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Workaway changed all the expectations I had for travel. I always assumed it to be a luxury for the wealthy and the free, but that never stopped me from planning, saving, and hoping that I would be able to pull off a big trip after Sixth form. I ended up experiencing the most amazing year of my life at 18, without ever actually having a real job.
In all honesty, we do not know why we are here, in this universe. We come up with our own reasons, or follow commonplace practices on how to live our lives, but in reality we don’t even know what the universe is, and why we have consciousness to be able to think about what it is.
What we do know is that in comparison to the lifetime of the universe so far, our lives are incredibly minuscule. I have this mindset that the universe has somehow created consciousness, so that there are beings (us) that can observe it, and try to understand it. The universe is a vast expanse of inanimate matter that we’re only beginning to explain. So what should we do in the short amount of time that we're here? Explore what we CAN know. The earth is a complex, multicultural habitat filled with the most beautiful of concepts capable of our understanding. Nature, science, culture, love, knowledge, and music. The list is endless.
I know I could never be a scientist and fully understand something as complex as the special theory of relativity. So, I'll leave the complex space-time science to future scientists, and use travel to explore the Earth MY way, and soak up as much of the content of this world as I can before I’m no longer able to.
What is Workaway?
Workaway.info is an online international travel website that allows hosts from around the world to invite people to volunteer for them at their home or place of work. The basic principle is that hosts will offer food and lodging in return for 4-5 hours of volunteer work each day, for 5 days a week. There are listings for most, if not all countries in the world, with a whole range of projects to take part in, such as teaching English, writing, farming, partying at a hostel, or even just helping out around the house. There is so much variety that whoever you are and whatever you’re skilled at, you can find something that suits you or develop skills that you never had before.
Once workers have finished volunteering with a host, they can leave a review at the bottom of their page so that other volunteers can know what to expect. The host can also leave a review for the volunteer so that it is more likely that the volunteer will be accepted by other hosts.
Why volunteer with Workaway?
These days, the idea of travelling Europe is saturated with the concept of interrail where you buy a pass to travel around Europe on trains and see each major city within a few days. The idea is more than enticing... a host of glamorous cities, exploring several countries over just a few weeks, scenic train journeys, luxurious meals and nights out with people you meet at hostels. It would be like one lengthy, exciting holiday. However, a holiday is not the most enriching form of travel.
People who interrail usually only go for a few weeks up to a month. Any longer and it can get pretty pricey. One interail pass in itself is expensive, not including food, accommodation, booking prices and all the extra tourist activities you want to be doing during the trip. It also requires a whole lot of pre-planning, without the option of flexibility.
For many people, this is the most ideal option. However, if the idea of immersing yourself into the local cultures of each different country, exploring lesser known destinations for a more lengthy time and cheaper cost, then Workaway is a much better deal.
In my experience, Workaway is a much better deal. It has shown me what a life changing concept travel and volunteering can be. It successfully links spontaneous and mainstream travel, with an off-the-beaten-track lifestyle, whilst allowing you to personally taking part in different cultures, for a lengthy time and at a cheaper cost. This is what makes for a fully authentic traveling experience.
In February 2016, mine and and my girlfriend's trip around Europe began with a simple flight to Basel, where we were already technically in three countries at once! Over 5 months we had managed to make our way across 9 different countries, and 25 different towns and cities, living with and seeing a whole range of fascinating characters and locations. Our money saving tactic, (despite a rocky start flying all the way from the Czech Republic to Turkey) was to travel to the country adjacent to the one we were in. For example, from turkey we caught a ferry to Greece. From Greece we got a coach into Bulgaria. From Bulgaria we caught a train to Romania, and so on. This worked out to be the cheapest and simplest way for us. Sometimes it was hard to arrange Workaway placements in specific countries last minute but mostly, it worked out for the best.
Our experience varied from living in basic (yet comfortable) conditions, such as camping in a yurt or an unrenovated house, to living in fancier homes where we had our own room kitted out with a double bed and furniture. Twice there was even a pool at our disposal. Funnily enough, we noticed that our destinations seemed to run in a pattern of basic to luxurious and we valued this because we were able to appreciate the basic aspects of life much more when, in the next location we could rejuvenate with more home-like facilities. We were also more able to face difficulties as we were used to challenging environments, and it enabled us to fully step into someone else’s livelihood that was completely different to our own.
Because of this, we got to see places that were "off the beaten track," as well as popular destinations that are a must see. For example in Hungary, we visited the all-round loved Budapest, but then camped in the countryside of Kiskunfelegyhaza at a peaceful and remote dog and horse ranch. In Bulgaria, we experienced rural village life, with only 100 occupants, and were lucky enough to be able to see the small but fascinating medieval city, Veliko Tarnovo.
How did I do it?
I don't come from a wealthy background. My family were not able to give me the money for this trip. I worked for it myself when I was young, by cleaning with my mom on weekends, and saving it up in a piggy bank on my window sill that had a little tutu on it. There was something satisfying about seeing the jar fill up and up as the years passed. In later school years and during college, I delivered one paper round every morning and one every week. Of course, the pay was low, but it all added up and with Christmas and birthday money combined, I managed to save up £2,000 by the time I was 18.
I thought that we would be able to last 3 months tops, but I discovered that a lot can be done with just a small amount of money. I did some insane things and met incredible people, all of which I never thought I would be capable of. All my life I have been shy, reserved, and fearful. If I managed to book my flight and first few placements, then anyone can. From that point, courage comes naturally. It really is as easy as just doing it.
So, can you?
The desire to travel is enough to get anybody out there to do it, no matter what your situation is. It's the best way to live and to learn, and it really is as easy as just doing it.
Currently, I’m back to studying at a university in England, where I have this constant ache to be free to jet off and explore the world again. As cliche as the saying is, I've caught the travel bug. I'm planning to share in more detail some of the experiences I've had and the people I've met, so I can try to convince you to get out there too.
Thanks for reading!