Last Updated on September 20, 2022 by Charmaine | The Canadian Wanderer
Volunteering abroad is a great way to see the world, while also contributing to a community, and immersing yourself in a new culture and language. This is a post written in collaboration with my friend, who volunteers and travels as her lifestyle. She is an active member of the HelpX community since 2018. In the past year, she has worked with nine hosts in four countries.
She wrote this guide to help travellers write a strong HelpX profile so they can be accepted to work with amazing hosts while enjoying free accommodation.
* This post is not sponsored or affiliated with HelpX in any way. It was written to help you. However, it may contain another affiliate link(s) and I may get a small commission if you decide to purchase. Thanks for supporting my website.
What is HelpX?
Help Exchange, more commonly known as HelpX, is a work-exchange website that allows volunteers to receive free room and board in exchange for some hours of help. This is an excellent way for travelers to save money and to stay on the road longer.
How Does It Work?
It is free to create a basic profile as a helper. This will allow you to browse profiles and to see what type of work is being offered by hosts around the world. Hosts can view your profile and can invite you to their homes.
However, in order to have the best experience, you will want to upgrade your membership so you can contact hosts directly. A premier helper membership is only €20 for both the single and twin memberships and it lasts for two years. It is a great and affordable way to travel longer on the road. (Updated: Price confirmed in November 2020).
In this post, I will focus on the volunteer’s point-of-view.
Your Volunteering Profile
Your profile is the most important thing to showcase who you are as an individual. The profile is all about you – who you are, your skills, and your motivation behind volunteering.
It is a way for hosts to get to know you and to decide whether you are the right fit in their organization or home.
There are a few sections that you have to fill out. Here is a breakdown of what to include in each section.
- About Yourself – A place where you write a brief background about you, your education or work experience, general personality (introvert/extrovert), and hobbies/interests.
- Skills To Offer – Think about some of the skillsets you have and what you can contribute (i.e., computer skills, social media, photography, videography, event coordination)
- Skills You May Want To Learn – If you were offered a place, what are some of the new skillsets you want to come home with? What are some new talents you wish to have?
- Any Limitations That May Affect Your Working Ability – If you have a particular hurdle, this is where you list them. It can be physical (i.e., previous injuries), allergies, and/or religious obligations
- Other Preferences – Is there anything extra things the host should know (i.e., smoking/non-smoking, dietary needs or allergies)?
If this is your first exchange, you will not have any references. It is recommended that you put in some recommendations from previous places you have volunteered or worked for.
Make sure you include the tasks you did and the contact info for your reference. Many hosts will take helpers without any reviews (my first ones did!), but my acceptance rate by hosts increased a lot once I had some reviews written for me from other hosts.
If a host doesn’t write you a review after your stay, it is reasonable to message them to ask them to leave a review.
I always had travel insurance while doing work exchange just in case an accident happens. Please do yourself a favour and buy insurance to protect yourself. It will give your host a peace of mind so let them know you are covered, especially if you are working in another country.
As someone who has had surgery in France, I was very thankful that I had travel insurance. It covered all my out-of-pocket expenses as well as my three-month recovery period for physiotherapy.
Finding a Host
I am super cautious and only stay with hosts who have real positive reviews. If you have a car or private transportation, it may be okay to stay with hosts with zero reviews.
However, if you are dependent on your host for transportation, you want to be extra safe, so you don’t be stranded in an insecure situation.
I also have found that experienced hosts (those with at least 8+ reviews) are the best to stay with! They have excellent etiquette, and the experience goes smoothly.
Look at the “last updated” date and put this into consideration. Also, the “last login” date is essential to see if the host will contact you back – they may have stopped using the website if their last login was 2015.
Make sure the reviews are adequately recent! Within the same year or one year older is usually good enough.
If the reviews are older than one year, I would suggest asking them when their last hosting experience was, and if anything has changed from then until now (e.g., health or family changes with the host, changes with the farm… maybe there are no more animals or gardens…).
There is no need to feel shy to ask these questions. It’s your job to research and know what to expect as much as possible so that there are no unpleasant surprises when you arrive.
Do Your Research
Workaway has a much more extensive network of hosts, compared to Helpx, so sometimes I use Workaway to cross-reference a host. Sometimes a host on HelpX will have zero or few reviews, but their same listing on Workaway has 20+ reviews because they are more active on Workaway.
If a host has outdated or few reviews on HelpX and you are still keen to visit, you can ask them if they have references on Workaway or WWOOF that you can check out.
At the end of the day, some farms are falsely advertised (to be fair, just like how some helper profiles are falsely advertised). You must do adequate research, ask questions, and review references of the host to know what to expect for your stay.
Contacting A Host
This might be obvious, but only contact one host at a time! Contact your first preference, and if they can’t take you, contact the next and go on from there. If you need to contact multiple at a time, let them all know you are doing so.
In my initial message to the host, I state:
- The stay duration
- The reason why I’m interested in their farm
- Skills I can offer at the farm
From there, if they are interested, I will ask:
- How can I get to the farm or where can they pick me up
- Hours/days a week expected of me in the work exchange
- What tasks I will be expected to do
- Where I will be sleeping
- What I should pack to bring (sometimes farms have extra work clothes you can use)
- If you need any accommodations, this is a good time to confirm it is possible.
- If their reviews are outdated, this is also a good time to check the reason why, or if they have more recent reviews, you can check.
- Ask to speak over a phone call as needed.
Lastly, if all seems well, I will confirm:
- Phone contact and address of the farm
- Provide my contact and arrival date
I usually contact hosts no more than three months ahead of time, and then do a follow-up one month before I arrive and then more frequent communication one week before arrival.
The HelpX messaging platform is not the best, so once I have initial contact with the host, we will take it to email or text messages from there.
Some tips for you during your stay:
- Keep a copy of your host’s address and contact information with you at all times. You never know when you may get lost.
- Provide a copy of this same information and your stay dates with family or friends. You never know when you may need their assistance.
- Provide your emergency contact information to your host so they can contact your relations when needed.
Confirm the hours and tasks you will be working on once you arrive. Communicate frequently and directly with your host. Usually, I will check in with my host in the morning and in the evening.
In general, I am strict about not working more than my agreed-upon hours, but I would also suggest doing more than you can.
Offer help outside of your hours, with small tasks, or work longer once in a while to help get the task done.
You never know when you may need help from your host in an emergency and the short extra time and effort you put in will really help to establish a reciprocal relationship.
Be flexible with the living arrangements.
Granted, there are times where the situation is not what you were expecting at all (in the case of that it was falsely advertised).
In this case, you may want to bring up the problems or make arrangements to cancel the work exchange agreement and leave early. Hopefully, you did adequate research and won’t run into this problem.
Be Courteous and Thankful
At the end of the day, don’t forget that you are being welcomed in someone else’s home. Be tidy, helpful, and positive if you can.
If you are feeling down (sometimes it’s hard living in an unfamiliar environment), just let your host know how you are doing and that you want to spend your personal hours alone or whatever that may make you feel more comfortable. This is better than not saying anything and the host not knowing what is wrong.
Thank your host, without being overbearing, especially if you are happy with your stay and feeling thankful. It’s important to show your appreciation. I imagine being a host is sometimes a thankless job, so don’t be the person to make them feel that way.
Ultimately you may stay with a host that is just incompatible with yourself. It happens. In this circumstance, make sure to acknowledge the incompatibility – rather than to deem the host as “terrible” (or in the host’s case, that the helper was “terrible”).
Try to view the whole experience as maturely as possible and take away what you can for self-development.
Your Phone During Your Stay
Although your phone is an awesome tool and it is what you use to stay in touch with family and friends as well as take excellent photos, remember, do not be using your phone all day during your stay. You can use your phone when you are at home and surrounded by boring everyday things.
Right now, you are in a fantastic new place! Go for walks, explore, talk, and learn from your hosts, read their remarkable books, use their kitchen, and bond with the animals.
Work exchange is not the time to be scrolling on Instagram. Engage with the present moment of your life. Use your phone as you need to, but make sure to enjoy your time without it as well.
We hope this guide is useful to people to begin exploring the option of work exchange! We wish you good luck and success on your adventures! If you successfully found a position using HelpX or have any questions, please leave a comment below.
For more options on other organizations similar to HelpX, you can view my article on Work Exchange for Free Accommodation.