NOTE: This article contains affiliate links! If you use them, you'll receive discounts and I will receive a small commission which supports my travels :)
Do you want to travel the world on a budget while making a positive impact? Volunteering abroad seems like the best travel hack that too little know about. It is the best way to immerse yourself in different cultures, learn valuable skills, and give back to the local community.
While there are several volunteering platforms, here we will compare the two of the most popular: Worldpackers and Workaway.
After nearly seven years of traveling the world, I've found volunteering to be one of my favorite ways to experience it. I started with a Workaway project in Hiroshima, Japan. After that, I swore off Workaway and continued my travels strictly with Worldpackers. Since then I've done housekeeping projects in Edinburgh, Isla de Flores in Guatemala, and Seattle. It ultimately led me to my first, life changing, eco project in The Amazon Rainforest.
Disclaimer: Although I am affiliated with Worldpackers, this is my honest opinion of the platform.
Worldpackers and Workaway both have projects in 100+ countries around the world. Workaway was established first in 2002, and Worldpackers in 2014.
Workaway has projects established in almost every corner of the earth. These projects range from hospitality projects to farm work to campgrounds.
Age does not always equal solid reputation, though. The projects listed do not get frequently updated, and sometimes hosts are inactive for years. "Greened-out" months - months that hosts are accepting volunteers - are not always accurate.
While I had good luck with my project in Hiroshima, Japan, the same cannot be said about other hosts I reached out to.
When I was looking for projects to volunteer at in The UK I sent messages to nine hosts and was ghosted on all of them.
In the very beginning it seemed that Worldpackers was focused around hospitality projects, but within the past few years it has expanded to include eco projects and social impact programs. In 2023 it's expanding even further.
One of the benefits of Worldpackers hosts is full transparency. Worldpackers highlights hosts that are looking for volunteers immediately. More than that you can see host response rate.
I have applied to projects before and heard nothing in return, but at a lower rate than Workaway. Reportedly, 97% of members who send three applications receive responses from hosts.
Both platforms have an annual membership fee. This goes towards maintenance of the site and ensuring that the platforms can continue. There are some key differences between what you get.
Workaway offers two pricing plans: $49 for a single person, and $59 for couples. This gives you access to the platform and to apply to hosts.
Even after some deep searching into the site, it's difficult to find if there are any benefits besides platform access.
Worldpackers has a few different plans for travelers to choose from. Affiliate codes make the annual membership even cheaper!
Plans start at $49 ($39 with a code) up to $129 for a solo pack plus.
You can use this code to receive discounts on your yearly membership.
Prices for couples and friends are not that much more expensive. When you break the price down, it's very affordable for two people to share an account!
The Solo/Couples/Friends Pack and up also receive these benefits and discounts!
Of course, there are always risks when you travel abroad. When you go to a project, there's the chance that online photos were taken years ago. Maybe the project is run down, unclean, or a safety risk.
These platforms are essentially marketplaces for projects. Despite thorough host reviews, things can still slip through the cracks.
I have first-hand experience in leaving a project for my safety. This is how it was handled.
Here is where things get a little tricky. While Workaway claims to have a customer support team, they are nearly impossible to contact. I've heard firsthand stories of people stuck in dangerous situations while volunteering. Workaway's response? Crickets.
Is there insurance and help? Possibly. But, as a solo female traveler, I cannot recommend Workaway on the basis of safety.
Worldpackers comes with guaranteed insurance with every plan. The amount of insurance you receive varies on the plan that you choose. This is why I recommend the solo pack plan because it gives you $199 of insurance in an emergency situation and other benefits.
When I had to leave a project, the Worldpackers team responded to me in fifteen minutes. I was out of the project immediately and put in new accommodation. They will also help arrange a new project if you want to continue volunteering.
As a solo female traveler, I can confidently recommend this firsthand.
One of the biggest safety measures in volunteering is other volunteers' reviews and ratings. Hosts can also review volunteers.
Each platform handles these reviews a little differently.
While most reviews are accurate, Workaway has been reported to delete negative volunteer reviews without permission.
Worlpackers has a thorough review system. Volunteers can rate a project between 1-5 stars. They have the opportunity to highlight specific good things about the project and the negatives. Hosts and volunteers can also give each other private feedback.
Negative reviews can be disputed.
This is an area where the two platforms are vastly different. Traveling the world means being part of a greater community - not just with a project host, but with other travelers.
Workaway provides the basics. You choose a host, apply, and go. When you get to the project then you have the chance to meet with people and connect. Nothing more, nothing less.
Worldpackers is far more thorough in connecting you with travelers and preparing you to go to a project.
First, Worldpackers prepares volunteers through their Academy. These are structured courses designed specifically for volunteering at different types of projects around the world. They really make every part of the process as straightforward as possible.
Second, volunteers have the opportunity to connect with one another. Going to a project and want to know a volunteer's perspective? You can message past volunteers to ask more in depth questions! Plus, with a staggering social media presence, it's easy to see others living these experiences in real time.
Worldpackers offers a promotion each month to help travelers like you see the world.
October, 2023 - Worldpackers will be raffling off new members and people who have created an account, but aren't members yet, for a chance to win one of three airplane tickets worth up to $500!
To qualify you need to complete the certification, "How to Be an Amazing Worldpackers." (stated in the Academy above!)
While both platforms foster international travel through volunteering, Worldpackers is the clear winner in all regards. It is more modern with active hosts, fosters a sense of community, and is generally safer.
Not convinced yet? Here are 10 reasons to volunteer abroad - coming soon.