How to Get Free Room and Board Overseas

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If you like spending time in the garden… love to eat healthy, organic food…and enjoy traveling, there’s a way to combine these passions—for free.

You can volunteer at an organic farm next to the Podacarpus National Park in Vilcabamba, Ecuador, or on an apple orchard and organic bakery in Mendoza, Argentina. Help make goat cheese on an Irish farm near Ballyvaughan, County Clare in Ireland, learn about wine making on a vineyard in Italy’s Piemonte district while staying in a village house with a view of the Alps…

How about joining a team running a surfing school at Curio Bay in Southland, New Zealand? Or renovating a 100-year-old timber house with a view of the Pacific on the Fiji island of Ovalau?

You don’t need any serious experience, just a willingness to take on agreed-upon tasks.

You won’t be paid, but as a volunteer you’ll get free meals and accommodation.

Besides planting, tending, or harvesting organic gardens, you may be asked to milk goats, build chicken coops, or, in the case of small hotels, help with cooking or cleaning.

Bordering Belize’s lush Spanish Creek Rainforest Reserve, for instance, a family farm grows a variety of fruit tree crops and has a large organic garden and subsistence food plantation. They also raise chickens and horses and need help building additional guest palapas from jungle materials and thatch. You could stay in an onsite guest house with free WiFi Internet and all meals included.

According to Emily Navar, owner of boutique Hotel Macan ché in Izamal, Mexico, this arrangement is a “win-win situation.”

“Our locale is a bit unique in that we’re a hotel with a small organic garden rather than a farm,” she says.

“We’ve had couples and singles—mostly women on their own, although a single guy arrives this week. They have mostly been from the U.S. and Europe but also from as far away as New Zealand. The last couple traveled by bus all the way from Denver. They’ve all been hard workers, respectful, and low maintenance. Most are looking for a way to be in Mexico and not spend much money.

“They agree to work five hours a day, and we provide free room with private bathroom and hot shower and two meals a day…breakfast and dinner. They eat really well here.”

Emily’s husband, Alfred Rordame, is a world-class chef. And Hotel Macan ché—an hour from Mérida, the capital of Mexico’s Yucatán state—is an oasis in the jungle. With lush, green foliage and brilliant tropical flowers everywhere and a cenote-style swimming pool in which to take refreshing dips, it’s not tough duty at all.

(Izamal itself is a charming village, with mystical Mayan ruins adjacent to historic colonial buildings.)

But the biggest benefit of this “work for room and board” deal…for both hosts and volunteers…is about creating lifelong friendships. Not a traditional travel experience, this is a true immersion in local customs and daily life—victories and challenges alike. A priceless experience at any cost, but even better when it’s free.

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