Get yourself to a place.
Do some work.
Eat and sleep for free.
Travel the world. Workaway.
It sounds too good to be true. But is it?
A former participant took the time out to give us the lowdown on her experience so that other Impact Explorers can follow her lead.
Izzy Mayer, a 24-year-old Berkeley, California native, used Workaway during her travels in Chile, with one job in Coyhaique and another in Puerto Natales.
How did you choose your Workaway destinations?
I had my itinerary roughly mapped out in advance but my timing was super flexible. My goal was to find as many budget-friendly accommodations along the road to Ushuaia.
I began being very selective and specific with who I messaged, but about a week before I started my trip I panicked big time and started messaging anybody in the northern part of Patagonia.
One of my filters was for Spanish-speaking hosts, because I wanted to improve my Spanish. I also did not want to work at any hostels because most people I’d met previously traveling who worked at hostels didn’t seem super happy with their experience.
How were the hosts and accommodations?
Eventually I settled on a summer camp in Coyhaique. I didn’t know much about it before I arrived, but the photos were incredible!
The responsibilities weren’t super clear, but one of the contacts was a reliable communicator and understood that I wouldn’t want to hitchhike alone at night and offered to pick me up from the bus stop.
The accommodations were very liveable – I shared a room with another girl, and there was hot water, and food that I had to prepare myself. I was never fearful because we were on a huge farm. Later on, another American guy came to volunteer and we quickly became friends and started hiking, cooking and hitchhiking together.
I chose the second workaway specifically for the location. I wanted to go to Puerto Natales to hike the W, but I was running out of money quickly and couldn’t afford to stay in a hostel while I prepped for my trek.
So, I reached out to every workaway I could find in Puerto Natales. The first person to respond was Pancho – he was building a hostel in Puerto Natales and needed volunteers to help with construction, painting, etc.
I sent him multiple workaway messages and Whatsapps the days before I arrived, which was difficult because Wifi was spotty in Patagonia. Eventually I arrived, but he didn’t have space until the next day. Finally, I was able to move in to his bare bones hostel.
It was totally pleasant, but he was kind but not super interested in talking to me. After we had coffee together the first afternoon, we didn’t spend much time together. I stayed in one of the finished rooms in the hostel, he stayed in another, and I felt completely safe.
What kinds of jobs did you do?
The summer camp Coyhaique was intense. I basically worked from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. In the mornings we were building a compost bin and babysitting the kids. At midday we made lunch for them.
After lunch, the mom organized a summer camp for about 12 local kids, so my job was to be an assistant counselor and “teach” English. That didn’t go super well because some of the kids were only 3 years old and had serious behavior problems. After cleaning up camp, we’d make dinner.
I felt kind of trapped, because the only way into Coyhaique proper was to hitchhike and I felt like I was neglecting responsibility when I went hiking instead of doing morning babysitting, but the workaway website says 5 hours per day of volunteer work – so it was an awkward situation.
My responsibilities: child care, camp counseling (aka supervising art projects, leading tag, etc), cooking, and building a compost bin.
The second, Puerto Natales, was the opposite. I was basically begging Pancho to give me projects to do because I felt so useless! The hostel was close to being finished, and he didn’t really delegate anything to me. So I felt like I was just mooching a free bed.
He was also pretty "flojo" though, like he’d wake up and decide he didn’t want to do work, and just go out to lunch all day. The electrician came over a few times and I’d chat with him, but still no labor for me.
Instead of feeling awkward about shirking my responsibilities, I felt awkward because I didn’t have any purpose.
My responsibilities: dusting, gluing some beams, pruning a tree, screwing some cabinets.
What was your most positive and also most negative experience with Workaway?
My most positive experience were the afternoons of my Coyhaique workaway was the kids who participated in the summer camp. One boy, named Matias, was such a sweetheart. He was 11 or 12 and really kind towards me, offering to help me clean up, helping me understand some of the slang the little kids were using, etc. Another little boy, Javier, was adorable and had serious anger management problems – but clearly just wanted attention.
We made a rap video together, played monopoly and swam in the river a few times.
The negative experience was how many messages I sent that didn’t get responded to! Or, how many people didn’t have space to host me when I messaged them.
I think the actual platform could be improved a LOT – it was not very compatible with my phone and there is not a good calendaring system so that hosts can mark availability. This said, scheduling in Chilean Patagonia is super difficult. Even my own travel plans were unreliable because bus schedules and weather are constantly changing.
What advice do you have for people who are thinking about doing it? Or any other thoughts?
It would have been nice to plan more in advance, and reach out to hosts in the months before traveling to a region – confirm that they had actual projects to work on.
My other limiting factor was time. I didn’t want to spend a month on a citrus farm and many of the coolest workaways have minimum stay requirements. I met many other people who did workaways for many months at a time and built much deeper, stronger connections with their hosts (which I am an envious of) and I think that for them the work was more important than the location.
Puerto Tranquilo, Aisen Del General Carlos Ibanez Del Campo, ChileI think the other issue is that even though Workaway is an awesome way to connect with locals, you aren’t earning any income. So it’s still a net zero (or if you do lots of side trips, negative) operation for a traveler.
Overall, it was a great experience because I really don’t love the hostel environment and I love having non-touristy things to do when I wake up. The sense of purpose and structure was really helpful for me as a solo traveler.
My advice would be to cast a wide net when sending your initial outreach messages, and don’t be afraid to ask questions about the actual responsibilities/work, read the reviews and potentially contact former volunteers. Fewer transitions and stronger relationships (at a farm, at a hostel, at a school, as an au pair) are always more appealing to me – so if I did another (and it seemed like a good match) – I’d definitely volunteer more time.
Ready to start your adventure? Get more information at Workaway.info
Let's change the world.
Who wrote this?
Gina Edwards, Impact Explorer founder and lover of all pun jokes, making a positive change in the world, Stephen Colbert, Jif Peanut Butter, and staying inside on rainy days. Order may vary.