I’m sure you’re all depressingly familiar with the concept of unpaid internships by now: roll in with a smile, do a little grunt work, leave with a frown, only to be replaced by the next person on the unending list of the exploited. WorkAway.info is a little different. In exchange for a mere 25 hours of work per week, you at least get free room and board. That and the experiences are typically a little more uplifting than shadowing and fixing coffee. And as you’re breaking even each week, this will also allow you to sustain your travels over a longer period. Most of all, it gives you time to properly settle into a particular place: you get to really feel the vibe as opposed to just box-ticking the colonial buildings and museums deemed worthy of inclusion by the Lonely Planet.
WorkAway features continuously in works of lifestyle design guru Tim Ferriss: if that’s not enough to give it a moment of consideration then I’m not sure what is. Unless you have a particular passion for organic farming, I think it’s much better than WWOOFing, as it offers a vast repertoire of different kinds of work that includes – above all, for me – working with people. It also trumps any voluntourism opportunities you’re likely to stumble across online: it’s often similar work, but simply relies on you taking the initiative to drop a couple of emails as opposed to throwing a load of cash at some uncharitable agency.
So what’s the drill? After you pay a small subscription fee, you’ll have access to thousands of hosts in almost every country in the world. Filter by continent, country, region, and keyword. See who fits your criteria, assess their feedback score, and drop emails accordingly. Make it personal and include dates, and you’ll have jobs lined up in no time, providing you start looking as early as possible. I can’t rate it enough: sometimes what you need is a holiday from your holiday, and a lot of the things on offer are truly interesting and unique. It might even have the knock-on effect of putting you out of sync with all the people you’ve met on your route, so you’ll have the added bonus of meeting some new faces when you eventually re-emerge.
South America, Chile, wine. That simple little search linked me up with Familia Espino in the heart of Colchagua Valley, the nation’s famed wine region that’s rapidly gaining traction on both the gringo trail and luxury travel market, while still retaining the charm of a place well within its prime. In the run-up to my stay, I’d partied my way through Rio Carnival, CouchSurfed with some crazies across Argentina, and burnt what remained of my energy and sanity at Lollapalooza Festival – decompression was long overdue.
The job appealed to me because I wanted a combination of vineyard work and care work, which is exactly what the job delivered. The family home is on the fringe of Marchigue, a beautiful town set against a backdrop of picturesque mountaintops and endless vineyards, and the home itself comes equipped with a well-groomed Carmanere vineyard at its rear. Any work on the vineyard will of course vary depending on the time of year, culminating in the late April harvest, at which point grapes are shipped off for processing and bottling. Following an unfortunate accident the family’s son Mario now relies on a wheelchair for much of his mobility: he receives around-the-clock care and sessions with medical professionals, so the role is predominately social, with as many elements of physiotherapy as you’re willing to engage with.
I spent a month with Familia Espino and had a fantastic time. In addition to my work on the vineyard and with Mario, my stay coincided with the area’s largest wine harvest festival, an excellent weekend of outstanding food and wonderful wines. The house is also a short bus ride from capital Santiago, so it’s perfectly doable to spend a couple of weekends away partying with whoever you happen to have met on your travels. And for the wave worshippers among you, Chilean surf haven Pichilemu is just a short drive away: the family have a car you can borrow (a UK license will suffice) and friends that can hook you up with equipment. Oh, and the local produce markets make Borough Market look like Morrisons markdowns.
I’d say I picked up a lot more than what I’d initially expected from the job description: on top of learning a thing or two about wine and finding new friends in my hosts, I was continuously kept on my toes at mealtimes, due to the rapid pace of Chilean Spanish and varied topics of conversation.
On that note, I’d say this WorkAway is a particularly good call for anyone wanting longer-term experience with a single patient, those applying for graduate-entry medicine, or someone simply looking for a slight change of pace and decompression from big city life. For me the experience was a wonderful WorkAway debut that I’d love to replicate and would recommend to anyone.