I LOVE attending yoga festivals. Festivals like Wanderlust and Bhaktifest provide amazing opportunities to experience the collective loving, healing, and praising energy of fellow yogis for a day or even an extended weekend. These opportunities come infrequently for many of us, but if you’re like me, you might wish they happened every weekend.
Unfortunately, a substantial amount of money is needed to attend most yoga festivals. Many people can only afford one vacation per year (if that), which can make it difficult to attend a yoga festival. But wait; there’s another option! Many festivals need volunteers and will let you exchange work for free attendance. Here's how it works: Usually you have a certain number of volunteer hours to fulfill in order to participate in the festival. Wanderlust, for example, provides volunteers with one free day of yoga and free concert attendance in exchange for working three shifts of four to six hours.
Many people can only afford one vacation per year (if that), which can make it difficult to attend a yoga festival.
But if you have to work for 18 hours of your getaway, is the experience still worthwhile? I have done work-exchange for many different yoga events like Wanderlust festival, Yoga Journal Live, and Bhaktifest. And I’ve spoken with other volunteers and conference attendees, asking the question “Is volunteering worth it?”
Of course, in general, volunteering is a good idea, but we obviously aren't talking about serving food at a soup kitchen here, this is bartering. You get to attend the event at no or very little cost in exchange for your service (some festivals have an application fee, others require a security deposit in case you don’t finish all of your shifts, while others don't cost anything for volunteers).
In addition to volunteering, I have also attended festivals solely as a (paying) participant, so I’ve been on both sides of the fence. Personally, I have to say the grass is greener on the participant side. Many volunteers I've spoken with have come to a similar conclusion, while others really enjoy volunteering and feel that free attendance is great compensation. Let me break it down into the pros and cons.
Pros of Volunteering
First, the obvious: If you’re on a tight budget and you REALLY want to experience a festival like Wanderlust or similar, this may be your only option. It’s definitely better than not attending at all!
If you are interested in working for the festival or the company that hosts the festival, this is a great way to get your foot in the door while simultaneously deciding if the organization is a good fit for you. It’s kind of like noncommittal on-the-job experience. You also have the unique opportunity to impress the people who might be doing the hiring or, at the very least, have an influence on those who will make the decision about whether or not to hire you in the future.
It gives you the opportunity to chat and connect with other volunteers. (In truth, I’ve made a few friends through volunteering, but not many. Remember, you are still working, it’s not a non-stop social hour.)
If your volunteer coordinator is accommodating, you might even be able to attend a class taught by your favorite teacher.
You have the chance to work with the teachers, maybe even some of your favorites! (This can actually range from cool to annoying to disillusioning—like you might find out they aren’t as down to earth as you’d expect). If your volunteer coordinator is accommodating, you might even be able to attend a class taught by your favorite teacher. One year at Wanderlust there was a class I wanted to attend during my shift so I asked the coordinator if I could be there. It worked out, and I was able to participate. It never hurts to ask, and even during the times that I wasn’t able to participate, I was still able to observe and learn.
Cons of Volunteering
For a lot of volunteers, actually getting to the festival requires quite a bit of travel (the closest one to me was a three-hour drive away; the furthest required a flight to L.A., and then a two-plus-hour drive). Add in overnight accommodations and money for meals, and basically what I’m saying is that it’s still going to cost you quite a bit of money. You’re probably looking at spending at least $400 if you’re doing an extended weekend event.
You don’t have the freedom that you’d like to have at a festival. When I attended as a participant I finally realized how nice it was to choose my own schedule, attend whatever classes and events I felt like, play, relax, and skip a class if I needed a break…you get the idea.
If the weather is bad you might have a bad day—a really bad day. As a volunteer, you have to be willing to go with the flow. You might have to stand out in the rain, slosh through the mud, carry chairs around, who knows what else.
You’ll get to watch a lot of people doing yoga, but might not get to participate. A lot of festivals don’t allow you to attend the class if you’re working a room during your shift. Even when I was allowed to participate, I wasn’t able to fully relax and experience the class because I had to watch the door or make sure no one needed me to run an errand, etc. Even on your free day, the classes you want to attend might be full because participants get to register first.
But whether you decide to volunteer or not, most important is your attitude; you’ll get out of it what you put into it.
For a yogi like me, attending a yoga festival is an awesome way to vacation! Personally, I would encourage anyone who wants to attend to set aside their vacation fund for an experience free from the responsibility of volunteering. But whether you decide to volunteer or not, most important is your attitude; you’ll get out of it what you put into it. Whatever route you choose to go, focus on making the most out of your experience; it’ll be rewarding if you allow it to be!