Have you ever heard about volunteering websites like Workaway, Helpx, or the more famous WWOOFING? The concept is simple, you work about 4 or 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, and in exchange, you get free accommodation and food. No money involved. The workplace can be on a farm, but also frequently in a hostel or a family house.
It’s a perfect way to stay longer in another country on a budget while being able to immerse yourself in a different culture and using your free time for sightseeing.
This article includes our HelpX experience in Switzerland in 2020 and honest HelpX reviews from my wife and me.
Although I signed up on Helpx in 2012 and I’ve been familiar with the concept ever since then, we had our doubts on how to make it work with two young kids. Would anyone want to welcome us? We decided to give it a try, and pay 20$ for a 2-year subscription to access all the features of the website.
HelpX Switzerland: After staying put in France for more than 6 months due to the Covid-19 and the birth of our second son, Mati, we decided that the time was right to explore again.
Interested in knowing more about volunteering abroad? We wrote an article on how to volunteer differently in your travels with various websites and tips to get the most out of your experience.
Our first HelpX experience
We browsed all the hosts in Switzerland and found a family with three kids and great Helpx reviews. Perfect we thought, Darian, our 3 year-and-a-half-old son, will have some company and the occasion to practice his social skills. After a few messages exchanged, we drove to the Swiss part of the Jura mountains and met Taina, Niklaus, and their 3 kids.
We got along pretty well with Taina and Niklaus. They had a lot of travel stories to share and were happy to hear ours. The workload was reasonable and interesting. We brought some food from France which allowed us to cook some of our specialties. We also helped to take care of the garden, such as collecting berries, cutting roses, and various other tasks around the house.
However, the most interesting for us was the work related to bee-keeping. We both love honey, and having the chance to learn about how to produce was clearly the highlight of our HelpX experience. We helped throughout the process, it included collecting the frames, creating another colony, removing the wax, and inserting the frames inside the extractor.
In exchange for our work, we enjoyed a comfortable room with a bed and a mattress for Darian. We also had a private bathroom for our use, and they showed a quieter corner of the house where I do my online work.
We could also have time to explore the surroundings, for instance, we went to the Biel’s lake with the whole family. As I love hiking, I ran up the highest mountain in the area, the Chasseral, and I went back another time with a bike the family’s graciously loaned me.
Nevertheless, Darian had trouble getting along with the kids, and one night after cooking some wonderful pizzas in a wooden fire, we collectively took the decision that it’d be best for us to move on. It was unexpected, and we had to find a plan B. I found some emergency solutions thanks to Couchsurfing and Trustroots, two popular hospitality exchange websites. We got pretty lucky, after sending messages that night and the next morning, out of the 5 requests I sent, 4 were positive ! Our first HelpX experience in Switzerland had come to an end, and it was time to say goodbye to the family that welcomed us for 10 days.
If you wonder how we always manage to find a host, check out our tips to find a Couchsurfing host and have a blast!
Our second HelpX experience
When we left our first hosts, I sent several messages to find another HelpX host in the country. We were mostly turned down, except for one person : Yviane. She lives in the French-speaking area of the Valais, on the other side of the country. Thankfully, going to the other side of the country just takes a couple of hours. We first had a Skype interview together, everything worked well and we came for a week.
I was first amazed by the area. It was full of mountains, we were right in the middle of the Alps. Yviane’s place was a traditional Swiss chalet with a wonderful view of the village, which doubled as a small ski resort in the winter. Thanks to the superb weather, we were not bothered much by the altitude of 1.300 meters.
At first, we had doubts about coming here, because we thought that Darian wouldn’t have much to do while we work. However, we were totally wrong. Yviane was well-equipped since she had two grandchildren. She gave me a pair of gloves and some kid tools so that Darian could follow me all around the garden to perform numerous tasks. Thanks to her background in education, she was also impressively patient with him.
About work, we spent most of our time in the garden. We were the first “helpers” of the year, and the property was just too big to handle for a single person working. The garden looked slightly overgrown, and we helped with a makeover. We also reconditioned the “pétanque” field for her to welcome her guests. Another important part of our job concerned the food.
After the first day, all together we sat down to make a menu for the upcoming week. It was a way for Yviane to know what to buy for the week. We often cooked, but we also got the chance to enjoy some of her specialties! She has been pretty kind to us, and always went the extra mile to let us try some great local food. We were appreciative of that and we had a great time.
This HelpX experience was surely one of our highlights in Switzerland. We wished we would have stayed longer, but the duration of one week was already set before since another helper came the following week. However, we hit it off with Yviane fairly quickly and we can now say that she became our friend. At the end of our 2-month adventures in Switzerland, we even came back to her place for 3 days. We are still in contact.
Our third HelpX experience
After this great week in Nax, we were on the move again. We drove towards our next volunteering place while sleeping in Zugg and Zurich on the way thanks to 2 hosts we found on Couchsurfing. We also managed to stop by Luzern and St-Gallen during the day.
It had been already one month since we left France when we arrived in Rheineck, a small town located just a few minutes from the border post with Austria. There, we met Angela, Manuel, and their 3 daughters. It was their first time using Helpx, and we quickly noticed that they did not really need help. The property was smaller than where we volunteered previously.
They only asked us to occasionally cook and to take care of the chicken in the morning. That wasn’t 4 hours of work, but after a few discussions with them and repeated demands for some extra work, we just understood that they were looking for an experience rather than manpower. Hope we didn’t disappoint!
Therefore we had a lot of free time, so we used the house as a base to visit nearby Liechtenstein, the Konstanz Lake, the Western part of Austria, and the Appenzeller mountains.
In terms of work, we had a memorable day under the sun restoring the garden into a better-looking shape and ready to plant! I particularly enjoyed that day with Manuel, where I discovered that we have the same kind of humor, and it helped me to feel slightly less uncomfortable about being fed and lodged without much in return. HiuYing even gave her first-ever cooking lessons to Angela, who was eager to learn more about Chinese cooking.
After a rocky start, we were thrilled to notice Darian got along better and better throughout the week with the 3 daughters. Surely it wasn’t easy for him, but we have no doubt that he can learn from all these experiences. He was also a great way for him to practice his English and another step towards becoming trilingual.
Our HelpX Reviews
HelpX is cheaper than Workaway and WWOOF, even though there’s a great number of potential hosts available. It’s especially true for Europe, as we noticed there are thousands of hosts in France! We have yet to try on another continent.
We contacted a dozen hosts and we found them pretty responsive, although it was (of course) not always positive. Another feature we enjoyed is that hosts can directly contact you. Prior to these 3 HelpX experiences in Switzerland, we also spent a week in the mountains in France with a family who contacted us first. You can set a few options on your profile such as where you are planning to travel, and hosts from this country will be able to contact you directly.
Our HelpX experience has been pretty great so far, and we’ll definitely use this website to connect with fellow families and interesting people around the world in the future.
Share with us: What about you? Have you ever used Helpx or another website to volunteer in your travels?