Back in 2011 my boyfriend and I were scratching our heads at a little coffee shop in South Korea as we prepared to leave our teaching jobs there to travel the world and gain experiences on the way. At the cozy little cafe, drinking hot chocolate late at night, I stumbled upon a website that satisfied what we were looking for: Help-X. Since that winter in 2011, we have left Korea (and returned and left again,) and have traveled the world, hitting multiple countries and Help-Xing whenever possible.
What Exactly is Help-X?
Help-x stands for Help Exchange and explained simply, is a network of both hosts and helpers who join the website (by paying a nominal fee and creating a profile) and then search for one or the other – host or helper, to begin contact via the network.
For example, my boyfriend and I are helpers, we listed our skills and explained who we are in our profile. Then we searched the network for a host that had what we were looking for: yoga, building, permaculture, heat (just kidding, but no, for real, I need heat in a cold place and hot water is a must,) and dogs are a bonus. To find a host we search by country, depending on where we’ll be and then we start sending out initial contacts. (You can checkout Help-X and have a look around at hosts, but details and contact information can’t be viewed or made without membership.)
On the host’s end, they likewise create a profile with photos of their accommodation, land, family, etc. Related websites and Facebook profiles are included so that helpers can learn more. A long or short description of open availability and work expected is listed. Work that is common includes basic gardening, helping with construction, and sometimes even teaching English, or yoga!
Below is a photo of a host’s home in the French Pyrenees where one of my primary tasks was collecting donkey doo, shown in the first photo above. The other two pictures are from a recent Help-x at Re-Green in Greece where I happily upgraded to yoga teaching. *The photo to the right, below showcases a beautiful natural structure at Re-Green, made of a variety of natural building techniques, you might recognize the back wall full of wine bottles. Beautiful. Many hosts and helpers are like-minded in their respect and care for nature and the environment.
So, What’s so Great About Work Exchanges?
- Exchanges of Ideas & Skills – Whether you’ve never heard of permaculture or spent much time with your fingers in the soil, or you’ve done multiple PDCs (Permaculture Design Courses,) most hosts will take you on and teach you the skills that they require of you. Being that Help-X is part of the sharing economy, just like Couchsurfing or Freecycle, as a helper you are likewise expected to share any skills or ideas that you have, that could be cleaning or helping in the kitchen, construction, or painting. Sharing and learning go hand in hand and it’s a wonderful thing that we can share and learn with each other around the world.
- Perfect for Budget Travelers – In general, the arrangement is that in exchange for four, five, or six hours of work per-day for five or six days per-week, your host will provide you with accommodation and meals. To break it down, this means that after paying travel expenses to get to your host you will essentially have zero costs while there. For example, in one of my most recent stays with a host, my boyfriend and I stayed for about two and a half weeks and in that time we spent a total of 25 euro ($28 USD.) That’s not much for two people in two weeks while traveling. Compare that to how much would have been spent on lodging and food while traveling, a huge savings. Yes, we had to earn our keep, but working in the sun for a few hours while gaining skills and making friends isn’t a bad trade-off.
- Learn from Locals – It’s not always easy to get a real feel of a city or region unless you can chew the fat with a local while traveling. You can do just that while Help-Xing. A unique opportunity to ask a native of the area about the state of the region and country: economically, socially, environmentally, etc. It’s common that your host will share meals with you from time to time (or always, hopefully) and may even take you to their favorite local spots for food and drink, or to a cultural outing. In France our hosts took us to a local, ancient church; in Greece we ate at a ridiculously delicious Taverna. Travel memories to last a lifetime.