KeyBoots.com helps young travelers extend their stay when they’re short on cash
“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see,” the British pundit G.K. Chesterton once wrote.
One of the marvelous rites of passage in Israeli culture is the trek abroad. Every year, 30,000-40,000 young people, recently discharged from the army, travel to Asia, South America and elsewhere for stays of six months or longer. While there, they partake in a unique communal backpacker culture: where travelers form fast friendships, travel spontaneously and exchange lore through word of mouth.
KeyBoots.com founder Kobi Bodek was one such traveler. In 2013, during a stay in Thailand, he noticed backpackers from Western countries who would stay on a particularly beautiful island for several months at a time. They would bankroll their stay by working at local businesses in exchange for room, board and pocket money.
The concept reminded Bodek of the kibbutz volunteer system in his own country. The idea for KeyBoots was born.
“Instead of walking into a hostel, and asking the other backpackers if they have heard of work opportunities, you can find them online,” Bodek told Geektime.
KeyBoots is a social web platform for travelers who are looking for a place to stay and work or volunteer. The site has a wide variety of jobs, everything from organic farming and fruit picking to bartending and domestic jobs. The platform is used to find temporary jobs by travelers and locals, such as students on holiday. Those providing the jobs also sometimes provide food, lodging, and in some cases even spending money in exchange for the work.
The site is divided into “keys” – local businesses around the world (farms, hostels, restaurants, bars etc.) that need immediate, available labor. – and “boots,” travelers, mostly young, looking for work/volunteer opportunities.
Keys and Boots have profiles on the site and can message each other, as well as see photos and reviews.
It turns out that other countries besides Israel have a tradition of volunteer work in exchange for accommodations. In Australia, there are many farm work opportunities available for backpackers. There are about 30 countries where such barters are enshrined in law.
Most of the “boots” on the site are aged 18-30, “but we have a special niche for pensioners. There are some jobs that are good for them, like answering telephones in a hostel.”
“One farm is Australia was looking for a volunteer with technological skills to develop their web site.”
But how can you know if the person you’re about to move in with for the next several months is legit? Especially for female travelers, how can they know they’re not expected to provide “fringe benefits,” so to speak?
Bodek says that he does a basic background check into keys, Googling them and checking a few facts online, “but no, we don’t physically go out and check them.” The boots receive no vetting at all.
Bodek compares his site to couchsurfing.org. “No one checks all the [people offering] couches. But it still works because of the social component. Airbnb is similar. The social component takes care of that. You can see people’s profiles, their photos and videos, and they write about themselves. You probably want to speak with them beforehand, meet in a public place.”
Bodek is right. The vast majority of couchsurfing experiences are positive, although there have been exceptions. Perhaps this is because of the special culture of camaraderie that exists among young backpackers, or perhaps users of sharing economy web sites like couchsurfing.org and KeyBoots are prudent enough to do their own due diligence.
Bodek also points out that in the past, work opportunities spread through word of mouth at youth hostels, which wasn’t any safer.
“We offer a platform with a lot of added features.”
So far the web site has 50 keys and more than 300 boots all over the world, and they are about to launch their third version in the coming month.
KeyBoots’ closest competitor may be WWoof.net, which places volunteers on organic farms worldwide.
“But we give people other options, like working in hostels or even ice cream shops.”
So far, the KeyBoots team consists of Bodek, his brother and a CTO. Its business plan is to charge boots “a small fee” for a premium membership. In 2015, the company plans to launch mobile apps for iOS, android and Windows phones.
“Our slogan — don’t just visit, live it – summarizes everything,” said Bodek. You don’t just see a place, you can really live as a local.”