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Spartan Wanderer

Ramblings from the road, gear reviews, design trends, and whatever else happens to be on my mind.

How to Travel: Work Stays

For this week's installment of How to Travel, something somewhat unconventional. If you're willing to do some pretty physically hard labor, this opportunity can take you pretty much anywhere across the globe! I'm talking about work stays. You work, you have a place to stay and food to eat - simple as that. I want to preempt this post with something I didn't know about before writing this ebook, and that is Hippohelp. Hippohelp is a free map-based platform connecting hosts from all over the world with travelers who are happy to work in exchange for free food and accommodation. Not too long ago, Leopold Huber - the founder of Hippohelp - did a guest post here discussing his new platform and some of its improvements on typical work stay platforms. You can read Leopold's post here.

For those that are absolutely dying to get their hands dirty after working in a cubicle (work coffin), there are an unbelievable amount of opportunities on farms all over the world. This is also a great option for someone who is not necessarily ready for international travel, but would love a dramatic lifestyle change. There are thousands upon thousands of farms looking for help in North America, and just as many on the other six continents. Yes, even Antarctica! Check out this amazing ice-farming opportunity.

Something different

Whether you currently exist in an Office Space-esque hell complete with TPS reports or you actually don’t mind your job, a work stay is sure to be different. And different can be good. Many people in our society value financial security, which usually results in latching on to the first solid job that comes around as a means to achieve that. In fact, over 70 percent of Americans are not invested in their jobs and only 13 percent of people worldwide actually want to show up everyday. 

This is a depressing figure, but not really all that surprising. And I realize that a lot of people don’t have a choice. But if you have the luxury of taking a sabbatical or you have some time saved up, using it to do a short farm stay could inject enough change into your life for you to seriously reconsider what it actually is that you want in life. Manual labor in a beautiful setting tends to have the same effect as showers do for thinking. It can bring you into a meditative state that allows you to focus on the greater world around you, instead of your little bubble of daily obligations. The opportunity to think about your place in the world separate from normal society usually brings clarity on the things that make you a truly contented and actualized individual. Yes, I’m saying digging holes can radically change your life (enjoy that reference). 

Fulfilled, fed, and accommodated

The format for most work stays is rather simple. You can work on farms, wineries, in backpacker hostels, or B&Bs, and get food and accommodation in return. Some places will offer to pay you, although this is usually not possible, as it would technically be working without a work visa. You will generally be working for a family-owned business, so you will be heavily involved in their lives, sometimes to the point of eating dinner with them every night. Some people may not like such a full-on experience, but if you want to experience a different country and its culture, there aren’t many more opportunities that are as enriching as this. In some cases, your host family may not even speak much English at all, creating a complete immersion experience that you probably wouldn’t have working an office job in the same country. 

This is more than just a travel experience. Your fate is essentially tied to that of your host family’s. You are working together toward a common goal that will sustain both of you; each failure is shared, each success is jointly celebrated. This is a level of fulfillment unique to many of the other options in this list. It’s also another layer of responsibility, and anyone considering a work stay should keep that in mind. 

Helping out with HelpX

Help Exchange (HelpX) is a network of hosts and helpers, created by Rob Prince after traveling the world working odd jobs. Just a few minutes of browsing HelpX will convince you that the world is out there for the taking. In exchange for helping out on a farm, the owner(s) will put you up with food and lodging. The work varies. Taking care of animals, working in organic gardens, pruning vineyards, helping out in lodges or B&B’s, and blazing trails across acres of land are just a few job descriptions. Living and working with your host will be a great opportunity for an exchange of culture and friendships. The international options are limitless - from Bolivia to Bahrain, Korea or Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan or Peru. There are also several domestic options across the States if you’re not quite ready for the cultural and language barriers abroad. 

HelpX is sort of like Craigslist for work stays. There is no real organization behind it, as it primarily serves as a conduit between helpers and hosts. Because of this, you should use some extra scrutiny when browsing the boards. The boards are broken down by region, and once you select a country you can then choose a state or province to get more specific results, giving you the option of an urban or more rural environment. Most descriptions describe the work, where you’ll be living, and a few preferences for candidates (non-smoking, family-oriented, etc.) Here’s an example of the boards for Southland in New Zealand. If you actually want to contact hosts, you must upgrade to a premium membership, which costs €20.

WWOOF-ing all over the place

While HelpX is sort of disjointed arbiter to help people get in touch with each other, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is a more organized option. It’s still a network that facilitates exchanges between hosts and volunteers, but comprised of individual, organized WWOOF groups from several different countries. Almost all of the hosts specialize in organic farming methods, so it is a great opportunity to learn if you’re into sustainability. The format remains largely the same as HelpX – work 4 to 6 hours a day in exchange for food and housing. 

If you’re interested, scroll to the bottom of their homepage where you’ll find a list of WWOOF organizations by country. I chose a country at random, so um…Lithuania! I was greeted by a very basic website with 5 hosts to choose from. Your experience will vary depending on which country piques your interest. Be aware that many of the hosts on WWOOF are homesteaders – completely self-sustainable and removed from civilization! Sounds kind of appealing to someone who’s been waking up in a hazy Chinese metropolis for the last three years…

Is it right for you?

Work stays differ from the other opportunities on this list by virtue of complete isolation, in most cases. If you’re studying abroad then you will be surrounded by fellow students. English teachers will quickly fall into an active expat community. Volunteer programs usually place you on a team with other volunteers. But for many work stays, it’s just you. You and your host family, sometimes out in the middle of nowhere. As somewhat of an introvert, I don’t mind being alone and sometimes even thrive in isolation. Perhaps you will, too! At the end of the day, we travel to seek some sort of formative experience, and spending that time with yourself amongst nature stands a good chance at giving you just that.

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Uprooting | A Beginner's Guide to Extended Travel
If you found these tips helpful, then you might enjoy my new travel guide, written for anyone embarking on their first long-term adventure abroad. You don't need to be the host of a travel show or a trust fund kid to have some incredible experiences abroad. After 5 years of travel through 12 different countries - and living in 4 of them - I've tried to encapsulate everything I've learned into this short guide for anyone who wants to hit the road long-term.