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Work & travel, au pair & co.: Why staying longer is sustainable

Work & Travel, au pair and volunteer work are different from a short holiday: instead of just a few days, travellers stay in another country for several months to a year.

Nevertheless, the journey is associated with CO2 emissions. Especially if you are travelling by plane. However, this environmental impact can be converted into a longer stay. Other advantages: You can socialise with locals, integrate culturally and gain authentic experiences.

So why not stay longer in the spirit of sustainable travelling?

The European Consumer Centre Germany provides helpful tips on how to prepare and shows why destinations in Europe are also attractive.

Staying longer instead of doing a short trip

For longer stays abroad, the relationship between the journey (often by plane) and the length of stay is more sustainable than for short holidays. Many people think of New Zealand or Canada. However, you can also do work & travel, au pair or volunteer work in Europe. This even has some advantages.

Before deciding on a commercial tour operator, you should find out exactly what services are included in the price.

What types of longer stays abroad are there?

In addition to studying or doing an internship abroad, there are also forms of travel such as work and travel, au pair and volunteer work abroad.

Work & Travel

Work & Travel is a combination of travelling and working. Spontaneous temporary or occasional jobs such as harvest helper or waiter/waitress help to finance the trip. You usually have to be at least 18 years old and speak English. Some jobs also require a driving licence.

Australia, New Zealand and Canada are popular destinations. But there are also many opportunities in Europe, such as farm work in Norway or jobs in the tourism industry in Portugal or Spain.


As an au pair, you look after the children in a host family and help out in the household. In return, you are allowed to live with the family. Sometimes you also receive pocket money. The length of stay is between six months and one year. The weekly working time is 20 to 30 hours, depending on the agreement. The advantage is that you are immediately integrated into family life. Unfortunately, however, au pairs are sometimes regarded as cheap labour and treated unkindly.

Popular destination countries in Europe include Ireland and France, for example.


Volunteering involves getting involved in a good cause for no financial reward.

This is possible in your home country, but also almost anywhere in the world. Accommodation and meals are often provided.

In Europe, there are programmes for animal and environmental protection in Spain or Croatia, for example. Or for childcare in Romania, for example.

Volunteer work can be organised by the state (e.g. Federal Volunteer Service). These programmes usually last between six and 24 months.

On the other hand, there is what is known as "volunteer tourism" or "voluntourism". This is a holiday trip in which hours of work are invested in a project. The minimum duration is often significantly shorter.

Criticism of "voluntourism" is that commercial tour operators would offer it even if there is no need for volunteers. This would do more harm than good to the local population. The short duration may also be problematic. Especially when working with children, it can be counterproductive if the carers change frequently.

Consumers should inform themselves well before deciding in favour of an offer.

Tips for all three forms of travel

  • Many providers are commercial and you should do your research before making a decision.
  • Ask exactly what is included in the programme.
  • What is included in the price? (Accommodation, type of accommodation, travel, meals, language course, etc.)
  • How many hours of work are planned (especially for volunteer work and au pairs)?
  • Can the trip be cancelled early (for example, if you fall ill)?
  • The alternative: organise your stay yourself. The free app "APP ins EU-Ausland" from the European Consumer Centre is a good help here. For 15 destination countries in Europe, you can read everything you need to know about topics such as employment contracts, taxes, insurance, savings tips and much more.

Choose your holiday destination: Why not Europe instead of overseas?

Many people opt for distant countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the USA or Canada when travelling abroad. Here you have little choice but to take an aeroplane, which is the least climate-friendly form of travel.

Of course, the carbon footprint can be improved by offsetting CO2. But you can't undo the emissions. This is one of the reasons why closer destinations such as Spain, Portugal, France or the Netherlands are attractive.

The European Consumer Centre has addressed the issue of voluntourism in a podcast episode entitled - Voluntourism: The business of volunteering. You can access the podcast episode here.

Travelling in a climate-friendly way

Within Europe, almost all destinations can be reached by train or bus. Longer journeys can be split up according to the motto "the journey is the reward".

Why not get off in France on the way from Germany to Spain and start your journey there?

You can even take an overnight train from Berlin to Malmö, from Munich to Budapest or to some other destinations.

If you prefer travelling by car, you can take a passenger with you. You can find and network with others via social network groups.

Fly anyway: tips for an ecological conscience

  • Offset CO2: You can support sustainable projects for little extra money. It is important to find out beforehand whether it is a reputable initiative.
  • Book a direct flight: Flights with stopovers are often cheaper, but also more harmful to the environment.
  • Make a conscious choice of airline: Who flies in a particularly CO2-saving way?

Socio-cultural sustainability

If you take socio-cultural sustainability into account, it makes sense to select the destination country based on your own knowledge of the language and the country. If you already speak the local language and have familiarised yourself with local politics, the experience can be more sustainable for you and the local people.

Another option: Some programmes include language courses (e.g. Erasmus) so that you can learn the language on site.

Getting around: Avoid taking a plane if possible

If you have a car or hire one, the more passengers you have, the better the eco-balance per head. You also get to meet new people, possibly even other globetrotters, while looking for fellow travellers. If the infrastructure is available, you can use local public transport such as trains or buses.

You should try to avoid domestic flights. If time permits, you can also cross a country in other ways and have great experiences along the way.

Eco-friendly accommodation

For longer stays, you are often accommodated in host families or shared flats. Other types of accommodation can also be considered for round trips. Quality seals can be an indication of environmentally friendly accommodation. However, there is also sustainable accommodation without a label. Smaller, private offers in particular are often not only authentic, but also much more environmentally friendly than a luxury hotel complex, for example.

These are the advantages of doing a stay abroad in Europe

  • No visa required: EU citizens can travel to EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland without a visa. A work visa is also not required within the EU. A valid passport is sufficient.
  • You do not have to re-register your place of residence: During the first three months, you do not have to transfer your place of residence to the other country. After the three months, you may have to register in the new country (depending on the regulations there).
  • Same currency: Most EU countries use the euro - there is no need to change money. Even in countries that have their own currency, you often don't need cash. In Scandinavia, for example, it is common to pay even small amounts by card.
  • European Health Insurance Card: With the so-called EHIC, you can also receive treatment in other EU countries in an emergency. It is usually found on the back of the national health insurance card.
  • No roaming charges: In other EU countries, you can use your mobile data as you would at home and at no extra cost. The same applies to calls and text messages. If you are abroad for longer than 4 months, your mobile phone provider may charge fees.
  • No need for a new bank account: Transfers to other EU countries are possible thanks to the SEPA procedure. In third countries, you often have to open an account for a longer stay in order to receive a salary or pay the rent.

Erasmus & Interrail: travelling sustainably through Europe

The Erasmus programme or Erasmus+ is the largest and best-known funding programme for stays abroad in Europe. It is aimed at young people who want to study abroad, complete internships or do voluntary work. In addition to financial support, the programme also focuses on social and cultural sustainability.

Language courses are offered to facilitate integration in the new country. Through networks such as the Erasmus Student Network (ESN), students are supported locally and have the opportunity to take part in numerous events and meet new people.

Information on Erasmus is provided by the European Commission and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), among others.

The Interrail programme offers the opportunity to travel across Europe by train without flying. The ticket at a staggered fixed price is valid for a certain period of time, during which you can travel flexibly in 33 countries. Not only young people, but also adults and senior citizens can use Interrail.

Further tips for environmentally conscious travellers

With these simple tips, you can minimise your ecological footprint and still make the most of your trip:

Save water and plastic: Take a refillable water bottle with you. But be careful: only drink water that is labelled as drinking water. As at home, you can also save water when showering and doing the dishes.

Try typical local food in local restaurants and avoid international chains that you may already know.

Many exciting excursion destinations can be reached on foot or by bike. Sport included!

Avoid places with mass tourism. Locals can name lesser-known places and give insider tips.

Choose souvenirs made by locals or take local specialities such as oils, drinks or long-life food.

After the journey: Integrating sustainability into everyday life

Once you have discovered new tips for a sustainable lifestyle while travelling, you should make a point of applying them at home and integrating them into your everyday life. By passing on your own experiences, others will also benefit and learn about a new culture.

Checklist: How do I recognise sustainable accommodation?
  • Does the hotel / youth hostel / holiday flat have a sustainable seal of approval?
  • Is their food sourced from local suppliers?
  • Is the accommodation perhaps even run by the local community? If so, the income often goes directly to the common good.
  • Do they pay attention to waste avoidance and recycling?
  • Are energy-intensive appliances such as constantly running air conditioning systems avoided?
  • Is camping an alternative option? It is one of the most environmentally friendly accommodation options.

This article is from the 1/2024 issue of the magazine "Life Abroad".

The magazine is published four times a year free of charge with many informative articles on foreign topics.

It is published by the BDAE, the expert for protection abroad.