It’s hard out there when you’re working class and want to advance in life. Taking a class, learning a new language, or just partaking in extracurricular activities, like travel or a night out dancing, can be expensive. Entertainment, travel, yoga… everything, it seems, costs money, and that stuff adds up so fast. So what’s a low-budget American to do?
Well, increasingly, the answer is work exchange. You might already know about going abroad to teach English or to be a nanny.
But more and more domestic small businesses and mom-and-pop shops are offering opportunities to trade your time working with them for whatever it is they offer, from yoga to farmwork.
Here are a few examples of industries abroad and in your own backyard where you can find work exchange.
1. Yoga: Many yoga studios offer work exchange, where the yoga student works a set number of hours per week, usually cleaning the studio, in exchange for yoga classes. It’s not a bad deal if you want to improve your yoga game and be of service to the place where you’re studying. Many yoga studios across the country and around the world offer work exchanges. Check out what’s available in your community.
2. Dance: Social dance is gaining popularity—Lindy Hop, Blues, Tango, Salsa, Bachata, and more. Most local groups have weekly or monthly dances, as well as large dances across the country and around the world annually. Almost all rely on volunteers to run smoothly, and in exchange for helping out, say taking tickets at the door or managing a social media account, the dancer can get free dance classes or admittance to the dances. Not a bad way to spend a Friday night, and who knows? You might actually meet people you might not normally cross paths with. These are available across the country, especially in more urban areas, but even smaller U.S. cities of less than 150,000 people will have dance scenes you can do an exchange in.
3. Acupuncture: You might be familiar with community acupuncture, a great way acupuncturists are spreading the health benefits of their trade around the world. Many clinics are cooperatives, and often have needs in their upkeep, including light housekeeping, laundry, or snow removal. If you have a community acupuncture location in your town, but always thought it was too expensive (even though many offer a sliding scale), you may want to speak with them about the possibility of work exchange for treatment.
4. Hostels and Hotels: At a recent stay at a hotel in Hawaii, we were struck by how many people were working there in exchange for a room. These folks tended to have some money, and used the opportunity to work for board to offset the cost of living in Hawaii. There are entire websites devoted to this kind of exchange, including Worldpackers. You could be working a reception desk in Hamtramck, Michigan, or housekeeping at a hostel in Switzerland. Where do you want to go?
5. Farms: Like hotel and hostel work, traveling to work on a farm has its rewards: You get to learn about farm life, and your room and board are paid for. Sure, you might literally be shoveling manure, but the rewards are plenty, and there are a number of websites that can help with placing you on a farm here in the U.S. or overseas. WorkAway offers farm work exchanges around the world, from Arkansas to Nepal, Australia to Appalachia. You can find organic farms, hydroponics, animals, and more, and read reviews left by former workawayers.
Each one of these options has its strengths and weaknesses. Some, like STA Travel, charge participants to use the service. Make sure to read the FAQ page carefully, and you absolutely want to do your homework before packing your bags and heading to a country where you don’t speak the language in order to work.
It should also be abundantly clear what your responsibilities are, and what you get in return, and the exchange in energy should be reasonable. None of the websites or industries listed here require your full-time work. Many of these exchanges—such as with the yoga and dance communities—are informal, but all should include some kind of written agreement you feel good about.
And of course, a healthy dose of common sense, asking plenty of questions, and clear communication is requisite.
When you find what you want to do, work exchange can be a useful, economical way to put your skills, time, and energy to work to gain a new skill like dance or acquire work experience, or make travel more accessible. And you can meet new people and learn new cultures along the way.