Is Workaway safe? How to avoid Workaway horror stories

volunteers working with text overlay that says is workaway safe

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This guest post was written by Nina Clapperton, a Workaway veteran with over a year of Workaway jobs under her belt (as a solo female traveler).

Workaway is a leading platform for individuals looking to explore the world on a budget. 

It can be an awesome way to volunteer your time in exchange for a cultural experience, food, and accommodations with locals.

But is Workaway safe?

Living and working with strangers can be intimidating — especially in remote locations. It’s normal to be concerned for your wellbeing in such foreign circumstances.

I felt the same way when I used Workaway to explore Europe for one year on my own. Not only was I relying on others to be kind and upfront, but I was doing it as a solo female traveler.

Using my knowledge of how to travel safely and these tips on how to avoid Workaway horror stories, I not only survived, but made unforgettable memories.

And with my help, so can you!

IMPORTANT: This guide focuses on avoiding bad situations and includes examples of negative experiences. However, I want to make it clear that these experiences are exceptions, NOT the norm. Workaway is one of the best travel jobs, and I wouldn’t trade my experiences for the world.

Is Workaway safe?

woman at Plitviche Lakes, Croatia
Plitviche Lakes day trip with my Workaway hosts in Croatia

Workaway is, for the most part, a very safe program. The program vets individual users, requiring passport photos and visual confirmation of their identity.

However, most of your profile is up to you. That means hosts and users have the opportunity to write whatever way they want.

Much like a dating profile, not everything is going to be exactly honest.

That “cozy room in our home” could be their storage closet with no heat or bathroom (true story!).

The best way to confirm the honestly of your potential hosts is to:

  • Look for profiles with lots of pictures and long written descriptions
  • Email them and see how they respond
  • Look to the reviews

Much like Airbnb, hosts and users are rated. It isn’t your standard 5-star system. Instead, it features lengthy descriptions by users about their experiences.

I only have one instance where reading the reviews failed me. I was looking for a place to stay in central Berlin (which was flawed unto itself, as Workaways are best when they’re not in major cities), and all of the reviews seemed positive.

But they kept using the same buzzwords. The host was “very focused on her work” and the tasks were “slightly more involved than I’d expected”.

What all the reviews failed to mention was…

  • You were only fed bread
  • You were only allowed one shower a week
  • The accommodation was a storage closet with a thin mattress on the floor

Not one review mentioned it! What the heck?

I’m not sure if these ratings were due to a fear of a similarly negative review in return, but the guest book in the Workaway room was much more honest.

It’s vital to trust your gut. 

I got a bad vibe from her posting…and an even worse vibe when she didn’t give me an address until  20 minutes before I was supposed to meet her! 

But I ignored all the warning signs, and ultimately put myself in an unsafe situation.

Don’t hesitate to follow your gut. It knows better than you sometimes.

While Workaway is mostly safe, you do need to be on alert for things that may make you feel unsafe.

I turned down the offer to work for a single man who only accepted single female Workaway guests and whose reviews called him “a bit too intimate”. 

I don’t apply for opportunities without internet access, as I need a way to check in with my family.

Lastly, I always ask to do a Skype interview with the hosts beforehand. This lets me get a better feel for what they’re like before I commit to living with them for weeks or months.

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9 Workaway safety tips you must know

If you follow these nine Workaway safety tips, the chances of you having any issues are extremely low.

1. Always read the reviews

The best way to learn about a host is from people who stayed with them before.

While their profile can offer insights on them and may help you spot red flags, you really need to go down to the reviews section for the most truthful information.

Here’s some of the helpful info you can find on each profile:

screenshot of workaway review system

I always look for places where a guest has stayed within the past 6 months. If they haven’t had guests in a while — and it’s not because they’re a seasonal place — I ask the host why that is. 

Often it’s a sign that guests either didn’t like their experience enough to write a review or were put off by the host.

You’ll also want to keep an eye out for buzzwords. If people are saying a lot of the same thing, they may be covering something up. 

When I found a yoga retreat in Spain, the reviews never mentioned the accommodations. They were very focused on work.

When I arrived, I found that the accommodations were pretty terrible. The “room” I was given was a landing on the second floor with a small cot next to another Workawayer. It had no door or area to change in privacy. 

The other two rooms with actual doors were given to the volunteers that had been there the longest.

The main floor — where we were supposed to be able to hang out — was full of mold eating away at the paint on the walls. 

Lastly, the bathroom was only accessible from the exterior of the house, which was extremely inconvenient in the freezing winters of the Spanish mountains.

sunset in the mountains in Spain
Despite the freezing bathroom…you can’t beat that mountian sunset!

While I loved that Workaway for the work, I hated the accommodations. So, of course, my review focused more on the work as well and less on the accommodation — although I made sure to note the sleeping issues. 

So just keep that in the back of your mind. Sometimes it’s hard for people to leave brutally honest reviews if they had a good relationship with the host and don’t want to hurt them.

2. Be willing to compromise on location

The worst Workaways I did were when I was being too picky.

I was desperate to spend Christmas in Berlin central for some reason. So I only looked at Workaways in the city center.

You’ll notice pretty quickly on Workaway that there are very few listings in the city. Most of them are on the edges of cities or in the middle of nowhere.

By choosing downtown Berlin, I’d severely limited my options. The best option, and the only one who got back to me, ended up being the worst Workaway I ever did. I ended up leaving after a week (which I now realize was 6.5 days too long) because of how unsafe and uncomfortable I felt.

So, choose the country you’d like to work in, but be flexible with the specific location. If you’re dying to visit a big city, do so on your weekends off or between Workaways. Plus, by staying off the beaten path, you’re likely to discover more amazing sites that you never expected.

3. Stay in places with multiple volunteers

Staying with other Workawayers will make you feel much safer. You’ll be surrounded by people just like you.

When you first arrive, they can show you the ropes and help you get settled in faster. They’re also looking to socialize and travel, which will help you make some of the best friends you’ll ever have.

Working with others helps you feel less isolated.

I spent my first three Workaways on my own because I wanted a private bedroom and nicer, hotel-esque accommodations. While the rooms were nice, I ended up getting bored and lonely.

Once I signed up for a Workaway with other people teaching English in Prague, I made an awesome friend who I still meet up with around the world every year.

It completely changed the feeling of Workaways.

I instantly canceled all of my single bookings to ensure I’d be with other people for the rest of the year.

Other awesome guides:
10 Easy Digital Nomad Jobs for Beginners
How to Travel After College with No Money (13 Clever Hacks)
How to Become a Travel Nanny and Get Paid to Travel
How to Work a Ski Season in Canada
How to Teach English Online While Traveling the World

4. Communication is key

woman posing in mountains in Spain
Leading a hike in Spain on the mountains at the Yoga Retreat

Hosts that don’t invest the time to communicate with you before you arrive probably won’t be good hosts.

Part of the role of being a host is making sure your Workawayers feel welcome and want to stay with you. One of the ways you do this is by responding to messages and answering questions.

Workaway has a % evaluation of how often hosts reply and how long they take to do so.

I always aim for hosts with over 70% response ratings who get back to people within 5 days (because no one is so busy that they can’t find 1 out of 5 days to respond). 

This rule isn’t hard and fast. Sometimes hosts go on vacation or have family emergencies, so you need to be a little bit flexible here if one of your messages is slightly delayed.

I usually pair the response times with the amount of information in their messages. 

Are they just quoting lines of their listing? Are they hesitant to provide details?

Remember that not everyone speaks English, so curtness or typos aren’t a reason to dismiss someone outright. Wait until you get a sense of who they are and try to determine if you’d be comfortable living with this person for weeks. 

5. Always have someone checking in on you

Women always have that friend who ensures they get home safe or that their date is going ok. 

The same goes for travel with Workaway!

I choose Workaways with WIFI so I can message my family at home. This is especially important if you don’t have a travel wifi hotspot or data SIM card..  Knowing that someone is checking in on me gives me a sense of security. It also comforts my family to be able to check in regularly and know I’m safe. 

I always provided my family with: 

  • The name of the host
  • Their contact information
  • The address of my location
  • A link to the Workaway listing
  • Any other important information

If for some reason they couldn’t get ahold of me, they always had enough information to figure out why.

I did have to warn my mom when I worked on a ranch in Croatia that the signal was fleeting, so brief “I’m alive” messages would have to suffice some days. I’d also warn her before we took WIFI-free day trips so she wouldn’t send in the cavalry.

6. Meet your hosts before you go

My Workaway accommodation in Austria

If you’ve communicated with the hosts but still not 100% comfortable, ask them to video chat before you commit to staying with them.

Most hosts actually require this because they want to feel safe too.

My host at the yoga retreat in Spain conducted a work interview to make sure I had the right qualifications and had another call to see if I’d fit in with the other volunteers.

I felt much safer knowing that they did their research on me and the other volunteers.

If a host refuses to do a call, that’s a big red flag. No one in this day and age who is advertising jobs on the internet is incapable of a Zoom call. If they are, you don’t want to work there.

7. Have a backup plan

Sometimes things go awry. Whether it’s because of a terrible host, a change in plans, an injury, or whatever other circumstances you may find yourself in — a Workaway experience just might not work out.

That’s why it’s important to have a backup plan and exit strategy.

You never want to be stuck somewhere. 

When my host in Berlin wasn’t responding to my multiple messages until minutes before I was supposed to meet her (at an address she hadn’t given me), I started coming up with other options.

I researched hostels and Airbnbs in the area to have a place to stay for a night or more.

Similarly, when I did my first Workaway puppy sitting in Baden, Switzerland, I figured out the bus route to a hotel in case it wasn’t working out.

Knowing that you can leave makes it easier to do so when you need to. It also means you’ll never have to stick around in an unsafe environment.

Even if money is tight, your safety comes first.

8. Don’t work more than you should

Some hosts see Workaway as free labor rather than the cultural exchange it is supposed to be.

Workaway has a rule that hosts are only allowed to ask for 25 hours of unpaid work per week. If they ask you to do more, they must pay you the minimum wage of their local area. 

When I worked one extra hour a day in Spain, our group would get fully paid for day trips to the beach town nearby (on top of some cash tips). 

At the horse ranch in Croatia, our host gave us free riding time and took us on fun cultural outings.

woman taking care of hourses in Croatia

Sometimes the perks they offer balance out. If you’re comfortable with that, then you can accept it. But never allow a host to turn you into a free laborer. It’s bad for you and sets a negative precedent for all other volunteers they’ll have in the future.

If a host does this, report them to Workaway. 

9. Trust Your Gut

The most important safety lesson I can give to avoid Workaway horror stories is this: 

Trust your gut.

My gut knew before I did that it was better to be with other people than alone in someone else’s house in Austria for 5 hours a day. 

It knew that host in Berlin was a nightmare and I should never have gone. 

And it knew that communicating with hosts ahead of time would correlate with my favorite Workaway experiences.

So, if your gut is telling you not to go with something, listen to it!

No free accommodation is worth your safety.

Workaway horror stories: What to do when things don’t go as planned

Sometimes even the best-laid plans blow up in your face.

I had my horror story with the Berlin Workaway host who tried to turn me into a maid with no toilet, a bread-only diet (I’m celiac), and once-a-week-showers.

Let’s look at some other Workaway horror stories on Reddit to see what went wrong, and more importantly, how you can handle it if you find yourself in a similar situation. 

Workaway bad reviews

screenshot of workaway experience from reddit

This review reminds me a lot of my time in Berlin.

This host expects an employee, which is not what Workaway is for. The fact that she’s previously had challenges most likely speaks to her issues with volunteers and not the volunteers themselves.

The 100% reviews are an issue on Workaway. Some people don’t understand that hosts need to be held accountable. And many don’t leave reviews at all.

I’m not sure if they fear retribution, as this person does, or not. But it hurts others.

The only time I needed to leave a negative review, I emailed Workaway to notify them of the host’s issues and since then her account was removed from the site so no one else could be implicated.

Also, hosts aren’t going to ban you for one bad review. If they are, they’re probably too critical. They should know that a bad review is just as indicative of the place you’d stayed at.

screenshot of workaway experience from reddit

As a solo female traveler using Workaway, this is a risk I was nervous about. I avoided all male-run Workaways just in case of this.

However, other people like working with men. That’s fine as long as you set boundaries. Just talk to the host before you arrive to make it clear you do not want to pursue any sort of physical relationship. You can even ask them if they have done so with Workawayers in the past. Most men like this will boast about it, which gives you a pretty good idea that you shouldn’t be there.

In this case, the multiple workawayers rule helped that individual girl stay safe. That’s why I prefer working with others.

screenshot of workaway experience from reddit

The key to this review is that they have a backup plan. Always have a way out!

Communicating ahead of time is important to know what work is expected of you. If the hosts asks you to do something different that you haven’t agreed to, tell them no. That’s well within your rights.

Only work the allotted hours and do the work that you signed up to do.

If the host is being a bit of a nightmare like this, leave. 

Is Workaway worth it?

Even when some things didn’t go as planned, Workaway was one of the best experiences of my life.

I spent less than $1,000 traveling Europe for an entire year — meeting some of my best friends and working at jobs I truly loved.

And when I returned home, I was pleasantly surprised when putting Workaway on my resume helped me get more work! People loved that I had worked internationally doing all sorts of different jobs that gave me so many vital skills.

If you’re not sure if Workaway is right for you, I say why not give it a try? 

It’s only $40 USD to sign up for a one-year membership. 

Get my guide to Workaway for Solo Travellers and find out how to message hosts and find the best experiences across Europe.

If you follow my safety tips, you’ll be sure to have an excellent and budget-friendly adventure exploring the world. 

Note from Mitch: One last thing — Never leave home without travel insurance. If you get injured at your Workaway, don’t count on your host having insurance for you.

It’s best to sign up for a good travel insurance for long-term travelers. Safetywing is super cheap and has covered me in all my crazy travel accidents (see my full Safetywing review). You can sign up in 3 minutes using the form below.

Mitch's Travel Recommendations:
Travel Planning Resources - Everything you need to plan your trip on one convenient page.
Safetywing Insurance - This cheap travel insurance has saved me over $15,000 in medical bills.
Booking.com - Book accommodation without adding your credit card (in case you need to cancel).
Skyscanner - Find cheap flights.
Trusted House Sitters - Take care of pets in exchange for free (sometimes luxury) accommodation.
Flexjobs - Find remote jobs without having to sift through crappy ones.
Skillshare - Free trial to take unlimited classes that teach digital nomad skills.
Anytime Mailbox - Virtual mail service that can handle your mail while you’re away.
Wise - Send and receive money abroad cheaply (great for freelancers).

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