placement where you go to a rural destination and help the host around their farm. Some common tasks include feeding their farm animals, ploughing fields, planting flowers, watering crops and more.
Typically these positions are out in the countryside and not too close to major cities or popular tourist sites. You would get a bed on their property in exchange for working a few hours each day on the farm.
Hostels & Guesthouses
Placements in hostels are typically located in hugely popular tourist areas and close to if not inside, big cities. The jobs included with working in a hostel mostly includes housekeeping and guest services.
You may be tasked with changing the bedding when guests check out, tidying up the common areas, helping guests during their stay and the general running of the hostel. You normally get a bed to stay in for free in exchange for your time helping out.
Cultural or Language Exchange
This type of placement can be found in multiple environments. The purpose of this volunteering experience is to exchange languages and cultures. What this means is you could be helping your host practice your native language, while they also teach you theirs.
You might be staying in the same home as your host in their spare room or in another property they own during the cultural swapping experience.
This type of work stay is any other volunteering task that a host might need help with that doesn’t fit the other categories. Some examples include helping with childcare, helping on boats, assisting at watersports businesses, and painting murals.
Since hosts in different parts of the world run their lives differently, there are so many ways you may be required to help out. As usual, you will get to stay for free on the host’s property for no monetary cost.
Why are they popular amongst travellers?
There are many reasons the work stay is popular throughout the travel community. Let’s look at a few below:
- Can save a significant amount of money on accommodation
- Get to meet locals and see how they live on a daily basis
- Have a more authentic travel experience in your chosen destination
- Enhance and earn new skills based on the tasks you’ll be given
One of the main ones is how it can save you money when travelling for a long time. The beauty of a work stay is it’s an opportunity to help those who need an extra pair of hands around their home or business and have the space to accommodate a helper for no monetary cost.
This means if you sign up to be a volunteer on a work stay placement, you will get to stay there for free when it comes to money, and you will instead be offering your time to help them, in exchange for the place to stay.
This is beneficial for a number of reasons.
Accommodation is usually the highest cost associated with any trip, especially if you’re trying to travel for a prolonged length of time or travel slowly. So, if you’re able to exchange a few hours a day, a few days a week in order to get a place to stay, it’s a win-win situation for both parties.
Final thoughts on the work stay experience
As you can see, there are multiple reasons the work stay is a popular way to travel and there are benefits for both the traveller and the host.
With thousands of opportunities worldwide, you surely are spoilt for choice, and luckily for you, there is something for everyone.
If you’re still not convinced that this is a suitable travel style for your upcoming trips, take a look at these other posts I have written that help you understand a little more about what to expect.