I have experienced four Workaway opportunities (at the time of writing). So, I thought it was about time I wrote a detailed Workaway review listing all the pros and cons.
Lots of bloggers and travellers have lots of opinions on Workaway. Their opinions on their Workaway jobs are often confused with what they think about the Workway site. Someone can love the site but have an unfortunate experience with a Workaway job and vice versa. This causes some newbies to stay off the site completely if they read a bad review about one Workaway program. Despite the fact that there are over 50,000 Workaway programs in 170 countries to choose from!
So, this guide will cover what Workaway is, what to expect with the Workaway website and what to expect with Workaway volunteering jobs. And of course, my verdict on whether you should use Workaway or not. Just to note, I am not affiliated with Workaway in any way. And if you have any questions at all, feel free to email me via my contact page or leave a comment below.
Workaway Review: A Detailed Guide to the Pros and Cons
What is Workaway?
Workaway is a website that connects travellers to any person or business that needs temporary and voluntary workers around the world. I found out about Workaway through this post on the Travelettes blog and it sounded awesome. The people/companies offering work are “hosts” and the travelling volunteers are “workawayers.”
It is a directory where both Workawayers and hosts set up their own Workaway profile. Workawayers upload a photo of themselves, a brief bio with a list of their skills and what dates/countries they are available to work. Workaway hosts list the dates they need workawayers, the type of work and a little about themselves and their business/location. Hosts can message workawayers whose profiles they like, but it is usually workawayers that get in touch with hosts.
Workawayers pay an annual fee of $42 for a single account or $54 if you are travelling with a buddy or partner. You can still view hosts without having a membership, you just cannot contact them.
As a general rule, workawayers volunteer for 25 hours over five days in exchange for accommodation and food. This is not always the case, but it is the guideline put forward by Workaway. After your stay, you can leave Workaway reviews for each other.
Types of Jobs on Workaway
Though it is a “work exchange” site, you are not an employee. Workaway volunteering is like being a volunteer with benefits. That doesn’t mean Workaway paid jobs don’t exist, but they are very rare. Plus, Workaway does not assist with visas. Before volunteering, you need to make sure you are legally able to volunteer for the length of time you are in a certain country.
Also, the work should not be a job that a paid employee should be doing AKA nothing too skilled. These are the types of jobs you can expect to find on Workaway:
- Housekeeping, cooking and gardening
- Language practice
- Animal and child care
- Building, carpentry and DIY
- Computer support
With over 50,000 opportunities, this is nowhere near an exhaustive list. You can find work painting murals, teaching yoga and even accounting if that’s your bag.
Sites Like Workaway
Workaway is not the only work exchange site out there, you have some options. The most well-known and popular ones are:
I am sure there are more but those are the main ones. This Workaway review is not going to measure which is best like a Worldpackers vs Workaway battle because I have only tried Workaway.
My Experiences With Workaway Volunteering
So, what Workaway experience do I have, exactly? Lucky for you, I’ve written a blog post about each of my experiences:
- Yoga retreat in Granada, Spain: Serving breakfast and dinner, light cleaning and housekeeping
- Buddhist centre in Ulverston, England: Housekeeping and cleaning
- Hostel in the Isle of Skye, Scotland: Housekeeping and reception duties
- Hostel in Edinburgh, Scotland: Housekeeping and reception duties
You can see I have only done Workaway in Europe, but I’m itching to do others further afield. If you want specific advice on doing a Workaway in England, a Workaway in Scotland and a Workaway in Spain then I’m the gal for you!
Right, let’s get into this Workaway review and look closely at the pros and cons.
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PRO: Workaway Is the Most Popular Work Exchange Platform
Correction: Workaway is by far the most popular work exchange platform out there. There are so many more hosts on Workaway than the other similar sites I listed, which means more opportunities. This also means more competition, but how many people do you expect to be vying for the same programs at the same time?
My Advice: Hedge your bets and look on Workaway before looking elsewhere. If the opportunities don’t look good to you, try somewhere else. You only need to sign up for Workaway membership when you want to contact a Workaway host anyway. It’s a win-win!
CON: It Can be Difficult to Find Good Hosts in the Right Locations
If you are travelling to Barcelona or London, you might have your pick of great hosts and a variety of jobs. But if you are travelling to Skiathos in Greece (where I was looking one day) then the pickings are slim. You could end up accepting a program with sub-par reviews (compromising your safety) or work you don’t want to do (compromising your happiness).
My Advice: Do not travel with an empty bank account so you do not have to accept jobs you’re not 100% happy about. You should always have a financial safety net. That way, you can travel to the “off the beaten path” places you want to visit on your own dime and use Workaway for the bustling locales. Or, at least be able to pay for your transport from wherever you are to better Workaway experiences.
PRO: Meet New People and Make Real Friends From Around the World
I am cheating with this “pro” because meeting new people is a pro to travel in general. But it is so much easier to make lasting friendships on Workaway experiences. The longer you stay in a place, the longer you have to build relationships. While working in the hostel on the Isle of Skye, I met one of my best pals but we wouldn’t be so close if he only stayed there two nights and not two weeks. And that doesn’t mean I’ve made great friends with everyone I have met on a Workaway, but it helps.
My Advice: Most Workaway volunteering jobs have a minimum requirement of one month’s stay. This is so they aren’t retraining people every week, which makes sense. I recommend staying with a host for at least a month to allow these relationships to blossom into something meaningful.
CON: You Cannot Change the People You Are Working With
Boy, there are a lot of arseholes in this world, am I right? Even if you don’t meet card-carrying d*ckheads on your travels, they could be people with wildly different views, habits, and opinions from you. The worst part is, you might have to share a bedroom with these people for over a month! But interacting with people we do not connect with is an inevitable part of life. Though it might make you temporarily uncomfortable, it could be an opportunity for growth.
My Advice: The author and researcher Brené Brown encourages people to adopt a “strong back and soft front.” On a Workaway, I interpret this to mean “listen, be kind, inclusive and open” but “do not be a pushover and stand your ground.” Also, I met a German girl on one of my first Workaway experiences and she was nice but seemed very abrupt. But I realised this is likely because English is not her first language. Something to keep in mind.
PRO: Allows You to Plan Your Travels (and Budget!) In Advance
If you are reading this Workaway review, you are likely looking for ways to extend your travels. Because Workaway hosts provide accommodation and food, that six-month career break could become a two-year world trip easy. You will still need money for activities and ad hoc supplies, of course, but Workaway could save you £££. Also, Workaway allows you to arrive at a destination with a gig already organised. You don’t have to enquire at a bunch of cafés and hostels on the ground and potentially not find somewhere.
My Advice: When planning your trip, plan Workaway opportunities too! Lose an afternoon deep-diving into those amazing experiences on offer. Figure out how long you could extend your trip by working abroad because it could be a super long time.
CON: Verification of Workaway Hosts (and Support) Is Not Amazing
This is the main criticism of Workaway and it is a valid one. I am not 100% certain how Workaway verifies their hosts but currently, I am only verified through my Facebook account. If a host has no reviews, there is no way of knowing what to expect. Workawayers often travel for miles by themselves into rural places with few options if things go south. Plus, many Workawayers are reluctant to leave early in case their hosts leave a negative review.
Personally, I think hosts should at least have to share their passport information with Workaway so there is some accountability. Click here if you want to read more about Workaway’s safety policies.
My Advice: I would never stay anywhere without at least an 80% host rating and I read EVERY single review. You can also message former volunteers to ask them about their experience and many businesses are on social media, so check them out there. I have always worked with businesses, and this is likely the reason why I’ve had such good experiences with hosts. So, is Workaway safe? Largely yes. But if you ever feel otherwise, leave. No amount of negative reviews is worth staying.
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PRO: Variety of Jobs Can Give You Valuable Experience
Let’s say you are on a working holiday visa and you are struggling to find the usual backpacker jobs in hospitality. If you have only worked in office jobs, this might be a real problem. Well, you could use Workaway experiences to find relevant experience and use that to gain a paid job. Workaway programs are the perfect way to try out different industries and build up your CV.
My Advice: I loved both of my hostel work exchange experiences for this reason. My last hospitality job was at University and it was in a bar, not tourism. I love that I now have four months of hostel volunteer experience so that if I ever want to work in one, I will be a more desirable candidate. I hope to find a great Workaway experience that allows me to use my writing and blogging skills, too.
CON: Some Workaway Hosts Expect Too Much of Their Volunteers
Workaway should remove any skilled position posted by a host. Employers should not be using Workawayers as a loophole to take a paid jobs away from locals. We are more like “helpers” than staff. But some Workaway hosts push their luck by asking volunteers to work longer hours or learn complicated systems.
My Advice: Look out for any red flags in reviews and in the profile. If hosts (and many do) have a list that reads “no smokers, must be willing to go above and beyond, must be a quick learner, etc.” I click away. Even if they have good reviews. I understand they may have got burned by Workawayers in the past, but that means they are more likely to go hard on you. Not worth it. I look for approachable, laid back hosts where I can underpromise and overdeliver.
PRO: Learn About a New Culture (Languages, Cuisine, etc.)
Again, this is one of the great “pros” of travel, not just of Workaway. But staying in a place for a longer period of time means you are more likely to appreciate and learn about the culture. When I was in Spain, I loved attempting to converse with the chef in my beginner’s level Spanish. And my Achilles’ heel is my lack of cooking skills and unadventurous palette, so going abroad pushes me out of my comfort zone (some of the time).
My Advice: Immerse yourself in the culture as much as possible. And that might even be a different culture than the one you expected! During my Workaway in Edinburgh, I enjoyed a German Christmas dinner with hostel guests in mid-November. And during those two Workaways in Scotland, I made sure to drink my body weight in Irn Bru. You know, for the cultural experience.
CON: Leaving Negative Workaway Reviews Is Tricky and Not Encouraged
Because I have had such positive experiences, I have never had to leave (or receive) a negative review. Workaway is not like AirBnB where you cannot see the hosts’ review until you have left yours. If you leave a negative review, hosts can see them and give you one back. That’s a silly system and should change. I have heard stories from Workawayers who tried to leave negative reviews but Workaway took them down because they don’t want any “bad blood” which seems suspicious. Click here if you want to read more about Workaway’s feedback policies.
My Advice: In your reviews, be factual. I would avoid comments like “the host was an arsehole” because a) that is hard to prove and b) underhanded namecalling might backfire. If I had an unpleasant experience, personally I would reach out to Workaway via email first. I would, again, stick to the facts and try to provide evidence e.g. photographs of accommodation conditions. If I had to leave early for any reason, I would contact Workaway ASAP letting them know.
PRO: Accommodation, Food and Benefits Can Be AWESOME
On my first Workaway experience, we each got €50 in tips from the people on the yoga retreat. We also got to join some of the classes and the chef prepared all our meals. At the Buddhist centre, I participated in daily guided meditations and, again, had all my meals prepared. On the Isle of Skye, I stayed in a luxury hostel and volunteers received £35 a week for groceries. And though the hostel in Edinburgh did not provide food except breakfast, I joined an amazing Haggis Adventures tour for FREE and a beer tasting for FREE. Need I say more?
My Advice: Find hosts that love bragging about what they offer. Looking at that list, you may think I got lucky. But when I search for Workaway experiences, if it’s not a “HELL YES” then it’s a no.
CON: But the Living Conditions Can Be AWFUL
Mice. No hot water. No electricity. 10 people sharing a room and a bathroom. Oh, I have heard the horror stories. And I have no doubt that every single one is true.
My Advice: One of my hosts told me about the time they stayed in awful accommodation doing a Workaway at a hostel in London. They mentioned how lucky we workawayers were to have such great dorms. I thought, “Yes, we are lucky, but I would never take a Workaway opportunity in a place like that.” If hosts do not mention the type of accommodation you will be staying in, that is a red flag. All my Workaway hosts have posted accommodation photos on their profile. Ask for detailed descriptions when messaging hosts if their profile doesn’t mention it.
Workaway Review Verdict: Do the Pros Outweigh the Cons?
Yes! This Workaway review has definitely made it clear that the pros way outweigh the cons. Most of the cons only occur when you do not thoroughly vet a host. That doesn’t mean Workaway couldn’t do more and that bad experiences won’t occur. But you will definitely experience fewer of them. My main advice is to only apply for Workaway opportunities that excite you. Have a financial safety net so you do not need to accept Workaway opportunities with red flags out of necessity.
However… I am super curious about Worldpackers. I want to try them out to see how they compare. A couple of my previous Workaway hosts have jumped ship to Worldpackers so consider my interest piqued.
Workaway Review: My Top Tips
I’m sure I have convinced you of the wonders of Workaway. So, here are my top tips to round up this Workaway review:
- Take time out for yourself. It is a lot to be “on” all the time, especially if you live with your host. Go to your bedroom, put your headphones in and decompress. They won’t give you a negative review for 30-60 minutes of alone time.
- Write a great first message. Ideal introductory messages need to be concise and personalised. One sentence on who you are, one sentence on why you would love to work for them and one sentence on why you would be great. Double-check they haven’t asked for any more information in their profile, and send. Easy breezy beautiful.
- But don’t be afraid to message hosts again. When I didn’t hear from the Isle of Skye hostel gig, I applied for the Edinburgh one. When I didn’t hear from the Edinburgh one, I replied to the Isle of Skye gig again and got it. And later that year, I applied for the Edinburgh hostel gig again and got it. Hosts are not always on Workaway (or they are bombarded with them) and sometimes miss messages.
- Do not bullsh*t your hosts. Many Workaway opportunities are open-ended. I planned to stay in Edinburgh for one month and ended up staying three. But I gave them over three weeks notice before I planned to leave because I’m a decent person. Be one of those too.
- Clean your area and leave a thank you note. It is always nice to leave on a high note and get that five-star review in the bag.
And that is my Workaway review based on my own workaway volunteer experiences! Have you done a Workaway program or used another work exchange site? Let me know in the comments below!