Whether you are a seasoned backpacker or have never ventured out of your city, the opportunities to step into the global travel movement are ever-expansive. The site I want to share with you is for anyone wanting to explore a specific region but limited in funds, with some time on their hands and an openness to exploring something new.

Workaway is a website that connects families, communities and businesses across the globe with individuals or couples who are seeking volunteer opportunities abroad. The host (family, community or business) is usually aiming to complete a specific project, seeking specific skills or assistance during a duration of time. They seek a volunteer(s) who can provide the services and in exchange will (usually) provide room and board. Volunteers are required to work 25 hours a week (or 5 hours 5 days), sometimes less but usually not more. The types of services and jobs that the hosts seek are pretty broad, and range from nannying, to tech work, construction, gardening and more. There is a small annual subscription fee to create a profile, search the database and contact hosts but that is all you will pay for gaining full access to the site.

I learned about Workaway in 2010 and kept it snug in the back of my mind, sometimes pulling it up on my laptop and ogling the many fantastical profiles for hours at a time. It is pretty incredible and inspiring to see all of the unique communities across the globe doing valuable work for our planet. There are healing centers, off-the-grid eco-communities, circus spaces, family-owned vegan restaurants, people living on sail boats, in tree houses, tiny homes and producing music festivals. Anything you could possibly think of that is innovative and alternative, there is someone on Workaway somewhere in the world seeking volunteers to jump onboard.

Despite the countless hours I spent admiring the communities from my small perch peering through the world wide web, it wasn’t until 2016 that it finally aligned to utilize the site in a real way. I had bought a one-way ticket to Rome for $200 and came across Centro d’Ompio, a meditation and yoga facilitation center in the Italian Alps that had on-site vegetarian Italian chefs, pianos and other musical instruments and some of the most gorgeous views and landscapes one could dream of. I sent them a letter of intent for the month I wished to visit as well as some of the skills I had to offer, and received a response shortly thereafter that I was welcome to come. I even convinced one of my close friends to apply! She was accepted as well and in a few months’ time we were meeting in the Milan train station.

We spent a few days in an Airbnb exploring Milan together before we took the train ride to the Pettenasco station on Lake Orta. Orta is a central town, but surrounding the lake are many small village communities including Pettenasco. After the few hours ride from Milan, we were greeted by the volunteer coordinator who picked us up and drove us to the top of the mountain where the Centre was located. The grounds included a main house with chef’s kitchen, lunch hall, guest rooms, pool, terrace, two yoga meditation domes, an office, sky room and two piano rooms. A short walk down a hill was the volunteer house with suites, a kitchen, bathhouse and covered patio with grills, tables and a hammock. It was all so rustic, cozy and quaint.

During the month our jobs included assisting the chefs in the kitchen, cleaning the guest rooms for the groups that would stay, washing dishes, preparing and clearing the dining hall, tidying the volunteer living quarters and doing laundry. We would have five hour shifts five out of seven days per week with two days off. I played piano every day, went for jogs in the woods, hiked to waterfalls, laid out by the patio, read and wrote, socialized, and my friend and I took a few trips to neighboring towns and spent a weekend in Milan. Most of the groups that would come and stay were from neighboring European countries, but the volunteers came from all over the world. It was a magical and unforgettable experience.

The great thing about this month (besides living in the Italian Alps, playing music, spending time with one of my best friends and meeting amazing people from all over the world) was the fact that I spent a grand total of $200. Mostly on chocolate. (I wish I was kidding, but this trip took place in the heart of my chocolate addiction). In all seriousness, it’s totally possible not to spend a dime. Most sites will provide everything you need, and if you are okay with being stationary for a few weeks to a few months, you can save a pretty penny while exploring an amazing place, experiencing a different culture and if you are so inclined, learning a new language. It really is what you make of it.

While every Workaway is different and you should do your research on the particular place you are interested in visiting, I cannot recommend Workaway enough. I am so pleased I had the opportunity to engage with this community and do plan to participate again in the future.