When I say that my experiences exchanging work for accommodation were excellent, I always clarify the importance of carefully choosing the positions that you want to apply for.
It’s essential to carefully check the proposed tasks, benefits offered and the comments and reviews of other travelers that have already had that experience, if any.
There is also another very important step in this pre-travel process: talking with the host and asking questions.
Although the exchange description on Worldpackers gives the main information about the experience, it’s always good to confirm the most important details and ask about everything that might be unclear to you.
This contact with the host is very easy, through messaging back and forth on the platform itself. It’s very useful to ensure the expectations are on the same page between host and traveler, greatly increasing the chances for a successful work exchange.
But what to ask the host? Here are some suggestions.
Questions to ask the host:
1. What is the infrastructure of the place?
Ask about the type of accommodation, number of bathrooms, if there is a shared and equipped kitchen, laundry and any extra items described in the position description like a pool, for example.
There are places that offer shared accommodation with guests, while in others you’ll stay in a room or even entire area reserved for volunteers, or you could even have a room to yourself. The accommodation could also be in camping tents, whether they are offered by the host or not.
To get a more precise idea, it’s worth asking the host for photos of the place if you don’t think the ones that are on the platform are sufficient.
Another tip is to get in contact with other travelers that have already been to that place, sending a message to their profile on Worldpackers, and asking them for more information about the infrastructure.
2. What is access like?
Some establishments and organizations listed on Worldpackers are located away from major cities, and don’t always have direct public transportation to the place. Make sure you know the access conditions, asking for instructions about the best way to get there.
There are hosts that offer a ride from the airport, train or bus station, or other point of arrival as a benefit, but the majority of the time the volunteer should make the trip on their own.
Before confirming the trip, make sure about what to do and confirm that you have the practical and financial ability to go this route.
3. What’s the atmosphere of the place like?
Some hosts make it very clear in the description what the vibe of the place is, but in other cases it may not be that evident. So it’s worth it to ask if the place has a feel that’s more spiritual, family or party, for example.
All of this relates to the experience you're looking for in this work exchange. If it’s a hostel, for example, it’s worth asking if there is an incentive to interacting with the guests, through activities or an inviting common area, or if it’s a more quiet place with an “every man for himself” kind of vibe.
There are people that like both styles, the important thing is to consider what interests you the most.
4. What are the tasks?
Be sure to ask any questions that you have about the work to be done. What are the specific activities you’ll be doing?
If the job has more than one task listed, does that mean that you’ll be expected to do all them one after another or will they be divided between various volunteers? Is it possible to choose what to do, or are the assignments set by the host? Do some of them require any specific prior knowledge?
5. What is the workload like?
Ask questions about the amount of hours per day and how they are divided. Some hosts have fixed and predetermined shifts, while others are flexible or they figure out the hours with the volunteer according to the needs at the moment, defining this all after confirming the trip.
It’s also good to ask about days off: how many days per week, if they need to be the same days and if they can be negotiated, for example. This will vary according to the needs of the hosts, but it’s especially important if you are planning to travel during your time volunteering.
I’ve seen hosts that let travelers exchange days off amongst themselves, while others have fixed tables with the dates of each person and others make the workload flexible to weekly demands and with the volunteer’s plans.
6. What else does the host expect from this exchange?
In addition to the concrete tasks and benefits listed in the job, what more does the host expect you to bring and what more do they offer in exchange?
A trip through Worldpackers usually includes many intangible benefits for both parties, and some of them may already be clear through this initial conversation.
For example: is the host’s idea to promote an environment of cultural exchange, favoring contact between the volunteers and other people that work in and around the place?
Do they want to encourage a more sustainable lifestyle and intend to teach practices related to the travelers that pass through? Exchange ideas with the host to get a feel for this, if possible.
7. What is the relationship like between staff and volunteers?
It’s also worth asking if you’re going to do the tasks accompanied or supervised by people on the fixed staff, or if you’re going to live exclusively with volunteers.
Are there special activities to promote interaction? Are accommodations, the kitchen or other spaces shared?
It’s even important to observe if the host has their entire staff made of up volunteers - which in the case of for-profit organizations, is not ideal.
8. What are the rules of the place?
Last but not least: find out what the rules of the place are. Are you permitted to use the common areas? When and how can they be used? Are there any restrictions in relation to food that can be consumed (total vegetarian environments, for example)? Is alcohol allowed at the place in your free time?