I tried my first Workaway in France almost four years ago, and I’m still receiving emails and questions from people who are thinking about taking the plunge. I know now that my decision to try Workaway was one of the best decisions of my life. However, it can be intimidating if you’re new to it (or need to reassure your parents). Here are a few tips for your first Workaway that I’m sure will give you the confidence to go for it and have one of the best adventures of your life.
1. Be trustworthy
One of the questions I’ve received most often about volunteering for Workaway is about safety — especially for solo female traveller. From the perspective of the traveller, it can be scary to stay in someone else’s home and to plan your trip accordingly. On the other hand, think of the trust it requires from hosts to invite a wandering, adventuring backpacker (who might not have showered for a few days) into their daily lives. Trust goes both ways. If you’re worried about trusting a stranger, be trustworthy. And remember, all of your friends were once strangers.
2. Do your research
There are over 40,000 hosts on the Workaway site in almost every country around the world. That’s a lot of options with many choices and variety. Chances are, you’ll be able to find the perfect Workaway just for you, but it might take some research. When you’re looking at a host, read the reviews other Workaway volunteers have left. If there aren’t any, send the host an email with your questions. The more you communicate before you arrive, the smoother the experience will be for you and the host.
3. Ask questions
Don’t be afraid to ask questions before and during your stay. Questions show curiosity and a willingness to understand. If you’re unsure about a task or need more of an explanation, ask. Language and cultural barriers can be tricky to navigate but taking the time to clarify a situation or conversation goes a long, long way!
4. Be sure before you commit
Workaway hosts receive a lot of email from volunteers who they may never see. That’s okay, but it can be tedious. If you’re still in the “checking it out” phase of planning your trip, be honest. You don’t have to commit to certain dates or time frame until you’re ready. That being said, once you commit, show up. A lot of hosts can only take one or two volunteers at a time and chose you, so make sure you follow through and help keep the reputation of Workawayers a good one.
5. Bring a gift or cook a meal
The beauty of volunteering with Workaway is that the emphasis is really on culture exchange. One of the ways hosts share their culture with you is by letting you stay at their house. A simple way for you to show your appreciation (and something from your own country) is to bring a small gift or cook a traditional meal for them. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but can be really fun! When I was in France, I cooked my big host family a meal of fajitas (which are not necessarily American, per se, but a turkey dinner was above my skill level) and they literally clapped at the end of dinner. It was so sweet I almost cried.
6. Adopt the pace of life
“You don’t need to clear the dishes right away, leave them dirty on the table for a bit….” I was told by a fellow volunteer during my first Workaway. I blinked in surprise. “We’re still drinking our wine,” he explained. “It’s okay to sit and relax for a bit. Sit down and chat with us,” he smiled.
No matter where you are, chances are the pace of life will be different than you’re used to. In Ghana, I got used to adding a one to three hour cushion to my schedule. In Germany, people are culturally more attuned to keeping a stricter time schedule than Spain, for example. It might take a few days, but try to adjust and let go of any expectations you have about time.
7. Help with chores
This is an obvious, but important one. It’s polite and just a good habit to help with chores even if you’re technically “off” for the day. This might include helping to prepare a meal, bathe the kids, feed the animals, or washing the dishes. Remember you’re not at a hotel, you’re a guest in someone’s home, so be careful with their things and pick up after yourself. Do your own laundry, make your bed, and help encourage other Workawayers to do the same.
8. Say no if you need to
All of your friends were once strangers.
It’s okay to say no to something you feel uncomfortable with. You don’t “have” to do anything, even if you agreed to it before hand. Things change and sometimes we need to set boundaries. This goes for hosts and Workawayers. Keep an open mind and be flexible, but if something is just too far out of your comfort zone or doesn’t feel right in your gut, say so and try to form a compromise.
9. Stay in touch
There’s a deep and instant friendship that forms between Workawayers. Whether it’s with your host family or among other volunteers, you’ll feel a sense of connection that lasts. Some of my closest friends are ones I met while volunteering in Africa or gardening in France. It’s hard to go back to life without Workaway (some might argue you don’t have to!) but if you do, make sure to stay in touch with the friends you made along the way. Send them a Christmas card, set up a Skype date, or invite them to visit you in your home.
10. Don’t fall in love
Last but not least, don’t fall in love. I repeat: Do not fall in love. For all of the tips for your first Workaway I can offer, this is the most important one. You might be in the most beautiful, remote jungle in Ecuador working with the coolest students and staying with the most charming family, but don’t fall in love. Don’t fall in love with the home cooked meals that taste like nothing you’ve ever had before. Don’t fall in love with the feeling of having a purpose and making a difference in the lives of people you’ve just met.
Don’t fall in love with the landscapes, the language, or the smell of the open air markets. Don’t fall in love with the sense of community and teamwork. And especially, don’t fall in love with another volunteer. It might change your life forever, and you certainly wouldn’t want that. <3