How Workaway Made it Possible for Me to Travel the World On $20 a Day

Does free room and board sound good?

There are simple ways to travel even on a tight budget.

You’ve always wanted to fly all over the world. The list of countries on your Bucket List keeps growing. Unfortunately your vacation plans don’t.

Airfare is expensive.

Hotels are expensive.

Meals on vacation are expensive.

You’re sick and tired of fantasizing about the incredible, mind-blowing places. You want to travel to them.

But how are you going to pull that off?

I’ve flown on miles, buddy passes (through a friend that works for the airlines), full fare and first class. I’ve spent a lot of time in South America, Central America, Mexico and Europe.

The tropical breezes of French Polynesia have a strong allure for many travelers.

So the South Pacific made it to the top of my list. Australia, Tahiti, New Zealand and 100’s of islands just waiting to be explored.

I’ve got tested travel techniques that can jump start your adventures.

And better yet…

These tips are NOT destination specific!

I’m not including air so this isn’t dependent on miles or flying from somewhere close. Or whether you fly high season or low season. That’s up to you. Later, I’ll give you tips to secure cheap airfare too.

How Workaway Works


My Workaway in French Polynesia Photo by Donna Kos

My son told me about this website a year ago. After we hung up, I signed up. Workaway costs $38 for a year.

There are volunteers and hosts. Both are “Yelped” by each other after their stay, so you can read remarks about both.

You can look ANYWHERE in the world for hosts that want volunteers.

There are 36,165 hosts right now all over the globe. So you’ll need to narrow it down.

“I don’t want to volunteer when I’m in paradise!” You think, rolling your eyes.

Most hosts request 3–4hrs a day, 5 days a week for room and board!

I’ve spent more time than that making food for my family and sweeping up when we were on vacation in an Airbnb.

And most hosts are happy to group together hours if you want to take off for several days to explore another part of paradise.

It was fantastic to have the freedom to go explore another part of the island. My hosts were more than flexible. My work was done and they were happy. It’s such a luxury to have room and board paid for and be able to take off on another adventure for several days.

We ate wonderful meals of fresh caught fish in coconut milk. There were vegetables and fruits I’d never seen before. My host cut open coconuts anytime I wanted one.

My accommodations overlooked the lagoon.

It was paradise.


Picking a Destination is Host Dependent

Lagoon in Moorea Photo by Donna Kos

Make a list of the jaw-dropping places you’ve been dreaming of exploring.

Workaway website is user friendly. You can tab down to country, and area.

Look around and check out some of the hosts.

Check the tab that says “host needs help immediately”. This will bring up a list of hosts you can go volunteer for immediately. A calendar also comes up showing months ahead. Some hosts will ask that you only apply one month ahead. My hosts and I messaged for a few months ahead of arrival.

Where they live is key…location, location, location!

I’m a beach girl. If they say “close to the beach”, I want to know exactly what that means. One host said, “10 minute walk” when in reality it was 5–8 minutes in a car. I learned that the hard way.

Ask for their address. Google earth it!

How long they want you to stay varies. Could be max 1 week, 2 weeks or minimum 2months. That’s a big factor but some hosts might make exceptions after reading your profile.

My first host listed 2 weeks. I contacted them and said I usually prefer to stay in one place for a month so I can get to know the community. They really liked my profile and thought we would be a good fit. We agreed to 3wks and it worked out beautifully.

You need to find out what kind of work they want you to do. If they want me to watch their little kids, forget about it. Gardening, sure. Farming, no. Cooking and some cleaning, sure.

I spent time gardening and did some interior painting for one of my hosts in Australia.

I swept a lot of sand out of the house and kitchen quarters in Moorea, everyday. You wouldn’t think that would take much but it’s shocking how much sand comes in on everyone’s feet. I also cooked nearly every day for them. I really enjoyed it. There were ingredients I had never seen before which made it really interesting.

I did some exterior house painting on one of my Workaways and I’m not doing that again!

If you love horses, you can work taking care of horses in countries all over the world. What ever you like doing, you can probably find it.

And it won’t feel that much like work.


Transportation Considerations (I left out donkeys)

Local Restaurant in Moorea Photo by Donna Kos

Check where it’s the cheapest to fly. If two places look amazing but one is half the price to fly to, that’s a consideration.

Skyscanner and Skiplagged are great cheap air apps and user friendly. Rome2rio app shows you all the ways to get from A to Z. Air, train, ferry, bus and walking are all listed with detailed directions. It also gives you prices and you can find out schedules too. Use these all together to zero in on your best choices.

Flying to one place may be cheap. But if the train, buses and ferries add significant cost it could be a deal breaker.

Your comfort level with some transportation is worth factoring in. Maybe being on a bus for 10 hrs. won’t work for you.

I will note here, that the long bus and train rides I’ve taken were far more comfortable than I anticipated. The Greyhound buses in Australia have leather reclining seats, a clean bathroom, USB charging ports and fast, free internet.


The Best Ways to Communicate with Your Host


Ferry to Moorea Photo by Donna Kos

It’s time to build your Workaway profile. List numerous skills you have. After looking at hosts you’ll see some of the tasks people are interested in having done. Be sure and list ones that you’ll enjoy or at the very least not hate. That will help hosts decide if they want to work with you.

After you find some interesting prospects, send off some well thought out emails via Workaway. You will have an idea how long it takes them to get back to you because that is listed in the beginning info on their host site.

Most hosts are fairly prompt in getting back to you. The ones that don’t need anybody anymore (even it says they do) aren’t as prompt. And sometimes you won’t get a response at all.

I communicated with the hosts I stayed with multiple times and Skyped as well. It’s nice to “meet them in person” before you show up. It’s also nice to see the property.

Write down phone numbers, addresses, email addresses and full names on paper before you jump on a plane. Put it with your travel documents.

I forgot to write down the phone number for my host family in French Polynesia.

Addresses don’t really exist on the island of Moorea. My travel schedule changed or my host would have met me. I had been traveling for 26hrs when I got off the bus. I didn’t know where my hosts house was. Too hot and exhausted to panic, I just wanted to sit down and cry.

Problem solving mode kick in. I called out, “Herbert, Helen… Herbert, Helen” in a desperate effort to find them.

An older woman walked up her driveway.

“Do you need help?”

“Yes I do!”

She motioned for me to walk down the driveway and called out her granddaughter. She brought me out a glass of water. They spoke in French and we all agreed having the phone number would have been a stellar idea.

I showed them the “address”.

They shook their heads.

More French was spoken. The granddaughter threw my backpack in the back of the truck. I was instructed to get in. Elated to not have to walk I happily hopped in. 5 minutes later I saw the house that was on Skype.

“THAT’S IT!!!”

Through blind luck and the kindness of strangers I found my host family. Relief washed over me and exhaustion set in. I sat down knowing I was lucky as hell.


Expenses Can Be Managed


French Polynesia Photo by Donna Kos

I flew into Tahiti during low season out of Dallas for $645, one way. High season can be over double that.

Cab from the airport to the ferry, fare for the ferry and bus when I landed in Moorea, totaled $50. I could have done it cheaper.

If I’d taken a bus instead of the cab I could have saved $17…

But I was exhausted and didn’t care.

My hosts paid for the food and included my requests. I kept them to a minimum and bought my extras like sushi grade tuna(enough that I got tired of it), wasabi, cold beer and tobacco.

If I didn’t have those guilty pleasures I could have stayed there for far less a day.

I rode my host’s bicycle all over the place. I was on a lagoon so I could snorkel off the dock. I saw sharks, sting rays, and at least 25 different species of fish standing on the dock. We fed the sharks and sting rays too.

It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen on earth.

Other considerations before you commit

Know your comfort level.

What language does the host family speak?

In French Polynesia, mine spoke French with some English. I speak very little French. Generally they only spoke French so it was easy to feel left out.

Remember if you’re going to check out a new culture don’t expect it to be like the US.

What will your accommodations be like?

I’ve had private rooms which were great. Now that I’ve stayed at hostels for so long, having to share a room wouldn’t be an issue for me.

What is the cost of living?

French Polynesia isn’t cheap, but I knew that going in.

Confirm the agreement.

Are all meals included?

Do your homework.

Considerations whether you want to volunteer or pay for a hostel

If you apply at a hostel and you’re over 40, or maybe even younger than that, don’t expect to hear back let alone volunteer for them. You’re too old for their criteria.

Some hostels won’t even rent you a room. A hostel mate and I went to check into a hostel in Sydney, Australia. We had reservations. We were turned away due to our age. And since “Schoolies” (read Spring Break) were everywhere we couldn’t find a room in Sydney.

When I first realized that I was being over looked because of my age, I was taken aback and a little pissed off.

My hostel mates at Byron Bay deemed me a legend. I’m always happy, slightly crazy and always have an awesome time. Apparently the notion is “oldsters” will make the youngsters uncomfortable. Wasn’t my experience but I don’t make the rules.

So if you’re over 35 and booking online you might want to call the hostel!

Check Our Workaway and Let Your Imagination Run Wild!


The Dock at my Hosts Photo by Donna Kos

Searching out amazing, breathtaking places to visit is like going down a rabbit hole. You may find yourself looking all over the world for hours at a time.

Cross checking cheap airfares on Skiplagged and Skyscanner will fuel your travel lust. Using Rome2rio to show you all your choices on how to get from A to Z will give you peace of mind about your choices.

Checking the cost of living, languages and transportation with help you make a decision on where your travels will take you.

There’s a lot of options out there.

Go explore!


Exported from Medium on February 18, 2019.

2 thoughts on “How Workaway Made it Possible for Me to Travel the World On $20 a Day”

  1. I have been traveling and doing workaway for the last 11 years and I plan on doing this for at least 11 years more,maybe more. I agree with all your points except about the hostels. I have volunteered at hostels in 5 continents, some of them more than once, and I have loved all the experiences, and I am a senior citizen. Granted, party hostels do not want older volunteers, needless to say there are many hostels that want fun loving friendly responsible people of any age.

    1. Hey Cristina,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment!

      I need to add to that post because I’m now volunteering at a party hostel and am the “hostel mom”. I’ve been here 3.5mo and am loving it.

      Have an epic day!

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