Another way of traveling that we are experiencing is volunteering.
In exchange of an agreed number of hours worked per week, an accommodation is provided to you. Sometimes, meals as well. Rules can differ depending on the place/host but the idea of “work in exchange of accommodation” is at the core.
Our deal: we would work 20 hours a week in exchange of free accommodation (a tent in the back of the property) and basic breakfast food.
This way of traveling has a lot of advantages:
- Obviously, it helps our budget as we don’t pay for accommodation. We try to be as thrifty as possible since the less money we spend, the longer our travel can be.
- We can finally set camp for a longer period and have time to take our time: at last a day we can spend doing nothing!
- We are part of the community of helpers living temporarily on the property and get to know amazing people from different countries, backgrounds, with different stories and things to share.
- We have the impression to DO something while traveling and not be regular tourists. Our efforts (hopefully) help the family who host us in their management of the farm and property.
- We still have plenty of time to discover Big Island, organize road trips with the other volunteers and enjoy this beautiful place.
Signing up for this type of travel was like an adventure for us and we definitely went out of our comfort zone:
- Working as farmers: hands in the dirt, cutting trees, harvesting peppers and papayas, feeding animals and weeding for hours is quite the opposite of our life in NYC but hey, we wanted a change!
- Living with limited comfort: no hot water for our showers, dishes or laundries, sleeping in a tent for a month in the middle of a papaya trees’ field, being deprived of electricity after 7pm as the place is run by solar energy… but we manage this lifestyle surprisingly well and our adaptation skills are on steroids!
- Changing our food habits: we need to respect the place rules: “No meat, no fish, no eggs, no alcohol”. This one is tough for us, food, wine and cooking lovers! But we manage pretty well by cooking some simple things in our external kitchen without oven and limited fridge service (remember the electricity limit!). We may have eaten some bugs, lost in our plates, but we stay positive: this is the protein we were lacking!
- Depending on hitch-hiking for transportation: Buses run on “island time” and since we are in the middle of nowhere, we go from a point to another by hitch-hiking. Tossed in the trunk of a truck or comfortably sit with A/C, hitch-hiking is always an adventure. We met super nice people during those rides: from Cristy&Jim, a Texan couple who were so kind they invited us for a meal, to Native Hawaiians shedding some light on their culture and hippies in destroyed cars sharing their beer with us, we love these short-lived encounters. Let’s forget selfishness, it is not hard to open your door to others (in every sense of the word), and we made the promise to give back when it’s our turn.
After one month living this life, we are able to draw some conclusions and we really encourage people to try this kind of traveling. If you have time (as it’s usually requested you stay for a couple of weeks, even months at some places) but not a lot of money and you want to be active on your trip, this is definitely for you.
You will be able to meet locals, discover the place at your pace, feel useful and get to know people from every corner of the world.
Some useful websites to find the best opportunity:
HelpX – the one we used. It puts you in contact with hosts all over the world and only costs 20 euros for a 2 years’ membership. It is not restricted to farm jobs, I’ve seen offers for hostels management support, language teaching, cleaning duties…
WorkAway – used by one of the volunteers living with us, we haven’t tried it ourselves.
Wwoof – dedicated to put volunteers and organic farms/growers in touch. We haven’t tried it yet but may when we arrive in Australia.