I love trying different things, and taking the unusual path. When a friend told me about a site that she used to find work bartending in Cambodia, I was like, “Erhmerhgersh! Ner werh!” Except not like that at all. Not even a little.

I was very intrigued by the idea however. Especially as someone working on an incredibly limited budget (read: it was probably not the best idea to leave home just yet but screw it), the offer of food, water and protection from the elements in return for volunteering seemed like a pretty sweet deal.

It is.


Help Exchange 101 – Volunteering for Room & Board

Here’s how it works.

HelpX.net is a fantastic resource for travellers of all ages, genders, colours, shapes… even boxers AND briefs.It’s basically a forum for hosts and volunteers to make contact. Established in 2001 by Englishman and world traveller Rob Prince, the network has grown steadily over the past 13 years – HelpX operates globally, with hosts in almost every country.

Useful Terms
  • Hosts – people who want you to stay with them. This is obvious.
  • HelpX’er/Helper – people who want to help a host in return for food and accommodation. This too  speaks for itself.
  • Farmstay – hosts that have farms. They all differ in size, organic status, type of work etc.
  • Homestay – hosts that have a normal home.
  • Free membership –  you don’t pay, and have slightly limited user access.
  • Premier membership – you do pay and  have full user access. Who would’ve thought?

Hosts on HelpX post details regarding the type of help required, who would be best suited to their home and work, the benefits offered (meals, accommodation, activities, internet etc) and specifics regarding other practical arrangements.  Each host also states when they require help, how many people are needed, as well as the category of the host – organic farm-stay, accommodation, home-stay etc. Many hosts are volunteer projects that revolve around developing self-sustaining communities or outreach. If that’s your thing, HelpX won’t disappoint. Hosts can view all Helpers profiles – Free and Premier- and contact them directly. It’s free for all hosts to upload their profiles.

If you’re  interested in hosting a Helper, who’ll obviously be someone fantastically brilliant like me, register here.

*Disclaimer – I cannot vouch for the awesomeness of other helpers with anything but good faith in the network.

The Difference between Free and Premier Membership

Free membership costs nothing. As a member with a free account you can’t contact hosts directly – you create your profile and hope they contact you first. Fingers crossed that that beautiful beach bar in Spain wants sees you. At all. Ever.

One of the great things about HelpX is that each helper can review the host they stay with – this review goes onto the website under the hosts listing. Unfortunately if you have a free membership, you can only see part of each review.

Unlike other gap year/work exchange/working holiday/volunteer sites, Help X doesn’t charge you an arm and a leg for its Premier membership plan. They actually seem to embody the idea of travel and cultural exchange without trying to spin a massive profit off poor, excitable young people with a thirst for adventure. Well done.

At just 20€ (28$/ 17£/ R290 ) for a 2 year membership, Help X is more than affordable. This membership option allows the helper to contact all hosts directly, and read all host reviews in full. This is awesome.

I went for the Premier option, and start my first Help X shindig in Olympos, Antayla (Turkey) on June 24th.

What can I expect as a helper?

“In the typical arrangement, the helper works an average of 4 hours per day and receives free accommodation and meals for their efforts. This  can vary considerably depending on the tasks at hand and the host’s preferences. Some hosts may require just 2 hours per day for accommodation only, and ask you to provide and cook your own food. Others may expect 6 hours per day in return for meals, your own room and sometimes other benefits such as free Internet use, horse riding, kayaking, bikes, local sight-seeing trips, yoga or English lessons, etc. Some will give weekends off, while others might allow you to put in 8 hours one day and later take a full day off. Helpers often live with the host family and are expected to join in and offer a helping hand with day-to-day activities.” – Paraphrased from the HelpX.net home page.

I am a few weeks away from my first Helper experience. However, what I’ve been offered on paper is breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea, coffee, water (never underestimate the importance of H2o; dehydration is a serious thing), WIFI and free day/night trips on the boat. In return I’ll be bartending and helping with decor. Alcohol, people, the ocean and art – these are a few of my favourite things. Plus I get to meet other travellers while living with the locals. I have a felling it’s going to be a great experience, because I’m psychic like that. You’re thinking how cool I am, aren’t you? Knew it.

Added Bonus – Companions

Looking to meet people while you travel, or have an adventure in mind and want someone to share it with? Maybe you simply want to split petrol (that’s GAS my American friends) – the most boring reason, but still a possibility.

HelpX offers a forum where you can post details of your planned trip, why you’d like a companion, and the type of person you’re looking to meet/travel with (no, I don’t think sexy is a great criteria to use).

If you’d like to sign up as a Helper, you can do so here.

PS. “Help Exchange relies heavily on word of mouth for new members to discover the service, so please pass the word on to others who may be interested in it.” – So share this with your friends and friends friends, and friends friends friends… friends.

Find more info at HelpX.net