Want to do something different with your free time? Then how about working your way around the world in exchange for food and board? Check this out.
We live in the era of peer-to-peer exchanges. The internet has allowed us to share our houses, our cars, our caravans, our car parking spaces…You name it, we can share it.
With this new peer-to-peer economy, now, you can travel almost for free, by swapping food and accommodation for work. One website that is well known is Workaway.info. But there are many others too. Every one of these sites allows you to organise an amazing adventure from your computer…and all on a shoestring budget! Most charge under $100 for a year’s membership.
Each site is slightly different. If you join Workaway.info, then generally you will be expected to help around 5 hours per day in exchange for food and accommodation. And there are opportunities in 170 different countries, so the amount of adventures to be had are potentially endless. Some Workaway seniors share their stories with us below.
SUE AND ADRIAN: TRAVEL THE WORLD
Our personal quote is: “Making a big life change is scary. But do you know what’s even scarier? Regret.” Our first placement was at a place called Huayacocotla in Mexico – we stayed there for just over three weeks. My work included sanding, varnishing a chest of drawers, altering some support legs for a raised vegetable garden, cleaning off the old paint and re-painting a 300-year-old chapel.
I trimmed some of the topiary animals in the garden, a little bit of cooking in the house – I introduced the hosts to my egg muffins! Luckily, they really liked them!
We first heard about Workaway after reading a magazine article. It was written by a well-known presenter. She was asked how she spent the winter months…One of the things she wrote was that she often logged onto the Workaway website and dreamed of warmer countries, working with local people and learning more about their culture and customs. Intrigued, I had a look at the website.
We knew we wanted to visit Mexico for three months, so this seemed an ideal scenario for us! We have visited Mexico for many years (we even married in Mexico City six years ago!) but wanted to have a closer look and better understanding of the Mexican way of life. It is fine travelling to a country, but to understand the people’s everyday lives should be an important factor too.
We have visited many different parts of the world – Sri Lanka, India, South Africa, USA and many parts of Europe. Yes, you can meet local people…. On buses, restaurants, sitting in a city park but these are fleeting moments, hours – if you’re lucky like us, be invited into someone’s home for a meal. But these are still short-lived moments (by the way, we are still in touch with the Iranian family we met in Istanbul who invited us for a meal). With Workaway, you get time to build a new relationship in a natural and free manner as you get to know your hosts. If you are lucky, (as we were) your host will show you things in the local area that tourists/travellers will never see.
We did not miss anything back home…With the exception of missing our grandchildren occasionally (we missed our granddaughters first birthday – oops!) but that was alleviated by the use of FaceTime and Skype twice a week. Our hosts helped me enormously with my Spanish language – which raised my confidence as we continued to travel through Mexico. But it takes a while. One day at the beach, instead of asking for coconut ice-cream, I asked for cocaine.
Our advice would be to give the best of yourself (you are representing your country), and enjoy it. Many people “wish” to do this but don’t. If you are lucky enough to be trusted by a complete stranger in their home, don’t ruin it for others.
Also, be open and honest with your host – they are not mind readers! Get to know your host – it’s not a one-way exchange. They are interested in you, your country, your experiences! And if you’re lucky like us, your host may just become your newest friend for life. Last but not least, laugh and smile! We are currently travelling south through Mexico. A lot of places were suggested by our host but we also had an idea of where we wanted to go. Our timescales have changed frequently. If we enjoy a place, like, for example, Campeche, we lingered a little longer. Our only fixed date is the dreaded flight home – 9th June.
On this trip we have visited Mexico City, Monarch Butterfly reserve (Cerro Pelon), Huaya (as locals call it!) Papantla, El Tajin, Tecolutla, Xalapa, Villahermosa, Campeche (our recommendation here is to visit Edzná!). We stayed in Mérida for two weeks with our host’s daughter and family for a few days. We hope to go on to Chetumul, Tikal in Guatamala, Oaxaca, and Mexico City. And then home! Boo! We plan to do Workaway again in two years’ time when we go to India for four months.
GRAEME AND BRENDA: TRAVEL THE WORLD
It’s never too late to pursue your dreams of travelling the world. As of February 2017, we’ve visited 19 countries – we’ve been Workawayers in four. First in France, then we went to Greece, Bulgaria and Hungary. We mostly helped with gardening and garden maintenance, which can involve some heavy lifting and DIY tasks such as painting and putting shelves up. We also cleaned, fed horses and walked dogs.
The best thing about travelling this way is definitely the host families we’ve met. And, the places that we would never have even visited if it hadn’t been for Workaway. Spending time in local communities and being involved in the day-today lives of some amazing people was far more rewarding for us than just visiting the obvious tourist places. We’ve stayed in tiny villages with people trying to live a simple self-sustainable lifestyle. We’ve also stayed at a 500-year-old chateau in France, plus everything in between.
We feel we had a lot to offer to potential hosts. Having owned our own houses, we’ve gained a lot of experience renovating and maintaining homes over the years. Other than that, we’ve mainly stayed in hostels. We never felt left out, even though we usually were the oldest there. We’ve spent some great evenings having a beer or two in the common rooms with people of different nationalities and age groups.
Most of the hosts we’ve stayed with were our age or a bit younger. Half of the hosts that we stayed with invited us, so it was probably our age and experience they were looking for. We’ve had to turn down at least 10 offers in Europe just because of time limitations.
It’s not always the things in life that you do that you sometimes regret, it’s the things that you don’t do. If there’s something that you really want to do, just take a chance! You can always go home if it doesn’t work out. It was a bit scary thinking about it and we talked about travelling for about a year before we realised that the only thing stopping us, was us. We’re planning on staying on the road for another 6 months or so and then see where life takes us.
We decided not to plan more than 2 or 3 weeks in advance to give us the freedom to go where we felt like going at any particular time. We always have a rough idea where we’ll be going next, but we decided not to fix any dates, so we can just go with the flow and never feel pressured to leave or stay. Workaway allows us to keep the trip going, because when we’re staying with hosts, the two major outlays — food and board — are pretty much covered. We still do go sightseeing and explore local towns and villages when we are staying with hosts families, though!
SINGLE TRAVELLER DANIEL
After 52 years of employment and family life, I decided to sell my house, my car and all my possessions. I wanted to fulfill my dream of travelling the world. Nowadays my sole possessions are in my backpack.
I hadn’t originally planned on going to Africa, but then I came across so many other travellers who had such positive experiences there. Quite often, I was intrigued to find out for myself and it has been fantastic so far. Even though I have always wanted to travel, but in my 20s I was busy starting a family and career. Once you embark on that path, it is hard to get off. Not travelling is one thing I had always regretted.
I don’t plan very much at all when I travel. Sometimes I have a vague idea of places that I want to go to, but sometimes I don’t decide until 24 hours before! I go wherever the wind takes me. I love being free. My relationship with time has totally changed, and yet it is hard to get used to having that freedom too. My attitude towards consuming, possessions and money in general is now totally different. I used to earn a decent amount and saw myself as a big spender. I was caught up with the importance of having stuff, a nice house and car. That became a focus, but now I see that I don’t need any of that to be happy. Now everything I own is in my backpack, I can’t buy more stuff because it just won’t fit, not even an extra book!
My attitude towards other people has changed too. I am more open and trusting, I used to be more reserved especially when meeting new people. I have developed more faith in humanity.
When I retired I saw it as a unique opportunity. If I didn’t head off now when would I do it? I have seen people of my generation and older who had accumulated wealth and possessions. But when they retired, they didn’t know how to be happy with what they had. They had no plans, no projects, just a bank account. I saw some of them age and become ill. With my children and grandchildren settled, my partner and I made the decision to live our dream and travel the world. The plan to travel with my partner didn’t work out. We separated, and that’s when I came across Workaway.
Being a Workawayer is a totally different experience, a different way to travel. You enter other people’s lives, share their world – exchange knowledge and ideas. I would never go back to tourism, I would get bored after 2 days.
I have been travelling and workawaying for 2 years and I never get bored. Workawaying gives you the initial contact with someone who lives locally, and this often leads to other opportunities. I have had offers of lifts to new destinations and even invited to be interviewed by a local newspaper. My life now unfolds in this way and it is truly fantastic. I think Workaway is such a great initiative.
Without a doubt, this is my way of life now and I’m going to continue as long as I can, another 10 years, 20 years, even to 100. I would if I could that’s for sure!
Totally, I am learning all the time, from everyone I meet, regardless of their age. Last week I spent time at a school in Kenya. The kids ranging from 10-14 years old taught me that the secret to being happy does not depend on what you have, as they have so little. What they do have is a sense of community and shared experiences.
I earned quite a lot during my working life…but I have spent it all! However, I have my pension. It is not a large amount, but it’s an income which allows me to keep travelling extensively, as does Workaway. I tend to choose destinations which have a lower cost of living, so that I can get by. Workaway is also useful for visiting places which would be outside my budget, as I can save on accommodation costs.
My motto is…“Happiness is NOW!”
SINGLE TRAVELLER GISELA
At the moment I am based just north of Medellín, Colombia. I am loving it. The weather’s just absolutely gorgeous. It’s just like eternal spring – blue sky and sunshine every day. It rains at night and in the morning, so it is so fresh and crisp. I have been based at this current place for two weeks. I am house sitting at the moment, looking after a gorgeous place with five dogs.
I choose all my Workaway experiences with things that really interest me. I go for something that I specifically want to learn. A highlight was in the Caribbean on the little island of Grenada on a cocoa farm. During my three-month stay, I learned every single step of the chocolate production. This is from growing the cocoa beans to harvesting to fermenting to roasting them. Everything! They called it tree-to-bar. It was totally amazing!
They were all masters in their field which I loved. I have been working with chocolate for quite a few years in my career as a vegan chef. So I really wanted to learn how to grow it. The most amazing part was that when I arrived, the owner of the farm said, “While you are here, you can eat as much chocolate as you want.”
It was really good quality dark chocolate, so you only needed a little. You wouldn’t eat a whole bar, but I ate a piece every day and fresh cocoa beans as well. Another highlight with Workaway was an assistant to a travel guide who was leading a crew from Europe. I would help with translating at the borders etc. This was such an amazing experience as well.
I also choose places where I can learn something about either food, medicine or herbs. There are so many possibilities, I could just go on and on for years!
Next on my wish list is to learn how to build a tiny home. There is actually a host on the Workaway website that offers that. He is in New Zealand, but unfortunately, New Zealand is off-limits at the moment.
I entered Colombia in mid-February, and then in mid-March, the lockdown started. It’s been months, but I have stayed at Workaway places the entire time, so I was lucky as I was out in the middle of nowhere in nature. I was not locked into an apartment or a big city like Bogota.
Travelling as a single female has been fine. What I always do if I go to a new country is to ask the locals. They always tell you what you’re not supposed to do – and then I just don’t do it!
To start this kind of lifestyle, pick something that you really like and maybe don’t commit for that long. Just do a couple of weeks to see how it goes. It’s not for everybody, but if you open up, there’s just so much to be learned – all around the world! There are so many amazing places and amazing people doing amazing work. The possibilities are never ending.
If you think this might appeal to you, log onto the workaway.info website for further reading. There are other peer-to-peer sharing platforms. You can try Helpx.net, WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) at TRAVEL THE WORLD FOR FREE (ALMOST!). There’s also WorldPackers.com. If you go on an adventure, be sure to let us know, we want to hear about it! ■
Editor for Silver Magazine Gold Coast