Our Workaway Experience

I write j'ecris

I write therefore I am

This week, we have been on the road a year! It has been great. In many ways, I am surprised that time passed so quickly. I feel like we have had a lifetime of experiences in 12 short months. I chose to spend time with family, during our Great American Road Trip. For most of our remaining travel, our time was spent with host families.

I discovered workaway.info a few years ago when I was watching a video on YouTube about volunteer vacations. I have always fantasized about volunteering wherever I wanted in the world. It would give me a chance to do something important and interact with different cultures at the same time. To me, it is ridiculous for companies to make you pay for a volunteer experience. Why would I pay money to help someone when people need help everywhere all the time? Workaway.info seemed like the perfect combination. Families needing a little help and a desire for cultural exchange open their home to travelers.

I have saved money for years. I believe in having security and a safety cushion to fall into should the need arise. I want to keep my cushion while Bean and I travel. I could have rented many apartments in different regions throughout France this year. However, I know myself. I am like everyone. It would become difficult to leave the house and interact with people in the neighborhood if I rented an apartment. We get into a routine and find it hard to break. Bean often has more opportunities to speak with children, but my options would be a bit more limited since I need to watch Bean. Adults are out at night and I am sitting at home because Bean is in the bed.

For many of my expectations, workaway.info was great.
1. Language learning- My goal in traveling throughout France was to improve my French. I also wanted Bean to begin speaking French. I have a decent level of French,but my self-criticism hinders me from being confident. I often clam up and make many mistakes when I KNOW what to say. Staying with french speaking hosts helped me to increase my confidence and to slow down and just speak.

For Bean, she has been exposed to french since she was a baby. She was never expected to speak it. This year, interacting with other children who can not speak English and adults who are not inclined to, she was forced to learn. She has made leaps and bounds with the language. I am so proud of her.

2. Social interaction- We definitely have had the opportunity to interact. I wanted to expand my knowledge and circle of french people.I have been able to meet and interact with people from many walks of life and experiences. This has been both positive and eye-opening. I understand much more about the french, french politics, and the way of life from living with so many people with widely varying backgrounds. I could not have found this by staying on my own.

3. Exploration- We have been to more regions in France than many french people have themselves; which is amusing. When we tell people where we have been, they are surprised. My knowledge and appreciation for the different regions of France has grown. It is a small country in comparison to the United States, but there is so much beauty here. Each region has its own specialty. This alone makes for great exploration.

4. Volunteering- Every situation is different. There are some families that want a strict 4 or 5 hours a day of work; there are others who just want conversation. The families vary, just like a nine to five job. It became important for me to understand what I wanted from the workaway experience so that I could choose the right place. In almost every location, I was able to do work meaningful work.

Travel by workaway isn’t perfect by any means. I have shared a few stories in other blog posts. Some of my feelings are simply because I am an older traveler with experience. For younger travelers, they often take whatever comes, tend not to complain and don’t expect anything more. I know that there are people out in the world who are intentionally dishonest, cruel and rude. That is not something I want to support. Workaway does not do much to help in those situations, especially if with disagreements between hosts and travelers. Young travelers tend to be forgiving. They often do not leave negative feedback when negative feedback is necessary. They often leave no feedback at all. Therefore, other travelers do not know the truth of what they are getting into.

Because of overly generous feedback, we found filthy hosts and rude hosts. Other workawayers who shared their experiences, mentioned hosts who demanded five hours of work and then basically said “Leave us alone and don’t bother us.” Others stated they had to sleep in a tent and use the bathroom in an outhouse while completing really abominable dirty jobs, not what they had discussed or expected.

I know sometimes certain impressions of situations are completely cultural. There are some individuals who are able to successfully facilitate a cultural exchange. There are some that do not. I am not saying that I will never use workaway again, but I have learned many things about myself. When traveling, I will probably choose organizations over families to volunteer. I found that many families, while admiring the way we live, were also intimidated. How could I, a single mother, travel in the way that I did? It didn’t matter that I explained how I saved my money. It put me in a different class than the young people they normally hosted and they did not know how to relate to me. Unintentionally, I intimidated people and that is not something I try to do.

After trying to be accommodating and adjusting to the rhythms of other people’s houses, I find it best that Bean and I rent apartments and get active in the neighborhood. It should be just as easy to find volunteer opportunities and places to interact as it was through workaway.info. I would not say that Workaway.info was either a success or a failure. I’ll say we are even.

Have you ever tried a volunteer vacation? Have you stayed with a host family through a cultural exchange program? I would enjoy hearing about your experiences. Please, leave me a comment!

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