Last year, I decided it was time to try an unfamiliar way of travelling. Something that I hadn’t tried before, something that pushed me out of my comfort zone.
I decided to try Workaway.
Workaway is a travel concept focusing on cultural exchanges through work and volunteering, not dissimilar to Help Exchange and WWOOF. The idea is to get you connected to locals who would host you at their homes, farms or even B&Bs in exchange for a few hours of work daily.
I was lucky enough to have two hosts take me in on rather short notice while I was in England – Gaura in multi-cultural Leicester, and Helen and Tom in the spirited town of Frome.
I had never been to either places and I wasn’t even planning to, but the travelling Gods had a way of making things work for me and it ended up being the best decision ever. Synchronicity aside, my Workaway adventures became one of my favourite parts of travelling solo.
So, just what did I do and experience? And more importantly, what did I get out of this “unfamiliar way of travelling” thingamabob?
Learning To Work with Nature
Both Workaways allowed me to work with the earth – shovelling, weeding, clearing, plucking, killing little baby beetroots by mistake. Worry not, they survived.
I think. I hope.
It was always startling to find strange worms and insects scurrying about every time I had to displace a rock or two (pretty sure there were more than two!); creatures that disappeared into the earth twice as quickly as they were found.
I discovered I had a knack for clearing out gardens too and making sure all displaced rocks found its way around plants that needed all the help they could get to stand tall and proud – the notorious English winds can be pretty unforgiving.
I grew up in a small town, playing outside and falling down in every way possible. I was much closer to the earth (literally, at times!) and my surroundings then. This changed once I started working, stuck in a cubicle behind a computer hell-bent on ruining my sanity.
Coming back to nature after so long made me realise how much I actually missed being outdoors.
A Compost Heap Is Scary
I’ve never tended to an organic garden before, let alone moving a heap of compost from one place to another. It was certainly an experience that cured me of my squeamishness in regards to earthworms, maggots and caterpillars (still not a fave).
What seemed like an endless array of mangled weeds, rotten food, crawling insects and putrid stench ended up producing the most fertile and nutrient-rich soil you could find.
All that work another Workawayer and I put into moving it felt rewarding knowing that we’ve left behind a new batch of miracle soil just waiting for its next batch of seedlings. Nature certainly works in wondrous ways!
Creating Meals Out of Garden Goodies
Every time we were wondering what to have for lunch or dinner, we would look at the garden and pick up what we fancy for the day – beetroots, carrots, potatoes, cabbages, rhubarbs, raspberries.
And luckily for me, I had a host who loved sharing his methods of cooking up various vegan fare with all those fantastic, organic produce – berries and rhubarbs were turned into delicious jams, beetroots and carrots shredded into refreshing salads and rosemary tossed into homemade bread.
All I know is carrot juice will never taste so sweet ever again. Absolute bliss!
Organic Gardens Are Hard Work
The next time I complain about how pricey organic food is, I will think about how much work actually goes into producing all that natural goodness. There is constant work to do, plans to make and fickle weather to contend with.
The maintenance of the garden is just as important as what you plant and harvest. Only then can you ensure a bumper crop of vegetables and fruits, free from pesticides and unnecessary chemicals.
After my short two-week experience, I have newfound respect for organic farmers and have now vowed to eat my organic carrots in quiet enjoyment and reverence.
The Importance of Solitude
After all that work for the day, it would be easy to stay put in the nice, cosy room provided and rest up. I found that pushing myself to head out and seek some alone time (away from my creepy-crawly garden friends) was the best way to relax and get to know my new surroundings better.
I discovered little coffee shops, made friends with a barista who just turned vegan, had lovely walks by the river, bought delicious homemade bread from a small food market, carted away a big bowl of bananas for only 50p, chatted with locals who were waiting for their buses, gasped in horror at the fact that I missed Tom Hiddleston’s play the day before *sad face* and generally getting hopelessly lost.
It was, simply put, a most magical time.
Getting To Know The Locals
The greatest part of my Workaway experience will undoubtedly be my hosts. They were gracious, welcoming, trusting, curious and ever ready to talk about life in their neighbourhood and beyond, why the politics of the country is what it is, how London is strictly a place to visit once in a blue moon, the best cafe to try out and much more.
They were equally interested in Malaysia and how things are for me back home. I do hope I’ve done my country justice and not scared them off by tales of political drama and apocalyptic haze. Maybe some pictures of cute local animals and majestic islands would have been a better idea. Oh dear.
Anyway, my Workaway experience of all 24 days allowed me to open myself up to moments, things and people that I would have, otherwise, never discovered. I simply allowed for serendipity to take its course and connect me with two lovely hosts.
To think that I learned as much as I did in this short amount of time, in the most unlikeliest of places is proof that the world of travel can still throw us a few surprises every now and then.
Ultimately, it is up to us to rise up to its call of adventure.
Here’s how to make Workaway work for you:
- Head to workaway.info
- Create an account by paying US$29 (individual) or US$38 (couple) per year.
- Create a kickass profile – use a nice photo, a good write-up of yourself and your experiences. A little effort goes a long way!
- Search the extensive database of hosts from around the world and start contacting them. You may or may not get a response immediately, but just stick with it. Some may even ask to Skype with you if there’s a chance you’ll be coming over soon.
- Allow for some change in plans when trying this out, i.e. be flexible.
- Have a brilliant adventure!