Are you thinking to do Workaway but are worried about the horror stories you might have heard? How do you avoid bad Workaway situations? Is Workaway worth it? Find out everything you need below including my own bad experience in Australia!
What is Workaway?
Workaway is a hospitality exchange system used in many countries around the world where travellers can connect with locals who need someone to do some jobs for them. It could be jobs around the house, on their farm or helping to build something. On the website travellers can search by location, look at the different adverts and then pick a host they want to stay with.
The travellers are provided with free accommodation and often food in exchange for helping the host for a few hours a day (usually 5 hours). In effect their lodging is free as they are working for it. It is similar to HelpX or WWOOF.
Workaway is especially popular in Australia and New Zealand as there are so many hosts there looking for help, usually on farms. Plus rent and food are expensive in these countries so it makes sense for budget-conscious travellers as it makes the travel experience more affordable.
Why do people do Workaway?
Some people choose to do Workaway because they want to experience the country in a unique way: more like a local and less like a tourist. They may want to work in a foreign country but don’t want the hassle of applying for specific work visas. Many backpackers also do it temporarily if they are running out of money during their travels and can’t afford to keep paying for food or accommodation. Some people will even do Workaway as well as doing another job on top of this as a way to save money on rent, and some will do it if they want to stay in one place for a while and experience slow travel or even have a little break in between travelling.
For me the reason why I briefly did Workaway was because it was during covid, I was in between house sits and needed somewhere to stay for a week. Since covid, I had been part of a Facebook group where backpackers, travellers and people on their Working Holiday Visa in Australia who had lost jobs and therefore were unable to pay to rent accommodation, could connect with locals who were willing to take them in, in exchange for some hours of work. In the group was also people who were travelling around in a camper van and just needed somewhere to park their van each night as camp sites were closed.
Is Workaway for me?
You do need to be sure that you will be happy to give up a chunk of your time abroad at your Workaway. As the name sounds, you will be working away so don’t go into it thinking it will be an easy, rent-free holiday. You will need to work for your board and there needs to be some give and take. Your host does need to benefit from you being there too, so don’t expect to be treated like you are on holiday.
What is the Workaway experience like?
The thought of having your rent and food taken care of can sound quite appealing to lots of people. But what about the work you are required to undertake, the amount of hours you need to work and the quality of your lodging? I had heard Workaway can be hit or miss – you can either have a great time and enjoy your work and get on with the Workaway host, but I have also heard stories where hosts can try and take advantage of you – making you live in poor substandard conditions or make you work far too many hours, both of which could turn into horror stories.
I have friends who worked day and night milking cows in farms and getting shouted at all the time and hardly fed, or people agreeing to work a lot more hours in exchange for some money but never actually receiving any money.
How long do people do Workaway for?
It is completely up to you and also how long the host will have you. Some people do it for a few months, some only do it for a couple of weeks. Even if you can only try it for a week or two it can be so rewarding and you can learn a lot. Some people start Workaway and realise it’s not for them so they leave a lot sooner than they would have anticipated. Others love it and stay a lot longer!
How to find Workaways:
- Join local Facebook groups
- On the workaway website
How to avoid getting into Workaway horror story scenarios
It doesn’t matter how experienced you are – Workaway horror stories can happen to anyone. Whether someone is doing a Workaway for the first time, or whether they have been doing work exchanges for years. Bad experiences still happen to me, regardless of years of experience travelling! But what you gain with experience is the knowledge to recognise when a situation is bad and the strength to get out of it quickly.
One thing that is so important is your gut feeling. Always learn to trust your instincts. Learn to recognise when something doesn’t feel right. Your instincts are almost always right.
Ask lots of questions beforehand
You don’t want to get there and there be lots of unwelcome surprises, so take the time beforehand to chat to the host and find out exactly what is required from you, what hours you will need to work, what kind of food is included and what the accommodation is like. You may have to wake up early (for example if you are doing a Workaway on a farm to milk the cows), you may have to work at weekends, you might be far from a town or city and may not even have wifi. Who else will be staying there, will you have any way to access transport or will you be in a really remote place? All of these things you should think about, take into account and assess before you need to agree to stay with the host.
Try and go with a friend
At least if you are with someone, you are less likely to be manipulated and you’ll have someone to go through it with, someone who cares for you, and someone to help you. If the situation is not so bad, at least you can laugh about it together and get through it together.
Try and pick somewhere with positive reviews
If somewhere has no reviews it should be a bit of a red flag. Having no reviews means one of two things: either because the host is new to the Workaway website, or because all previous Workaways had bad experiences but were scared to write a bad review as they didn’t want to get a bad one back from the host.
Try to get somewhere where you have your own space
Some Workaway places make you share a bedroom with one, two or even more people which could be quite irritating. Unless you are a couple doing Workaway together I would always recommend to pick a Workaway where you have your own room. Having your own space at the end of the day and some privacy is so important to help you relax. Plus you don’t want to be stuck with someone who snores, comes in really loud when they are drunk, or wakes up several times in the night to pee!
What if I am unhappy at my Workaway?
If you are unhappy DON’T be afraid to leave! I always used to be someone who would hate letting people down and would always want to please others, even if I made myself miserable in the process. Now my peace and my happiness comes first. If I am not happy in a situation I remove myself from it. Simple. Your happiness comes first. You are not being paid, you are under no legal contract to stay there, so just walk out if something doesn’t feel right to you. They will survive without you.
Should you write a bad review about your Workaway host to warn other people?
If you had a bad Workaway experience you may want to write a bad review about the host to warn future Workawayers. But then you may not want to receive the negative one they are most definitely going to write for you in response to your review. In which case you’ll probably just leave it.
I would say if you don’t need to rely on the Workaway website in the future, have the courage to write the truthful (bad) review. You never know how many people you may be saving having to go through an awful ordeal like you did. If a Workaway host has no reviews, people will probably still go along. But if they have one or more bad reviews, it will definitely deter people from going there. Reviews are real people’s points of view and experience and are often far more insightful and reliable than an advert can be. Adverts can be misleading and can make almost anywhere sound great, when the reality can often be different.
If you have the power to stop someone from entering into a bad or even unsafe environment, you owe it to them and to yourself to speak out. By doing this you may empower others to speak about their bad experiences too.
My Workaway Experience
Even though I had heard of a few Workaway horror stories, I would only be doing Workaway for a week so I thought it couldn’t be bad – especially seeing as I had already stayed with the family from hell when I had worked as an au-pair in Sydney.
I wrote in the Facebook group that I just needed someone to stay with for a week, and I received messages from several people offering me accommodation in exchange for work. Many of them were a couple of hours out of Sydney which wasn’t ideal, but there were a couple of women living in Sydney who contacted me. One woman was offering a granny flat in quite a good suburb in Sydney in exchange for garden/house work. She had no profile picture, her name didn’t seem genuine and her Facebook profile seemed extremely basic – a bit suspicious if you ask me.
But it was in a great location – direct buses into Sydney CBD in 15 minutes, and just a short walk from the many cafes, restaurants and local shop on the bustling high street. So I decided to give it a go for a few days. I did have a funny feeling about it, but also at the same time – I needed some accommodation so it would have to do.
WORKAWAY HORROR STORIES
When I got there, her place was hideous. She was the biggest hoarder I had seen. And it wasn’t just junk in her house, it was pure dirt. The place definitely hadn’t been cleaned in over a year and had a strange smell. It gave me anxiety being there. Plus there was no lock on the granny flat door.
It was the middle of winter so it was cold – around 5 degrees at night. And she refused to put on any heating! Add to this that the place was damp so she made me keep all the windows (single glazed) open too! She also said that if I wanted to use the fridge it would cost $10 per week – otherwise I could use a cool box. Was this woman for real?! Oh yeh and I had to buy my own food, none of that was included.
She even asked me to go out and buy some gardening gloves for the few days I would be there, but I told her I wouldn’t be doing that. If she wanted that, she would need to supply the gardening gloves as I certainly wouldn’t be using them again so it would be a waste of money for me. Plus I found it quite cheeky of her to ask, seeing as she knew I would only be there a few days.
When I had to clean her house I literally lost it. I just couldn’t be inside her house as there was so much stuff everywhere. I just didn’t know where to start cleaning and it took so long as I had to move everything to be able to clean. She had 3 hoovers and none of them worked so she told me to empty them into the back garden on the grass would you believe! She wouldn’t let me turn on any lights as the electricity was ‘too expensive’ so I had to try and clean in really low levels of light which was a nightmare.
Her place just felt so depressive, plus I would wake up several times in the night frozen. I had 3 blankets on me, all my warm clothes any my hot water bottle and I was still frozen. And if there is one thing that makes me miserable it is being cold. The toilet was in the kitchen, everything in the granny apartment was at least 50 years old, and it was just so miserable and dated it made me feel really depressed, so on the third morning I just packed up my bags and left and sent her a message explaining that I had to leave and that I was sorry and thank you for helping me.
To which I received a bunch of extremely rude replies. I literally couldn’t believe this old Indian lady was hurling all these vile insults at me. Even calling me a scam artist for walking out on her would you believe! I couldn’t believe the mental things she was writing to me, that in the end I just had to block her!
What should you take away from this?
If you have a bad experience with your Workaway, know that bad experiences in life are inevitable. It’s what we take from these situations and learn from them that is important. Life is to be experienced, not always enjoyed. Take each experience, positive or negative, and learn something from it. And where you can, educate others about your bad experiences and mistakes so they won’t do the same. Never let fear of bad experiences stop you from travelling or living the life you imagine. If you need more travel inspiration click here for my top travel inspiration quotes!
I really hope this article was useful if you are thinking bout doing a Workaway! If you have any questions just pop them below! And for more Australian Working Holiday Visa horror stories read my article Au Pair Horror Stories.