Helpers stories of HelpXing...
Dionne' Story - Europe 2007
I first discovered HelpX one night at home, whilst surfing the internet. I’d been thinking about doing some travelling for a while and was talking to everybody I knew who had been basically anywhere else about what they did and how they did it, who with, and for how long. I wanted to travel, and on my own, but wasn’t sure exactly HOW.
One day I was at work, talking to my friend Alison about travelling (of course). She was telling me about her first trip to Europe with her sister. They went to Italy. They ate a lot of pasta. They WWOOFED.
“You what?” I said.
“We WWOOFED,” she repeated.
I almost didn’t ask her what she meant, not wanting to sound ignorant, but it seemed sort of central to the story, so I did. When she explained to me that there was an organisation you could join linking you up to hosts on farms where you work in exchange for room and board, I was nearly OVER THE MOON.
Let me expain.
Up until that point, I had yet to come across something that really grabbed me, so to speak, travelwise. I had thought about applying for a work Visa abroad, but as I hadn’t travelled much before, didn’t want to be limited to one country. On the other hand, a four month whirlwind hostel tour didn’t completely appeal to me either. I wanted to travel and see new things, yes, but I also wanted to LEARN! This was my first big journey, I was embarking on my own and I wanted to feel confident about going somewhat off the beaten path (with only knowing one and a half languages!). I wanted novelty but not anxiety. There was cost as well—going to Europe, the exchange isn’t exactly in your favour if your currency is the Dollar. So, my conundrum was how to travel all over Europe, learn, experience, exchange and meet fantastic people without going bankrupt in two months??
Well, when Ali enlightened me about the work exchange I thought “This is it!”. The idea that you could just GO to a strangers house who you’d never met before and work in exchange for your room and meals tickled my inner Sagittarean Scholar to no end. I went straight home that very night and jumped on to the computer before my roommates got home and went to work doing research, immediately.
Thanks to the modern miracle of Saint Google, I found HelpX almost immediately when I searched for work exchange. I remember drooling over the hosts descriptions. Beekeeping? Natural horsemanship? Yoga retreats? Herb farms? Why wasn’t everyone doing this??
There were a fair number of hosts in the European countries I wanted to visit, and since my plans were still somewhat up in the air, it really appealed to me that you only had to pay one membership fee to access Hosts in all the countries. I was pleased that this allowed me a lot more flexibility with regards to where I wanted to go. My friend Brad, a much more seasoned traveller than I, had given me some of the best advice:
“Forget about making too many plans or having an itinerary. You’re going to get there and throw them all out the window, anyway.”
A wise guy, this Brad. I planned to stay four months in Europe with a side trip to Morocco, and surprise, after 9 months (and two trips to Morocco!) I’m still here!
All told, I’ve had 5 HelpX experiences since leaving home (3 with my boyfriend I met in Portugal whilst at my second HelpX host!) and all have been exceptionally positive. I’ve mucked out numerous wheelbarrowfuls of horse manure, cooked, refinished furniture and learned how to make a roaring fire in less than 5 minutes (thank you Frank!!). I’ve painted (a lot), helped install a toilet, was introduced to welding and harvested herbs. I’ve learned some basic animal husbandry (like how much a goose does NOT appreciate you putting a splint on his leg, thank you very much), how to lead a Llama, that guinea pigs love banana peels, and that chicks do not appreciate being put to bed before they are good and ready. I’ve picked fruit, prepped bee boxes, pruned grapevines, and made jam, cheese and bread. I‘ve picked up some very basic Portugese, Spanish and my French has improved considerably.
One of the things I love the most is about HelpXing is that it gives you the opportunity to experience life in a country that you wouldn’t normally get on a typical backpackers itinerary. You have a chance to stay with hosts native to the country and get a really legitimate taste of their lives and culture, but also to experience lifestyles that Ex-pats have created for themselves having moved abroad from their home countries. I am exceedingly curious about everyone’s stories, choices, and how these shape their own unique way of life, and have felt so priveleged and inspired that many people shared this with us. The hosts are not all farms either—you can go to Guest Lodges, Hostels, and stay with regular families who just need help and are interested in intercultural exchange. It’s a great way for them to “travel” without leaving home!! I not only met and lived with some interesting and amazing HelpXers, but also some terrific hosts. After being away from your own friends, family and home for a while, we also really appreciated living in a communal situation or family unit. We really felt that we had a home away from home!
Honestly, if you want to learn a language, this is the way to go. If you want to try new things you have never done before, do this! If you want affirmation that the world is a safe and wonderful place full of good people, stay with HelpX hosts.
So many people opened their homes to me, and shared their stories, their lives, their music and books, as well as their cooking, culture, children and chores. I hope I was able to offer enough in return.
I’m at the tail end of a travel cycle at the moment, but my HelpX days are far from over! There is a big world out there, filled with friends I haven’t met yet, and so many new things to learn and explore.
Thank you Rob, and all hosts and fellow travellers who continue to contribute to the HelpX experience.
Dionne Jennings from Canada