by Julia Escaño
We’ve all been there: slumped on your office chair, longing for ice cold beers by that hidden beach you had discovered on your trip last week, and wishing you could do it all over again. Then reality kicks in: Your travel budget is tight. Accommodations aren’t free, and neither are cold beers. That reality is just about to change.
There is a whole world of free lodgings available to travelers everywhere. Through various volunteer programs and work exchange opportunities, you can stay for free and help a community at the same time. Most organizations even prioritize longer stays which allows you to fully immerse in the local culture.
If this sounds like your thing, explore the possibilities with these organizations and websites below. All it takes is a strong desire to help, some elbow grease, minimal membership fees, and you can bid that office chair goodbye. It won’t be seeing you anytime soon.
Mind My House
House-sit and dog-sit while living in scenic Northern France
Who doesn’t fantasize about living in the French countryside; those quaint stone houses, surrounded by rolling green fields and blue skies? If you’re willing to trade a little housework for it, one of those houses could be yours for free. Through Mind My House, a website that brings homeowners and house-sitters together, you can handpick a location and volunteer to take care of a home there while its owners are away. The website offers listings from all over the globe, which means that wherever you want to go, there’s probably a house waiting for your care. This listing, for instance, requires caring for animals and tending the garden in exchange for having a whole property for three months! Membership for house sitters starts at US $20, one of the lowest around according to the website.
Help build a community while immersing in Indian culture and traditions
With IDEX’s India Experience Program, you not only get to contribute but also enjoy private guided tours and sightseeing packages. Volunteers get to help in different aspects of the community across several locations. These include historic Agra, Jaipur, and the beach-town of Goa. Apart from visiting the Taj Mahal, you also get authentic instructions on Bollywood dancing, Indian cooking, yoga, and henna painting. Summer programs even include beach daytrips. Shared accommodations and all meals are provided for during the whole trip. The program is open to anyone aged 18-28 years old, and can last from 2-4 weeks.
Work in an organic farm in the Italian countryside
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms or WWOOF is an international network of farms looking for extra working hands. Each participating country has its own website where aspiring volunteers can browse jobs and locations. You are required to have a membership and pay an annual fee in each country where you plan to volunteer. There are usually a minimum number of work hours required each week, but volunteers are free to spend the rest of the days as they please. Farms usually have off-days too, giving volunteers plenty of opportunity to explore their surroundings and familiarize themselves with their environment. On top of this, accommodations and healthy, organic meals are provided. Accommodations can range from private bedrooms, shared rooms, or even your own small cottage. If you’re dreaming of visiting Italy, check out these open jobs and see what your next destination might look like!
Do farming and basic carpentry while living in a vineyard in Argentina
There are a few things more romantic than the image of vineyards and orchards sprawled out as far as the eye can see. Unfortunately, lodgings in these spots are usually pretty expensive, let alone free. But if you volunteer to work in them, that’s a whole other story.
This vineyard in San Rafael, Argentina is looking for hands to help with everything from carpentry, renovations, irrigation, and planting. For a minimum of 2 weeks, volunteers can enjoy the Argentine countryside, soak in the scenic landscapes, and work with a team to keep a vineyard running. Through HelpX or Help Exchange, volunteers can find all sorts of work in thousands of locations all over the world. It can be on farms, vineyards, hostels, beach resorts, or even sailboats. This gives travelers unparalleled opportunities not only in finding a location they like, but also in choosing the kind of work they want to do.
Crew a yacht while sailing across the Pacific
If sailing is a dream for you but you have no experience or certificates, Crew Bay is a good place to start. As volunteering goes this can already fall into the jobs category. But, it allows you to sail around the world, get food and accommodations, and maybe even get paid! Most boats sail in the Mediterranean and Caribbean, and offer positions for amateurs who just want to dip their feet into the sailing life.
You can also find work on different types of boats, ranging from sailing yachts to cruise ships to cargo. Finding a boat that suits you requires a lot of thought and communication, especially when it comes to what’s included in your contract. Some will offer free lodgings for temporary crew, but might ask to split the cost of food and gas. Thus it’s important to know what is required and what you are willing to give.
Become a surf instructor while living near the beaches of Cape Town, South Africa
Life’s literally a beach when you join this program by Love Volunteers. Their Surf and Adventure Program pairs lovers of the sport with underprivileged children from local settlements. This aims to teach the latter valuable life lessons through sports, cooperation, and teamwork. Volunteers need not be pros or experts either. You can spent mornings practicing on your own before the sessions start with the children in the afternoon. What’s important is teaching them the values gained from surfing to help them get off the streets. Volunteers will be housed with local families, where they can experience and added layer of authenticity and local color throughout the program. Since the required hours are also pretty light, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to explore the historic city of Cape Town and live like a local. Check out their website for more volunteering options with minimal registrations fees.