Alternative Traveling: How to Do Volunteering Abroad via Workaway


Many people look for an answer to the question how to travel long-term with a small budget. Many also want to gain new experiences abroad but don’t want to live abroad permanently. Doing volunteering is a great solution in both cases!

We have volunteered in South Korea and Vietnam during our Asia backpacking trip, and later on in New Zealand as well. In our volunteering places, we have taught English, helped out in a newly opened hostel and weeded in a garden.  Thanks to volunteering, we managed for example to live three months in Vietnam with less than 10 euros a day.

When we think back on our travels, also many of the best memories are connected with volunteering and the people we met thanks to it. That’s why we can recommend volunteering to anyone who wants to go abroad and gain new experiences and friends. When you are on a long backpacking trip, it is also sometimes nice to do something else than just lazing on the beach. Volunteering is a good way to live an everyday life in a new country.

There are lots of different volunteering opportunities in the world and we don’t have experience with any volunteering organizations. They can, of course, also be a good opportunity to do good in the world. By now, we have only done volunteering via website. Other similar websites offering volunteering places are Helpx and WWOOF that concentrates on farm work. We chose Workaway mainly because the website is clear and pleasant to use.

Workaway in a short

  • is a website that helps volunteers and hosts to find each other
  • Workaway is not a charity organization but just an independent middleman of individual advertisements
  • It offers a big variety of different volunteering jobs in 155 countries
  • A one-year membership costs 32-42 USD

Vapaaehtoistyöt ulkomailla

How does Workaway work?

Summarized, Workaway is a platform (a bit like Amazon but for volunteering) where private people and companies can advertise and look for volunteers. Accordingly, the people looking for volunteering places can browse the ads and apply for them. Both parties create a profile where they tell about themselves. The reliability of the website is based on the reviews that both hosts and volunteers leave to each other.

On Workaway, you can find different volunteering opportunities around the world. Anyhow, a majority of them is connected with language teaching, babysitting and working in hostels and farms. In many cases, volunteering means helping out normal, private people. A lonely elderly person might seek company and help with everyday household work via Workaway. But it’s also common for businesses to look for foreign travelers and language speakers to reach a helping hand.

The ultimate purpose of volunteering is that you don’t get paid money for the work. Why does it make sense to do volunteering then? In exchange for the work, a volunteer gets a free accommodation and depending on the place, possibly also free food. At its best, a volunteering place offers all the three daily meals and drinks. Volunteering is also a very good way to gain work experience and learn new about different cultures. At the same time, the host gets help with their everyday tasks or business.

Volunteering is meant to be pretty relaxed activity. You normally work 3-5 hours per day and 5-6 days a week. This means that you also have plenty of time for yourself and for sightseeing. The duration of the work depends fully on the host’s needs and on yourself. You can spend anything between a few days and several months in one volunteering place.

volunteering Asia

Accommodation varies a lot from place to place. You might get a private room for yourself or a hostel dorm with other volunteers. We have mainly stayed in hostel kind of places with other volunteers. One volunteering place in Vietnam offered the accommodation in the backroom of the language cafe, with mattresses on the floor. Not really a fancy place to stay, but at least the spirit and atmosphere were top!

As Workaway is only an independent middleman, the volunteer is always responsible for the travel preparations and visa things. Once you have found a place you like, all the rest depends on what you agree with the host. This also means that you are responsible to estimate whether the volunteering place is safe and reliable. In theory, anyone can create a profile on the website and there are, unfortunately, some dishonest people too.

Anyhow, as long as you only choose volunteering places that have lots of positive reviews, there shouldn’t be any problem. Our own experiences have been mainly only positive. You get pretty far just by using common sense and by following your instincts like in most situations while traveling.

You can create either a single or a couple profile on Workaway website. The registration costs 32 USD for a single person and 42 USD for a couple (or friends). The price includes the membership for one year and you can apply for as many volunteering places as you want. Apart from that and the travel costs, volunteering doesn’t cost anything. The membership fee pays itself back practically in just a few days when you get a free accommodation and food.

volunteering ho chi minh 3

Why is Workaway a great way to travel?

How does, for example,teaching English in a mountain village in Northern Vietnam, looking after goats in Andis, helping out in a surf camp in Bali, clearing bamboo forest in Japan or building an eco-community in a jungle in Thailand, sound?

Workaway is a great solution especially for them who want to travel cheaply or just want to have new experiences abroad. When you have done volunteering on your travels, it also looks good in the cv and shows that you are flexible, brave and ready to take on new challenges.

For us, volunteering abroad has opened a whole new world with awesome possibilities. We have realized that by doing it, we can travel around the world with minimal accommodation and food costs. At the same time, we get various work experience and new friends! Workaway is a great way to get into the local culture and live everyday life with locals. How does, for example, teaching English in a mountain village in Northern Vietnam, looking after goats in Andis, helping out in a surf camp in Bali, clearing bamboo forest in Japan or building an eco-community in a jungle in Thailand, sound?

The best thing about volunteering is that you get to challenge yourself and also find new sides of yourself. Have you always thought that you are not good at gardening or your English skills are not strong enough to teach others? You should dump this kind of preconceptions into the garbage bin and dare to try something different. We applied for a volunteering place in Vietnam where they mainly looked for artistic people to make wall paintings in the hostel. We had never done anything like that but promised to give it a try besides helping with other things. Eventually, we created so nice paintings that we even surprised ourselves totally!

workaway asia

Practical tips for searching volunteering places

You should start looking for volunteering possibilities by browsing interesting ads on the website. You can do this even without registering and paying the membership fee. Once you have found a place that you are interested in and want to apply for it, you need to register and pay the fee. Take your time to create your profile and tell about yourself. Don’t forget to add pictures! If you need help with writing your profile, you can browse other volunteers’ profiles as an example.

When you look for volunteering places, pay extra attention to the feedback that the hosts have got, what they offer you in exchange and what the working hours are. The monthly calendar in the ad tells when the host needs help. Some places are so popular that you should apply already months before. Then again, some places are so-called last minute hosts and you can start volunteering even with one day’s notice.

We also recommend checking when the host was signed in last time. It happened to us a few times that we found a very interesting place and sent a message. When we didn’t get any response, we noticed that the user hasn’t even been on the website for one year.

You can apply for the places simply by sending a message to the host where you tell why you want to volunteer and why you would be a good fit. The application is basically like a cover letter but more informal. Some hosts want to interview candidates via Skype video call but sometimes you just get a welcoming answer with the address and other details.

According to our experience, getting a volunteering place is pretty simple and straightforward. Anyhow, you should only apply for positions that you are really interested in. It’s not a good idea to apply for tens of places for the same dates. Unfortunately, many volunteers apply for several places and just never appear on the spot without canceling or anything.

In your profile and application, highlight your strengths and tell honestly what you are good at. In volunteering, even basic everyday skills can be useful and you shouldn’t underestimate yourself. Are you good at cooking, sewing, singing or for example at repairing bikes? Even the simplest skills can turn out to be useful!

Language skills, especially English skills, are essential in many volunteering places. If you are not a native English speaker, don’t be too modest. The jobs connected with English teaching don’t always require a perfect accent or spotless grammar. All the English skills and helping hands are often needed especially in poor countries. With your work, you might help the local children and young people to get a better future. And what would be a better way to gain more confidence and improve your language skills than teaching!

working holiday viisumi Uusi-Seelanti

The most important things in volunteering are a relaxed and positive attitude and curiousness. Workaway is not just about working hard but also having fun. A good example of this is the South Korean language cafe where we spent 6 weeks chatting with the students about everyday stuff and playing board games. In exchange for this “tough” job, we got a free accommodation and two warm meals every day. We spent our free time hanging out with other volunteers (it was more than 20 of us), doing sightseeing and partying. Many of these people became our close friends who we still stay in touch with regularly. We also got to know the local students who welcomed us with open arms and made us feel like home already after a few days.

One of the most important things we have learned is that you should agree on the rules with your host already on the first day. It should be clear what your working hours are, how many hours a day and how many times a week you are expected to help out. By clarifying the basic things, you can avoid conflicts or the situation where you end up working 10 hours every day. Well organized volunteering places have pre-planned shifts. Anyhow, not all the private hosts have understood the idea of Workaway, especially if you happen to be their first volunteer.

Taejongdae Busan 3

Volunteering and visas

Depending on in which part of the world you volunteer, you might wonder whether volunteering is legal and what kind of visa you need. This seems to be a complicated topic and there is no just one answer to it. Workaway website doesn’t comment on visa things and it’s the volunteer’s responsibility to clarify them.

Apart from working holiday visas that you might be able to get to some countries, getting a proper work visa is in most cases practically impossible without having a real job and doing lots of expensive paperwork. That’s why we have done volunteering in Asia with tourist visas. As you don’t get paid money for the work and there is no written contract expect the informal messages, we don’t see any problem with doing volunteering besides traveling.

Volunteering jobs last mostly a short time and the ultimate motivation, more than working itself, is getting new experiences. Many hosts are private people and nobody can forbid them to offer free accommodation and food for friends that they have met online. A bigger dilemma concerns the businesses that use backpackers as free workforce and this way, avoid paying salaries to local people. Anyhow, we cannot really add anything else to this topic.

Other countries are more strict regarding the visa things than others. When you scroll the volunteering places, Workaway gives a warning about visa issues with some countries like Indonesia and Japan. If you are unsure about visa things regarding volunteering, you should always contact the embassy of the destination country.

workaway experiences

Have you ever done volunteering abroad? If you want to hear more experiences or tips from us, just drop us a comment or send an e-mail! You can find more information also on Workaway websites.


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