More and more people are looking to travel on the cheap – and find it’s priceless

The best he could do during the pandemic was to zoom into a virtual travel club at the French Library in Boston. And that’s where he heard about Workaway, where travelers can make their way around the world by exchanging work for accommodation.

“You can create your own adventure,” said Hansen, 27, from Worcester, who in December began a trip around the world in which he has so far worked at a family hostel in Vietnam and a farm in Nepal, as a photographer in Oman and a home health aide in Switzerland, and as a builder of ecological houses in Tunisia, all in exchange for room and board.

As inflation and pent-up demand make travel increasingly expensive, people are finding new ways to do it cheaply or for free.

Also in exchange for accommodation, travelers can work in hostels and as house keepers, organic farm helpers or couriers (who get not only room and board, but also transportation).

Even in a time of suspicion and division, there are a growing number of hosts around the world letting strangers crash on their sofas through organizations such as Couchsurfing and WarmShowers. Travelers can use HomeExchange to swap homes with people in 130 countries and MindMyHouse and HouseCarers to find babysitting gigs around the world. And like Workaway, Worldpackers helps people trade their work – typically 25 to 30 hours a week – for room and board.

These days, these approaches not only appeal to traditional backpackers in their twenties, but everyone from high school graduates on gap years to workers between jobs and pre-retirees. And while it often starts out as a way to save money, traveling this way turns out to be much more than that, sometimes to the surprise of even those who do.

Volunteers for WWOOF USA, which places people on farms around the world to work room and board.Handout

“A lot of the time when you’re traveling you just get on a plane and get teleported to a different place and then you get back on the plane and get teleported back home, so that’s a way to slow things down “Hansen said. , who on his travels was invited to a Vietnamese wedding, heard stories of the Nepalese civil war at a barbecue on the farm where he worked in the foothills of the Himalayas and coached the son of another football host.

“It completely levels the playing field” compared to the usual travel dynamic of skydiving and buying hospitality, he said. “It’s more like: I’m human, you’re human, I can learn something from you and you can learn something from me.”

CouchSurfers is completely free, but most other services charge annual fees: $29 for MindMyHouse, $49 for Worldpackers and Workaway, $50 for HouseCarers. WarmShowers has a $30 lifetime subscription to access a list of hosts and ratings.

Many of these programs show growing interest. A Workaway spokeswoman said demand was on the rise, and a spokeswoman for an organization that organizes volunteer bone marrow and stem cell couriers said there was a long waiting list ( although she also warned that the logistics were complex and seeing the world for free was not the best motivation for this kind of endeavor).

Some people volunteer at hostels in exchange for free accommodation after working a certain number of hours.Handout

Membership is also growing rapidly at WWOOF, or Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, said Tori Fetrow, outreach and marketing manager for the organization’s US chapter, which places people on farms around the world to work. in room and board; accommodations can be yurts, motorhomes, tents or rooms in farmhouses.

Many find their way to WWOOF to save money while traveling, Fetrow said. But it turns out there are other, less tangible benefits.

“WWOOF is fundamentally about connections – the personal connection that forms between the WWOOFer and the farmer,” who can live very different lives, she said.

“They work side by side every day. They cook meals together. They eat together. Whatever their differences, they find ways to connect.

Other than tourist visas, if applicable, people traveling through WWOOF, Workaway, or similar programs generally do not need work permits, as they are considered guests and are paid room and board, not cash. money.

Hostelling International USA, or HI USA, is bringing new attention to a program where people who offer free tours and other services to guests at their local hostels get a free night at any other US hostel after 45 hours of volunteering and an additional night for every 15 hours thereafter.

Even for volunteers who don’t take advantage of these free nights, there are perks, said Danielle Brumfitt, a spokeswoman for HI USA, which has started hiring volunteer coordinators for its city hostels as it continues to expand the program.

Volunteers for WWOOF USA, which places people on farms around the world to work room and board.Handout

“It gives them the opportunity to meet our guests,” Brumfitt said. “They may not travel, but they meet people from Europe or Asia.”

That’s the main reason John Donnellan volunteers to lead weekly tours of Boston for Stuart Street hostel guests, he said. “I get to know people from all over the place,” said Donnellan, 56, who did long enough to win a free stay at a HI USA hostel in Santa Monica, Calif.

People who volunteer for other types of community service can also apply for free nights at hostels through a separate arrangement called the Great Hostel Giveback.

Meanwhile, more people are choosing to pay to stay in hostels — some of which have private rooms — as the cost of hotels and roommates rises, Brumfitt said.

Between jobs, David Terwilliger from Brighton flew his bike to the West Coast and rode from Seattle to Vancouver, then south to Tijuana and back to Los Angeles, finding lodgings and meals thanks to Warm Showers. The prize: telling his hosts stories about his trip.

A volunteer for WWOOF USA.Handout

“For the most part, these were people who had done this too when they were younger,” said Terwilliger, 30, a software consultant.

The experience “really changed the adventure for me,” he said. “I was going to go as fast as I could and impress my friends on Strava. And then I started talking to people about WarmShowers. It made me slow down and smell the flowers. These human interactions reinforced the sense of kindness of humanity, which I wasn’t going to get from staying in hotels by myself.

Hosts benefit as much as riders, said Richard Martin, a retired Pacific Coast Highway forest firefighter who was one of the Terwilligers.

“I want to hear about their travels,” Martin said. “I like meeting people. You have people who have been on the road for months and I try to make them feel like family for a night.

Hansen, who is now in France, said living cheaply on the road has broadened his horizons rather than narrowed them.

“That’s the whole point of the journey: to challenge you and push yourself,” he said.

“I know I’ll be greeted by nice people I’ve never met before,” he said. “It’s a big world, and everything is accessible. If you have a passport, you can just spin the globe and go.

Jon Marcus can be reached at [email protected].

Leave a Comment