One of the things I hope to gain through traveling is knowledge of and appreciation for other people and their cultures. I believe I can do this through Help Exchange, “an online listing of host organic farms, non-organic farms, farmstays, homestays, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpackers hostels and even sailing boats who invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation.”
HelpX, as it is known, connects local people, who are looking for help with various home or work projects, with volunteering travelers, who want a different way to experience the place they are visiting. Hosts list their projects and needs, and helpers upload their profiles and current location. When hosts and helpers match up, hosts secure a short-term volunteer assistant and helpers usually receive free food, accommodation and, most importantly, a first-hand look at the life of a local. The idea is similar to the homestay concept that many students experience when they study abroad or the more modern WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) community.
HelpX has two different membership levels - free and paid. I signed up for the free membership to get a feel of the website and its services. Once I start traveling, I may upgrade to the paid membership in order to fully use the site. The projects, locations, living conditions and amenities vary greatly from host to host, so it’s important to discuss the expectations of both parties before accepting the project. It is best that the host and helper are specific when talking about their needs.
I look forward to using Help Exchange to meet locals, learn about their lives and pick up some new skills as I travel. There’s no denying that the HelpX set up is also a great way to reduce spending on hostels and meals. But, I believe the most beneficial aspect of the program is the interaction and exchange that will take place between people.