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Cheap Travel: Work-Stay Programs Worldwide

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Cleaning BoatsWith the dollar’s exchange rate collapsing like a house of credit cards, it’s tempting to put off travel plans, or erase them from the calendar altogether.

But don’t cancel your flight just yet— check out these creative ways to stay and eat for free abroad … in return for a little work.

One of the oldest work-stay programs has been around since 1971. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) have been putting travelers in touch with farmers all over the world who offer free room and board in exchange for four to six hours of work per day.

Sound too good to be true? Here’s how it works:

More than 20 countries have national WWOOF organizations, and there are independent WWOOF hosts in more unusual locations, such as Romania, Tonga, and Ecuador. Your room and board are free, but you do have to pay for airfare, as well as a small membership fee for each country you plan to visit (or pay one fee to join WWOOF Independents for access to hosts in 43 countries).

After you become a member, you’ll be able to choose from a list of host farms to contact—but you can see sample farm postings for free on their Web sites, like http://wwoof.se/about/ for Sweden, or http://www.wwoof.it/gb/list.html for Italy.

Farmers FieldAfter contacting your host and making arrangements (most speak English, but always check to make sure), all you have to do is show up with a friendly smile, an open mind … and possibly a tent (definitely ask what their accommodations are before you take off, since they can be somewhat rugged).

WWOOFing is not for people who just want to travel cheaply—it’s focused on teaching travelers about the organic movement through hands-on experience. Most work consists of basic farm chores: working with animals, cultivating vegetables, repairing fences etc. However, with so many individual farms to choose from, it’s not hard to find unique activities like cheese-making, helping out in a vineyard, or even working in environmental education and sustainable living centers or temples.

Contact the WWOOF branch in the location(s) you plan to visit since countries have different laws and visas, and because different branches offer varying services. For instance, you can WWOOF in Italy with a tourist visa, where by law they have to include basic insurance with your membership, and the UK branch is one of the few to offer a farm placement service to help find suitable arrangements for those with no WWOOFing experience. www.wwoof.org/

If you are less interested in organic lifestyles but still want to trade work for lodging, then try the Workaway program, which caters to budget travelers, language learners, and people who want to immerse themselves in a culture more than touristing usually allows. For five hours of work per day, give days a week, you’ll get free room and board, learn new skills, and have the chance to practice a language with native speakers. Workaway offers a broader range of work opportunities than WWOOF, but many jobs are still on farms and ranches. You might help work and train horses in Australia, plant trees and keep bees in Belgium, or help build an eco-retreat in Hawaii.

Boy Driving CattleLike WWOOF, Workaway helps find placements within their database of families, individuals, and organizations, but it is up to you to contact your hosts, agree upon the details of your work and accommodation, and organize your travel arrangements and visas. Membership costs €15 per year, which allows you to see the contact information for their registered hosts. In addition to the work you agree to, you will also be expected to share any household tasks—and clean up after yourself! Email for more information, or check out their site at www.workaway.info.

House-sitting allows travelers to experience what it’s really like to live in some of the most beautiful and interesting places. For $30 per year, the Caretaker Gazette at Caretaker.org has listings for both professional property caretaking positions as well as amateur house-sitting jobs.

For $45 per year, Housecarers.com offers much the same service with house-sitting locations across the U.S. and around the world. Agree to care for four dogs, four cats and some chickens, and you can enjoy two weeks of living in a 16th-century farm house on 15 acres outside of historic Bath, England.

However, before agreeing to watch someone’s home, ask questions like who pays the bills (you may be asked to pay for utilities), how many pets will you be caring for, and do they have special needs? If there’s a garden, how big is it and how much attention does it require?

It’s also a good idea to ask the owner for the names and contacts of previous sitters. At some point, the amount of work might outweigh the benefit of a free stay.

Steering Wheel DriverFeel like taking a road-trip across the country? Auto Driveaway helps people move their cars when they don’t want to drive themselves or pay for shipping. As a driveway volunteer, you get a “rental” car, plus your first tank of gas, for free.

If you’re over 21, just fill out an application form, present a valid driver’s license and references, and pay a $350 refundable deposit (though sometimes they may require fingerprinting or a driving history from the DMV), and take off down the road. You pay for the rest of the gas as well as lodging for your trip.

However, there are limits on mileage (point-to-point distance plus 15-25 percent extra), driving time (don’t drive between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.), and trip time (most people average 350 miles per day), so you can’t take a “detour” through Mexico on your way to Montana.

A typical 3,000 mile cross-country road trip takes seven to 10 days to complete, with 3,500 miles maximum on the odometer. But, if you don’t mind driving and want to really see the country, be sure to map out your routes ahead of time and check the Internet for construction delays and weather forecasts so you can make the most out of your trip. Call 1-800-346-2277 or AutoDriveaway.com.

By Lauren Van Mullem for PeterGreenberg.com.

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