While I was in Australia I went 'backpacking' around the country for 110 days. I couldn't afford to do this even as a budget traveller staying at hostels and eating McDonald's (shudder), and, to be honest, I couldn't bear the thought of spending three and a half months moving from bunk bed to bunk bed, sharing a room with strangers every night and, very likely, some hungry bed bugs. I had a choice to make - I could cut my travel days down to about 35 and give it a go on the ol hostel scene, which I'd already done in Europe OR I could find a way to stretch my budget, a way to get through 80 of those 110 days without spending any money.
A quick Google search led me to the answer I'd been seeking: www.helpx.net, also known as Help ExChange.
'Help Exchange is an online listing of host organic farms, non-organic farms, farmstays, homestays, ranches, lodges, B&B, inns, backpackers hostels and even sailing boats who invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation (board and lodging).' www.helpx.net
The primary purpose of the exchange is a cultural one, with travellers having the chance to meet locals and gain experience, while the hosts have a chance to learn about other cultures while also recieving help in their daily activities.
I stayed at 8 different places while I travelled around Australia and I can't even begin to explain how invaluable it was. The work was fair and I did some fun things like milking a cow, making preserves, cooking dinners, and looking after horses. I was also put up in some lovely homes and fed some delicious meals...and made a few myself, BUT by far, the greatest value of this exchange was in meeting some absolutely brilliant people whose wisdom and knowledge have had a resounding impact on me.
For the hosts, as well, I believe the exchanges are beneficial. Helpers that come to visit are often, themselves, full of knowledge and insights they can pass on to their hosts. Some have special skills, such as carpentry or horse care, which can be really useful to the host. In any case, from what I gathered, Help Exchanges are mutually beneficial, which is, I suppose, why they are still happenning!
Right, so here I am back in Canada and thinking to myself - I wish more people in North America knew about this network. The site does provide networks for both Canada and the States, but there aren't many hosts listed. I can think of some reasons why this is the case, but I still think there is huge potential for this network to expand in Canada and the States.
For those concerned about their security or safety, well there is a 'reviews' section, in which helpers can post their reviewsof hosts and vice versa. I rarely found any negative reviews, but when I did I took them seriously. All said and done, the world is full of good people and the chances of finding yourself in an unsafe situation are extremely small - common sense speaks volumes when you're travelling in any case!
You don't have to be a farmer to host a helper - the majority of places I stayed were just homes where the family needed a bit of help doing this or that. I spent four hours a day cleaning walls and countertops at one place, I made crepes for dinner at another and hauled tree branches from one yard to another in yet another place.
So, I suppose what I am saying is: check this site out! Maybe you would like to have some helpers come to you, maybe you know someone else who needs help, maybe you are travelling yourself soon.