Spend a few hours a day talking in English with your host in exchange for a room in Madrid. Or do some marketing work for a new business in exchange for a bed in a dormitory in India. Or help with gardening and housework 25 hours a week in exchange for a room and all your meals in Germany. These are real opportunities I found on Helpstay.
There is a long tradition of people doing volunteer work around the world. Usually people pay their own expenses to have this experience and help out an organization in need. This work can be very rewarding. And the travel to a new place is part of the reward.
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.
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. 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 see two main innovations with the new peer to peer labor for lodging businesses over the old school volunteering model. First, these new companies offer a much better user experience. They generally have better websites and better communication tools. And second, many of the opportunities are really just a trade of labor for lodging. These hosts aren’t folks in need. Instead they are people who want a service and have a bed to offer in exchange. I wouldn’t call this volunteering. But it is potentially a very good deal for travelers.
Trading labor for lodging can be a great way for people to enjoy totally new and different experiences while traveling. In addition to saving a lot of money on hotels, these exchanges could fundamentally alter the way some folks travel. Skip the tourist destinations and hotels, and instead gain insight into a small piece of local life. There are also plenty of opportunities to volunteer for organizations in need.
I had a great time on my swap of English conversation for lodging in Madrid. My experience underscored the human connections involved in this sort of arrangement. Three years later I’m still friend with my host.
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.