Since returning from my travels I have discovered a huge difference between traveling and being a tourist. While the latter involves taking a gazillion photos of old buildings, eating too much street food and staying in crummy hostels (after yet another pub crawl). I feel that travelling offers you something much more genuine.
True travel is wandering, and there is nothing like that sense of freedom that comes with wandering. There is no knowing what you will discover, whether about the world or about yourself, and that is exhilarating. One of the highlights is meeting new people. When you are a tourist you live in a tourist-bubble, surrounded by other tourists and apart from the true lifeblood of the community. Well, what better way to connect with the local community, than to work alongside them? After all, work is what everybody, everywhere is engaged in most of the time.
Through a platform called Workaway you can volunteer as a worker in a variety of places such as: farms, retreat centres, guesthouses, animal sanctuaries, hostels, family homes, eco-communities etc. In exchange for work (25 hours a week), you get accommodation, food and the opportunity to make awesome new memories.
My workaway days were filled with the sounds of birds, beautiful vistas and glowing sun. I enjoyed fresh, organic, locally produced and incredibly tasty food. Not to mention a hefty amount of warm homemade cake (Tip: Befriend the grannies!) I have fond memories of orange flames reaching into starry skies, the gentle strumming of a guitar in the background. There were laughs and hugs a-plenty. There were animal-friends from pigs to donkeys. There were moments I’ll never forget; like jumping into a natural swimming pool in my clothes, after a group meditation with a Tibetan monk, prompting everybody to follow! There were tender moments too, fears shared and boundaries crossed. Overall, the experience was totally life-enriching.
Traveling solo was an interesting challenge. I had to learn to rely on myself. I had to book my own transport, figure out my route and make my own schedule, as well as keeping myself safe and well. As somebody who is typically quite lax, it was good for me to grab hold of the steering wheel for once.
Why should you do a work exchange?
Although the work is generally unpaid, there’s still no reason why you cannot list it on your CV. You have gained the skills after all. Many young people these days go through soul-crushing jobs or unpaid internships for the sake of gaining experience. Well, why not gain that experience while having some fun along the way?
Gaining specific skills
Are you interested in learning a specific skill? Do you want to build greenhouses, ride horses or speak french? Think of any skill you wish to learn, guaranteed there is a host out there offering to teach it to you.
Enjoy time away
Thanks to the 25 hours of work per week policy, you are left with lots of free time. You could use this time to meditate and gain inner peace, contemplate big life decisions, explore the local nature, chat with the neighbours or take day-trips to nearby towns. The choice is yours!
Experimenting with different lifestyles
If you are considering pursuing a lifestyle that is somehow alternative, then this is a great way to test the waters. Maybe you are thinking about living in an eco-village, working on an organic farm or sailing the ocean aboard a ship. How will you know it’s for you, if you don’t try it first?
You will come across so many different types of people. Some will be instant best friends, others will be a challenge. Every person you meet has a lesson to teach you. Be open. Be kind.
- Wwoofing: (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) Wwoofing is great for volunteers who are solely interested in working on farms.
- HelpX: A platform very similar to WorkAway
- Impromptu: For the advanced backpacker, it can be fun and exciting to make connections with potential hosts while on-the-go. Whether you meet through hitchhiking, couch surfing, hosteling or just by chance!
- Just turning up: You can always chance your arm by just showing up and asking on the spot if a place will host you. (Hey, it’s free labour for them at the end of the day)
I met one guy who claimed he traveled around Sri Lanka this way!
My final tips for working abroad
As the old saying goes: ‘the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it.’ The more enthusiasm you show your host, the more enthusiasm they will show you. The more you want to learn, the more you will learn!
Before traveling to a new host, always have a plan B. Check out local hostels/guesthouses in the area and be aware of your transport links. The last thing you want is to be stranded in a place where you don’t feel safe.
Keep a friendship notebook
Bring a notebook with you to fill with messages from new friends. It will become a treasured momento, imagine having a little piece of all those who touched your heart, with you forever.
Bring an instrument
I think one of the best ways to connect with others is by playing music together. It doesn’t have to sound good, necessarily. Just making something together is powerful enough to feel connected, and to feel harmony and joy.
Offer your skills
There’s often a variety of work to be done at any given place and your host will be thrilled if you have any special skills you can offer. Website design, cooking and ‘sheer manly strength’ are favourites! (Yes unfortunately there is some gender bias among hosts)
Well, that’s it! I hope I have inspired you to consider work-exchange-travel. Wishing you the best of luck!