When Matthew and I decided to travel, we knew that we wanted to do volunteer work, and also be able to travel for extended periods of time. In order to do this you either have to have loads of money, or work to earn room & board.
If you Google “volunteer abroad” you will come up with an overwhelming amount of results, most ranging from $2,500- $5,000 for a time period of 1-4 weeks, depending on the company. We did not want to pay money to volunteer, so we reached out to people we knew and also signed up on a website called Workaway.info. Workaway is a site that has volunteer projects listed from around the world. The jobs are all different and they range from teaching English to building hostels, or tending to sheep in Ireland. Each project lists it’s needs and expectations and also the accommodations that they give in return. Most of the jobs are five days a week for about 5 hours each day, some require less. In return for your work, you are given and bed and at least 1 meal, most provide 2 meals.
For a person interested in long-term travel this probably seems like a dream, however it can quickly turn into a nightmare if you end up with the wrong host. Here I will list the projects that we chose, and advice on having a better experience than we did.
Hostel Kokopelli was our first stop in Lima. The job was bar tending for about 30 hours/week. The work was in exchange for board in staff dorms, breakfast, and discounted rates on tours and drinks. For months we spoke to the owner and a few members of staff about securing our spots as volunteers and we also arranged airport pickup. When we arrived we paid the taxi fare, signed the papers for our room and decided to speak to the bar manager the next day. When we went to speak to the manager, he quickly informed us that they had no volunteer availability for at least one month. The next day, they hired a person that came after us, and her boyfriend had to pay nightly. This is a frustrating scenario when you’ve planned and budgeted this as your first long-term stop. After a night of planning and frantic emailing, we where able to secure a place at another Workaway!
Bravo Surf Camp was our next stop. A small surf hostel in Punta Hermosa Beach, Lima, Peru. This workaway said that they required 5 hours of work each day and in return they provide surf lessons, room and board, and 3 meals each day. This hostel requested help with things like gardening, outdoor projects, help with tourists, Internet help and hostel upkeep. What this hostel doesn’t tell you is that they require 7 days of work each week, it’s all housekeeping work and only one volunteer can leave the house at a time. So if you are volunteering as a pair, you’re basically confined to the house. The owner of the hostel is never around, as he’s surfing all day. They want you to keep the floors clean while they track in water, sand and dirt from the beach. Not to mention, their idea of gardening means picking up dog shit from every stray dog in the town that uses the garden like a toilet. The meals are poorly timed, so you are usually hungry for prolonged periods. As a volunteer you help cook and when food is cooked you’re expected to clean up after everyone. Basically, all work and no play. Needless to say, we returned to Lima 2 days later. We made a choice to try one more project, and if it didn’t work in our favor, we were going home.
Our last stop before leaving South America was Chillhouse Hostel in Cusco, Peru. This hostel is under construction currently, so the work consists of painting, drywall, cleaning and construction-based jobs. The work is not difficult and in exchange for your work you get a bed in the staff dorms and two traditional Peruvian meals (read: soup) each day. Overall the owner Sebastian is nice, the rest of the team is mostly Spanish-speaking, and my advice would be to lock up your valuables (My iPhone went missing). The meals are usually served late. The biggest issue with this place is that it’s located next to a community park where everyone smokes weed, exercises and plays with random stray dogs. The park has a great view of Cusco, but crooked cops hang around the park, looking to rip off tourists for bogus charges. After being accused of selling drugs in the park, we decided to leave Peru for good.
With workaways, it’s difficult to know exactly what you will get until you arrive. My best advice would be to come up with a list of questions, and try to communicate as much as possible. This still will not ensure that you have a great time, but at least it will help you to develop a plan and line up a backup Workaway assignment. While it may not have been the best situation for us, others on the same path loved every minute. My hope is that this helps someone.