When I began traveling, it was important for me to put myself in the middle of lifestyles I otherwise had no idea existed. I love the idea of working in exchange for free rent and a rich cultural experience that forces you to have a different physiological experience. Workaway allowed me to quit my job, work abroad, and live rent-free while totally immersing myself in new experiences.
What is WorkAway / WOOFing?
For those that want to experience a totally new way of living, or perhaps have the opportunity to try a new skill, WOOFing or Workaway is the way to go. For those who haven’t heard, these websites operate as platforms for hosts to post volunteer gigs. The jobs range from teaching english, picking grapes on a vineyard, helping with farm animals, nannying, social media help, working at a hostel or B&B, and everything in between.
These jobs are an awesome opportunity to try something completely unique and perhaps outside your comfort zone, and the chance to experience a foreign way of life as a local. Accommodation is always included and can range from basic to glam, and very often at least a meal or two is included in exchange for 4 – 8 hours of work per day depending on the gig.
My two Workaway experiences around Europe
Personally, I’ve done two different Workaway experiences. One was working on a juice-detox / yoga retreat center in the hills of Lagos, Portugal. The other was teaching English in a small Polish village about 4 hours from Krakow, a humble conservative town.
So I browsed an array of different gigs that ranged from cattle herding to cheese making to nannying. And I settled on working on a juice detox retreat center.
Experience 1: Working on a juice detox retreat center in Portugal
The name of the juice detox retreat center was Moinhos Velhos, it was 30 minutes away from the small town of Lagos, Portugal in the Algarve. After spending a month in Lisbon, I was looking for something slower-paced than the city and wanted to experience something totally unique.
I ended up picking this Workaway because I wanted a chance to connect with nature and do yoga every day, which this retreat center had the facilities for. It was a center set on a beautiful plot of land, probably 80 acres or so, in the middle of nowhere built atop Quartz and surrounded by hills and lakes.
They also offered massage and acupuncture and biomats. So I thought, this would be a great chance to connect with myself while hiking and experiencing Portuguese culture. It was a really nice opportunity to go inward, especially after leaving the city of Lisbon. Read about practices I use to stay grounded while traveling.
Here, I was mainly in charge of cooking large meals for the volunteers who worked on the farm with me. They had massive plots of organic gardens where I’d pick fresh vegetables and fruits and used my creativity to prepare a meal for 10 – 15 people on any given day. I also collected eggs from the hens, watered the plants, did laundry and other errands around the property.
It was a great chance to talk with a melting pot of cultures. Some of the volunteers had been there for years, and this was their way of life. I briefly considered building a little shack on-site and saying sayonara to the American hustle! Ha, kidding (but not really). Everything was compostable and totally sustainable. I worked for about 5 hours a day, mainly cooking, and then had the rest of the day to myself.
I spent my time wandering around the vast landscape of southern Portugal. There was a car for use by the volunteers, but I didn’t know how to drive a stick (and should probably learn), so I was at the mercy of joining in on trips where others were driving. I became close friends with two Britts, an acupuncturist in his thirties and a middle-aged woman who helped run the center who had many radical experiences with Ayahuasca that led her there.
On our days off, we would drive to the beachside cliffs in the Algarve and take in the landscape. Sometimes, we’d go to the center of Lagos and meander the streets that smelled of Moroccan leather and fish. It was a small little town with a lot of mellow charm.
One Friday night, I was introduced to the coolest concept ever called “Friday Happiness Pizza Night” which was an epic Pizza Party with numerous brick ovens in the middle of nowhere Portugal run by a community of Workawayers — who knew life like this existed?!
It was another eco-community in Lagos with DJs, dancing, and of course pizza. There had to be over 400 people there on this plantation in the middle of literally, nowhere. You paid 10 euros for all you can eat wood-fired pizza and drinks. I was shook, especially after spending 2 weeks in nature with minimal socialization, there was this mysterious community of expats and locals at this Friday Happiness event. Mind = blown.
If you’re ever in Lagos on a Friday, you can find the link to their collective here.
Anyway, I ended up staying at this Workaway for about a month and found it was plenty of time. The work was not too hard and the people were overall really cool. I was lucky enough to have my own little dinky bathroom and bedroom in an attic, but many of the bedrooms were shared with other volunteers.
However, I was placed right above the kitchen and could hear frequent gossiping, which was somewhat annoying. I met some great friends but ended up having a radically unusual and unpredictable experience with another volunteer who was on the run from the government, and decided I was her BFF…
I’m not going to go into details, but things got weird, and I decided to leave. However, I wouldn’t take back the experience for the world!
Experience 2: Living in a small Polish village teaching English
My second Workaway experience was teaching English in a small Polish village of Węgierska Górka. This time, I was with a travel partner. After spending a month in Berlin, we wanted an experience that was in stark contrast to city life, where we could try something new and immerse ourselves in a different culture.
We stayed with probably (no, definitely) the only family that spoke English in the village, and acclimated into their day to day life of learning, cooking, and running errands. We worked for the owner of a small private school that taught English to Polish kids in a rural area. Our responsibilities were to create lesson plans for the kids at the school, sing and dance, play Justin Bieber songs, and walked/trained their dog.
We stayed in a humble pink kids room, and were able to use the kitchen to prepare meals. The family cooked and was happy to share, however as a vegetarian I was left to my own devices as many of the meals were very carnivorous.
The days started off with a humble breakfast, juicing apples from their back yard, walking in nature alongside the stream that led through the village, and sometimes embarking on longer hikes. At 4pm it was time for school, where we each had 3-4 classes back to back, ranging in ages 3 to 16.
Neither of us had taught before, and were left to sort of craft our own lesson plans and figure out what we were doing as there was limited instruction. My travel partner ended up being awesome at teaching all ages, and I learned that I worked best with 3-year-olds and teenagers.
We ended up befriending a fellow teacher, Dominick, who also worked for our host at the school. He was a godsend, driving us around town and showing us the hidden spots that made our time there special. We went to the Żywiec beer brewery, explored the hills and farm life, befriended llamas, and spent ample time in nature outside of the classwork.
Here we definitely found an appreciation for the simplistic Polish way of life in Węgierska Górka, a place that we would have never thought to visit otherwise.
Curious about how I work and live abroad? Read more about how to be a digital nomad and travel the world.
There are plenty of different experiences you can have abroad! My Workaway experiences were two that I’ll definitely never forget. Workaway gave me an insider view of how different people live, perceive their environment and contribute. It is like being part of communities that I only had viewed from the outside. Now being an insider, I had a change in my perception about that world.
My tips are to make sure to read the reviews from the other volunteers so you can gauge what their Workaway experiences were like before committing to a family or farm, the quality of the program really depends on the specific situation you end up in.
Overall, my experiences were positive, with some interesting curveballs being thrown along the way. If you have the urge to quit your job and work abroad, you can lend yourself to some unforgettable experiences while living rent-free.
Have you ever worked abroad on a farm or teaching english? Tell me about your Workaway experiences in the comments!