Workaway – How to afford travelling long-term

We’ve been away from home for over 9 months now, and are still hoping to be gone for the next 5 to 6 months.  To keep the dream alive, we have had to come up with ways to make our money last us a little longer.  We have discovered a multitude of ways to do this along our travels, from Couchsurfing, to pet sitting, to camper van relocations.

So when we meet other travelers like ourselves, we are keen to talk about how we all manage to stay on the road without a steady income.  When we went for dinner in Singapore with Charlie and Lauren (better known on Instagram to their 80K+ followers as @wanderersandwarriors) during an Instagram meet-up, it is no wonder that this topic was broached.

This is when we were introduced to the concept that is Workaway.  It was described to us by Charlie and Lauren as a way for them to stay in Sri Lanka for roughly a month with free food and accommodations in exchange for working 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, at the hostel they stayed in.

Beautiful Tanjang Rhu beach, a short drive away from our Workaway home

Whether it was checking in guests, helping to prepare breakfast in the morning, or giving people recommendations on where to go and what to see, for a mere 25 hours a week, most of their living expenses were covered.

We made a mental note of Workaway and kept the trip going.  One day in late April,  while we were in Thailand, we were looking at our bank account, and thought to ourselves, that it may be time to put our money-saving knowledge to use!

We had also been moving around quite a lot in those last months, and were looking to stay put for a little bit.  Knowing that we were planing on visiting the Philippines in early June, we figured we should make our journey that way.  So we decided to check out the site and see what we could find in Malaysia.

We lost count of how many sunsets we saw on Cenang beach, a quick scooter ride away from our home

What did we want out of this?  Well, obviously we wanted to save some money, so having our accommodations taken care for was priority number 1.

We wanted to be by a beach, for sure. But, I mean, who doesn’t want that?

And lastly, we wanted to do work in hospitality.  We figured that since we love meeting new people and hearing their stories, this would be a great fit for us.  Also, we have a dream of getting into the hospitality business ourselves, so this was a natural fit for us.

This is where Odin, Nurul and Langkawi came into our lives.

Our favourite beach, Skull beach.  This is also really close to our Workaway home in Langkawi.

It’s weird how some things come together naturally.  When we tried petsitting for the first time, it was our first request that came to fruition.  Well just like that, it was the same with Workaway.  After reading Odin and Nurul’s listing, and checking out Langkawi, we sent them our information, and they got back to us right away.

A little Whatsapp conversation later, and that was it, we are on our way to Langkawi to work for 3 weeks!  We also later found out that it was their first Workaway experience too.

Odin and Nurul are a soon-to-be-married couple who are a tad younger than we are.  Their story is actually quite similar to ours.  Nurul has roots in Malaysia, but like Odin, grew up in Sweden.  In their 20’s, they decided to move to Singapore for work.

You have to love lighthouses!  This is Langkawi’s only stone lighthouse.

Before you knew it though, they decided to make a change.  Tired of corporate work, the proverbial 9-to-5, they wanted something else (ya, that sounds familiar).  Having her roots, and family in Langkawi, they made the decision to move “back home”, so to speak.

They decided to open an Airbnb.  Odin actually stayed in Singapore for a little bit, while Nurul set things up in Langkawi, just in case their dream of island living didn’t go as expected.

Well hard work and dedication paid off, because it wasn’t long before Odin was headed to Langkawi as well.  One year later, they now boast nine units, seven of which are for rent on Airbnb and 2 to house Workawayers like us.  No small feat for such a short timeframe!

Working hard putting up this towel rack at Rama Rama

Now back to us.  We arrived in Langkawi pretty late, around 10PM, and Odin and Nurul came to pick us up at the airport.  They showed us the unit we would be staying in and told us they would come by the next day to go over our responsibilities.

The next day, they filled us in.  Our main duties would consist of:

  • Checking in and out guests in their 3 units (as 4 of them were not ready to be rented just yet)
  • Bringing the linens and towels to the cleaners after guests checked out, and picking them up the next day
  • Helping them put the final touches on the 4 new places, including some handy work and gardening
  • Being the main point of contact for guests in case they had any questions or needed anything
  • Showing the guests around in case they booked any activities
  • Gardening and maintaining the 3 existing units
  • Insuring that cleaning supplies and required inventory were stocked at all times
We are always silly, but maybe more so here Dash Resort, the perfect spot in Langkawi to go for a dip

Seeing as though we had to run around doing errands most days, they provided us with a scooter to get around.  I’ve driven a scooter twice before, and quickly fell in love with getting around on 2 motorized wheels!

We spent the first 2 weeks taking care of guests and putting the finishing touches on Rama Rama.  That was the toughest part, physically.  It was so hot the whole time (easily 35 degrees Celsius), and the work was either outside gardening, or inside drilling into ceramic and concrete, without AC!

The sunsets over the paddy fields by Halia Village were pretty epic!

Even though we were working, we still managed to do a ton of island exploring (take a look at our blog on what to do in Langkawi), and hanging out at one of the many great beaches on the island.  We discovered great food at the local night markets, experienced controversial Malaysian elections and lived through Ramadan for the first time.

The work was different for sure, considering we haven’t really worked since we left in September (though Carine has done some freelance marketing work).  It was a balance of getting our tasks done, staying on top of things, doing our own thing; including still getting great pics for our Instagram, keeping up on the blogging, and enjoying life.  We are on one long vacation after all!

There were some frustrations that came along with our Workaway.  Most of which was attributable to two things: communication and expectations.

All smiles when we have the day off and visit the Durian waterfalls!

Communication was an issue at times.  Often things would change last minute, like we would be heading out to do some exploring after asking for permission, and then half way there would be told that we had to return back to the units because a delivery was being made in 5 minutes…  This has a bit to do with the way islanders live as well, where nothing is done when expected.

As for expectations, it was little things.  When you think you are committing to working 5 hours a day, we thought that would be 5 straight hours, then we would have the rest of the day to do what we want.  And when you think we work 5 days a week, we thought it would be 2 days off in a row.  And lastly are these days off… we did have a few days where we didn’t have anything to do, but most of our days off still consisted of taking care of a check-in, or a check-out, or dropping off / picking up laundry.

These small things didn’t take up much time on our days off, but they did sometimes make it harder for us to plan doing what we wanted to do.

We had the Durian waterfalls all to ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed our Workaway experience, we even extended it to a full month.  We got along well with Odin and Nurul, and even hung out with them for supper and games on certain nights.  We will likely be doing some more Workaways once we get to Europe and cost of living rises dramatically.  But sometimes, those little things can be irritating.

For sure the fact that it was both of our first times doing this contributed to some of these little issues, but it was still a great experience.  We learned a lot on how to run Airbnb units, how things work in Langkawi, we got to make some new friends, got into our little life routine, and best of all, we got to cook homemade meals.

So I guess the thing to take away from our experience for the future is to clarify things from the get-go.

Fresh fruit is one of the best things about Langkawi

We loved our time in Langkawi and doing a Workaway was a big part of why we loved it.  It let us get a glimpse into the hospitality world, one we may one day also like to get into.  It also let us stay put like we hadn’t done since leaving our home.  We will fondly remember our time with Odin and Nurul, and ever appreciate the opportunity they gave us.

Tips for a successful Workaway experience

Here are a few tips to know to find a great Workaway for you, and to have a successful time with your hosts.

Know your strengths and your weaknesses

This is the most important thing in looking for a Workaway experience.  Know what you like and don’t, and know where you excel.  If you aren’t a people-person, maybe don’t apply to work in a hostel.  If you love to cook, try to find something that will let you use this passion.  You are working, so why not make it as enjoyable as you can, especially since you’re not getting paid.

Read up on your potential hosts’s reviews

You do this when looking for a restaurant, so why not do it to find out who your new “boss” is going to be.  Check out what others are saying about the hosts, what the tasks they did were and how they liked their experience.

After all, the list of tasks and responsibilities are chosen from a predetermined list, so sometimes it doesn’t accurately depict what you will be doing from day to day.  The reviews are a much better way to see what the experience will likely be.

Just be yourself

When writing to hosts or filling out your profile, just be yourself.  Don’t try to make yourself into someone you are not, with skills you don’t have.  Lying about having a certain skill could land you a workaway that you really want (based on timing or where it is), but in the end you will be the one who will probably regret this.

Don’t dismiss the value you bring

You will probably feel like the accommodations you are being freely provided are worth a lot, and they likely are.  But never forget that you are freeing up time for the hosts, and time is the most valuable commodity there is!  What each party provides has value, but don’t feel as though you are in their debt.

Clarify each party’s expectations

As we mentioned it earlier, make sure you talk with your hosts to clarify what you are both expecting from your experience from the get-go.  Ask questions, as many as you can think of.  Ask them what your schedule is, how the time off works, if the food is provided, what your tasks are, what your limits are.  Make sure that you are both seeing eye-to-eye on the major points.

What a month in Langkawi, so many laughs with this lovely gal!

Make compromises and be flexible

This one is pretty simple, you have to be willing to make compromises, and to be flexible.  Of course we are traveling, and we want to do whatever we want, whenever we want.  This is the ultimate freedom after all.  But know that you will not be able to do that while on a Workaway.  Go into the experience knowing this, and you will have a better chance at having a positive time.

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Discover an affordable way to travel and work - Workaway. It's one of the ways we reduced our costs of traveling long-term. Including some tips and recommendations to make the best of your experience and pick the right Workaway.

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