Last week I wrote about one of the most common questions I get when discussing my choice to travel solo: Wasn’t I scared to travel. Today I thought I would touch on another commonly asked question: “how do you afford to travel?”. Just like my response to “weren’t you scared?”, how I afford to travel does not have a simple answer. There are many choices and aspects of decision making that have led to traveling so much. From budgeting to volunteering I could go for hours explaining, but today I will focus on volunteering.
Now when I say volunteering I don’t mean paying upwards of $2,000 to go to some village and “help out”. I’m not talking about going with a bunch of other white people with a savior complex. I’m talking about traveling to a different country to truly assist in whatever way is asked of me. When I first thought of traveling, and subsequentally volunteering, I searched all of over for volunteering opportunities and found it next to impossible to find volunteering where I didn’t have to spend loads of money. I also didn’t want to volunteer hoping to help and instead participate in further harming the community.
A brief explanation on how volunteering can harm the community:
Surprisingly it is incredibly easy to actually cause more harm than good when volunteering. In part, I believe it has to do with the big culture, particularly in the western world, of traveling abroad and volunteering in developing countries. As a result there are many organizations that have sprung up and to address this “need”. Sometimes the organization are created to actually address a need in the community, and sometimes the organization is developed to address the desire to travel. Ultimately, however, its immensely challenging for an individual or organization to understand the complex needs of community unless they themselves are from that community. As many times this is not the case, tourists can come in and cause harm. Jobs that once went to locals went instead to the unpaid volunteer. Projects are completed, poorly, by unskilled volunteers.
Instead, I actively searched for ways to holistically engage with a chosen community. First I came across WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOF advertises themselves as a hospitality organization where travelers work X amount of hours in exchange for room and board. I was initially drawn to WWOOF because local farmers personally placed the adds. Here was a more holistic, grassroots way to experience culture and engage with people living in the country I visited.
I have WWOOFed in both Spain and Thailand and did not have the best of experiences. I talk about my experience in Spain here . In Thailand the host expected us to work long hours, 10+, and just wasn’t a very pleasant person to be around. WWOOF also has some inherent flaws to their methodology. Primarily, because there is a stated requirement of the “organic” farm, I found both the farms I personally worked at spun things to meet that requirement. As opposed to being actually organic; or a farm for that matter. They were simply people who sold themselves as organic to work with WWOOF. WWOOF is also decentralized meaning I need to apply and pay for access to the farmers list for every country/ region I wanted to volunteer. At the time, the application fee ranged from $25- $50, which begins to add up when one is traveling to 6+ countries.
After my second experience with WWOOF I started to search for other volunteering opportunities. During this second wave of investigation I stumbled upon Workaway. Workaway is also a international hospitality service expecting volunteering in exchange for room and board, but with some apparent differences to WWOOF. Unlike WWOOF, Workaway does not require only organic farms as hosts. Hosts can be looking for language help, child care, animal, help on a farm, work at hostels, and more. Furthermore, you only need to pay a one time fee every year and you have access to every host in every countries.
I am currently working for my second host through Workaway in Scotland. I previously worked for a month on a Eco-lodge in the Chilean Patagonia with Workaway as well. Both of my experiences with Workaway have been much better than my experiences with WWOOF. I think when you are honest about the type of work and opportunities, there is a higher likelihood the experience will go better.
I love Workaway and foresee myself participating in many more experiences with the organization. That’s not to say, however, that WWOOF is horrible. I just personally prefer Workaway. If you are interested in Workaway or WWOOF please don’t hesitate to reach out. I am here to answer any and all questions. I would also like to note there is another organization similar to workaway, helpx , but as I have never volunteered with the organization I don’t know much about it.