With my neck red-raw from sunburn, my fingers blistering and my t-shirt drenched in four days worth of sweat, one of my first few weeks of solo travelling was anything but relaxing. Before beginning my six-month world trip as an anxious yet inquisitive eighteen-year-old Brit, I had been on a whole variety of family holidays and a couple of independent visits across the pond to see my friend in Florida, but had never struck out alone. After spending three challenging weeks finding my solo-travelling feet in Canada, I found myself hunched over rows of kale under the intensity of the Hawaiian sun. Sweating more than I ever thought possible and covered in a collage of purples, greens, and browns from bruises and dirt. It was the start of my budget solo travel adventure!
But there’s nowhere else I’d rather have been. I felt alive, I felt free and I felt the thrill of doing it all under my own steam. Spraying on countless layers of suncream over the countless layers of soil. Streaking my arms, and nursing a bee sting to the cheek, I remember wondering how on earth had I sought out such an adventure. Working on a farm under the looming gaze of an impressive crater and with views of the brilliantly bright sea stretching out all around us. As with many things in this day and age, I can credit the internet for that one.
Finding the Opportunity
In my last year of college, I was talking to a friend about my gap year and she mentioned a website which people use to find work opportunities while travelling in return for free accommodation. Free?! As someone who was desperate to find a budget way of seeing the world, I was instantly intrigued by the idea of saving so much money. Could this seemingly perfect compromise really exist?
I went home that day and started looking into the site she told me about, Workaway, in more depth. The information I found told me that most opportunities offered a place to sleep and some meals in exchange for a maximum of five hours of work a day for five days a week. Scouring Workaway for anything that peaked my interest, I came across a farm on the island of Oahu in Hawaii.
The sunshine poured out of the photos on the screen and captured my imagination. I pictured myself hiking tropical mountains, dipping my toes in the Gatorade-coloured water, and lounging in the dappled shade of stock-image palm trees. I emailed them immediately. As soon as I got a positive response for a two-week stay in July, I booked flights to incorporate Hawaii as a stop between my adventures in Canada and Australia and I was all set!
Related: How to Find Cheap Flight Deals?
Living the Experience
Arriving in Hawaii was a whole other story in itself. One that I’ve written a whole post about before, but long story short – I arrived late at night. I was picked up by a stranger in a battered old truck and driven to some remote location completely disoriented and trusting that this man wasn’t crazy. We arrived at the farm and I was shattered. Another volunteer materialised out of the darkness and led me to my home for the next fortnight. It was a little tent hunched over in the night. Cockroaches scrambled out of the bouncing beam of light showing us the way but I was too out of it to be bothered.
This is something I learned very quickly whilst in Hawaii. My tolerance rocketed. Things that would normally bother me washed over me in waves of nonchalance. Such things as sharing my tent with other creatures, sleeping on a broken air mattress and through storms that skewed my tent sideways, using a cold outside hose as a shower for 14 days… You take it all in your stride.
My first night was not an easy ride though. The blackness of the night, unpolluted by streetlights, was oppressive. As was the humidity. I opened up the ‘windows’ on the sides of the tent to let some air in, only to have to frantically zip them all up again when a downpour hit, accompanied by angry winds. At some point, something that sounded awfully big and scary came snuffling around the edges of my tent. (I later found out it was one of the pigs). I must’ve slipped into a fitful dream some time after midnight to have been awoken before 4 am by a herd of cockerels. Not really the best introduction to an otherwise beautiful island.
The next morning I found my way to the outdoor kitchen, seeing my surroundings for the first time in the daylight. I met a few of the other volunteers and was given a rundown of the limited facilities and daily tasks that had to be done. For five days of the week, I would be working from 7:30 to 1 pm. I had half an hour break, and the rest of my time would be free for me to carve up however I wanted.
What happened in those morning hours can really be summed up by weeding, seeding, and feeding. I had to do the morning rounds of food for the chickens, pigs, dogs, and tortoise. Next task was to collect the eggs and fill up the water bowls. I had to make sure all of the rows of vegetables were free from weeds, pick anything ready for the farm to sell and put together boxes for customers. I had to plant and label new seeds. Everything had to be watered. That fortnight I learned that there’s a lot to be done on a farm; it was really hard work but that didn’t mean I was going to sit around and let time slip by during my afternoons and days off.
During my time away from the farm, I hiked a crater twice (once at sunrise), swam in a famous bay for seeing colourful fish, took a trip to the North Shore where I saw turtles, went to numerous white-sand beaches, saw huge waves crash over rocky ledges, walked the streets of Honolulu and Waikiki, visited a waterfall or two and rode many buses with a dropped jaw from the stunning scenery. All because I had the chance to stay somewhere that’s usually pretty expensive for free – just through one website and a couple of emails.
Benefits of Sites like Workaway
- Let’s put the most obvious one first – free accommodation! Well okay, I guess if you’re working it’s not technically free, but for budget travellers this can be a real plus nevertheless.
- Stay somewhere longer – you’ve got a structured purpose now, so you won’t rush around ticking off all the sites and leave before really getting to appreciate the atmosphere of a place.
- Learn new things and skills – you’re gaining work experience. After all, you’re probably being taught or reinforcing a useful or interesting skill. Might be something to add to your CV (resume) too!
- Push yourself out of your comfort zone – this follows on from trying new things and is a great way to get to know yourself and your limits better.
- Meet locals – hopefully, the people you work for will be nice and give you tips about the area and stories you wouldn’t otherwise hear. They can make a place feel more alive.
- Meet other volunteers – and if you’re lucky you’ll make a friend or two for life!
Limitations of these Sites
- Hosts might not be very helpful or a little exploitative – at the end of the day, you’re under no obligation to stay there and do the work and they’re under no obligation to stick to Workaway guidelines or guarantee you a place to stay.
- You can’t absolutely guarantee safety – that’s a risk of many aspects of travelling though.
- The hours you’re asked to work might not give you the free time you want – you don’t have so much control over your daily itinerary.
- If you’re the only volunteer for that host you might feel lonely.
- The accommodation is likely to be further away from the sights and activities than more conventional accommodation choices.
- You might find the back-and-forth emails and extra organisation a hassle – it can be harder to arrange a trip this way.
- A backup plan is always helpful to avoid feeling trapped in a situation that is ruining your time abroad.
- Read the details of what they’re looking for. Decide if you fit the description honestly, otherwise, both sides will end up being unhappy.
- Make sure they have plenty of positive reviews so they have a reputation you feel comfortable with.
- Arrive in the daytime. Know the emergency numbers and if possible have a good sense of public transport options in case you have to get there or out alone.
- Plan your days off so you don’t waste them.
- Be flexible and open-minded – putting yourself out there in this way encourages adventure into your life, you don’t need to control everything that happens.
- Personally, in the future, I’d probably only consider hosts that have multiple volunteers at the same time. Thus, you can make friends. (I used Workaway in Canada too, but for an opportunity that only needed one volunteer – I found it very isolating).
- Get to know other volunteers early on so you have time to build a relationship.
- If things get too much, leave! I ended up leaving the farm in Hawaii a couple of days early because of some events that went down that myself and another volunteer didn’t feel comfortable with. Therefore, we left together and stayed in a hostel. That’s a story for another day though…
Conclusion – Budget Solo Travel Adventure
Using Workaway has allowed me to have experiences I could never have afforded by travelling in a more conventional way. I am so grateful for these opportunities and the friendship that’s arisen from them. I’m not sure if this way of travelling is to everyone’s taste. However, I think it’s a wonderful option that everyone should know about and consider. Memories dripping in sweat and bonds formed over the shared struggle of uprooting weeds are guaranteed to stick around for a while. These are the moments that have the power to shape you, all thanks to the magic of the internet and the courage to say yes.
This informative and adventurous guest post was written by Alys Daniels-Creasey. Alys blogs over at Alys Journals. Her blog focuses on her past and future travel adventures. Alys Journals also discusses mental health struggles and tips as well as the life of a young adult in the contemporary world. Alys actively engages with her community over Twitter. If you are not an avid Twitter user, make sure to follow Alys on Instagram.