Travelling on a budget is possible.
Helpx give a chance to visit places very cheaply and at the same time gain unique experiences. Wanting to travel indefinitely, for us travelling on a budget is the way to go. Here I write about our first Helpx experience.
We found out about Helpx by chance, when we were CouchSurfing in London.
The idea is simple. Once you have paid membership fee, you gain access to hundreds of exchange opportunities around the world. Helpx offers vary, but the most common agreement is to work for around 5h a day on weekdays in return for food and lodging. Farm work is predominant, but not limited to. Both sides receive review, similarly to CouchSurfing, so when choosing, you can base your decision on other people’s experience.
Going to Greece
For our first Helpx experience we chose an organic olive farm in Greece, run by a family of British expats. We initially planned to come in October but were offer to farm-sit for 2 weeks which seemed too tempting to say “no” to. On the day of arrival we were given worm welcome and tons of instructions on how to do things. Just after a couple of days we were left on our own to manage a pretty large stock of two massive pigs, three sheeps, many chickens, duck and turkeys, 2 dogs and about 5 cats (we never could tell as new ones were coming and going all the time).
It was deep end farming but we enjoyed every bit of it. It felt very down to earth, looking for eggs in a morning, feeding animals, finding dead chickens (not from our fault but through predators), looking after the ill turkey, overcoming the fear of pigs and getting to know sheep’s personalities. All in all, it wasn’t a hard work. We had lots of time to do our own things, like go to the beach, explore local areas and read books in a hammock. We were staying in a comfortable house which during the peak season is rented to tourists for 400 Euro a weak.
The end of our Greek honeymoon
This idyllic life lasted for 2 weeks before farm owners returned. As agreed, they took over the guest house and we moved to a little wooden shack. Our new home was much more basic but it didn’t matter to us, as we had our own space, comfortable bed and a small place to cook. We started working on various projects, from 8 am each weekday, some relatively easy, some very physical and tiring. What we really liked about the olive farm, was that all the work was done together and we were never asked to do something just on our own.
The initial agreement was that we would eat with the family, but once we realised that they have different to ours food habits, we had to find ways to satisfy our needs. For instance, they ate very small breakfast, while for us it’s the most important meal in a day. Also they were on a 5:2 diet, where you supposed to fast for 2 days in a week. Needless to say, we weren’t interested in starving ourselves. After all, we were working hard for those people and wanted to receive a fair payment.
During our 2 month stay on this farm, through participation we learned about:
- building grow beds,
- constructing a thermal mass heater from clay,
- processing chickens,
- picking olives and making olive oil,
- producing clay bricks.
From our experience, there are many pros but also quite a few cons, some of which we didn’t know before committing ourselves.
- great for travelling on a budget – food and lodging almost for free (5h a day isn’t really that much),
- opportunity to learn something new and gain new experience,
- plenty of time left for exploring areas around and dipping into a local culture,
- being immersed in local culture through work and leaving in one area for some time,
- little or no cost of living,
- ability to quickly settle in a new place,
- plenty of time and opportunities to learn the local language.
- usually 1 week is a minimum period, sometimes more time commitment is expected,
- you have to work and depending on type of work, 5h can be sometimes very tiring,
- finding a good place sometimes can be a lottery and you may not always be lucky,
- initial service registration fee can seem high
- it’s not as altruistic as CouchSurfing and sometimes you are seen as cheap labour,
- you are not working under a contract and on a voluntary basis so labour laws do not protect you, neither are you insured,
- in some countries we can be accused of working illegally. Even though officially we are not working, I imaging that it would be hard to explain the concept to some foreign bureaucrat,
- for longer periods (over 1 months) it can simply be boring to stay in one place,
- sharing food and eating what you’re given can be a problem.
There are some alternatives to Helpx, for example WWOOF (variable membership fee for each country on annual basis) and Workaway.
We enjoyed our first Helpx experience and are sure that we will do it again, but also we have learned some valuable lessons from this farm stay. To begin with we committed ourselves to staying on that farm for 5 months, but quickly we realised that there wasn’t so much around the farm that we could explore. Also being around British expats most of the time, we didn’t really feel like we were travelling and after about 2 months, daily chores became tedious and we decided to move on.
Choosing the right place and right people is the most important.
Despite its drawbacks, Helpx offers a chance to travel on a budget, amongst other things.