Unlike most of the stories you read online about full-time travelers, mine doesn’t start in a cubicle with a dream. I didn’t leave home with the intention of never coming back. I left home with a summer job in Taiwan that paid for my travel expenses, and no plan beyond that.
About halfway through my summer job, I thought to myself: “What if I just kept going with this? What would that look like?” I truly had no idea. I’d seen people on the internet traveling indefinitely – I had even met some over the course of that summer – but I didn’t know how it was possible.
That is until one of my friends offhandedly said: “What about Workaway?”
I had never heard of Workaway before, so I looked into it. At first, it seemed a little too good to be true. Free accommodation in exchange for a few hours of work a day? In some of the top travel destinations around the world? Sign me up!
Workaway is an awesome platform for travelers who are on a budget, want an authentic local experience and have a flexible schedule. You pay for an annual membership (around $30) and are given access to thousands of listings from individuals, families, and organizations all over the world.
All types of work are available – looking after children, housekeeping at hostels, working on farms, helping out on boats. And in exchange for 20 hours of work a week, you get free accommodation. The membership pays itself off within just a couple days of your first gig!
Note: Workaway and hosts do not pay for your travel expenses!
As a solo female traveler, everything I do is padded with precaution. So entering into this new world of possibility was no different. I read many tour tips for solo travelers and prepared myself mentally. I only reached out to listings I would feel completely comfortable doing alone – no rural farms miles from the nearest town; no living alone in a house with one person.
Instead, I reached out to hostels during the offseason, families with a few kids looking for help, and English teaching opportunities. I always chose options that involved other volunteers, too. (I met one of my best friends while volunteering at a hostel in Macedonia!).
You can search for listings based on location or popularity (if you’re flexible on where you go). There’s even a “Last Minute Listings” page if you’re just looking to skip town and try something new. I always comb through the reviews on a host before reaching out to them. If it seems like a solo female has never done the gig before, I probably won’t apply unless all of the other reviews are glowing.
Reaching out to a host is incredibly simple. There’s a “Contact” button integrated onto their listing, and you’ll get notified by email when they respond. I always make sure to offer up any and all relevant information in my first message – the dates I am interested in coming, how long I would like to stay, what relevant experience I have, why I was drawn to their listing, etc. – so that they know right away if I am the right fit for their gig.
At this point you might be thinking:
“But if it’s free work, how can you sustain full-time travel using Workaway?”
I started using Workaway directly after finishing a job. I had saved up enough money to travel for several months even without volunteering. Adding in Workaway doubled the amount of time I could travel without making money again. But I did jump back and forth between Workaway gigs and paid gigs (like summer camps, teaching English or working online).
Over the course of two years, I did about 6 different Workaway gigs. My first was as an English tutor Au Pair in Spain, which ended up being one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had! So much so that I still keep in touch with the family I lived with (and still visit them whenever I’m in Europe). I also worked as a housekeeper/gardener at a hostel in Ireland, a bartender in Croatia, a caregiver in Chile and a receptionist for a hostel in Taiwan.
Cutting out the cost of accommodation while traveling dramatically decreases the amount of money you’re spending on a day-to-day basis. And usually, the hostel/home that I’m working from has a kitchen, so I can save money on eating out all the time.
And an awesome added bonus that I’ve found is that your host will be able to help you find cheaper tour/activity options in the area. For example, while working at a hostel in Zadar, Croatia, the owners offered a free seat on their tour of Plitvice National Park if the tour didn’t fully book. What a deal!
Beyond the logistical benefits to using Workaway to sustain full-time travel, it also taught me a lot about responsible, slow travel. Whether I was living with a family in Ireland, working at a hostel in Bali, or helping a nonprofit in Nepal, I was immersing myself in a side of the culture that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.
I figured out what kind of work I was interested in and willing to do – I like jobs that require social skills but not constant socialization; I don’t love being a caregiver, and so on. And it helped teach me that although I was traveling solo, I was never alone. I recommend signing up for Workaway to anyone and everyone who will listen!