I found that the best way for me to test if a work exchange opportunity was for me was by having an in-depth conversation with potential work exchange hosts.
So I spent a lot of my time messaging folks from all over the world, just to see which opportunities would be the right fit for me.
Eventually, I found a few amazing work exchange hosts that I had a wonderful conversations with.
Last summer, I spent three weeks sailing through the Greek islands with a family in exchange for tutoring their daughter.
And right now, I'm spending six months in New Zealand as an au pair caring for children. I live with a family and get to experience everything about domestic life in this country, from home-cooked meals to family holidays.
I wouldn't have had the guts to get on the plane and join these amazing work exchange opportunities without a great conversation (or many!) with my potential work exchange hosts first.
A great way to vet Worldpackers experiences is to communicate openly with the potential host by asking questions.
A lot of questions.
Don't be afraid to "lose" an opportunity by asking a lot of questions. Being curious shows potential Worldpackers hosts that you're serious about pursuing a work exchange with them.
Here is a thorough list of the twenty best questions to ask a potential Worldpackers host.
What is the minimum and maximum length of time you would like someone to stay?
Is there a certain date I would need to start or end?
What is the sleeping situation like? Could you send a photo of it?
Would I have a private bathroom or will I be sharing?
What do you typically eat for meals? Do you follow a special diet?
Do you have any house rules I should be aware of? Any pet peeves I should know about?
What is your daily routine like?
What is the best way for me to reach your location?
Have you had travelers stay with you in the past? How was your experience with them? Can I get in touch with them?
What are the duties you'd expect from me daily?
What are the duties that you'd want me to do every once in a while?
Do I need any special skills to do the jobs required?
What hours are you expecting me to work daily?
Are hours and days off the same every week or will they fluctuate?
What should I know about your guests? What should I know about your children?
What do you do for fun?
What is your favorite part about living or working where you do?
How far do you live from coffee shops / shopping / restaurants / parks? How often do you go to town?
How do you see a Worldpacker fitting into your life?
What are you hoping to get out of a Worldpackers experience?
The 20 questions to ask your Worldpackers hosts before you commit
Back to basics
It's best to start a conversation with potential work exchange hosts by going back to basics. Review the opportunity the Worldpackers host posted on the site. Lay down the foundations for a strong partnership and make sure you're interpreting the listed opportunity correctly.
1. What is the minimum and maximum length of time you would like someone to stay?
Some Worldpackers hosts are very relaxed about travelers' lengths of stay. Others want to schedule their helpers for specific lengths of time based on how their calendar runs. Confirm what your potential host is looking for to be sure that it aligns with your availability.
2. Is there a certain date I would need to start or end?
When applying for a position, you'll choose the exact dates you want to volunteer for, and then you and your host can discuss those dates to see if they work for both parties.
Some Worldpackers hosts have certain projects or programs that they need someone to arrive by. It's a simple question, but one that may make or break your ability to participate in a potential work exchange project.
3. What is the sleeping situation like? Could you send a photo of it?
Where you rest your head each night is a big deal. Some work exchange opportunities provide private rooms while others offer a bunk in a shared space. This sleeping space will be your haven after a long day's work, so find out what you can about it. If your potential host can share photos of the room, it is even better to help you imagine what it'd be like to really experience it.
4. Would I have a private bathroom or will I be sharing?
Asking this question will help you set your own expectations. It may not matter to you if you share a shower or if you have your own space, but it can't hurt to ask these simple questions either. You don't want to be surprised when you're sharing a bathroom with grandma.
5. What do you typically eat for meals? Do you follow a special diet?
This is a big one if your hosts are offering to provide food or cook meals for you. Unfortunately, it is an often overlooked question to ask Worldpackers hosts.
If they are so generous, you'll be eating what your potential hosts eat. It's important to get an idea of what you are in for so that you can be polite and respectful to their traditions and preferences. Sharing meals can be very meaningful experiences, but they can be a real challenge for picky eaters or those with dietary restrictions.
If you follow a special diet, now is the time to share this with your hosts as well. Be open and honest about your needs and preferences. Some diets are harder to cater to in certain environments. It may be no problem if you are vegan or vegetarian to some hosts (in fact, it may be a plus!) but others may see it as a hassle. Share any needs you have now to avoid awkward situations later.
6. Do you have any house rules I should be aware of? Any pet peeves I should know about?
In most cases, you'll be sharing some living space with your Worldpackers hosts. Make sure that you'll be a good fit as housemates and be honest with yourself about your own shortcomings. Are you prepared to change your ways to fit into the flow of your potential work exchange hosts' lives? Ask this question to find out what you might have to adjust about your own lifestyle.
7. What is your daily routine like?
Are your potential work exchange hosts early risers or night owls? Are they constantly busy or are they masters of relaxation? Asking what a typical day for your potential Worldpackers hosts shows that you care about them, but it also helps you determine if a hosts' schedule will fit with your own preferences.
8. What is the best way for me to reach your location?
Some work exchange opportunities are easy to get to using public transportation. Others require more planning and coordination. Your potential Worldpackers hosts are probably experts in helping travelers navigate to their location, so use their expertise.
9. Have you had travelers stay with you in the past? How was your experience with them? Can I get in touch with them?
Sometimes it is comforting to hear about a work exchange opportunity from someone who has experienced it firsthand. Especially for first time Worldpackers or solo travelers, asking this question to potential work exchange hosts may ease a lot of worries.
Ask about the good, the bad, and the ugly of past travelers. What have they done well in the past for you to replicate? What are the potential pitfalls for you to avoid?
Work related questions to ask potential work exchange hosts
After you've asked all of the basic questions to ask potential work exchange hosts, focus on the work that you'll help with. This shows a host that you understand a work exchange isn't just a vacation and that you are considering their needs too.
10. What are the duties you'd expect from me daily?
Asking this question for your work exchange hosts will give you an idea of what a typical day in the life will be like for you.
Even if the host's profile seems explicit about duties, ask about the nitty gritty. Their job post may mention childcare duties, but does that mean cleaning the children's rooms, doing laundry, or cooking for the children too? Be up front about what you are willing to help with. By knowing what is expected of you each day, you'll walk into the opportunity ready to wow hosts and enjoy your experience too.
11. What are the duties that you'd want me to do every once in a while?
There are certain tasks that aren't daily but might make a big impact on your experience as a Worldpacker. Be sure to ask about these occasional duties that might pop up. You'll avoid a potentially unpleasant surprise.
12. Do I need any special skills to do the jobs required?
Usually hosts will be very upfront about what they're expecting you to come to the table with, but make sure that you are eliminating any gray area by asking this question to your potential work exchange hosts outright. Are hosts expecting you to be CPR certified or a pro at working the computer? Be open about what tasks you can excel at on your first day or what you'll need some additional training on.
Don't get discouraged if you aren't the right fit for the opportunity. Many Worldpackers opportunities don't require anything but a positive attitude and willingness to help. You just need to find the right fit for you.
13. What hours are you expecting me to work daily?
For most of us, work exchange is a low budget way to see the world. It's important to get a realistic understanding of how much time you'll have to explore the surrounding area each day. Will you work long hours each day but have a lot of days off? Will your work days be short but frequent? The schedule you keep may impact what you're able to experience, so pay close attention.
14. Are hours and days off the same every week or will they fluctuate?
This is another important question that helps you visualize what life will really be like at your potential work exchange opportunity. Will you have enough consecutive days off to take a weekend trip to a nearby region? If you have two days off each week, will they always be back-to-back or will they be separated? Some hosts prefer rigid schedules and others prefer to go with the flow. Make sure you ask this question for Worldpackers hosts to find the right fit for you.
15. What should I know about your guests? What should I know about your children?
Tailor this question depending on what work you'll be doing.
If you'll be interacting with hostel guests, ask about the people that typically stay at the hostel. If you'll be working with a family, ask about what you should be prepared for. If you'll be part of a team, ask about your project leader and teammates. This question will show hosts that you have a genuine interest in their work and the people that are impacted by it.
Lifestyle questions to ask potential work exchange hosts
Now that you've set up a strong foundation with your potential work exchange hosts, ask a few lifestyle questions to get a comprehensive feel for what life is like at this particular work exchange opportunity.
16. What do you do for fun?
Work exchange is about more than just traveling the world on a budget. You'll also have a cultural exchange that is very personal. Test how compatible you are with your potential hosts by asking what they do with their free time. It shows that you care about them and you may even find that you have something in common before you even arrive.
17. What is your favorite part about living or working where you do?
This question is sneakily more for you than it is a question for potential work exchange hosts. You probably are interested in the work exchange opportunity in part for its location. Let your potential hosts boast about the great parts of their home and community. It will help you imagine how you'll get to spend your own free time.
18. How far do you live from coffee shops / shopping / restaurants / parks? How often do you go to town?
Asking this question to your potential Worldpackers hosts gives you an idea of how removed from a city or town you may be.
Some Worldpackers opportunities are set in the heart of busy cities, with sights to see right out of the doorstep.
Other opportunities are set in peaceful, rural areas but might require a car or a ride to explore nearby areas. If so, ask specifically about how you'd be able to explore. Will your hosts provide rides to nearby sights or will they expect you to have a car?
19. How do you see a Worldpacker fitting into your life?
Some work exchange hosts treat travelers like big sisters and brothers in the family, sharing family meals and joining them on adventures on days off. Others prefer travelers to be more independent, cooking for themselves and spending free time in their own space. Both styles of hosts can be great for the right traveler. Be honest with yourself about what you want and find a host who is looking for the same.
20. What are you hoping to get out of a Worldpackers experience?
We often think of a work exchange experience from the perspective of the traveler. You are exploring the world and getting to have a meaningful experience to boot. The experience isn't one-sided though!
Worldpackers hosts decide to host travelers for all sorts of reasons. Maybe they want to learn how to speak a foreign language or to share ideas with new people. Maybe they just really need the help!
Be a thoughtful traveler and ask why your potential Worldpackers host is looking forward to having you. It will show them how seriously you are considering their work exchange opportunity.
Bonus: the question you should always ask potential work exchange hosts
"Is there anything else I should know?"
Always end a conversation with potential work exchange hosts with this question. It opens up the floor for them to share anything left unsaid.
Given that you've established a strong foundation for a work exchange partnership, they'll probably be more than comfortable to share with you!