Work exchange is an excellent way to travel the world on a frugal budget. I’ve had numerous positive interactions with hosts and many successful stays around the U.S. One of the keys to an enjoyable stay is preparation.
Here are some factors that are crucial to consider before committing to a work exchange:
Scheduling is numero uno. Most hosts expect 20-25 hours of work a week. In my opinion anything over that is taking advantage of a traveler. If you’re staying at a place with more than one person ask if there are different shifts and make sure the start and end times work for you. Don’t try to force yourself into becoming a morning person if you’re a night owl, chances are both you and you’re host will become flustered.
Length of stay and flexibility is equally as important. You should ask if there is a trial period or if there is any wiggle room to stay for a shorter or longer period of time if necessary.
Do you think you’ll enjoy completing the tasks you are assigned to perform? If not I recommend moving on to the next potential exchange. If you hate cleaning don’t push yourself into a position as a housekeeper because that is the only opening in a particular city you want to visit. Be aware that many places such as hostels often assign tasks in traditional gender roles. Or to be more blunt, they can be sexist. Though most hosts are understanding if they feel you are not trying to do your best or are incapable of performing what has been agreed upon you may be asked to leave.
Know if meals will be provided or if you are responsible for purchasing and cooking your own food. If you have dietary restrictions make sure they can be accommodated for. Ask if your host has any rules as restrictions such as a meat free or gluten free households.
This should be obvious but I’ve witnessed people remembering to ask about wifi but not if there’s a bathroom, on site laundry, or a fridge. Double check that you’ll have full time access to anything you find necessary. Yes, that can include Netflix.
Make sure you’re comfortable with them. Lots of places are able to provide you with privacy while at some sites you could be sharing a room with a dozen other travelers of various ages and genders. Double check that you will have a/c or heat if that’s going to be a potential hazard or a dealbreaker.
Accessibility & Transportation
Will you be in a sprawling city or in the middle of nowhere? Is there public transportation? A store in walking distance? A store within a thirty minute drive? Can someone pick you up from the airport or drive you into town if needed? Get familiar with your new location.
Make sure you are prepared for the job and for the weather. Don’t show up to a farm wearing flip flops. Invest in a decent pair of workboots and gloves. Don’t expect your host to provide you with sunscreen, bug spray, etc. Star off on the right foot by showing up prepared or make arrangements to get what is necessary nearby.
And most importantly don’t forget to read the reviews! Someone’s gotta be the first but it doesn’t have to be you.
In addition to these factors I heavily recommend you speak with a potential host by phone to confirm any discussed details before agreeing to a visit. Phone calls are infinitely more revealing than e-mails or texts and a great way to gage whether you will get along.
Want to know where you can find a work exchange? I’ve got you covered here.