Find out how it is like to work in exchange for housing, learn about the best work exchange sites, and find exclusive tips for a perfect experience.

Work exchange is a style of travel that is gaining more and more followers every year. It is related to travelers that get free housing in exchange for work while they get to know different destinations around the world. In this article, you will find out what is work exchange, how it works, the advantages of working in exchange for housing, the best sites to connect with hosts, and you’ll also find exclusive tips for a very special experience.😊

What is a Work Exchange?

Young adults during a work exchange at a hostel
Young adults during a work exchange at a hostel
Photo: cottonbro, Pexels

Work Exchange is a way to travel by exchanging your abilities for free housing, and perhaps even for food, tours and other benefits. It all depends on the agreement that is made with the host.

If you are looking for an amazing trip but you have a low budget, this can be the perfect travel style for you. Once you are exchanging your time for accommodation, for sure this will be one less cost for you. But that’s not the only advantage of doing a work exchange.

This type of traveling is perfect to learn new skills, exchange experiences, make good friends with people from all over the world, and even understand how to live and work in an unfamiliar place.

How does a work exchange program work?

Usually, this isn’t an activity that demands some formal contract, it’s an informal deal made by message or in a previous conversation.

The work exchange will always have variations depending on the agreement with your host. It can vary depending on the daily workload (generally minimum of 3 and maximum of 6 hours); work days (probably you have 1 or 2 days off per week); if you’ll have food included; sleep in a bedroom or camping; what activity you’ll do; and other details.

You can find work exchange opportunities through referrals from friends and other travelers, by talking directly to the place you want to do the exchange and, the way I like best, through specialized websites:

Work Exchange Platforms

You can find online platforms that connect travelers with hosts, like Worldpackers, WWOOF, or Workaway.

The interesting thing about those work exchange sites is that they concentrate opportunities in several places, with important details provided by the hosts themselves, and space to check previous travelers reviews. That way you can be sure that you are joining a very nice project.

To access any of these platforms I mentioned you need to make an annual subscription, where you will not only have access to the entire list of hosts but also a space to exchange messages and organize your trip.

We use and recommend Worldpackers for a few reasons:

worldpackers: one of the best work exchange sites
Worldpackers: one of the best work exchange sites
  • The style of the hosts from Worldpackers is more varied than other platforms. You’ll find hostels, schools, family houses and environmental volunteer work opportunities.
  • They have a lot of courses and articles that will not only help you in your trip but also will help those who want to become nomads or digital entrepreneurs or have an interest in working with travel.
  • On their website, you can make a detailed filter of your preferred location and travel style: food (such as vegan), what your goal is, what you want to help with, and what skills you have to offer. The options are very interesting!

Do I have to pay for a work exchange program?

Most travelers seek a work exchange precisely to save money on their travels and may end up being surprised when they receive a payment request from a host. 

If you don’t wanna fall into any traps, check out these tips:

  • Keep in mind that almost all platforms will require you to pay an annual subscription for you to access and chat with hosts. Some of them, like Worldpackers, allow the project to charge an extra fee, as long as this information is in the job description.
  • It is very common for hosts of environmental projects to ask for an allowance. This happens because most of them are very small initiatives with complex logistics that make it difficult for food to arrive at the location, and sometimes they have practically no income. In this case, meals are usually already included.
  • If you don’t want to or can’t afford to pay anything extra, focus on hostels that don’t usually charge fees, or talk to the host about what you can offer. In particular, I never pay an extra fee for a hostel, after all, it is a place that generates income, on the other hand, I always end up financially supporting ecological projects.
  • Any allowance needs to be agreed before your arrival. Read the work exchange description carefully, and if nothing has been said in advance, you are under no obligation to pay.
Worldpackers discount code

Is work exchange for me?

Being on the road, I’ve already seen all the types of travelers, with good or bad experiences happening. So I can tell you that it is really important to understand what a work exchange is and how to look for an opportunity that is perfect for you.

It’s important to be aware that work exchange is a type of work, so you’ll have to put your hands-on attitude. You have to go with a lot of energy and dedicate yourself to the project, so choose only the activities that will make you happy to devote your time.

You gotta know that flexibility is also really important to a positive experience in this kind of trip. Sometimes, if you go with a restrictive idea, for example, learn about bio construction, you can be frustrated at the time that you are in the project the activity that is happening there can be another one.

So if you are a person who is willing to dedicate your time and is open to learn new things, the work exchange is for you.

Is Work Exchange a good opportunity only for sabbatical periods?

woman doing a work exchange through worldpackers platform
Work exchange is also for digital nomads

No, work exchange isn’t only for a sabbatical period. Despite this kind of travel demands time and flexibility, anyone can have this experience.

  • Digital nomads – work exchange is a very positive way to have an incredible experience. First, you’ll save money with lodging, and second, what you’ll learn can help with your career.
    Just pay attention if the work time doesn’t take all of your day and if the place has a good internet connection. Ask your host before you start the work exchange.
  • Regular travelers on vacation – take your vacation to learn, visit new places, find new people from all over the world and still save money on accommodation! 
    The tip, in this case, is to look for a place in a destination that you would like to visit. Make sure you have days off and a workload that allows you to go sightseeing.

Renata from Por Um Recomeço (a Brazilian blog), for example, shared that her first experience volunteering with Worldpackers was in Paraty, Brazil. During 15 days, she was able to go to a waterfall, visit some beaches, go on a boat tour, hiking, and to know the city’s historical center, among many other things. See how was her routine, here.

Check out the job description of the work exchange project that Renata has experienced in Paraty, Brazil! Make sure you use our affiliate link to get a US$10 off in your Worldpackers subscription!

Types of Work Exchange

agroforestry work exchange
Elaine Villatoro during work exchange in ecological project

The types of work exchange can vary a lot, we will mention the main ones below:

  1. Social media and communication: developing a website site, taking photos, video making and social media administration. 
  2. Reform and decoration: painting a mural, making a piece of furniture, tidying up the garden, or anything that makes the environment more beautiful.
  3. Reception and take care of the guests: usually we find this kind of activity in hostels or hotels. You can work in the reception, in the bar, kitchen, or cleaning.
  4. Classes: share your knowledge with the students from some schools, local residents, or even guests in the project. It can be traditional classes from school like teaching math, teaching your mother tongue, physical activities, or any ability that you can offer. 
  5. Field activities: linked to ecological projects, involve helping in agriculture, vegetable gardening, bio-construction, and whatever else is needed.

Recently, through Worldpackers, I participated in a work exchange opportunity as a “Tik Tok Expert” in an ecological project near Salvador in Bahia. There, I was able to apply my social media knowledge while learning about agroforestry 🌳. Cool, huh?!

Is there a prerequisite for applying for work exchange programs?

You must choose a vacancy that you really can help. For example, applying to give yoga classes, when you are not a teacher, isn’t cool at all.

Educational Volunteer Work Exchange
Educational Volunteer Work Exchange
Photo: RODNAE Productions, Pexels

And now you can think “I don’t have any talent to share!”. Well, first of all, I wanna tell you, for sure, you have a special talent to share! But if you are feeling insecure about this, there are a lot of vacancies that don’t require any experience, like doing the reception, helping in the bar or doing the field activities.

The best of all is that work exchange gives you a chance to learn and develop new skills. So be chill, just let your host know what your level of experience is when you are applying.

8 reasons to do a work exchange

Travel is one of the greatest benefits of the work exchange
Travel is one of the greatest benefits of the work exchange

1) Travel

There are projects all over the world! This is a really wonderful option for those who want to know a lot of places while immersing in the local culture.

2) Save money on your trips

As you will exchange your work for lodging and even gonna have a meal in some places, work exchange is an incredible way to travel cheaply.  And have a wonderful plus, depending on where you are you can even get paid work, for example, covering the shift of an employee.

3) Cultural Exchange

Besides getting to know your hosts, in places that accept work exchange, it is very common to have people from all over the country and the world. Another great thing is that you will have a more immersive trip than traditional tourism, getting to know better the life and customs of the people at the destination you are visiting.

4) Slow Travel

The time for collaboration is, on average, 2 weeks, providing a more tranquil and leisurely trip. In a world where everything is so busy, this is an excellent opportunity to practice slow and sustainable tourism.

5) Develop new abilities

The skills that you can acquire by doing a work exchange are far beyond what you can imagine. You will learn things that are directly related to the position you have chosen, for example, once in an ecological project you might learn more about plants.

But there are less obvious skills, such as discover new recipes, learn to speak another language and even develop a new skill. It will all depend, especially, on the people, activities, and your disposition in each experience.

6) Personal Development

The necessity of adaptation, collective work, new experiences, and people from different cultures, certainly will give you a lot of personal development. There is not a single work exchange that I have ever done that did not come out transformed in some way. There are also more spiritual or community projects that offer specific tools for this purpose. 

7) Job experience

All items mentioned above will add value to your CV and resourcefulness at work. Many companies today appreciate this type of experience in their employees, since they show adaptability, creativity, openness to learning, planning, among other qualities.

8) Safety for those who are afraid of traveling alone

For those who have never traveled alone and are afraid of just taking their backpack and staying in a hotel, the work exchange is a wonderful alternative. Especially for women, through the reviews on the website, you can see if it is a safe destination. And the best thing is that you will make friends and you will not be unaccompanied during your trip.

Tips for the perfect match with your host

  1. Understand what you are looking for in your experience, and if you are not sure yet, at least make yourself aware of what you don’t want. That way you can have a better experience.
  2. If you already know the kind of experience that you are looking for, choose the right platform and filter your source according to the local and activity that you wanna do.
  3. Pay attention to the description of the vacancy! What is the activity, hours, days off, location, if it has some extra charge, etc. See if it is compatible with what you are looking for.
  4. Do you have some food restrictions? Check in advance what kind of food they serve in the project, if you need to bring anything extra, if they adapt meals, etc.
  5. Consider the feedback from other travelers.
  6. Send a good personal presentation, telling about your skills and goals.
  7. Don’t be shy to ask any questions you may have.

Tips from who has already done work exchange

Bring some extra food. Even in the places that have the meals included, you can have some special needs or even be hungry out of the standard meal times.

Be open to learning and be patient. I have seen many people arriving with so many expectations and this has led them to huge frustration. It is important to know what you are looking for, set your limits, and be willing to discover new things.

As a woman, I always indicate being in projects that other women have already evaluated. Like it or not, it is a fact that we go through very different risks than men.

Volunteer women in action during a work exchange
Women in action during a work exchange

Ask your host what kind of clothing and accessories he/she recommends you bring. For example: Clothes for winter, summer, appropriate shoes, towel, bedding, repellent, etc.

If you are on a project that offers alternative medicines, which is not uncommon, be very careful if you are going to use them. Learn how it works, what the effects are, talk to the person who will guide the ritual, and make sure you feel safe. Do not fall under pressure to use a medicine, this can be a sign of lack of limits and abuse on the part of the person who is offering it.

Do you still have doubts or concerns? Check with your host if you can have a video call to discuss it all before you accept the job.

Are you ready to go on your first work exchange adventure? Take advantage of our Worldpackers discount code and get $10 off your membership fee.

If you want to share your experience or have any questions, leave us a comment.

Note: This post was made with support from Worldpackers, but rest assured that all opinions expressed here are sincere and reflect our experience with the community.

Frequently asked questions about volunteer work exchange

What is a work exchange?

Work exchange is the exchange of your time dedicated to some activity for accommodation and other benefits that the host can offer.

How does the work exchange work?

The volunteer job will always have variations depending on the agreement with your host. It can vary depending on workload. Keep reading…

What are the websites for exchanging work for hosting?

You can find online platforms that connect travelers with hosts, like Worldpackers, WWOOF, or Workaway. We use and recommend Worldpackers. Keep reading…

What are the types of work exchange?

The types of work exchange can vary a lot. We will mention the main ones here: social media and communication, refurbishing and decoration, reception and taking care of the guests Keep reading…

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