What if we told you that you could travel the world for free? You wouldn’t believe us would you?
What if we told you that there are hundreds of thousands of people fulfilling that dream at this very minute, that seemingly unrealistic dream which many of us hold deep down. Those people have a found a way to venture to the very corners of this earth, exploring distant lands for little to no money at all – just the exchange of a little work.
Meet the people who work to travel and travel to work.
The exchange of work and travel started when the Internet connected one side of the world to the other. The creation of online platforms such as HelpX, WWOOF and Workaway allowed volunteers to link with an array of worldwide hosts looking for help in exchange for free meals and accommodation. The concept was simple really, allowing both parties to gain from the each other’s needs. Hosts would be able to have their work done, and travellers would be able to explore the world without financial barriers getting in their way.
This phenomenon rapidly grew into an online community of helpers that now spreads to over 150 countries and involves hundreds of thousands of hosts and volunteers. Users can access a huge variety of work opportunities, both long-term and short-term, in thousands of cities around the world.
Many of the volunteer opportunities can often provide a unique experience not similar to anywhere else in the world. For example, the opportunity to help with a house restoration at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains, near the border between France and Spain. Or helping out at a horse riding school in Puno in Peru, while living in a traditional stone house at the Titicaca Lake.
Miranda’s first Workaway experience was teaching English in a small village in Jaipur India.
“I had the most genuinely enjoyable experience staying with a lovely family in rural Jaipur. Their house was modest with only two bedrooms yet they gave up one for me – later to be shared with fellow volunteer Kat – and they all four slept in one big bed in the larger bedroom. We celebrated two birthdays and I did yoga on the roof while the sun rose and we shared countless stories and laughs. I’m also pretty sure I drank my weight in Chai Tea.”
Jet-setters don’t always need to venture too far to find these types of experiences, with many of the hosts situated nearby in larger cities. Help with housework in a quaint, riverside village near St. Andrews in Scotland, or help with pruning and gardening on an organic farm in Auckland, New Zealand. Hosts come from all walks of life and many different geographical locations, rural and not so rural.
There are many volunteer opportunities available that partner with local NGOs who require trust and cooperation from visitors, which is why all three platforms work on a profile basis. Users can create a profile, receive and give feedback to and from other users to build up a rapport, and also access other’s feedback in order to see whether or not an experience is suitable.
These types of volunteer opportunities provide both social and environmental support to local communities, for example helping at a yurt camp in the Orkhon Valley Mongolia. Volunteers participate in environmental cleanups of the area as well as awareness sessions about the ecological impact towards local people. The exchange – the chance to stay in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage Orkhon Valley, learn about Mongolian tradition, culture and language and gain one of the richest travel experiences one could ask for.
One organisation in Kenya offers the opportunity to help with the construction of a rescue centre in a Maasai village, with the aim to provide refuge for girls who are facing Female Genital Mutilation FGM and childhood marriages. Volunteers who are able to participate in these kinds of experiences not only take away from the experience, but to also give back, incorporating altruistic ventures with worldwide travel.
Ronja from Germany spent some two weeks volunteering at the the Maasai village.
“Living with the Massai was a great experience, one that I will never forget. I learned a lot about their people and their culture. Living without water and power is something everyone should do once in their life, it’s hard but also makes you appreciate the simple things.”
What many take from these experiences is a kind of travel that goes deeper than the surface, and provides us with the type of worldly connection that takes us outside of our immediate circles and introduces us to a world full of people just like us.
Perhaps your next adventure might not cost less than you think and reward you in more ways than you expect?