Workaway brings hosts together with volunteers in an extensive range of different countries and is the brain child of David Milward.
David used his travelling experience to set up a database which registers families and organisations who will host visitors – individuals, couples and sometimes groups who are willing to volunteer work in exchange for accommodation and meals.
From painting to planting, building to babysitting and shopping to shearing – Workaway aims to introduce working travellers and language learners to like-minded hosts, without having to pay expensive agency fees.
An experienced traveller on a budget himself, founder David says that “after meeting so many nice travellers and backpackers who were looking for a bit more than just the hostel experience” he conceived the idea of an exchange site that would offer them a place to stay in return for a bit of help around his house and land. He loved the idea of travelling and becoming immersed in the culture of a country but knew first-hand that this can be expensive.
The idea of a website that brings together those who want to travel and have a real opportunity to get to know the culture and life style of a country grew and grew and in France alone there are now almost 700 hosts registered who offer accommodation and meals in exchange for a few hours help each day.
You have to pay to get yourself to your French destination but food and accommodation are provided – it’s a bit like staying with friends. As with friends, you’ll be expected to help out around the house and hosts specify how much help they require – generally it is 4-5 hours per day and the rest of the time is your own.
Volunteer work in France includes:
Working in organic agricultural farms (WWoofers will like this one), lavender farms and vineyards and even a zoo! Renovating farmhouses, mediaeval buildings, campsites and chateaux; looking after children, dogs and other animals… The list is endless, varied and quite fascinating to read.
David himself lives in Spain and has a lot of volunteers at his place – he estimates around 100 workawayers have spent time with him and says “all them have been fantastic with a different set of skills”.
When we spoke to him he emphasised that the main point of the scheme is that “Culturally it’s a great way to meet people – when you’re away from your home country you make new friends, get to meet people you wouldn’t normally meet… it’s a chance to stay with a new friend, meet their family, friends and neighbours and truly experience the way of life as well as often helping to make a difference. “
We spoke to a Workawayer from the US, Susan Watson. Susan has been the resident stained glass artist at Dollywood, a theme park in the smoky mountains of Tennessee. Susan told me: “Sevierville is the birthplace of Dolly Parton and I’ve done several creations for her throughout the years. She’s a sharp lady and I’m thrilled to be a part of the Dollywood family. Since I “retired”, I return as a guest artist and sell glass pieces to various shops on the park.” Retiring from full time glass work at Dollywood was also an opportunity to travel and Susan decided to try Workaway.
She says “Workaway was completely wonderful. I was able to experience the French culture – actually the expat-in-France culture – rather than have a tourist-type memory. I particularly liked the fact that I used my talents to “earn” my room and keep. I would, and have, highly recommended the program to my friends and relatives — and a few strangers too! Workaway in France was my first experience and I do plan to return to France, as well as New Zealand in 2014. It is a great way to have an authentic cultural exchange in a foreign country and get to the everyday places that locals go. I loved it.”
Occasionally there is a mis-match – expectations may be too high on both sides. It seems those mis-matches don’t happen often though as Davis advises there is 0.4% negative feedback and he doesn’t try to hide the fact that sometimes – it just doesn’t work out for hosts or volunteers. Usually it is due to some hosts having unreasonable expectations about the amount of work they expect from Workawayers. One tale we heard involved a three page list of jobs and rules, a lack of hot water and a very limited offer of food that seemed to consist mainly of beetroot!
David says many of the hosts travelled themselves when they were younger and are open to meeting new people and introducing them to a different way of life in a new country. In France many of the hosts are expats and he would love to see more French families getting involved. “French host sign up is growing, there are pockets of native hosts in France – one family does it, spreads the word and more sign up – in fact word of mouth is how the whole Workaway concept thrives – there is no advertising, no hard sell”.
Donna and Nik Kerridge, expats who lives in the north of France told us “We have been hosting Workawayers at our home for 2 years and are totally in love with the scheme. We feel honoured to have met such an interesting array of individuals from all over the world. They bring renewed energy and enthusiasm into our project and the idiom that many hands make light work is never truer. We have been so lucky with the guests that have come our way. We have a house rule of working together as much as possible to keep it sociable and every one of them will kick back with us after dinner and a day’s work and say “So what’s the plan for tomorrow Donna?” It keeps us focused and motivated and we can never thank them enough after their stay.”
We spoke to several host families and all of them said that having a bit of help in the house, and introducing their way of life to their workawayers was nothing but a positive experience. One family wrote “Ron (Workawayer) came for 6 days, he has been here for 66 days and we never want him to leave…”
First and foremost David wanted to promote cultural understanding between peoples from different countries as well as enable people travelling on a limited budget to fully appreciate living and working in a foreign environment. It’s also a great opportunity for those learning French to immerse themselves in everyday life situations that can really help to improve language skills and understanding.
It is completely free for hosts to register, easy to use and has good guidelines for safety recommendations.
Website for Workaway.info