There are a number of new sharing economy companies offering lodging in exchange for volunteer work. While this isn’t a new concept, these peer to peer companies are connecting volunteers/workers with individuals and opportunities that were not previously available, and in some cases they are doing it with a much better user experience. The established companies in this space still have a significant advantage based on number of listings alone, but the newcomers are innovating in ways that could make the opportunity of working for lodging on a vacation a more mainstream option for travelers.
In general peer to peer labor-for-lodging sites are focused on helping individuals, families or small organizations recruit labor in exchange for free or very cheap lodging (and often food). I think this is a great way for people to gain totally new and different experiences while traveling. In addition to saving a lot of money on hotels, these labor-for-lodging exchanges could fundamentally alter the way some folks travel, allowing people to entirely skip the tourist destinations and hotels, and instead gain insight into a small piece of local life while contributing their labor in a way that is very personally visible and impactful.
There is a long tradition of people doing volunteer work around the world, often paying their own way to have this experience and help out an organization in need. Large organizations like African Conservation Experience have the funds and resources to advertise on their own. And there are already a number of companies like International Volunteer HQ that create volunteer experiences for travelers. But these experiences are generally not cheap, and the fees go to support program staff and services, something budget travelers are generally hoping to avoid.
Established companies like Helpx (1400 opportunities listed) and Workaway (9953 opportunities listed) charge only a small annual membership fee to connect volunteers with work/stay opportunities around the world. These two in particular have been offering this peer to peer service for years, and while their user interfaces leave something to be desired, they are well enough established to have a strong base of both volunteers and hosts.
I’ve recently written about newer companies offering variations on the peer to peer work-for-lodging theme including Gigoing, Helpstay, and I Like Local. There are also other sites facilitating people trading housesitting, dog sitting or other services for lodging including Trusted House Sitters and Staydu.
While traveling in Jordan last year I did some Couchsurfing and ended up staying in a remote town where the host is building an NGO, Al Numeira Environmental Association, in his spare time. He offers longer term lodging to people who volunteer to help with this project, and takes the opportunity to talk with all his guests about how he can find more resources to expand the project. I was only there a few nights, but I did put in some time helping with the painting of their new building. And my experience in this small town where few tourists ever stop was among the most interesting of my trip to Jordan.
Anyone looking for an alternative to the typical tourist experience should consider doing a swap of labor for lodging. There are opportunities for as short as one day, across a wide variety of different types of work. You will almost certainly have a unique experience that you would have missed as an ordinary tourist.
Check out my table of all peer to peer lodging websites here.