If you can’t think of anything worse than working during your travels, head right over here and look at something pretty but if you’re even a little bit curious about the merits of working while you travel, this is for you. In my first post about alternative travel, I explained what a work exchange is. Here are some good reasons you should do one. Not all of these will always apply (and it’s imperative you do your research so you know the type of arrangement you’re getting yourself into) but it’s likely a large chunk will.
This is the obvious reason to do a work exchange. Living expenses are often first thing to add up on the road and a work exchange takes care of food and accommodation so you spend your money on the simpler things - a bus into town, a cold beer, a cannoli. Since many work exchanges are in remote regions, there also isn’t much to spend your money on.
Not spending much money allows you to travel slowly and spend more time on the road.
I spent maybe 400 euros the entire time I was in Italy and most of that was spent on high speed trains, museums (Musei Vaticani, Uffizi gallery), Aperol spritzes and pizza-by-weight while I explored the main centers in the days between farms.
Have a unique cultural and personal experience:
If you’re keen on travelling off the beaten track or enjoying a cultural experience generally not marketed to tourists, a work exchange is the ideal way to do so. Also travelling slowly helps you explore a place in depth and get to know it and its people better.
Living with or around people is also a sure shot way to experience life in their shoes and understand them better. Get acquainted with their lifestyles, learn about their habits, eat their food, get involved with their community, and gain a new perspective. It might give you a newfound appreciation for your own life.
Make a difference:
Many work exchanges are in rural areas, on farms or properties run by small families or communities who simply can’t afford additional help though they badly require it. What may just be a few weeks of volunteering for you can make a world of difference to your hosts.
Learn about sustainable living
I often think that one of the reasons we’re so disconnected from the environment and our impact on it is because we just don’t know where our food comes from and we don’t know what happens to our waste.
On a work exchange, you’re likely to experience life in a place where people grow their own food, barter with their friends and family, use organic waste as animal feed and give all produce an extended life through curing and pickling. You’ll learn to grow food, conserve water, and apply reuse, reduce, recycle like never before. A work exchange is usually a crash course in sustainable living.
Realise your worth
I didn’t realise how talented and tech savvy I was until I went farming. I have an app for everything, I can use a DSLR, I can Photoshop (2/10 by urban standards, 10/10 by rural standards), I can build a website (using Squarespace). The skills you probably take for granted may be exactly what somebody else needs. It was kind of wonderful to be able to empower people with technology when they could badly benefit from it and they were so grateful.
Get really fit
If you’re anything like most people, your city life is probably spent indoors and is pretty sedentary. Most work exchanges will require you to be pretty active and spend some time outdoors. If you want to ache in places you didn’t know you could without doing 100 crunches, do a work exchange. I was tanned, leaner, stronger and had breathed more clean, fresh air than I had in several years prior.
You can read about what I did during my time farming in Italy here. I certainly didn’t have many of those gardening or making skills before I got there.
From how to tie vines and get rid of aphids, to how to make jam (and seal jars) and cheese, I showed up with nothing more than enthusiasm and a positive and willing attitude to learn and was taught many, many skills on the job. If you’re interested in gaining skills in carpentry, cooking, eco-construction or running your own bed and breakfast, a work exchange is a great way to learn.
Brush up on a language:
There’s no better way to learn a language than to actively practise it. Doing a work exchange is a bit like taking an immersive language course because you’ll spend time learning as well as listening and practising a foreign language in a regular life context. A hell of a lot better than (not that anything is wrong with) ‘un bocadillo por favor’.
Make new (real) friends
You’ll spend days or weeks on end with your hosts and other workers and develop proper, sustained relationships with people, which you’re far less likely to do on a pub crawl or in a common room.
I made great friends with my hosts and other helpers, and one very close friend on my work exchange who I spent all my time off with on the beach and later met up with in a different country.
If you’re seeking a more meaningful experience than seeing monuments on your travels, do a work exchange. I enjoy having a something to do on the road, so I’m made for a work exchange really. I’ll even create work for myself when I’m holidaying in a place now, I just prefer it. It’s nice to wake up everyday with a purpose, and experience a destination by living like a local (and actually working like one).
This post is the second in my series on Alternative Travel. Follow the series here.