Meet Michael, a sprite young man traveling the world and trading massages for avocados in order to survive.
Meet Marije, a passionate dogsledder who lives in sub-zero conditions with 40 Huskies.
Meet Norbert and Dora, a young couple who gave up their city life to travel the world in an old van.
Meet Graeme and Brenda, a retired couple with young hearts who finally took the leap of faith to follow their dreams.
What do all these people have in common? Well, they all travel the world through volunteer opportunities in exchange for food and board. Read on to see how each of their unique world travels began with a (fairly common) discontent for the blandness of “normal” life.
“He wished he had a leg to break.” We’ve all heard it before: “Break a leg!” Whether it’s going on stage, taking a test, or leaving for a big trip, those words provide a sense of comfort and confidence. For Michael, those words reminded him of his father, who inspired his journey across the world. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="600"] WorkAway[/caption] “My father was an incredible person who had lost his leg in Vietnam. Even after his “disability,” he was a skier, surfer, hostage negotiator, photographer, radio show host, pastor, and overall hard ass. I remember crying after breaking my leg in high school and him telling me he wished he had a leg to break.”
“I bought a one-way ticket…”Michael’s father was adopted from Puerto Rico, and when his brother moved down there to learn about his father’s heritage after his death, Michael decided his life was too short to spend working in a restaurant in Florida. Throughout all the visits to his brother’s new place, Michael discovered his love for South America. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="720"] WorkAway[/caption] “I bought a one-way ticket to Puerto Escondido with a little less than $700 in my pocket after I bought my ticket for my first trip. I was so excited after hearing about WorkAway; I couldn’t stand to work in the restaurant for more than a few weeks after knowing what opportunity was available to me.”
“I had $15 in my bank account…”Unfortunately, his $700 quickly disappeared between all the unexpected ATM fees and conversion rates. He thus found himself in a strange country, a week left in his stay before his next WorkAway, and only $15 (the ATMs would only allow him to take his money out in denominations of $20). [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="720"] WorkAway[/caption] “I had $15 in my bank account after I bought a 17-hour shuttle from Antigua to Leon, Nicaragua that would leave the next night. I remember walking down the streets of Antigua with my small backpack and skateboard remembering something I said to my friends before I started my trip. “’I’d rather be broke in Central America than bored in the US.’ It’s easy to say, but when it actually happens, it’s surreal. All I could do was laugh. It’s a weird feeling when you literally have no money. I didn’t feel scared or upset. I felt…liberated.”
“I used the pocket change to buy a small bag of granola to hold me over for the next 28 hours.”Although he could have easily asked friends or family for some extra money, he was determined to overcome this challenge. After finding a few hostels to host him in exchange for some housekeeping, he felt confident enough to step up his game — he began to offer 15-minute massages in exchange for pocket money or food. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Telegraph[/caption] “One time I did one for a really big avocado. I walked out of that hostel devouring that fatty fruit with no salt or any sort of preparation. I used the pocket change to buy a small bag of granola to hold me over for the next 28 hours until I could make it to my WorkAway host in Poneloya where my meals would be provided. I found it pretty easy for me to pick up work along the way too, so I made some money from giving massages on the beach…6 weeks after I arrived at Poneloya, I was able to pay for my plane ticket home.”
“I arranged a WorkAway in Nicaragua at a surfing lodge…”After catching the severe ‘travel bug,’ Michael had to formulate a balance between working to save money and using that saved money to travel around the world. He found that around 1-2 months of living incredibly frugally while waiting tables could give him a 3-month budget to travel through WorkAway. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="600"] WorkAway[/caption] “I had previously arranged a WorkAway in Nicaragua at a surfing lodge when I was first planning this whole trip. I was mainly helping to coordinate events and occasionally helping out at the bar, as well as doing conservation work to rescue sea turtles. I also landed a perfect deal in Mexico: 3 meals a day and free surfboard rentals on an isolated beach. And they had a massage table so, as someone with a massage therapy background, I could make some extra cash while I was there.”
“We released over 100 sea turtles into the ocean…”One of the most important lessons Michael learned early on while traveling is that the only way to ruin your trip is by planning it to a T. Some of the best adventures he experienced happened when he faced absolute adversity and uncertainty and ended up helping more people (or animals) than he thought he was ever able to. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Pinsta[/caption] “I’d say my biggest achievement was my work helping rescue sea turtles in Nicaragua. My first night there we released over 100 turtles into the ocean! The beaches of Poneloya were a rural area well known among the locals as a place to take turtle eggs from the mother and sell them in the markets. We would buy the eggs off poachers instead in order to save them from the markets. Many people think of poachers as scary heartless people but, in reality, they were regular people in a poor country trying to put beans and rice on the table to feed their families. It was a very strange cycle of business, but it was our way of making a difference.”
Advice from Michael…“If you’re wondering whether or not you should do it, then go for it. You choose the life you live so stop making excuses. It’s easy to save money when you look at what you’re spending. That new iPhone isn’t going to bring you any more happiness; the $400/month car you pay for would only impress people who don’t really matter. People tell me I’m brave when in reality all I did was go online and push a button.” [caption id="attachment_17578" align="aligncenter" width="720"] WorkAway[/caption] “If it’s your first time, search for something you have experience in. If you have a light resume, there’re plenty of places looking for help with tourists. Or try something completely different. It’s like participating in a global job fair in places you’ve only dreamed of. One of my favorite things about WorkAway is the two-way review system. If you’re unsure, find one that a few people have already volunteered in. Some of my favorite WorkAways have been brand new hosts though!”
“For the first time, I wasn’t looking forward to going back.”Meet Marije, an ex-city girl. She lived in Holland for most of her life with the goal of becoming a journalist but had a travel itch that couldn’t be satisfied. With a little nudge at the age of 19, she was inspired to work in Ireland as an au pair for 6 months which began her endless world travels. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="720"] WorkAway[/caption] “When I finished studying, I went to Alaska and Canada for 6 months and became a WorkAway volunteer. In Alaska I worked on different farms; on an alpaca farm in the south and on an oyster farm, living on a float in the remote waters of the southeast. In the Canadian Yukon, I had my first experience with huskies on a sled dog farm. I took care of the Huskies for a month, and I learned sledding with them, which was amazing! “I adored Alaska — that place has everything I love: wildlife, beautiful nature and lots of space. I loved the back-to-basics lifestyle; it suits me very well.”
“I gave up my apartment, sold my belongings, and booked a one-way ticket…”The wild open spaces were exhilarating for Marije, and she couldn’t stand the thought of going back to the city. However, she didn’t want to move too far from her family, so she found a beautiful, open, forest landscape with 40 sled dogs and a very patient man named Stein. “So, I gave up my rental apartment, sold all my belongings and booked a single ticket to Norway. In Norway, I hoped to find similarities to the Alaskan nature and lifestyle. “I wanted a simple life, outdoors. The plan was to stay at the WorkAway husky farm for six months and then find a more ‘regular’ paid job in Norway to be able to stay there long term.”
“You don’t need much else in life…”When the nearest farm is a little under 2 km away from your farm, you would think you’d start to feel a little isolated. But Marije? Well, since she had 40 huskies bonded to her, she never really felt alone — and if you’ve ever met a Husky, you know how clingy they can be. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="720"] WorkAway[/caption] “If you really love this work as I do, you don’t need much else in life than just being with the dogs all day long. It can be hard physical work sometimes, but for me, it doesn’t even feel like work. When you live with these huskies 24/7, you form a great bond with them. “So after 6 months, by the time I was about to leave, the dogs had become my passion, the people around me felt like family and the farm was my home — I didn’t feel like leaving yet.”
“The ice broke underneath me…”When Marije’s fears came to life, she was scared and shocked, but confident that her training had prepared her for it. Unfortunately, she wasn’t as prepared as she would’ve preferred to be. She recounts a certain journey over a local frozen river where one of her worst nightmares came true. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="720"] WorkAway[/caption] “Dogsledding is not a sport without risks. Things can go wrong and then it is not a joke to be in the cold, far away from home: the weather can get worse, dogs can become aggressive towards each other, and you can find yourself stuck or lost. “Once I crossed a small river with my dog team, the ice broke from underneath me, and I ended up in icy water up to my knees! My boots were full of water, and it was, of course, extremely cold. Luckily, I was with my experienced host who comforted me. But I still had to sled back for more than 2 hours without any dry clothes with me. My feet were freezing so that I couldn’t feel them anymore.”
“It felt like I was leaving home…”Getting to know Stein was one of her favorite parts of living in Norway with the dog sled team. With the knowledge he shared and the stories he told, it was always a new and exciting day for Marije, which is why she has chosen this place to be her home for 2 years and running. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="720"] WorkAway[/caption] “The last time I left Norway to go back to Holland, it felt like I was leaving home instead of going home. I enjoy living in Norway, and I’m pretty sure that my future is there. There isn’t a huge cultural difference between Holland, but Norway has space and breathtaking nature. I also love to have mountains nearby, and in general, I love the outdoor lifestyle here.”
Advice from Marije…“Some people say to me I am lucky to live this life the way I do like it’s something that happened to me. I do feel lucky to live my life this way, but I like to emphasize that it’s all about the choices I make. I am not what happened to me; I am what I choose to become. [caption id="attachment_17542" align="aligncenter" width="720"] WorkAway[/caption] “Life is not about expecting, hoping and wishing, it’s about doing, being and becoming.” Marije took a leap of faith to follow her dream and find her passion based on a craving, a desire, and a breath of fresh air.
“It’s now or never.”Norbert and Dora were an artistic, architect-journalist couple who felt suffocated in the city and pressured by their dreams. They had spent a good amount of time in Hungary, where they lived, dreaming of traveling the world but scared to take the risk. So, they bought a van, built it up over a period of 4.5 months to suit their living needs, and set off for the open road. [caption id="attachment_17573" align="aligncenter" width="720"] WorkAway[/caption] “Since we were teenagers, we both had this calling to experience what it’s like to have a free, independent, and long-term trip somewhere far. We’ve been on a few shorter adventures before; we hitchhiked a lot with our backpacks and camping gear. “After going on these trips, we wanted to take traveling more seriously. So we thought ‘it’s now or never.’ The timing will never be better, as we are young, we are not in debt, we don’t have children or any other serious commitments, and we do have the resources — both financially and mentally.”
“We named her ‘Debella…’”This type of travel is most appealing to young people with independent mindsets, but it comes with its challenges, as they will soon see. However, experiencing the renaissance of traveling open roads and going days or weeks without a true shower has no competition for this couple. Actually, it has made their bond even stronger. [caption id="attachment_17567" align="aligncenter" width="720"] RunDebella[/caption] “As we have built the van — we named her ‘Debella’— ourselves, we made a great connection to it, the kind of relationship a captain has for his ship. Norbi is an architect, so we were confident that we would be able to do it. “Actually, the process was almost as fun — and of course really hard work, but so is traveling — as the trip itself!”
“A lot of these situations involved animals…”Some of the challenges they faced were near and dear to their hearts, especially since not many couples experience them in this capacity. However, even with their struggles, this van life they embarked on was incredibly easy on their wallets, comfortable, and, most importantly, it satisfied their need for independence and adventure. [caption id="attachment_17571" align="aligncenter" width="720"] RunDebella[/caption] “You’ll find yourself in situations that you never imagined you’d be in and are hard to believe. For us a lot of these situations involved animals: imagine opening your window blinds in the morning and being faced with camels peeking inside your van! “Or finding peacocks picking at their food just next to where you park, curious goats and ponies trying to get in while you’re making tea…”
“We got to know all of these people with very different ideas about life…”Norbert and Dora both grew up in large cities, but they were cursed (or blessed) with an insatiable curiosity for other ways of living. When they found their opportunity with the van, they didn’t just want to travel and experience life for themselves — they wanted to learn from locals. By volunteering and building these relationships in simple, remote villages, they were able to experience more than they bargained for. [caption id="attachment_17574" align="aligncenter" width="720"] WorkAway[/caption] “We picked olives in Tuscany, learned about permaculture gardening, worked with horses, and lived in dome houses on an eco-farm near Tarifa, Spain, did some construction work in the middle of nowhere in the Sierra Nevada, had an amazing time in a sculpture garden in Spain and enjoyed the warm friendliness of the people in Morocco. “Most importantly, we got to know all of these people with very different ideas about life. It was an amazing experience to learn from them first-hand.”
“Yes, it’s impossible…”Personally, one of my least favorite questions after any sort of travel is, “What was your favorite part?” Well, can I say the whole trip was my favorite? For Norbert and Dora, this was also a struggle to answer. Not only do they favor the most exciting and unique parts of their trip, but they also savor the hardest struggles they encountered since it allowed them to grow as a couple. [caption id="attachment_17570" align="aligncenter" width="720"] WorkAway[/caption] “Yes, it’s impossible to highlight only one thing! Some moments that come to mind are our engagement in Morocco, hiking in the Atlas mountains for three days straight, surfing in the Spanish oceans, attending our friends’ secret seaside wedding, and all of our cultural exchanges through our WorkAway volunteering.”
“[It] inspired us to buy a little plot of land…”As they moved from location to location, they were able to stack on the passions, interests, education, and desires they gained in each place. In some of their stops, they lived like kings. In others, they lived in very simple circumstances. In every spot on the spectrum, however, they received the utmost kindness and care from their hosts, no matter how much money they had. [caption id="attachment_17569" align="aligncenter" width="720"] WorkAway[/caption] “On our Workaway experience in Spain — which was in the middle of nowhere — inspired us to buy a little plot of land one day. We would like to live a self-sustainable life and be in a place where you can hide from the world. In the Sierra Nevada, we learned a lot about permaculture and sustainability, and we would like to use this knowledge later. “We were also hosted by a successful artist couple; staying with them enabled us to enter into deeper layers of the art world, and they brought us to special events we would have never been able to attend if it wasn’t for them.”
“It really happens inside your head…”We can all agree that money is important (I mean, how else did Norbert and Dora get their van?), but what’s more important is what one does with the money they have. One lesson this couple learned was that there’s a greater value placed on the love and care you freely give to others, and the small (sometimes non-material) gifts they give you. After all, they can’t store much in their on-the-go home. “Volunteering and traveling really makes you realize that there are so many good-hearted and helpful people everywhere. With so many dark stories on the news these days, it is an amazing counterweight to see that basically, people are good. “Travelling is also a very good self-exploration process. We learned that being complete and happy doesn’t only have to do with where you go or live: it really happens inside your head. And one more important lesson is that less is more – you really can be happy without many material things.”
“Our next destination is…”If you’re hoping world travel is a one-and-done experience, I have bad news for you — it’s not. From the experiences to the struggles to the lessons to the people, it becomes more than a hobby. A lifestyle of travel is a lifestyle of learning, growing, and opening up to every possibility, which is why this couple decided not only to keep going but also to open up their own host farm one day. [caption id="attachment_17566" align="aligncenter" width="720"] RunDebella[/caption] “After our long trip, we would like to settle down for a bit and create something. Norbi wants to design furniture, Dóri is planning to continue working in journalism and who knows, maybe we will write a book about our trip! “We really would like to have a little piece of land where we can create our own paradise and try the WorkAway experience as hosts! As we are both travel addicts, we don’t want to completely stop our journey: our next destination is Slovakia, where we want to climb the Tatra Mountains.”
Advice from Norbert and Dora…“For us, building our own van was an amazing experience, so if you have the chance, do it. You’ll develop a deeper connection with your future home, and when it’s finished, you can use spaces and functions that you created with your own hands. Another piece of advice would be to be very persistent. [caption id="attachment_17580" align="aligncenter" width="720"] RunDebella[/caption] Living this sort of life doesn’t just mean having beautiful freedom, you’ll have to deal with some difficult and stressful moments as well. Changing locations all the time, and getting acclimated to your new surroundings takes up more mental energy than staying in one place, especially if you live in the van and you have to rely on yourself all the time. But it’s worth every moment of it!!”
“It was like the traveler’s bible…”Seeing all these young, sprite, beautiful people on social media traveling the world seems like it would inspire but often it discourages. After all, if you don’t have a thin body, long luscious hair, or an unbelievably large travel budget, then why waste your time going after your dream of exploring the world? Well, Graeme and Brenda, a retired couple in their 50’s, challenged those intrusive thoughts and have been traveling non-stop for over a year. [caption id="attachment_17551" align="aligncenter" width="720"] WorkAway[/caption] “We found out by searching on the internet for possible volunteer options. WorkAway kept popping up in various books about long-term travel — it seems it was like the traveler’s bible, so we knew we had to get involved!” “We’ve been Workawayers in 4 different countries so far; first in France, then we went to Greece, Bulgaria, and Hungary. We mostly helped out 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.”
“We were usually the eldest…”As an older couple, you’d also assume Graeme and Brenda had a difficult time finding work since most hosts ask for able people to do hard, manual labor. Lucky for them, though, they were just what many of them needed — experienced, trustworthy and interesting volunteers who were passionate about their work. [caption id="attachment_17554" align="aligncenter" width="720"] WorkAway[/caption] “We felt 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 and never felt left out, even though we usually were the eldest ones in there. “We’ve spent some great evenings having a beer or two in the common rooms with people of different nationalities and age groups.”
“We’ve had to turn down at least 10 offers…”But, what makes them even more unique is how they inspired their own son to travel, himself. He has lived in New Zealand, Asia, and is currently working in Australia. This outgoing family has a true passion for spending time in local communities and getting involved in their day-to-day lives. After all, they’ve already lived quite a bit of their own lives already. [caption id="attachment_17555" align="aligncenter" width="720"] WorkAway[/caption] “Yes, most of the hosts we’ve stayed with were our age or a bit younger; maybe that’s why we ended up together. Half of the hosts that we stayed with actually invited us, so it was probably our age and experience they were looking for. We’ve had to turn down at least 10 offers of WorkAway in Europe just because of time limitations. As we’re fairly outgoing, we also enjoyed staying in hostels: it’s a great way to meet people as well.”
“Food and board are pretty much covered…”The hardest part of this new lifestyle they embarked on was learning to not plan every detail. They discovered that with a little patience and open-mindedness, they can enjoy their time even more (or less) wherever they please, especially since they always like to enjoy and explore the local towns, sights, and villages. [caption id="attachment_17553" align="aligncenter" width="720"] WorkAway[/caption] “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. “At the moment we’re in India — we’ll be staying for 3 months, and we’re looking for potential hosts for a week or two. It’s WorkAway that’s allowed us to keep the trip going because when we’re staying with hosts, the two major outlays — food and board — are pretty much covered.”
Advice from Graeme and BrendaTaking such big risks at this age seems, well, too risky for most people. But just like Norbert and Dora, “If not now, then when?” Their advice for travel should not be limited to just travel, however, as we can see how helpful it would be in other aspects of life. Whether it’s traveling an hour or 17 hours, whether it’s a job promotion or a job change, whether it’s starting a life or ending a chapter —“it’s the things you don’t do… that you sometimes regret.” [caption id="attachment_17557" align="aligncenter" width="720"] WorkAway[/caption] “Well, we felt 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 traveling for about a year before we realized 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.”
How to know if it’s the right time to travel…Many people love the idea of traveling but hate the idea of giving up the money, the time, or the previous commitments in order to do so. If you read this and you happen to be considering taking up this lifestyle (even for a month or two), it’s important to run a few thoughts through your head first, to ensure you aren’t risking too much. [caption id="attachment_17552" align="aligncenter" width="600"] WorkAway[/caption] Do you have commitments like kids, animals, rent, or career contracts? Do you have the proper funds (food, travel, emergency flights, medicine, unexpected costs, etc.)? Are you mentally and emotionally open to witnessing the worst of the worst, and the best of the best, without being prepared? Are you willing to learn, grow, and overcome?
How to find the right place for you…If you’re considering using WorkAway to travel (there are many other sites like WWOOF or HelpX), make sure you plan well in advance. If you make a profile up to 6 months before you plan on traveling, you have better chances of getting offers from hosts who would like you to volunteer with them. [caption id="attachment_17556" align="aligncenter" width="720"] WorkAway[/caption] If you want to choose your own places to volunteer, you will have plenty of time to research, read reviews, and talk with potential hosts to find the right times, places, and environments for your needs. Although it’s nice to relax and not plan much while traveling, you still have to plan to live that lifestyle and make arrangements to ensure you don’t end up homeless.
If you feel like travel isn’t in your budget…You have 2 options, realistically. The first is to work a job (any job) to save up enough money to quit said job and then travel the world. It is a lot easier than you would think, and we happen to have a very handy guide for you to help you do exactly that. [caption id="attachment_17595" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Star2[/caption] If you are already retired, there are plenty of deals on travel, hotels, flights, and cruise ships for seniors over 55 years old. Still in school? There are plenty of study abroad opportunities that provide huge grants and scholarships for apartments, travel, flights, and classes.]]>
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