the most exhilarating thing i have ever done was quit my day job of four years. it was four very important years of my life, but still four years grueling early mornings and late nights that i am happy to have moved on from. a couple months later, i found myself living in scotland (temporarily) and had no end-date, besides when my money or visa ran out.
before this, i desperately wanted to live abroad. so much that i knew i couldn’t even think about doing anything else before that dream was accomplished.
but did you know there are ways to live abroad (from anywhere to a couple weeks to a year) for only the cost of your plane ticket and additional necessary transit? as long as you’re willing to put in a little work (about 20 hours a week), you can live abroad in the area of the world you’ve always dreamed of going for dollars a day. it’s not too good to be true, because i did it myself.
it’s all about the work-stay, guys. and it is just what it sounds like: you work, and then you stay (and eat. fo’ free). work-staying is absolutely the most important and valuable travel decision i’ve ever made. a gal i was traveling with once in italy told me about it and i was really surprised that i have never heard about it before. it’s a little bit of a secret it seems, even though the idea been around for decades; probably longer.
how do you work-stay?
sign up with one of these websites: WWOOF, help-x, or workaway. they are networks of places and properties all over the world that really could use your help in some way. some of them (like WWOOF) are only on organic farms, so there are farmers that really could use an extra hand. the other two can be farms but also many different other kinds of properties: bed and breakfasts, hostels, schools, private residences…. really anywhere that someone has land and a job for you to do.
what is expected of me? most work-stays ask for at least twenty hours of work per week. this could be spread out over an entire week or only on weekdays, with two days off in a row. also, to just generally be helpful during your time there. offer to help with household chores and just generally have a helping type of spirit.
what should i expect? generally, free room and board for the entireity of your stay. some may offer only half-board– check the listing thoroughly before accepting.
who can work-stay? the beautiful thing is that everyone can– young or old, couples or individuals. some hosts may be pickier about the right candidate for their needs, but everyone could and should give it a shot!
is it legal? of course, because you are simply trading your help for room and board. however, your official legal business is still for tourism, as this is a type of tourism, so you can not be issued a work or long-term residence visa for a work-stay. the entire work-stay principal is contingent on you already being allowed to legally be in the country. (for an american in the schengen zone, this is three months. in the uk, six months)
so it sounds pretty good, right? first you gotta….
choose a property. usually sorted on these sites by region or country, you can browse through individual listings and read everything you need to know*. be sure to read each listing extensively to make sure you have all the details and you don’t miss something little that could become major later. (like the fact that host might have an animal you’re allergic to, that they are vegans or strict vegetarians when you are definitely not, etc)
examples of properties i’ve seen: apple orchard, city hostel, bed and breakfasts, vegan restaurant, ashram/yoga retreat center, siberian husky dog-sledding reserve, private manor.
through the site, you can contact the host and if they like your profile, get a dialogue going through the in-site messaging service! try to put forth in your initial communications how excited you are to help them and not just how excited you are to be in their city or in that part of the world. this is a two way street, and they could really use a helpful, ready-for-anything type like you.
*although you have to be a member of the website to see full-listings, with the ability to read reviews and contact the host. memberships cost around $30/two years and it’s totally worth it.
as i mentioned before, work-staying forever changed my perception of travel. i used to hop around and visit one place for a few days before moving on. after work-staying, i truly became a slow traveler. i wanted the feeling of living in a place for weeks… the old standard four days just wouldn’t cut it anymore.
not only that, but i had the opportunity to meet some kind and amazing locals that i will never forget. to me, culture is best experienced through its people, and i learned an incredible amount and was treated to some unique experiences i never would have done before: fishing in the atlantic, singing with a choir in the famous rosslyn chapel, working at a church luncheon and serving over a hundred elderly scots coffee and tea for an organization desperately requiring someone like me. those experiences are what i began to live for.
and i really lived, each day. i never counted down the hours until something was finished. i enjoyed my work, i enjoyed every moment i was awake. and the next morning when i awoke again, i was content. because i work-stayed over seven weeks, there was no rushed feeling, nothing i was missing out on or needed to do… and i have never felt more alive.
but the best thing is, you don’t necessarily have to quit your day job to do it (even though i did)! work-stays can be as short as a week, and as long as several months (as negotiated between both parties). it is the best way i know that is humanly possible to live maximum thrills in the place you’ve always wanted to visit for almost no money. brilliant.
would you ever consider doing a work-stay? (it’ll change your life, just sayin’.)