June 22, 2021
Several years ago, my friends, who are an adventurous retired Canadian couple, told me how they travel the world while volunteering (in exchange for room and board). That really intrigued me, and I have now done it 3 times – Jesi, Italy; Stazzo, Sicily and Port Orange, Florida.
Here is some information on my experiences for those who might find this interesting.
1) Workaway or Helpx (https://www.workaway.info/ and https://www.helpx.net) – There are positions all over the world. Each assignment is different as far as what work they are looking for. Based on your skills/desires you can find the right match. Here are some examples: gardening, cleaning, decluttering, olive picking in Italy, handyman work, painting, help with childcare, language practice, assisting to sell at farmer’s markets, cooking, etc.
Both the host/worker builds a profile on the website and pays a fee. After a workaway assignment, you both give references. The norm is 20-25hrs a week 2 days off, which may include room/meals, but could be less hours. This is a 50/50 deal.
Ideally, workers should be independent and not make more work for the host; and host should understand that it’s not just free labor and volunteer is doing this to experience the area. Much communication is important on expectations before accepting. All of my assignments were terrific and I can go back to any of them (already returned to the family in Jesi, Italy a second time). I have also hosted workaways twice in the past for Fall yard cleanup. Since I would have paid about $80 for the cleanup, I had a volunteer stay in my Airbnb suite for a week. 3 hours of work a day, 6 days a week, included breakfast and a $50 Aldi card. This gave them an opportunity to see Niagara Falls and live like a local, etc.
My volunteer experiences went like this:
1) Stazzo, Sicily: My lovely host, Adriana, has vacation apartments. Now I speak intermediate Italian and have a Master’s in ESL, so this was a good fit for me. Morning, I would get up, and take my morning walk along the sea, get breakfast at the local bar. Then come home and give Adriana a formal English lesson for an hour. After that we would clean one of the apartments together for an hour while conversing in English. I would not correct her errors while conversing, but would make note of the errors. After that I would go do something fun…sightseeing, etc. That evening, I would make a formal lesson for the next day based on her errors. Sometimes we would sit by the sea for the lesson. It was heaven and I’ll go see her again as soon as I can.
2) Jesi, Italy. A mother’s helper, speaking only English to the boys and taking them to school. I had my own private studio apartment. I went back and hope to host the mother and her best friend next year for a well-deserved vacation.
3) Mother’s helper for a single mom of 3 in Port Orange, Florida, near Daytona. Now, this Workaway assignment happened to be a very good friend of mine. I introduced her to Workaway, she joined, and we set expectations. I helped her 3 hours a day, whether it be homework, cleaning, babysitting, filling out birthday party invitations. I have 3 positive references on my profile. I ensure that my profile says a lot about who I am, my skills, etc.
I have had several hosts contact me after they see my profile/references offering an assignments with them. I hope to do these assignments again in the future.
Not only have I made lifelong friends with my hosts in Italy, each assignment brought opportunities to meet people outside of the hosts, network, travel and learn more. These programs are not just with families. Some are for non-profit organisations, hostels, Airbnb, etc. At the time of publishing, to sign up for Workaway it costs the worker $44/year or for Helpx $25/2 years.
2) Diverbo/Englishausen – Language immersion program in Germany and Spain. Do a search on this group for the term “Englishausen” or ‘Diverbo’. I’ve done this 4 times. Once in Spain, and 3 times in Germany. The Spanish woman in the program that I became friends with met me on the Camino last Fall and walked with me for 5 days.
3) Housesitting – I joined Trusted Housesitters in November, and so far have done 2 sits (In Toronto, and a great neighborhood in my hometown). I chose hometown because as a new sitter I needed to build references. There are a few housesitting websites.
4) Future volunteer gigs that I plan on doing:
– being a Hospitalero on the Camino in Spain. I have hiked the Camino Frances, met many Hospitaleros and am very interested in giving back. It’s about volunteering in an accommodation/office/making meals in a town along the Camino. Requires that you have already hiked a Camino and attend a few days training. They conduct training all over the world and then you go to volunteer on the Camino. I definitely want to do this to give back.
– volunteering at an event for free admission. I was going to volunteer at a 5-day festival/conference that will normally cost $1500 to attend. By volunteering, I can attend free, and attend sessions during my free time.
To sum up, volunteering is a great way to experience things and people as a local, vs. being a tourist.
Note: The photos are the authors own taken during these volunteer work holidays.