Work exchanges are becoming a very popular way to travel these days. They’re fun, engrossing, immersive, and, crucially, often provide more gratification than a typical holiday.
Worldpackers is one of the best websites that travelers can use to connect with volunteer programs. It is a relative newcomer to the industry, at least compared to other sites, yet is already gaining a massive following.
Obviously, there must be a reason for this mass appeal and Worldpackers must be doing something right if so many are using it.
So who are Worldpackers? What kind of programs does Worldpackers host? Are there any issues with the services?
Having used the company before and become very familiar with their site, I can say that Worldpackers is legit. I have written this Worldpackers review in hopes that people can learn about the company and possibly give them a chance.
Worldpackers is not perfect, and I will point out some differences between it and other companies. But that being said, it’s pretty damn good.
Let’s find out why shall we?!
Who are Worldpackers?
Worldpackers is an online company that connects travelers with foreign volunteer hosts who then work in exchange for housing. This sort of traveling, commonly known as “voluntourism,” has become increasingly popular in recent years and is a part of a greater “responsible tourism” trend.
Worldpackers is essentially the middle-man between travelers seeking work and local volunteer programs. They provide a directory of volunteer programs and the means to sort through them so that you can find the best placement possible.
That being said, Worldpackers does do more than just connect volunteers to hosts. It offers a plethora of additional resources, a great support network, a blogging platform for collaboration, and a whole lot more. All of these aspects will be discussed more in-depth throughout the rest of this article.
Worldpackers also adheres to a pretty exemplary code of conduct. According to their mission statement, Worldpackers is “a community based on collaboration and honest relationships that make travel more accessible to those seeking a profound cultural experience.” They value environmentalism, authenticity, growth and working together above all else and make a great effort to provide the best experience possible.
This is not just a lot of boastful talk either – Worldpackers actually does a great job delivering on these points. How well? We’re about to see.
Review – Worldpackers Online Experience
Obviously, the first part of Worldpackers that you’re going to interact with is the website. This is where you’ll sign-up, login, look for potential hosts, communicate, and, if you’re really invested, collaborate with other travelers.
When you create a new account with Worldpackers, you will be asked a series of personal questions. Questions include:
- What languages do you speak?
- Your education?
- What are your skills?
- What are you interested in?
- Etc, etc, etc.
Answering these questions will provide Worldpackers with pertinent information and will help them connect you with potential programs. Hosts will also be able to see your profile and may even reach out to you and request your assistance first.
When asked about your skills, Worldpackers will actually ask you to rank how proficient you are in various fields. This is a nice little touch and does add an extra dimension to your profile’s presentation.
You can change the settings of your profile from the parent page and alter your interests. I won’t go into either at the moment as they are fairly self-explanatory when you see them.
Finding a Volunteer Program
Once you complete your profile, the next step is finding a prospective work exchange and host. You can start looking by clicking the ‘looking-glass’ icon labeled Host on your home screen.
The layout of the host directory is fairly straightforward. You will be presented with a list of volunteer programs that are broken down, filtered, and organized by various factors, like:
- Languages/skills required
- Type of work
- Time of year
- And host ratings
There is not much to say about this section except that it gets the job done. Never was there a moment where I was lost and or lacking choices. The map in the corner was also a nice visual and helped synergize the experience a bit.
Clicking on a volunteer program will then you lead you to a page containing all the relevant information that one might need. Here, you’ll a breakdown of:
- What the host needs from you e.g. man hours, skills, availability, etc
- And what they can offer you e.g. type of housing, activities, meals, etc
Aside from these, there is quite a bit more info that describes the nature of the work exchange and what you can expect. For those who like to hear the opinions of others, there also a review section where participants share their experience of a host. All-in-all, it’s a fair bit of info and does a good job of painting the hosts’ picture.
When you find a potential host that you like, the only action that remains is applying! Upon doing so, the host will review your profile and decide whether or not they need you or not. (In my experience, most say yes.)
Types of Worldpackers Jobs Offered
There are many ways to work and travel around the world with Worldpackers. If you have a talent or skill, trust me, it can and will be put to use by a prospective host.
Here are some sample Worldpackers jobs:
- Teaching English abroad – This probably the most common form of work exchange as many people abroad need help with learning English AND can’t afford formal education either. Thus, offering a free room and board to travelers is usually a fair deal.
- Permaculture or farmwork – This is the one that I know the least about yet it arguably the original work exchange. Check out this article for a more educated opinion.
- Working in a hostel or lodge – Another common means of traveling cheaply around the world. Usually, hostels employ multiple backpackers and each helps around the premises in various ways like cooking, cleaning, and making beds.
- Nannying or being an au pair – Someone’s got to watch the kids and give the rents a break sometimes. If the kids can learn a bit of English too, even better.
- Party representative – Yes, you can in fact drink for free; all you need to do is herd a group of feral backpackers around until they are no longer your responsibility. After that, it’s free drinks for you.
- General labor – Sometimes the owner of a lodge may ask you to do odd jobs here and there, like trim the hedges or lay some concrete, which is fine. Just make sure that you’re not taking away a skilled laborer’s job.
- Caring for animals – This is one of the most popular ways to volunteer abroad (who can resist working with animals) BUT also requires a great deal of research. Some animal sanctuaries are total shams and are just another tourist trap. Case and point: many elephant rehabilitation centers in Thailand.
Worldpackers Additional Resources
Worldpackers isn’t just a venue for backpackers to volunteer with nor is it just a means to find free accommodation in exchange for work. It’s an engaged community, one that is constantly putting out new travel-related material and one that provides a median to those trying to expand their skill sets. It is this part of Worldpackers, the additional support, that really makes the company shine.
The content section displays blog posts from all sorts of travelers, ranging in topic from travel tips to reviews to personal stories. This area is an opportunity to share your own experiences, no matter how small, and to continue your own personal growth beyond a volunteer program.
Worldpackers encourages collaboration and conversation through posts like these. Participants share their stories and, in the process, find new avenues of travel, either to a new destination or to a new walk of life. Such communication can only be a good thing and ultimately leads to a better travel community.
If you’re a working professional in the travel business, this can also be a way of building a portfolio. I too was once a freelancer (see my first EVER article here) and can say that opportunities like these can keep your ass afloat.
Next to the ‘content’ tab is the ‘community’ one. Here, you will find a list of every – yes, every – volunteer currently active with Worldpackers. This is so you can enlist their help.
If you need some advice for traveling alone, just look through the list for someone specializing in this type of travel. Need some advice on teaching English in Africa? Someone here is an expert that can help.
Such a mighty resource is invaluable for potential volunteers and I have to say I am very impressed by this part of Worldpackers.
Review of Worldpackers vs the Competition
There are a lot of other voluntourism businesses out there and, honestly, Worldpackers has some stiff competition. There are quite a few options, like:
- Workaway – the toughest competition
- WWoof – the original
So what sets Worldpackers apart from the rest?
I’m not gonna lie: a lot of these companies do really good work. I’ve used Workaway (shocking!) before and can honestly say that my experience was positive. Their blog is quite expansive, if not a bit cluttered. Being a photographer, I personally like how Workaway hosts photographic competitions on a monthly basis.
What it really comes down to though is how intuitive and easy-to-use Worldpackers is. It’s extremely user-friendly, quite effective, and a breeze to navigate. I’ll say it again that the ‘content’ and ‘community’ portions of the website are really welcome features and that it’s hard to imagine being without these.
Worldpackers’ opponents are powerful and offer a lot of resources – Workaway alone has almost 40,000 listings! But Worldpackers emphasis on usability makes it rise above the rest. Because of Worldpacker’s layout, it’s never been easier to browse, select, and be a part of volunteer programs.
Why is there a fee with Worldpackers?
For those who use services like Worldpackers in order to travel the world for free, some may be turned off by the idea of paying an annual fee. (I can hear the diehard backpackers screaming now: “this isn’t really free travel!” Or “I could get easily find my own gig without paying for stuff like this!”)
Simmer down now, y’all.
There is an annual fee with Worldpackers of $49/per year (year not month), which is in all honesty very fair.
Firstly, this amount is very little. When you do the math, it comes out to less than 13 cents a day. There are phone apps that cost more than this.
Secondly, that $49 is used for very important reasons, like maintaining the website, funding communication with hosts, and paying the staff. These are critical aspects of the enterprise and to sacrifice one of them would severely weaken the service.
In the end, $49 is nothing. It may seem weird at first to pay for a product like this but the alternative – no Worldpackers at all – would be a dim option.
Besides, I can only imagine how much (good) coffee their South American staff must drink 😉
Why Should I Volunteer with Worldpackers?
Worldpackers is a great means of alternative travel. By joining a local volunteer or work exchange program, you will have the opportunity to become more culturally immersed and be afforded some very unique possibilities.
Some of my most memorable travel memories are from work exchanges. Hidden waterfalls, unknown hikes, real conversations with real locals; things that I’ve always dreamed of having while on the road.
Those who just travel on the main tourist trail or take vanilla holiday tours do not have the same options as those who work in exchange for housing. In fact, most vacationers just blow through town without actually really understanding a location. This sort of tourism is antiquated and becoming more and more unreasonable.
Volunteering while abroad also allows you to give back to the local community. You can empower the native people by doing many things like teaching English, setting up new projects,, or simply by connecting the region with the rest of the world via social media. It’s only fair that we help out our hosting nation just as much as they help out us.
All of this is a part of a new and exciting trend called responsible tourism. This was born out of the need for travelers to get more than just leisure out of their journey. As the world becomes more globalized, people are becoming more aware of the problems gripping it and want to do what they can to help.
Frankly, I am very excited about this new way of traveling. It has the potential of being sustainable, enlightening, and extremely fulfilling. Gone are the days where people just blew into a resort town, got pissed drunk, and left a huge mess for the natives. People want more these days and I look forward to all of the emerging opportunities.
Getting Free Accommodation in Exchange for Work
Let’s call a spade a spade – a lot of people use Worldpackers or other voluntourism services to travel cheaply. By receiving free accommodation in exchange for work, you can extend your trip, possibly indefinitely!
Lodging and food are two of the largest expenses on any backpacking trip and can eat up a lot of your hard-earned dollars. In fact, I’d say that about ? of any travel budget is dedicated to these expenses.
Now imagine you could have these expenses paid for – what a world that would be!
But free room and board for a work exchange is a reality. For dedicating a reasonable amount of hours each week, you can eat, sleep, and breathe without worrying about spending money. Saving cash in alternative ways is Broke Backpacking 101, people.
Now, I have to say that there is a limit to how much someone can expect to save AND that, under no circumstances, is someone to take advantage of host. Yes, you can save a lot by working and traveling but this is meant to be a perk, not the end-goal.
Volunteering is about enriching lives – yours and other included – about gaining valuable insight into another culture, and about making the world a better place. To volunteer only for the sake of getting free shit would be a huge injustice, not only to the community but to yourself.
In extreme cases, some people have even skipped out on a volunteer experience without paying or without working their fair share. This sort of behavior is atrocious and would never want any of you, my fellow broke backpackers, to do such things.
What if I’m asked to pay by the volunteer program?
So there is some bad news and some goods news. The bad news is that traveling and volunteering for free isn’t necessarily guaranteed as some hosts may ask for a small fee. Good news is that these fees usually go to a good cause.
Guests are usually asked to pay a little under a few circumstances:
- They cannot commit to a long enough volunteer stay.
- The program itself needs more support.
- You’ll be taking part in activities that are not strictly work-related.
Now, I understand that paying for a volunteer program can seem very counter-intuitive. After all, many got into this so that could get free accommodation in exchange for work. Plus, they’re already paying $49 per year, right?!
Like the annual fee, the argument here is all about getting your money’s worth and thinking about the bigger picture.
When a host asks you to pay a little for your experience, it’s for a good reason. Some of these volunteer programs are quite large and require a lot of financial aid. When you consider that a lot of the hosts may lack any kind of support*, then maybe you’ll under the strain put on these individuals. The fee you pay helps greatly.
You need to also consider how much you’re actually paying and if it’s reasonable. If a host asks for a $1000 for a 2-week program, that’s not a work exchange – that’s someone taking advantage of a traveler. If a host asks for $5-$10 per day and provides a well-rounded experience, then that’s more justifiable.
Think about the idea of paying a little for a work exchange. You may find that it’s not such a big deal.
What is bad volunteering?
Bad volunteering has the opposite effect that should be intended, that is it actually causes damage to local communities and the participant as well.
For example, if a host is making the volunteers work too hard and is taking advantage of them, then this is just slave labor. Not only is this shitty for the participant but bad for the economy too because someone isn’t getting paid.
That being said, volunteers themselves can also be the sources of bad volunteering. If a volunteer skips out on a large commitment, not only are they putting stress on the host but also not helping the situation much.
Here are some things to note when trying to avoid a bad work exchange program:
- Work schedules that look too demanding or unreasonable.
- Paying a ridiculous amount for participating and not receiving your money’s worth.
- Not pulling your weight and skipping work.
- Just using a volunteer experience as a way of mooching and not helping someone.
- Living in squalid or unhealthy conditions.
- Being abused by the owner, natives, or volunteers – no one signed up for that shit.
- Pretending like you will pay and then leaving without doing so – dick move.
- Being a part of a program that is not transparent.
At the end of the day, 90% of work exchange experiences are positive and only a fraction are actually putrid. Thanks to the rating system, it wouldn’t take long before the horrible experiences were singled out and shut down by Worldpackers with swift justice.
A Sample Review of a Worldpackers Volunteer Experience
I had the chance of participating in my own work exchange thanks to the help of Worldpackers recently. In April 2019, I traveled to volunteer in Vietnam and it ended up becoming one of the most memorable experiences in the last few years for me.
I chose to volunteer in Vietnam for many reasons:
- It looked gorgeous.
- I heard great things about Vietnam.
- The possessed the skills required.
- The regiment seemed reasonable.
- The time of year was right.
For me, Vietnam was the perfect choice.
Needless to say, my time volunteering in Vietnam was a great success. Everything that I had heard about the country, from the beauty to the people to the food, was absolutely true and I was happy to have chosen it.
But, as anticipated, Vietnam was not without its issues. As I would come to learn, there were some very real problems that the Vietnamese faced and I felt very lucky to be able to help, if only in a marginal way.
As a part of my work exchange, I learned the ways of making local tea, helped teach English to students of all ages, and just did various chores. To be honest, the workload was not great but I do not think that was ever the point.
The point of the program was exposing foreigners to a more raw side of Vietnam and to educate them. After spending a decent amount of time at the homestay, many backpackers would continue their travels. The would carry what they learned with them, effectively pollinating new backpackers with new ideas about Vietnam.
Ultimately, I loved my time there and would do all over again in a heartbeat.
Bonus: Becoming a Worldpackers Host
Need a little help around the hostel or farm? Thinking about starting your own work exchange?
If you’re looking to become a host, then I suggest you check out the Worldpackers website for more details. I admit that I have zero experience with this part of the company but from what I heard it’s a fairly straightforward process.
All I can say is that if you intend on starting your own volunteer program, please remember to be respectful of the participants and to be reasonable with them. Take what I’ve said in this post to heart – you’ll inspire more enthusiasm in the volunteers, which will only lead to greater energy and productivity. Do this and you’re sure to create an amazing experience!
Worldpackers is an excellent company that offers a wide range of opportunities for those who want to work and travel. Its website is efficient, it’s directory of hosts is broad, and it’s additional features are very useful. The company does everything that a work exchange organizer ought to and goes above and beyond in many regards
Worldpackers does have quite a few noteworthy competitors. But Worldpackers’ sleek design, usability, and dedication to the traveling cause make it stand out. If anyone was in search of a volunteer program, then Worldpackers deserves attention.
If you’re the type who needs to see to believe, then please go check out the Worldpackers website. I believe that people should be making informed decisions, free of misleading bullshit; I also believe strongly that Worldpackers will exceed any expectations.
As a closing thought, I want to reassure everyone that it is possible to travel responsibly and that it is much more fulfilling than simply going on holiday. You will need to do your research in order to find the right host because there are bad volunteering situations out there. Be aware, feel the vibe, and get out there and do some good!
Don’t Forget: Broke Backpackers Receive a Worldpackers Promo Code!
Please use the Worldpackers promo code BROKEBACKPACKER to get a $20 discount on your yearly membership! We have it for a reason and want all of you to benefit from it as well 🙂
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