Note: This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our full disclosure for more info.
"It's all about quality of life and finding a happy balance between work and friends and family."
As we mentioned in our post about our plan and our budget for the year, we plan to keep our expenses as low as we can. One of the ways we are doing this is to volunteer with organizations and people who offer free lodging and food in exchange for a few hours of work per week. There are multiple ways to find these arrangements but the one we have chosen is Workaway.
Our first Workaway experience was from June 4 - July 8, 2018 and it honestly couldn’t have gone any better than it did. We had a blast, met some amazing people, and decompressed from a stressful last few months wrapping up our jobs and moving. We are in the process of creating a Youtube video of the month but until then we wanted to get the information out on what this actually looked like for us and why you should consider it for your next longterm travel adventure!
Setting it Up
Since this was our first time ever doing this and we were a little nervous, we found a potential host way back in fall 2017. They had tons of great reviews on the website and we exchanged a few emails before setting up a Skype call with them. In the future we may not do the Skype call, but since we were banking on these people being there for us when we flew into Ecuador from Michigan we were being extra cautious. We chatted for about 10 minutes and everything seemed great so we just kept in touch via email over the next few months until it was time to actually meet them.
Our Living Situation
Our hosts, Janet and Ron (pictured above) picked us up from the airport during their weekly trip to the grocery store about an hour north of their house, took us to the store, and then brought us to their place. They own a small compound across the street from the Pacific Ocean in Puerto Cayo that consists of their apartment, four rental units, plus the volunteer house. The volunteer house (pictured below) was a little two bedroom concrete house with a kitchen, bathroom (hot water!), and a living room. It was basic and cozy. Best of all, it was free and we had our own space and wifi.
Toward the end of our first week, presumably after our hosts vetted us a little and realized we are amazing and responsible people, they told us we could move into one of the rental units that wasn’t being used. This was extremely kind of them and the place was a beautiful wooden apartment raised up on the second level with a view of the ocean and an amazing breeze! We lived there for about a week and then the bees came. Yes, bees. There were bees living in one of the walls and so we had to move to a different unit while they took care of the issue. So, we moved to a different rental unit that was actually nicer than the wooden one, it just didn’t have the same view (third photo below). Anyways… The living situation was amazing overall and we really got lucky.
According the their Workaway profile, our hosts basically needed help taking care of their dogs and keeping the property maintained by assisting their full-time maintenance guy, Franklin. The reality was exactly as advertised. We got up every morning about 6:30, made some breakfast and took three of the five dogs for an 90 (ish) minute walk on the beach or up in the hills (depending on tides).
After the morning walk we would clean the pool, rake some leaves, and help Franklin with whatever he needed for that day. This ranged from transplanting massive aloe plants and cutting down rotten palm trees with a machete to taking care of the bees (remember the bees?). We also helped Ron and Janet with various computer and other technical assistance. For instance, I helped them get their security camera system working again and helped them get VPNs set up on all their computers.
The other thing we did was help our new friends Rick and Terri with anything they needed. They were renting one of the units and had recently moved to Ecuador after retiring a few months before we got there. We helped them unload their shipping create, get computers and VPNs working so they could watch the Netflix, and took care of their dog Rusty any time they left the property. Rusty has a little bit of separation anxiety and has a meltdown if he is left alone for more than five minutes.
Most of these chores wrapped up around noon when we would make some lunch and work on our stuff or explore the area for a few hours before the afternoon dog walk. Around 4 pm we would gather up our three dogs and take them for another 90ish minute walk before coming home, picking up some dog poo, and running the sprinklers for a bit. Overall, we “worked” for about six hours per day but most of that was just spent walking the dogs. Not exactly work in our eyes.
The last week we were there another Workaway couple, Lisa and Brian, joined us at the property because Janet and Ron went to New England for a vacation. The four of us house sat and watched their dogs while they were gone.
So what did we get for all this “work?” Well, we got to live across the beach from the ocean in a beautiful apartment and our hosts paid for about half of our groceries for the month. More importantly, we met some amazing people and friends. Janet and Ron are fantastic people and have invited us back to stay with them any time we want. We also met their renters, Rick and Terri, and became very good friends with them. They drove us all over the place on little adventures together as we all explored the coast of Ecuador going to festivals and having a blast for the month. We also met some fellow Workawayers our last week there and got to celebrate my birthday with them and Rick and Terri by grilling an amazing dinner!
Our first Workaway experience was a raving success. We got exactly what we wanted: a laid back month recalibrating and gearing up for the rest of the year while we practiced our Spanish, played with some dogs, and met amazing new friends. The other Workaway couple we met told us it’s not always this sweet of a deal, but hey, we’ll take it while we can!