Lovely to meet you in Rotorua. I was planning to write a blog on Workaway and thought after our Bangkok chat I could address it to you. Sorry if you already know some of this, I'm putting it up on my website so am starting at the beginning.
What is Workaway?
Workaway is a site that connects travellers to hosts all over the world. You work for them, normally for around 5 hours a day in return for room and board. Some may pay, some may charge you for food. Every host is different but the site makes it very clear what the deal will be.
There are other sites that do this, most notably Worldpacker. You have to pay a subscription for these sites (£30 a year for Workaway) and Workaway had some projects I was interested in, so I chose them.
What can you do on it?
Pretty much anything. I created a website for a sustainable resort in Sri Lanka, looked after dogs in Bangkok and I'm going to help tend to an olive grove on New Zealand's South Island. There are a NGOs, lots and lots of teaching English roles, farming, social media stuff, animal care, work on ski resorts, housekeeping, all sorts.
How do you pick the right Workaway?
The reviews are key. Reading what other volunteers thought will help you get a clearer sense of what your stay will be like. Do bear in mind that most reviews are kind, after to staying with someone for a week or more it's tough to be overly negative, so assume things are a little less rosy than the reviews would imply.
Make sure you choose a mutually beneficial workaway, you’re committing your time and your energy to a project, you should get something out of it. Perhaps you’ll develop a new skill or an in-depth knowledge of a fascinating area or maybe you’ll get to play with some dogs… My friend Matt, who was also volunteering at Green Tails, was looking at workaways on Japanese ski resorts where you get access to their kit and the runs in return for a few hours housekeeping.
My advice would be to consider:
Location - Can you get to it? Is it near other activities you'd like to do in your down time? Will it fit into your itinerary or is it worth the detour?
Accommodation - Lots of workaways have shared accommodation, which can actually be a bonus as it mean there will be other volunteers to hang out with. If you’re in an expensive country it might also be a chance to sleep in your own room for a week or two without paying a fortune.
Type of work - There's a few hosts that rang alarm bells for me. Some places should obviously be hiring staff rather than trying to get volunteers. Other hosts include families who seem to want an au pair and are okay with it be an unqualified stranger who can only stay for a week. It's good to pin down exactly what you'll be doing before you arrive. You can also suggest projects you could do for them based on their profile. It’s definitely possible to do work you enjoy.
Hosts - I've been extremely lucky so far with two outstanding hosts. The reviews, including the host's reviews of their volunteers, gives you an insight to their attitude. Lots of hosts offer to show you the area and give advice on travel and this is a real bonus.
I chose my workaways for similar reasons- they offered a break from routine and a chance to help with a 'worthy' venture.
My first workaway was on Tilak's estate in rural Sri Lanka. He is creating a sustainable resort on his working coconut plantation.
The description, and the reviews, made the estate seem like paradise, a perfect place to repair body and soul after being on tour. It offered three meals a day, kayaks, hammocks and a chance to get to know the real Sri Lanka. In return I would spend five hours a day making and populating his website.
The estate certainly lived up to my expectations, the open house we stayed in was a strange experience as it was somehow comfortable and predominantly outside at the same time. I also enjoyed making a difference, I left Tilak with a site that can go live when he's ready.
The other volunteers did different jobs on the estate. Sahir taught English at one of the houses at the community and did some writing for the website, Kevin (a Doctor) organised the first aid supplies and then helped with jobs around the estate and Jean got involved with the day to day running of the plantation, including building paths, clearing trees and fixing machines.
It was a bit of a mission to get anywhere from the estate, but worth it when we made the effort. We (myself and three other volunteers) had to entertain ourselves in the evenings, but Tilak had some cards and I had bought Bananagrams with me. There were also SO MANY MOSQUITOES, the only safe place was inside our nets. If you’re going into the countryside in a warm country get the best repellent money can buy. One of the other volunteers had treated his clothes with repellent before coming too which made a huge difference.
Tilak's motivations were interesting. As well as the work we provided, Tilak also wanted the Puttalam community to get used to travellers of all different shapes, sizes and colours- especially female tourists. I can see why, this is one of the only places I've been where I've been openly starred at.
Green Tails - Paws B&B
The second workaway I chose because of the dogs.
There were other reasons for my interest in working at Natsuko's place in Bangkok, my own room (although sometimes volunteers share with a human or a dog), a week in one place after a couple of months of backpacking, three meals a day, payment for overtime and a chance to revisit Bangkok. But mostly I wanted to play with some dogs.
It was a chance to give something back to the canine community. I had passed so many starving, miserable strays on my journey through Asia and, at Natsuko’s, we looked after dogs who had been rescued from the streets and were awaiting adoption.
Some of the dogs had really heartbreaking stories. One dog, Olive, had been attacked by a woman with a machete and another, a puppy called Mukki, had been pretty much bitten in half by another dog. I did learn that there are ‘rescuers’ all over Asia, so if you see a dog suffering you might be able to find someone in the area to ‘rescue’ them.
The work was easy - taking the groups of dogs out, cleaning up after them, playing with them and helping to feed them. Natsuko cooked for us or ordered really delicious takeaway. Her beautiful house was about 40 mins from central Bangkok, a perfect place to relax and still have access to the city.
Hannah (and everyone) you should definitely get in touch with Natsuko about volunteering at Green Tails.
(I'd say the same for Tilak but he wasn't taking volunteers last time I checked.)
The Olive Grove
Workaway number three, which I haven't done yet, is helping Helen with her olive grove in a gorgeous part of New Zealand. Primarily I was looking for a week to stay still in a great place and this ticked all the boxes. The area, Oamaru , has hikes, penguins and wine, three of my favourite things. Will let you know how it goes!
Things to look out for:
Hosts taking the piss. A friend escaped a workaway in the middle of the night after being treated like a slave and only fed bread. This was a brewery in Scotland who should know better. You're not a serf, you're a volunteer. Your time is valuable- it's certainly worth decent meals.
Enthusiastic overworking. I did this in Sri Lanka. I got so into my project for a while that I forgot to take time enjoy myself and explore. Another volunteer, and then Tilak, pointed this out and I redressed the balance. Again your time is valuable, if you've agreed to five hours a day don't do loads more for free.
Getting bored in your downtime. If you’re not likely to leave your estate/farm/resort/manor house/family home up a mountain take stuff to do. Books (like Afterlife for example) or games. My new favourite game is Monopoly Cards, it’s got all the capitalist viciousness of Monopoly but only takes fifteen minutes to play.
That's all I can think of for now. Let me know if you have any questions. Have a great time!
If you think my writing is interesting why don’t you check out my first book ‘Afterlife’? It’s like a really long blog with chapters and a thrilling storyline…
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Hey, and if you look to your right you can sign up to my mailing list…
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