While planning my dream trip in Europe, I stumbled across Workaway: a work exchange platform that offers an affordable travel option for peeps like you and me looking for the cheapest way to travel Europe while making an impact. We’re all here to help each other, right?
There are many other sites like Workaway because work exchanges are a good strategy to become an international volunteer without having to pay those straight cray volunteer fees some humanitarian organizations charge. If you’re considering Workaway, you might also look into Helpx, Worldpackers, and WOOFING. I found the Workaway interface the easiest to use, so I stuck with that.
I’ve become so obsessed with Workaway that I’ve stopped swiping on Tinder and spend my time swooning over work exchange possibilities like living on a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in Austria.
If you’re about to do your first Workaway, read my 7 Tips for Surviving Your First Workaway experience. Otherwise, read on to get inspired as to why you should do Workaway.
Do I need a visa to do workaway in Europe & stay long-term?
Good news: you do not need any kind of work permit or special visa to do Workaway in Europe. You’re there as a tourist volunteering and aren’t making money. So how long can you stay?
As an American, you receive a 90-day visa upon arrival when you enter Europe’s “Schengen Area.” If you haven’t heard of the Schengen Area, basically that term refers to 26 countries in Europe with a free-movement agreement. It can get confusing because some countries that are in the European Union aren’t in the Schengen Area like Croatia.
After you enter the Schengen Area and spend your 90 days there, you’re suppose to leave the area for 90 days before you get issued another 90 days. Make sense? Be careful not to pass your 90 day limit because you can get heavily fined and deported (yikes). That said, if you really wanted to stay in Europe and be smart, you could do Workaway for 90 days in some of the 26 Schengen Area countries. After you time is up, skip to Croatia, UK, Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania, or Cyprus for 90 days. Then reenter the Schengen Area once more for another 90 days. Want more info on the Schengen Area? Nomadic Matt covers it extensively in this blog post.
There are other ways to legally live in Europe, which I will cover in another blog post … when I get around to writing it :).
Why should I work in exchange for free room and board?
For those of you who are about to become as obsessed with Workaway as I am, basically you pay a nominal membership fee to become a Workaway member ($42 per year) then you live your best life trading your skills for free accommodation and food around the world. Workaway fee: $42. Lifelong memories of doing crazy stuff? Priceless. I’ve found doing volunteer work abroad helps keep the travel budget down by essentially securing free travel and accommodation.
Note for the oblivious: you’ll be working (i.e. you’re definitely going to break a sweat renovating that castle in Scotland #toughlife). However, you’ll get to enjoy the glory of returning to said castle for the rest of your life with your friends or one-day kids, pointing at it in the distance, and saying, “look what I have created!”
When I lived in Argentina, I volunteered on an Argentine cowboy ranch for six months and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. So I highly recommend Workaway Argentina, but that’s a story for another time.
There are so many wonderful host families in Europe (you’ll see their smiling faces when you peruse the listings and read the Workaway reviews. When I did Workaway in France, for example, I actually felt like part of the family … and we still keep in touch.
If you want to skip past my recommendations, click here to go directly to the Workaway host list in Europe.
How do I get around Europe easily for cheap?
You’ll notice some of these Workaways in Europe are in remote areas far from major airports. When I was in France, for example, I did a Workaway in Montluçon. If you look at the map, the closet main airport is Lyon … and that’s 2.5 hours away.
While traveling around Europe, I frequently used a service called Bla Bla Car. It’s kinda like the Uber of carpooling. When you plug in your origin and destination, Bla Bla Car connects you to drivers headed where you’re going. Then for a reasonable fee you hop in the car with them, and some other strangers as well, then hit the road.
It may sound janky, but I probably used it at least 20 times and never had a bad experience. Language gaps were really the only hurdle to overcome.
Countries like Austria have a legit regional train system that’s really inexpensive, runs on time, and travels just about anywhere in the country. I can’t say the same about France and Spain, which is why I recommend Bla Bla Car. Ask your host for their recommendation about to get to their property. Some hosts are very generous and will pick you up from a central area then take you out to where ever you’re going, but not all. Read the listing carefully and if it’s not clear, ask.
Is Workaway safe for solo female travelers in Europe?
When considering safety for solo female travelers, I will go ahead and say yes … with a caveat, and some advice.
Fall in love with these unique experiences through Workaway in Europe:
1. Play with Huskies in the Arctic Circle and Watch the Northern Lights
When I saw this posting, I was like, “what have I been doing with my life before this?” A note about volunteer opportunities with huskies … I reached out to several places to inquire and found that most wanted long-term volunteers willing to stay at least a month if not the whole season. Also, many of them required you to have travel insurance because you’re working with animals. That said, there are endless opportunities not just in the Arctic Circle region but also other countries as well.
Is this not the dream? Workaway Austria is full of “maker type” opportunities, but for some reason the thought of living in Austria making cheese sounds magical. A fellow Workawayer I met said he always chooses gigs based on skills he’d like to learn. Can you imagine coming home from a trip and instead of bringing home lame souvenirs you bring home the ability to make cheese for your friends?
I did a Workaway in Austria by living at Gomde Buddhist Center. Read about the experience here.
Yes this can actually happen in your life, for real. The trade off I think, though, is that while you’re living on a boat you’re always on duty versus in other WorkAway scenarios you typically have the afternoon free to explore independently. From other yacht listings I read, you’ll be inhabiting some tight quarters. However, you’ll be living on a yacht so …
That’s right, someone will feed you and house you in exchange for riding their horses. Tough life eh? Working with horses involves a lot of physical labor, but at least you’ll sleep well!
In what other circumstance would you actually get to live with Benedictine nuns and get to know their stories? One thing I value most about travel is full immersion experiences, which is why I love WorkAway. You’re not just visiting a city and looking at beautiful buildings, you’re getting to know the people who inhabit the place.
Workaway Italy olive harvesting and olive oil production
Instead of living at a monastery in Italy, are you dreaming of that Under the Tuscan Sun life? Work on an olive farm in Italy where you can participate in the olive harvest, or make potentially make olive oil! Olive harvest season typically runs from November to January, but it can start as early in September in Tuscany because of the cooler temperatures.
6. Help with olive cultivation in Tuscany
7. Help with olive harvest and stay in Trullo in Italy
8. At this farm stay make olive oil and wine
9. Volunteer on an olive and saffron farm in Maremma, Italy
10. Help in the vineyards and olive groves of Umbria
11. Tend to an olive grove near Lake Garda
Ok clearly you’re not going to just live there and expect to get by, you’ll be doing general maintenance tasks and other things around the house. I mean, but if you’re going to do that anywhere why not do it in a castle?
13. Workaway France Vineyard
If you’re not dreaming of manning a castle in France, then I am sure you are picturing yourself doing a Workaway in a French vineyard? I dreamed of that as well, but I also ran out of time! So, I’ll need to go back to France and find a different Workaway among the vines. The most important note I will make about working on a vineyard in France: keep in mind the country’s cities and regions host a multitude of wine festivals throughout the entire year. For the winos of the world, you may want to plan where you volunteer according to that.
Here are a few French vineyard listings I found for you to ponder. Make sure to read the workaway reviews.
14. Help needed on a organic vineyard Bordeaux, France
15. A winegrower couple needs help with small tasks in Saint Chinian
16. Check out this boutique vineyard and winery in the South of France
17. Volunteer in an organic vineyard in the Cahors Region of South-West France
18. Get an agritourismo experience in Katzenthal, France
Workaway in the Faroe Islands? Yup! It exists. On Workaway there are many remote and exotic places you’d only dream of going, like the Faroe Islands. Traveling places like these often can get quite pricey (I find that food and accommodation in remote places gets astronomical). Alas with WorkAway you’ll receive all the accoutrements freedizzle.
I know right?! By this point you’re probably like, is this real? Can I really ditch my life back home to work indefinitely at a surf school in Spain? Sure, I mean clearly there are visa restrictions, but if you max out your 3 months in Europe you can then find another surf school in places like Morocco and Costa Rica.
Workaway Spain Yoga
Another hot Workaway opportunity you’re probably looking for to do work in exchange for housing is …yoga! Here are some yoga workaway listings for you as well:
21. Help at a yoga retreat center near Granada
22. Yoga center on Fuerteventura offers a place under the Canarian sun
23. Help at a yoga retreat in Ibiza
24. Volunteer in Lanzarote at a yoga retreat
25. Teach yoga in Mallorca
26. Help out at a meditation and Hatha yoga retreat center near Granada
I went to Lake Como for the first time this year, it is as dreamy as the photos. I can only imagine how incredible it would feel to live there.
This experience looks like it’s not for the faint of heart. I mostly put it here hoping you’d write me your reaction about how crazy this is!?
To sum things up, WorkAway is incredible and I am so glad a system like this exists. While volunteering through this work exchange, I met incredible people who changed my life, explore some incredible places, and did some wild stuff I never dreamed of. It will definitely open doors for you and keep them open.