Travel opportunities: Cultural exchange programs

For all you culture seekers, budget travellers and language lovers, Travel editor Meggie Williams discusses cultural exchanges.

Meggie Williams
23rd March 2020
Image Credit: Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay
As Annette Gulick famously quoted, “when you're young you have time and energy but no money. When you get older you have money and energy but no time. And later when you finally have time and money, you no longer have energy”, although it may all sound a little doom and gloom, the quote for me is about making the most of every second of your youth and exploring the world.

So often we shut down travelling experiences because of the perception that they’ll break the bank when in reality it doesn’t need to be this way. For me, cultural exchange opportunities where you work in exchange for your food and accommodation have transformed my experiences and outlook on travel; they’ve allowed me to travel when I’ve struggled for pennies, filled extraordinary long summer holidays, extended travelling adventures and helped me out in one or two sticky situations when I’ve found myself with nearly empty pockets. So I’m here to command you to remain positive for a future of more adventures and fill out those dull days in self-isolation by searching voluntourism websites.

Image Credit: Michael Cannon from Flickr

After paying an annual subscription, usually around the £20 mark, hosts and volunteers create a profile on the websites talking a little bit about themselves, what they are looking to gain from the experience and what they can offer; both are able to contact the other to discuss a possible exchange. There are so many websites out there but the few I’ve had experience with include: Hovos, WorkAway and WWOOF. The first two usually offer experiences such as gardening, animal-care, work with NGOs, building, farming and general help around the house though there are some wild and wonderful jobs out there so your bound to find something to ignite a passion. The latter, WWOOF, is a worldwide movement that links organic farms with volunteers across the globe, it offers incredible opportunities to learn from experienced farmers and meet likeminded people.  

Image Credit: Tamara Baillie/AusAID from

In the past couple of years I’ve worked in a rural school in India, painted the kitchen for a family in Byron Bay, lived the wholesome farm life in New Zealand and spent an idyllic month in the Algarve working in a surf guesthouse. Without getting too preaching about ‘getting to know the locals’ and the ‘real country’, these experiences have been some of my happiest, fulfilling adventures. Quite often, if the job is for a larger organisation (e.g a hostel), you’ll have a good team of other travellers working there and have a real laugh both working and in your plentiful time off.

The prospect of going to live with a stranger can be daunting and there are a few precautions you should take before committing to go, these include getting a clear understanding as what you are expected to do beforehand and for how long each day, it reduces the chances of awkward situations once you are there and will give you a good idea of what to pack. Secondly, make sure you are comfortable with the living arrangements, one of my experiences was a month in a minuscule mixed dorm of seven others which I didn’t realise until I arrived. It’s often a good idea to do the exchanged with a travelling partner if you are at all hesitant but if travelling solo, I would advise applying to work at bigger organisations that have other volunteers working there too rather than just for a family. Finally, read the reviews from other volunteers, they give invaluable insight.

Image Credit: Simone Dabbicco from Pexels

Travelling can sometimes feel a little hectic and relentless so its good to settle somewhere for a few weeks or months and get to know the place and the people who come with it. It’s the perfect opportunity to gain work experience, learn a language or a new skill with the websites boasting a mind-blowing range of jobs in locations all over the world; from sailing the high seas to whipping a lasso in the outback, all of this at the click of your fingers.

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