Volunteering & Van life: How to Make the Most of This Travel Trend

Whether you’re a van life veteran or clueless about campervans, this guide offers an insight into combining the best of both worlds from Workawayers who have been there, done that and have the bumper stickers to prove it. This guide covers reasons why volunteering and van life are the perfect combination, as well as tips for getting your own adventure on four wheels started.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the soaring popularity of van life shows no signs of slowing down and there are many reasons why both hosts and Workawayers prefer their home on wheels to join the adventure too! We quizzed Workawayers Alicia and Hesse on all things campervan conversion to inspire others (like you!) to hop onboard this travel trend.

caravan alternative travel vanlife couple goals

Photo credit: Megan Redden Photography

Why Van life & Workaway Are The Perfect Combination

Freedom and security

Without airport security queues or train timetables to contend with, travelling on four wheels comes with a whole new sense of freedom. It also lets you avoid crowded spaces, which in the current climate is a huge bonus. Why spend hours stuck on stuffy planes with strangers when you could travel in your own bubble and do things entirely your way? “Last year we did a Workaway in the Cairngorms, in Scotland. We were meant to be there for two weeks and ended up staying there for six months. Other Workawayers kept rocking up in their vans and we realised, there’s something in this,” Alicia explained.

“The idea of complete freedom was very attractive, and this is what we feel the van gives us,” Hesse added. “You don't really need to plan anything. There's no restriction and that complete freedom is the most luxurious feeling in the world.”

If there’s one thing the travel community has learned recently, it's that the future is unpredictable but having your home on wheels as part of the journey means less reliance on others and more flexibility. Dabbling between the nomadic norm of van life with Workaway hosts in between gives you the feeling of freedom and home all at once.

Related blog post: How Travelling & Workawaying Taught Me to Be Happy Living With Less

green house workaway volunteer garden learning experience skill

Photo credit: Ceranna Photography

It’s ideal for introverts

Staying with a stranger is not everyone’s ideal set up, which is why van life appeals to introverts the most. Life on the road can get overwhelming for even the most seasoned travellers, so having a van provides a sense of familiarity that can avoid you feeling homesick.

It also offers a private space to sleep and relax in which can appeal to both hosts and Workawayers. Your dream host may not have enough space but with the prospect of providing your own accommodation it may persuade them to say yes.

It’s also a reassuring option for those who don’t feel comfortable house sharing yet after the pandemic. Social distancing means most of us have gotten very used to spending lots of time alone, and it’s intimidating to jump straight back into spending time with people 24/7. You can enjoy the best of both worlds –  company and conversation by day, and then sleep in your own sanctuary at night.

Having your own private space to sleep and relax can also make you more appealing to hosts, especially those who are feeling nervous about sharing their living space with people. Also, your dream host may not have enough space but with the prospect of providing your own accommodation it may persuade them to say yes. 

campervan travel life on wheels

Photo credit: Ceranna Photography

You’ll learn skills for life

When your transport is also your home, a specific skill set is required to keep the adventure going. Thankfully, here at Workaway skill sharing is how we roll. Alicia explained, “I’m an interior designer and Hasse is a digital marketer. Our Workaway in the Cairngorms started as a way to develop our skill set for our careers with us doing marketing and DIY for this tiny house project that was also a B&B.”
Hasse continued, “I had no hands on experience building, but our Workaway experience gave me the fundamentals and confidence to then start converting the van. It was a bonus we could also ask our host Carl who converted campervans for a living. We also had access to his workshop and tools. It turned out; his partner was also converting a van the same make as ours so as part of our Workaway tasks we would help her then in our free time work on our own van.”

Has the pandemic left you looking for a change in career? Travelling in a van and volunteering is a cost effective way to learn new skills and dabble in something before taking that life changing leap. Van life also teaches you to be adaptable, self-sufficient and good at problem-solving under pressure, making it a great experience to talk about in job interviews.

Related blog post: Why Workaway Is The Perfect Stepping Stone To Your Dream Job

learning new skills workaway simple rural life
alternative travel experience wood furniture building learning

Photo credit: Ceranna Photography

You can head off the beaten track

At times your search for a Workaway host can be limited to location if you are relying on public transport to get you there, but with a van you can head off into the hills or camp up on the coast with ease. This opens up so many more opportunities for an authentic, local experience.
For those who dream of an off-grid Workaway, accommodation and transport can be a logistical nightmare when these beautiful experiences are located in the depths of nature. Travelling with your van ticks both these boxes – it can transport you off the beaten track and provide shelter. In exchange you’ll learn how to thrive in the simplicity of off grid life.

It is also a great option for those who are trying to be more eco-conscious. We’ve all had a lot of time to reflect this year - maybe too much! - and many of us are thinking more about what we can do for the planet. Travelling in a van reduces your carbon footprint, and the minimal storage space makes you more conscious about what you buy and carry with you.

Related blog post: 5 Reasons Why You Should Give Off-Grid Living A Chance & Why Workaway Is The Perfect Place To Start

workaway travel couple sunset forest nature admire outdoors

Photo credit: Ceranna Photography

Tips For Starting Your Workaway Vanlife Journey

1. Use keywords

Whether you’re searching for a host that can teach you the skills to convert a campervan like Hesse and Alicia did, or you simply want to take your van along for the adventure -- use the keyword function when you search. Using terms such as campervan conversion, van life, campervans welcome etc will help you find the perfect match.

2. Choose a van that fits your lifestyle

Do you plan on remote working in your van? Or is it simply a spot to sleep? Ask people with similar lifestyles and mindsets for help, as buying a van that doesn’t work with your lifestyle can be an expensive mistake. Alicia explains “We did a lot of research, but our host was also a very logical and thorough person who helped us find the perfect van. We went with a Citroen Relay  because the bed can go the width of the van which gives you more space. This was a big sell for us as we wanted to also create a workspace in the van as we’re digital nomads we require a proper desk set up."

Related blog post: A Beginner’s Guide to Becoming A Digital Nomad: How to Travel the World AND Make Money

work exchange digital marketing interior colour design palette

3. Don’t be scared to negotiate

Hesse shared a great tip for this: “ We used a service by the AA where they inspected the van before we bought it. It cost around £100 but they found a couple of issues with the body work. Nothing major, but it meant we could negotiate the price of the van .” Spending a little money can save you lots in the long run – perfect for topping up your petrol pot!

4. Enjoy the process

Whether converting a van from scratch or converting to van life full time it can feel overwhelming. “ Enjoy the process, don’t stress about the end result because then it won’t be a fun experience. Learning is all part of the journey. If I can do it then everybody can do it,” adds Hesse. With all the uncertainty hanging over our heads lately, having an ongoing project can be a great thing to focus on when going out isn’t an option.

5. Start local

Regardless of if it’s your first road trip or your first Workaway experience, doing something for the first time can feel intimidating. That’s where Alicia had a great tip, “Start your Workaway journey with a local one for a short period of time to get the feel of it. What I find amazing is that you will still manage to find people you wouldn’t normally meet and learn so much, even locally."

Travelling in a van has become an increasingly popular option recently, and we’ve noticed a huge boom in people looking to appreciate their own local culture rather than travel internationally. As well as reducing your costs to next to nothing, you won’t have to worry about any border restrictions, quarantines or vaccination passports. It also means that if you need to, you can head on home without any delay.

For Alicia and Hesse, their Workaway in the Cairngorms was only a couple of hours from where they call home but a two week experience, turned into a 6 month stint so staying local doesn’t lessen the adventure at all. There are many reasons to travel in your own country, and following the pandemic it is just far more doable than going abroad, not to mention logistically easier if it’s your first van venture as if you’re familiar with the surroundings and language.

Related blog post:  10 Reasons To Travel In Your Own Country & Why You’ll Love Every Minute

Balmoral pyramid explore differently as a travel workaway couple rainbow background

Photo credit: Ceranna Photography

Workaway Hosts In Search Of Vanlife Enthusiasts

After hearing from Workawayers who have embraced volunteering with van life, you may be feeling inspired to grab your keys and head off on your own adventure. Or perhaps you are keen to convert a campervan but need to brush up on your DIY skills? Here a few hosts who might be the perfect match:

Help convert an old bus into a camper with this host in Germany

Not only can you park up in your own van, they also have the choice of a van, tipi or tent to stay in during your Workaway!

Updated 

 Germany

  • Cultural exchange Cultural exchange
Living in tiny houses, tipi's and camper vans at our fairytale garden field in Wagenfeld, Germany
Hello people from all over the world! :) After finishing our outdoor kitchen it is time for new projects, which means we could definitely use your help. In the upcoming months we will be reviving our vegetable garden, as well as making lots of ......
(3)

Volunteer at an Overlanders Center in Santiago, Chile

The perfect host for road trip enthusiasts. Not only does this place provide technical help and planning advice for those travelling by car, motorcycle or campervan through South America but they help convert vans into homes too.

 Chile

Volounteer at an overlanders (travelling by car, motorcycle or campervan) center in santiago, Chile
Hi there! We are a center for overlanding travellers based in Santiago de Chile. Our main activity is to provide assistance, advice, guidance and trip planning for overlanders travelling by car, motorcycle, campervan, & camelback ;) We host regular ......
(5)

Stay off grid in your campervan in Guardiana Natural Park, Portugal

Normally camping is forbidden in Guardiana Natural Park, but if you have a campervan these hosts have the perfect exchange for you. Enjoy their natural surroundings and assist with the day to day running of their farm.

Updated 

 Portugal

  • Sustainable project Sustainable project
Experience off-grid living and help on our property in the Guadiana Natural Park, Portugal
We are an English-German couple, who bought a remote off-the -grid farm near Serpa in the Guadiana Natural Park a few years ago with the aim of transforming it into a self-sufficient permaculture home with focus on sustainable off-grid living, ......
(11)

Help an NGO rehoming dogs in need and enjoy van life in Greece

Perfect for animal lovers! Stay in a campervan and help this inspiring host find new homes for dogs in need.

Updated 

 Turkey

  • Cultural exchange Cultural exchange
Help an NGO re-homing dogs in need and enjoy VanLife close to the Black Sea in Turkey & Georgia
Hey there! UPDATE: I am considering to book a BnB in either Turkey or Georgia, close to the black sea. Despite the NGO I am working as photo and videographer / model manager and I need to get some work done. Wanna help me with the dogs / cooking ......
(10)

Enjoy a taste of vanlife at this off grid campsite in Canada

This host provides a converted campervan as your accommodation making it the perfect way to sample vanlife in the stunning surrounds of Squamish, Canada.

 Canada

Come help out in a non-profit, off grid, rustic, Covid safe, campground in the heart of Squamish, BC, Canada
Hello Workawayers! We are looking for volunteers for some amazing upcoming projects and to help us manage our unique, off grid, rustic non-profit campground. We are a new, non-profit campground located in breathtakingly, beautiful Squamish BC. ......
(4)

Feeling inspired to hit the road? Workaway is the perfect stepping stone to help make that van life dream a reality. Whether it's sampling surviving in such a small space with your significant other, learning campervan conversion tips, or you simply want to head off the beaten track, Workaway offers endless opportunities for van life and volunteering to collaborate. Who knows, you may end up converted (in more ways than one) just like Alicia and Hesse!
Scotland adventure workaway off grid couple travel ideas inspiration

Photo credit: Ceranna Photography

Huge thanks to workawayers Alicia and Hesse for sharing their insights with us! Make sure to stay up to date with their van life and digital nomad adventures on Instagram and Facebook 🚐

van life

About Workaway

Here at the Workaway team we are lucky enough to witness all the amazing experiences enabled via the site and we'd love to share them with you too! From new and improved website features for our commu... show more...

View all posts by Workaway


Share the Workaway idea


3 comments

You might also like

Meet the Workawayer who quit her Silicon Valley job to volunteer with dogs!
6 Ways Sustainable Travel Can Help With The Planet’s Health and Yours