18 December 2015

Helpx, What’s the Deal?

I’ve just come to the end of a year’s long trip around Asia, Australia and New Zealand, and I’ve been able to fund this travelling simply by doing Helpx. People usually ask me where I stay when I travel and I say, “oh, I’m staying with Helpx hosts”, which is usually met by a blank stare. Those who don’t know about Helpx may know about Wwoofing? But if you don’t know about either then let me explain the concept to you.

Helpx in brief is work for around four hours a day, in exchange for food and accommodation. Some of my friends hear this and ask why I would want to work whilst I’m travelling? Fair enough, if you’re on your jolly holidays for a week or even a few months, then you might not have the time to consider Helpx. But when you’re travelling a country, especially an expensive one such as Australia, then Helpx can really come in handy. It comes from the website www.helpx.net, where you search for a specific country. Some countries such as Australia and New Zealand have thousands of hosts, whereas countries such as the Philippines have about ten. You click on your country of choice, and sometimes this can be narrowed down even further with specific locations in that country e.g. New South Wales. You can then choose, if you wish, from the categories of:

- Homestay
- Organic farm
- Non-organic farm
- Accommodation
- Hostel
- Boat
- Other

Or you can simply enter a key search time such as ‘horses’ if you wanted to work on a ranch or something for example. A ton of places will come up matching your search and you get to have a look at hosts profile and what they’re after when looking for helpers.

But what type of work will I be doing?

This can vary massively depending on what type of host you have. I’ve mainly stayed with homestays and accommodation hosts so I feel I can judge their expectations pretty accurately. With homestays you generally stay with a family (receiving your own bedroom in their house) and work can vary from a bit of gardening, cleaning the house, cooking, looking after kids or bits of DIY and painting.

With both sets of farm categories this would usually involve outdoor, gardening types of work, but also things like dairy farms and vineyards can come up. Accommodation can vary from working in a B&B and you simply have to clean the guest’s rooms or help on reception or help with making breakfast. Hostels usually are pretty similar to accommodation categories, but generally you have to share a dorm and you don’t receive food, but the hours of work each day will be less. Boat, I have no idea. And other can mean pretty much anything as I remember finding a didgeridoo shop in this category.

So, where do I sleep?

As said, you might have your own room in a family’s home and from my 15 Helpx experiences, I’ve had my own room except for just one time. I usually get a double bed and I’ve even had my own bathroom and sometimes my own lounge room. There was one Helpx experience where the host had many helpers at once, so we had our own house and I shared a room with another Helpx helper like myself. Another time I stayed in the rainforest and had my own cabin amongst the trees so that was pretty different. Some hosts say that have a caravan in the garden that you stay in, and some even ask you to have your own van or tent, which makes me question if they’re providing anything for you at all?

I’m starving, how much will they feed me?

This obviously varies with the type of hosts you have. More often than not if you stay in homestays (so with families), you help yourself to breakfast and lunch and then you all sit together for the evening meal which you or them cooks. Most of my hosts have been super chilled and tell me to help myself to food whenever I want, and most of them encourage me to have a drink with them in the evening. But then again some hosts are stingy and have no snacks.

Is the work worth it?

Every Helpx host is different and some hosts expect me to do at least a solid four hours of work a day, but then again I’ve stayed with families where I haven’t even worked an hour a day. Usually the better families (ones where I get a huge room, en-suite, WiFi, drinks) have expected less work from me, so hosts that argue you have to do more work to get more stuff are kinda just bullshitting. Also, some hosts want four hours every day, whilst some have given me three days off in a row then expect me to do maybe 6-8 hours in a whole day.

But I don’t want to waste my time and stay at each place for ages!

You don’t have to. Some hosts prefer helpers to stay for two or three days, whereas some want you to stay for a month. Usually they state this in their profile, but if not then just clarify it when you send them an email.

I have to send an email?

Usually yes. Sometimes hosts will contact you, but generally I contact a host. I write a short email saying why I want to stay with them, the skills I have and the time frame I want to stay. Try and make each email personal, and you’ll get a much better response rate.

Is it safe?

Hosts and helpers both have references. As I’m a single girl travelling by myself, I won’t stay with a host without references, and some hosts won’t have a helper without references. But you have to start somewhere and a ton of hosts had me before I received my first reference. Out of the 15+ Helpx hosts I’ve stayed with, I haven’t had one problem of safety or feeling uncomfortable.

Do I need a particular visa?

This really depends on what country you go to. I recently found out that New Zealand require you to have a working holiday visa to do Helpx, but most countries just ask for a normal tourist visa. Also, I’ve never had a host check so you could probably get away with just a tourist visa one anyway.

Right, so free food, accommodation, sometimes Wi-Fi, sometimes booze, what else?

Sometimes a host will lend you their car. Sometimes you’ll get to use their stuff such as bikes, kayaks etc. I helped out with a scuba diving/adventure company in Australia and the helpers got to scuba dive and use things like paddle boards for free whenever we wanted. One host signed me up to a yoga festival and I got to go to free yoga and dance classes all weekend. And one host even gave me some ‘special’ herbs…

It can seem like a bit of effort, and as I’m coming to the end of my year long trip, I am kinda over Helpx just because I’ve done it 15+ times and I don’t always know what to expect with a host. If they expect a good four hours of work a day I make sure I’m up early so that I can get my work done by lunch so that I’m not wasting any time to sightsee and actually travel, so it can be annoying if a host drag out the four hours through the day, as they should understand you’re not there to sit around their home and do odd jobs. But I’ve found if this occurs then I’ll have a chat with the host pretty much stating I don’t want to do my four hours at their convenience. 

Overall, I highly recommend Helpx! I’ve met some incredible people, both hosts and other helpers, and I’ve saved a fortune! You really do feel like a member of the family when invited into someone’s home and all my hosts have treated me the same. They make me feel welcome, they’re really trusting by giving me a key and overall they want to share their home and their lifestyle so you get a better feel for the country than most other tourists would do. Give it a go, save some money, and meet some locals who know about the area rather than every other backpacker in the hostel that thinks they do.

(All my pictures are from Helpx stays. Either at the hosts home/business, with other helpers or with the host themselves)

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