Adam and I have been exploring alternative methods of travel such as CouchSurfing and housesitting. Perhaps my favorite program is HelpX, or help exchange. Working in exchange for accommodation is mutually beneficial. It largely contributed to how we were able to travel for $15/day in SE Asia as well as spending only $3,500 (including flight, insurance, and skydiving) in Australia for an entire year. Travel doesn’t have to be expensive and you can have meaningful experiences while on a budget!
Here is a quick guide about HelpX and how you can get involved.
*I am not an affiliate of HelpX.net. I do not receive compensation for promoting this website. I just use it and am genuinely pleased with it and want to pass along the information!
What is HelpX?
HelpX, or Help Exchange, is a website connecting hosts and travelers. Hosts provide accommodation, and most of the time food, to travelers in exchange for a few hours of work per day.
What kind of work do I do?
It depends! You should read the host’s profile and communicate with them to assess what kind of help they need and if you have the skills to offer. Common work includes gardening, general household tasks, building/renovating, painting, caring for children, etc. We’ve done all of those in addition to the following:
- Help with floral arrangements and setting up weddings
- Build natural houses with cob and glass bottles
- Create art on bunk bed posts at a hostel in Thailand
- Build websites, teach social media marketing
- Help build an outdoor bathroom for a retired woman
- Paint furniture and make YouTube videos
- Proofread an autobiography of an Aboriginal woman
- Take care of pets (one job was just to walk a dog at the beach every day in northern Australia and we got our own nice apartment and access to bicycles in exchange!)
- Organize community events
- Paint a kitchen
Many hosts are happy to use your skills, so do offer them help in something that you specialize in. Adam has built easy-to-manage websites for beginners. And while we were volunteering in Thailand, Vanessa and Inaki from Spain created a promotional video. At Debra’s home in Brisbane, Australia, Camille also used her film skills to make French Lesson videos.
How much do I work every day?
Each host has different requirements, but generally, you work for 4 hours per day with one day off per week.
What is included?
You get a free place to stay. Food is also usually provided. We’ve been so lucky to enjoy fantastic meals, some right from the organic farm where we were volunteering. Sometimes, we learned how to cook, such as preparing Phad Thai, green curry, and papaya salad in Thailand! All while socializing and getting to know our hosts.
That reminds me of the best part of HelpX: the company! Our hosts have all been unique and unforgettable people. We also get to meet their friends and neighbors, which is much appreciated after being on the road away from good friends/family for so long.
What is the accommodation like?
Every situation differs. We stayed in a basic hut with a mattress and a mosquito net during our first experience. Another time, we stayed in a beautiful private bungalow. We even slept in an awesome converted school bus and a caravan in central Australia. A majority of the places we slept are comfortable private rooms in somebody’s home, but sometimes we had a separate apartment all to ourselves. The host should be clear about your sleeping arrangements in the profile.
What are the benefits?
- Learn new skills – Hosts are usually willing to teach you a thing or two about their trade.
- Use your skills to help locals – Keep your tools sharpened by using them on the road! For creatives, this is a good chance to build your portfolio. The website Adam made for Happy Healing Home was a fun project for him and helpful for our host family.
- Explore new areas – Hosts are most likely located in areas that are not listed in guidebooks, so you get to dive deeper into the country and see what most travelers don’t. We probably wouldn’t find ourselves bike riding along the coast near King Wiman Beach, Thailand or exploring Bouddi National Park if it weren’t for our hosts being located near these destinations.
- Get a local’s perspective – As they say, locals know best! Your hosts are usually more than willing to share with you the best spots to visit. Sometimes, hosts even take us on tours.
- Save money – Obviously, HelpX is a great way to travel for longer time periods without spending. Your accommodation and most of the time, food, are covered, so you don’t really have many expenses.
Is HelpX safe?
In general, yes, but like any of these peer-to-peer websites (CouchSurfing, Uber, AirBnb, etc.), one must exercise caution. Read the profile and reviews thoroughly. If a host has lots of short generic reviews (e.g., “We had a nice time, thanks!”), be a little cautious.
We had one experience that was okay. We didn’t feel in danger, but the host made us feel a little uncomfortable at times. He was just awkward. When I looked back at the reviews, they were all decent, but none were particularly outstanding.
People are not likely to leave negative reviews unless a terrible incident happened. When people leave reviews for a great host, they tend to be glowing. If it was an okay experience, the review will be generic. If you want to be extra cautious, Skype or call the host to get to know each other more. You may also ask to speak with previous volunteers.
Before you go, tell a friend or family member of your whereabouts. If you do feel in danger at any point, do not hesitate to leave. Remember, you have no obligation to stay for the entire duration if you feel unsafe. In fact, if you feel truly unsafe, you should consider it your personal duty to leave. Of course, this is generally rare, but only you know your comfort level.
I have only done HelpX with Adam. If I was traveling alone as a woman, I would only stay with females, families, or couples. Use your best judgment.
How is HelpX different from WWOOF?
With a HelpX membership, you have access to hosts all around the world. With WWOOF, you must buy a membership for a particular region, so HelpX is more economical if you are traveling to different countries.
HelpX includes all kinds of work whereas WWOOF only includes work on organic farms, hence the term, Willing Workers on Organic Farms.
You sold me! How do I get started?
- Sign up for a membership HelpX.net. It costs 20 Euros (~21 USD as of 02/2017) for two years of a premier membership. A free membership will allow you to peruse the website, but you cannot get contact information without paying the fee. Premier members can get new members a 6 Euro discount (which we do not benefit from whatsoever), so if you’d like me to get you a discount, I can do it for you if you send me the payment via PayPal because I must send the payment to HelpX from my account to upgrade a friend.
- Create a profile. Include clear, recent photos of yourself as well as a brief bio and what skills you have to offer.
- Search for hosts in your region of choice. I love the map feature, versus the list, so you can choose based on location. I tend to narrow down the map by clicking hosts who have logged in within the past 90 days. A problem with contacting hosts is that they may not return your e-mail more than half of the time.
4. Message the host. After thoroughly reading the host’s profile and reviews, send them a message offering your assistance. Be sure to:
- Make it personal. Do not copy/paste generic requests as it is obvious. Why should the host choose you over other helpers?
- Briefly introduce yourself. Don’t go on and write a book, but a little about you – where you’re from, why you’re traveling through so and so, why you want to help them, etc.
- Offer what you can do to help them. Again, read the profile thoroughly and list skills that may be of use to them. If they don’t have children, don’t bother offering childcare services!
- Provide dates. Hosts appreciate knowing the dates of your intended stay. It would be good to remain flexible with their schedule as well.
Play the waiting game! Like CouchSurfing, you are not guaranteed a place. I would recommend applying to a few jobs that you find interesting. A majority will not respond, a few will say they cannot host. If you get a host that says yes, respond immediately, thank them, and work out further details.
I recommend getting their personal e-mail address/phone number so you can communicate there instead of the HelpX interface, which is clunky and inconvenient to use on a mobile device. Stay in close contact and maintain good communication throughout the time leading up to the agreed date so that you’re on the same page.
Unfortunately, cancellations and people backing out do happen on both sides. Fortunately, we haven’t experienced much of this so far.
While you’re on the assignment, enjoy it! It is a good idea to agree upon the expectations. Is food included? Am I expected to cook for myself or for everyone? Do we eat together? What time do I start work? When can I have a day off?
Enjoy your time together with your host, learn as much as you can, and make lasting memories!
To hear more details and reviews about our HelpX experiences, please check out some of the following: