Workaway: Expectation vs. Reality

This feels like a good point to compare what I experienced in La Tortuga with what might have been expected from the Workaway profile. I’ve explained to you what both parts involved, how I found the hostel on Workaway and what it was actually like working in La Tortuga. I will preface this by saying that I wasn’t disappointed in any part of the experience and this isn’t because anything was different from how it was advertised. I just think it would be useful to compare the two. It might help anyone thinking about using Workaway in the future to set their expectations when reading hosts’ profiles so they can find the right one for them.

Hostel

‘If you’re looking for fun, comfort and relaxation, then we are the place for you!’ This is the opening line of La Tortuga’s profile on Workaway and I think that’s a perfect encapsulation of what it is all about. The hostel is depicted as a harmonious place of gathering for all people from all places and that checks out. It also says that this ‘is not a party hostel, instead, wants to offer our helpers and travellers a comfortable, homely place to relax in where they can meet other like-minded people and as a base to explore the rest of the island.’ It’s definitely not a party hostel in the sense that people are not getting drunk, blasting music and partying every night. There are definitely a lot of fun times, especially on Wednesdays for the weekly trip to the flamenco bar, and in the evening the terrace is often filled with people chatting over a few beers. You are more likely to find someone strumming away on guitar than techno being blasted from a speaker. However there is a strict rule of no noise after 11pm, whether that comes from people or music.

Hammocks > all other seating

Duties

When it comes to the duties and responsibilities for volunteers there was a little bit of conflicting information on the profile. At one point it says volunteers are expected to work five hours a day, five days a week and elsewhere it says 25 hours over the week with three days off including one at the weekend. While neither of these is exactly accurate the second description is closer to what I ended up doing. During the time I was at La Tortuga volunteers worked four days a week which usually amounted to around 25 hours in total, give or take a few. However we weren’t guaranteed a day off at the weekend. I would say that this doesn’t really matter much though. When everyone else around you is on holiday, weekdays and weekends have less meaning. If there is a specific day you want off, all you have to do is ask! For example, my sister came to visit Tenerife for a few days and I was able to request not to work on those days, I just had to do it before the end of the week before.

The duties themselves were described as ‘cleaning (to a good standard), help with guests/reception and help with internet/computers.’ As I’ve said, not everyone will get trained on reception and I didn’t really have to do anything with the internet or computers other than trying (and failing) to get a livestream of a football match onto the TV. I wasn’t sure what cleaning ‘to a good standard’ meant and in my interview with the manager, Ale asked me if I cleaned to a British standard or not. I had no idea what that meant so I replied that I would clean to whatever standard he wanted me too! Turns out this was a good answer because the British are apparently not known for their high cleaning standards, unlike the Germans for example. Also unmentioned on the profile were some of the alternatives to the normal shift, where you might be tasked with the gardening for the week or asked to lead a group trip to the flamenco bar or to watch sunset on the beach.

Not too bad when going to a flamenco bar is part of the job!

Living Conditions

All that is mentioned on the profile about accommodation is that it will be in a 4-bed shared staff dormitory. This is accurate. The volunteer quarters in La Tortuga are in the main house and take up the lower level floor, basically the basement. There are two rooms here, one with an en suite bathroom as well as the storage room for cleaning products and kitchen supplies. Both rooms have two sets of bunk beds each so four people to a room, eight volunteers in total. Even though only one of the rooms has a bathroom, all the volunteers share it. It might sound like a lot, eight people sharing one bathroom, but it was nice to have one that was only for volunteers. One thing about La Tortuga is bathrooms were not plentiful so not having to share with guests was a blessing. I was in the room that wasn’t attached to the en suite so I had to go in and out of the other room to use it. At times this was annoying because if it was late at night after some people were already asleep or in the morning before a shift, I worried about waking people up. In those situations and when I didn’t need a shower, I would take my stuff to the toilet by reception and get ready there. Other people were less bothered and would just quietly go into the other room to use our bathroom. Even if I had to navigate that situation, I still preferred being in the other room because being in the basement, the rooms were warm enough as it was, I didn’t need the heat coming off the shower as well. We did have a fan in each room but after a certain point it’s just moving the hot air around.

Bathroom inconvenience aside, the rooms are clean because they are part of the morning cleaning routine. Whether they are tidy is more up to you and your roommates. There is plenty of space to unpack your clothes and there are also small lockers if you want a secure place for your valuables. In general, I didn’t actually spend a lot of time in my room other than sleeping. Obviously all the socialising happened upstairs in the common areas and even when I was just chilling, I would use the common areas when they were quiet in middle of the day when all the guests were out. Saying that, it was nice to hide downstairs for those times when things got a little too much or you just needed an hour without someone asking you a question.

Food

Often Workaway volunteers are compensated with accommodation and maybe some food. When it comes to food, La Tortuga’s Workaway profile is a little vague. ‘Breakfast and BBQ night included.’ That’s all it says. In reality it’s so much more. Breakfast refers to what we put out for guests at the start of a shift – we can also help ourselves to the tea, coffee and cake. Volunteers also have their own fridge in the storage room that is filled with vegetables provided by the hostel as well as a stockpile of rice, pasta, bread and sliced cheese and ham. The kitchens are already stocked with things like oil and spices for cooking. Volunteers are also able to have free beers from the little bar behind reception, definitely a big money saver for us!

If you wanted to, you could survive entirely on the food that was provided for us and not spend any money on food at all. However it does get a bit repetitive. If I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life it would be a cheese toastie but even I got a little sick of them after almost two months (shoutout to our daily sandwichito, as we would call them). Because of this, most people would supplement with their own groceries. I would buy things like yoghurt and granola bars for breakfast, fresh bread, crisps, hummus and nuts for snacking and then some things to pad out our meals like sweetcorn, chickpeas or tins of tuna. We had a volunteer-only fridge in the area off the kitchen that also held the washing machines and we could keep our personal food here. When people were cooking and wanted something extra, it wasn’t uncommon for them to raid the baskets of the other volunteers. Ask for forgiveness, not permission I guess? But in all seriousness, it just worked like that. Everyone was always happy to offer up whatever they had and it was all contributing to a shared meal for everyone.

As for the BBQ night, this was unfortunately a casualty of covid. It used to be that every Wednesday the weekly trip to the flamenco bar was prefaced with a big barbecue in the garden. It was stopped due to the pandemic and was still on hold while I was there. However, for anyone looking to stay at the hostel in the future, it has since started up again! Just because the organised barbecue was on hold, doesn’t mean that the grill didn’t get dusted off by guests and volunteers alike in a more informal way. We had a great fish and squid barbecue one night and even without involving the barbecue there were some great group meals involving the whole hostel. The photo below is actually from my very first evening when everyone ate together (yes, that is a watermelon filled with sangria) and one time a guest cooked tacos for everyone!

You as a Volunteer

Finally, La Tortuga is obviously looking for a certain type of person to come and volunteer with them. According to their Workaway profile ‘helpers should be friendly and enjoy meeting and dealing with people. To be part of our team, you definitely need a positive attitude to life!’ I would say that this is more important than any skills in cleaning or relevant experience. Those kinds of things can be taught but if you aren’t an outgoing person who is happy to talk to anyone and everyone and willing to go the extra mile to help and make people feel welcome, you might not be the right fit. They also specify that they want ‘helpers who can stay for at least for 1 month, ideally someone with a high level of English and medium level of Spanish.’ This comes from a more practical point of view. If someone only wants to stay for a week or two, it’s barely worth training them. By the time you feel comfortable with your duties and know what you’re doing, it would be time for you to leave.

As for the languages, despite the hostel being on a Spanish island, English is definitely more important. My main goal in working there was to improve my Spanish but I did that mostly through speaking with the other volunteers. There were a couple of weeks in the middle of my stay when the whole group spoke Spanish and English so we would default into Spanish when working or eating meals together. I loved it because the Spanish that we were speaking was not homogenous at all. Obviously there were a lot of people for whom Spanish was a second language but even among the native speakers it varied wildly from Castilian Spanish to Argentinian Spanish to Chilean Spanish. If you want to learn or practise your Spanish the volunteers are your best bet, although it does just depend on the people that are there at the same time as you. There are some Spanish or Latin American guests but you are actually much more likely to speak English than Spanish with the majority of people staying in the hostel. I did also get the chance to speak quite a lot of French and even Chinese a few times! Other languages are not a necessity though. Speaking Spanish to some level is obviously an advantage but there were volunteers who spoke their own language and English, no Spanish at all, who still were great members of the team!

Costs

Now I want to break down my spending while I was there, just as I did for my travels in Germany and Austria earlier in the summer. If you are thinking about doing something like Workaway, this can give you an idea of the funds you need to be able to do it. Workaway is a great way to save money on long term travel but that’s not to say that you don’t need some to keep you going. Obviously it might differ depending on what is on offer from your particular hosts but this could be a starting place when trying to figure it out.

  • Transport – €271.85 (mostly €1-6 taxis but also car hire for four days, €150 total. This also doesn’t include flights on and off the island.)
  • Eating out – €227.95
  • Drinking – €127 (going out once a week, mostly €2 beer and €6 mojitos)
  • Groceries – €214.67
  • Activities – €375 (6 scuba dives, paragliding and entrance to a hike)
  • Miscellaneous – €71 (small souvenirs and petrol for car hire)

Total – €1282.47

To give you an idea of the amount of money I saved doing this through Workaway, the price for the accommodation I stayed in would have been €1173! That’s 51 nights in a €23/night dormitory with a shared bathroom at La Tortuga. And that’s without speaking about the money saved on food. You can see that I still spent a good bit of money on groceries and while I wasn’t eating out a lot, a couple of meals a week, I wasn’t being super stingy with it either so it would be possible to spend less on these two categories. Exchanging work for accommodation and food worked out exactly as I’d hoped. I saved so much money on accommodation and food that I was able to spend more on activities and eating out. There’s no way I would be able to spend almost two months in Tenerife any other way!

A beautiful watercolour painting of the garden done by one of the volunteers, Laura!

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