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Our 7 Favorite Work-Stay Trips

Want to travel for cheap? Consider these seven places to stay for free—more or less.

Traveling for cheap has never looked so cute. (Courtesy Best Friends Animal Association)

Want to travel for cheap? Consider these seven places to stay for free—more or less.

As varied as vacations can be, they all usually have at least one thing in common: not working. But what if for only a few hours of labor—tending a farm, volunteering at a local school, walking a dog—we could make a positive impact on a community while saving money and experiencing a bit of local culture along the way? Where do we clock in?

Saumur, France

workstay
(Courtesy Moulin2Roues)

HippoHelp launched in 2017 as a free, map-based web platform that connects travelers with farms, hostels, and retreats around the world looking to trade room and board for hands-on help. There are thousands of good options, but we like Moulin2Roues, a bed and breakfast located in an old water mill on the banks of the Thouet River in western France. Spend a few hours helping with housekeeping, gardening, or restoring the mill, then take to two wheels and explore La Vélo Francette and Le Thouet à Vélo, two beloved cycling routes that wind through the countryside from one village to the next.

Kanab, Utah

workstay
(Courtesy Best Friends Animal Association)

Volunteer to help feed, clean, or walk the hundreds of adoptable pets at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and you’ll get a 10 percent discount on lodging at the nearby Canyons Boutique Hotel (from $159). You’ll have easy access to Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks, or bring your sand skis and head to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, which has 3,730 acres of perfect drifts ready to ride. And if you just happen to adopt a dog during your stay, the hotel has pet-friendly rooms.

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

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(Jean Beaufort/PublicDomainPictures)

The National Park Service has countless volunteer positions available, like campground host, visitor services, and trail maintenance. Not all come with free lodging or camping, but some do, like being a volunteer winter Nordic patroller on Mount Rainier. You’ll do part-time or intermittent work like marking trails, helping visitors, and assisting search and rescue operations in exchange for cabin stays in the park’s Longmire historic district.

Mason, Texas

workstay
(Courtesy Robert Clay Vinyards)

Helpstay.com is another search site for room-and-board trades. Among the listings, you’ll find gigs like helping at a honeybee sanctuary in Maui or building an off-the-grid yoga retreat in Alabama. We like the offering from Robert Clay Vineyards, a winery in the sleepy Texas Hill Country town of Mason that brings in dozens of volunteers to prune, tuck vines, tackle weeds, and harvest and process grapes in exchange for a bed in a 30-foot travel trailer on the property. After work, you can paddle or take a swim in the nearby Llano River.

Alexandria, New Hampshire

workstay
(Nina Paus-Weiler)

The Appalachian Mountain Club leans on volunteers in many capacities. You can work as a naturalist, leading nature walks or astronomy tours from the White Mountain Huts, or harvest firewood in the Berkshires. Many volunteers receive free or discounted housing and can bring a guest at a reduced price. In October, join a weekend of trail maintenance work at the AMC’s Cardigan Lodge, near Alexandria, New Hampshire, and you’ll pay just $60 for lodging and meals.

Chugchilán, Cotopaxi, Ecuador

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(Eric Schmuttenmaer/Wikimedia)

The Black Sheep Inn is an eco-lodge nestled 10,400 feet up the Ecuadorian Andes. The private or shared rooms start at just $35, but you can earn discounted rates with a bit of volunteer work. Bring donations like books or old laptops for the library in Chugchilán, or help out in a classroom, hand out school supplies, or pitch in at the medical clinic. Yoga teachers can get free lodging in exchange for leading sessions in the on-site studio. There are hiking trails from the lodge and a newly revamped sauna and hot tub.

Craigieburn Ski Area, Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand

workstay
(Maelgwn/Wikimedia)

At this no-frills ski hill on New Zealand’s South Island, you’ll get ski-in, ski-out accommodations, plus breakfast and a three-course dinner, for a very affordable rate (from $63). The catch? All guests are required to partake in light housekeeping duties. You’ll be assigned a chore, like vacuuming, cleaning dishes, or helping the chef prepare dinner. Your chores won’t interfere with your ability to score deep powder, though, and by day you’ll ride diesel tractor–powered rope tows to 350 acres of steep, inbounds terrain and endless off-piste backcountry bowls.

Filed To: Lodging / Camping / Travel / Yoga
Nicolas Henderson/Creative Commons )

San Marcos, Texas

Billed as the world’s toughest canoe race, the Texas Water Safari, held each June, is a four-day, 260-mile jaunt from the headwaters of the San Marcos River northeast of San Antonio to the small shrimping town of Seadrift on the Gulf Coast. There’s no prize money—just bragging rights for the winner. Any boat without a motor is allowed, and you’ll have to carry your own equipment and overnight gear. Food and water are provided at aid stations along the way. Entry fees start at $175 and increase as race day approaches.

The Ring

the-ring-race.jpg
(Courtesy Quatro Hubbard)

Strasburg, Virginia

The Ring is a 71-mile trail running race in early September along the entire length of Virginia’s rough and rocky Massanutten Trail loop. To qualify, you need to have run a 50- or 100-mile race before the event and win a spot through the lottery system. Entry is free. Complete the run and you’ll become part of the tight-knit Fellowship of the Ring and be eligible for the Reverse Ring, which entails running the trail backwards in the middle of winter.

Plaza2Peak

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(David Silver)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each spring, competitors gather in Santa Fe’s historic plaza with a simple goal: be the first to reach 12,308-foot Deception Peak, 17 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain away. Competitors run or bike the first 15 miles to the local ski area before transitioning to their waiting ski-touring setups for the final push to the top. Time stops only when they’ve skied back down to the tailgate in the resort’s parking lot, which is funded by the modest entry fee of around $25. To add to the sufferfest, some participants sign up for the Expedition category, in which they strap their skis, skins, boots, and poles to their bikes for the long ride up. Start dates vary depending on snow conditions, but look for the event page to be posted on Facebook in late March or early April.

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