Do you want to change your life? What if I told you that you can test drive this new life at an extremely low cost? The answer is WorkAway (or WWOOF or HelpX,… – click here to see a comparison of the three).
You want to move to the country? — Find a host in the country in the country and region of your choice.
You have always dreamt of running a B&B? — Find a host running one already.
You love the idea of buying an old farm in the South of France? — Find a host who has and immerse yourself in the experience.
I learnt about WorkAway from a guy whose couch I surfed. Christian told me about how he had spent three months in the Estonian countryside building a house – having neither experience in building houses nor being anyway near fluent in Estonian.
The basic concept is that the host provides accommodation (and usually food) in exchange for about 25 hours of labour per week.
WorkAway and HelpX have online databases with several thousand entries. Prospective hosts and workers (or ‘volunteers’ as they are sometimes called) provide information about themselves, their skills (workers) and jobs that need doing (hosts). Both sides may approach the other. Naturally, hosts tend to invite workers with specific skills. Crafts like plumbing, masonry etc are especially sought after. But fret not, I am (by some standards) quite old, female (weak…) and have no artisanal skills. Still it took me less than a week to find my first hosts.
The key is the application. Think of it like of any other job application, just a little less formal. Let your hosts know why you want to stay with them and what you can bring to the table. State your expectations. Read the profile. Thoroughly. Take cues from the references. Leave feedback after you have stayed somewhere and request your hosts to do the same.
Six months later I have shoveled gravel, cleaned holiday homes and pulled out 20 m brambles in Lot Valley, France.
I have built three websites, painted wheels, floors, walls and wardrobes, pruned trees, sitted dogs and cats and reordered a laundry room in Tarn, France.
Currently, I am still in Tarn, sitting a dog and a house with a huge garden that wants to be freed of mole hills on a daily basis. I go to French class once a week and can have conversations in French semi-fluently.
The opportunity to try my hand at a multitude of jobs and lifestyles, learning new skills but also seeing what is entailed in, let’s say, retiring to the country is one aspect that appeals to me, the restless wanderer. Money is another. In three months in the Tarn I have barely had to spend any cash. That, of course, depends largely on your interests and your hosts. If you spend your two weeks of holiday leave in the South of France you want to venture out and visit the sights and cities nearby. And your hosts might not always be able to give you a lift or willing to invite you to a night on the town. But all in all the exchange makes vacationing affordable when expenses for accommodation and food are drastically reduced.
Being a single traveler has not only opened up my hosts’ houses to me but also their social circles. The area around Cordes-sur-Ciel, for example, has a large (anglophone) expat community. I am invited to lunches and dinners, cocktail parties and outings. After arriving here in October I have been twice recommended and moved to hosts down the road when my old assignment ran out. And I have — though that is rare and expressedly not part of the WorkAway exchange — been offered paid jobs by other neighbors and friends.
WorkAwaying is an experience I can recommend to anyone willing to work hard and discover different worlds. Be it to test drive a new life or to simply make that three-week vacation on the other side of the world finally affordable.