My First Experience with Workaway

To Do

So it’s been a while!

I’m not going to lie- college assignments picked up, I was in my first production at school, and I met some incredible people who occupied a lot of my time. Instead of driving myself insane to keep up with everything and still have time for the fun things, I stopped with my regular posts for a while and focused on fully enjoying what life was giving me.

My second semester of college felt like the universe had taken so much of the good in life, condensed it into a few months, and handed it to my surprised self. I had an incredible time, and somewhere along the line I was inspired to take a trip.

The end of the semester was drawing near, but I felt that I’d finally found my groove and had built up momentum for myself at school. Spring break had been a strange time and being home didn’t feel great, so I wasn’t eager for May tenth to come. Not to mention the fact that I finally found a good group of friends who live scattered across the US and I knew that when the semester ended I wouldn’t see any of them for many months. All of this lead to me wanting to do something more than stay at home during the three weeks before my summer internship started.

As I started looking into traveling, I remembered a great website called Workaway, which allows travelers and hosts to create and view profiles and organize homestays and work exchange. This seemed like the perfect solution to my low-budget and ambitious travel plan.

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After lots of research and emails, my itinerary looked like this:

  1. Take an overnight bus to Boston and spend the following day there.
  2. Take a bus to Maine and spend a week and a half there working for a hippie family.
  3. Take a bus to Montreal and spend a few days working for an artist while exploring the city in the evenings.
  4. Take an early morning bus to Toronto and spend the day there.
  5. Take an overnight bus to Philadelphia, where my dad will pick me up.

I was incredibly excited to get going (even though I had gotten home from school just days earlier).I gave in and bought a nice, sturdy North Face backpack because I’d killed two off-brand bags during the last semester and needed something reliable. I was able to get all of my gear into this bag and brought just a small, cross-body purse in addition, which held my wallet, passport and a few other things I would need quick access to.

With these things on my back and the tape of “I can’t believe I’m doing this but here we go,” on repeat in my head, I stepped onto that first bus and into a real adventure in independence.

Because I arrived around 5:30 AM, I was able to watch Boston wake up. I stopped at a lovely coffee shop from which I could see the streets come to life. Once I was caffeinated and my phone was charged, I set out for the Beacon Hill neighborhood, where I was perfectly happy to wander around for an hour or so.

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From there I walked through Boston Common and headed to Cambridge to see Harvard and the surrounding area.

By mid afternoon I was back in Boston and went to Quincy Market for a delicious lunch. After some more wandering, I went to the train station to double check on where I needed to go that evening and ended up staying quite a while, so that was the end of the Boston adventure. To be honest though, I’d already walked over twenty miles and I was pretty tired. Later that evening I boarded a train to Brunswick, Maine.

The first place I stayed in Maine was with an eccentric couple who run several Airbnbs on their property. I helped out with maintaining and cleaning these spaces as well as general work around the house like cleaning, gardening, and painting. Their main house is a big log cabin where I had my own room and an absurdly cozy bed that was a welcome retreat from the surprisingly chilly May evenings. In addition to this building, they have a renovated school bus and tiny house that people can rent out.

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Much of my experience here was pretty pleasant. One of my hosts taught me to make spring rolls and to dry fruit and let me come along on a fat tire biking adventure. I met incredible people from England, Germany, and Hawaii who were staying as Airbnb guests. I was even invited out to a dinner of pho when my host picked up her husband and son from Portland.

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That’s where things started to go downhill. Almost as soon as her husband came into the picture, the environment became incredibly uncomfortable. He berated and spoke down to his wife constantly, and though she apologized to me in private, it seemed to worsen by the hour.

I don’t want to go into too much detail because on the whole I was treated with much generosity and kindness, but I did decide to leave a few days early. This decision was accompanied by considerable guilt on my part, because I had committed to helping out for a few more days, but I decided to go with my gut. Normally, I don’t even know what that means, but in this case I considered the bad vibes I was getting in that house and the fact that I was alone in a new place, and a rural area at that, and I extricated myself.

I researched and contacted another Workaway host about an hour away and they enthusiastically agreed to take me on and gave me a few options for a pickup location.

I told my host that I had to leave and why, and at first she was receptive, if disappointed, but throughout the day (I had planned to leave that night, and reluctantly asked her to drive me to a halfway point, as there were no public transport options in the area) she became more hostile and resistant to the idea, insulting me for my inability to commit and naïveté about relationships. She did also cause me to reflect on the broader implications of my departure, but did not change my mind.

Around the time I was supposed to be driven to the pickup point, which she agreed to earlier in the day, she informed me that she wouldn’t be going out and that if I really wanted to leave that night I had to figure something else out.

Knowing my new hosts were on their way but not wanting them to come to this house and disturb the many Airbnb and private guests there, I resolved to walk to the town hall, about six miles away, and asked the new hosts to pick me up there. It was empowering to know I could do that-just get up and leave a bad situation with everything I needed on my back and my feet taking me where I needed to go. So though I was a bit worried about being out alone in the dark, it was not an entirely negative experience by any means. Plus, I got some nice pictures as the sun set.

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Insanely kind as they are, they agreed, and by 9:30 that evening I was eating a farm fresh meal around their dining room table with them and their visiting adult son. While I thanked them incessantly, they assured me that their children had done Workaway projects and they hope that someone would have done the same for them in such a situation. He even told me not to worry about getting up early to work, even though I would only be there a few days, as opposed to the several weeks most Workawayers spend there.

I spent the next four days planting, watering, and weeding crops on their organic farm, but that was hardly the extent of the experience. I also enjoyed slow, wholesome meals made with fresh and preserved food from the farm and accompanied by great conversations. I went to an alternative movie theatre with their grad student daughter and we became fast friends, exchanging email addresses and cell numbers before she headed back to Portland. The couple also encouraged me to borrow one of their many bikes and explore the area in the afternoons and invited me to take part in activities at their local grange.

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Overall, both places I stayed in Maine were great experiences. The first didn’t work out, but I realize that it could have been much worse and I’m happy that it gave me to meet the second! I admit that I came into the experience more selfishly than I should have. I was looking at it less as volunteer work and more as a way to travel and see new places cheaply. Fortunately, I got some perspective on this early in my journey and I was then better prepared to see the full picture as I headed to Canada.

My time in Montreal was terrific. My host, a writer and ceramic artist, was friendly and engaging. In the mornings I would get up early and complete tasks like painting rooms or weeding the garden, and then enjoy a delicious lunch with my her. On the first day, she helped me to buy a metro pass and brought me to the station after lunch to see me off on my first Montreal adventure.

The following days passed in much the same manner: work until lunch and then go out to explore. In this way, I was able to see a fair amount of the city despite the short time I was there. On day one I hiked up to Mount Royal and looked out over the city. I also saw the Tam Tams, a drumming circle that takes place at the park each Sunday.

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The following day, I explored Old Montreal and the Old Port, a beautiful area with cobblestone streets and European architecture.

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And then I saw some of Aires Libres, where this beautiful art installation hangs all summer.

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While in Montreal I especially enjoyed the slower-paced, old-world feel of things. Meals were prepared and enjoyed together, mornings were for waking up slowly. I loved the fact that I could walk to a bakery for coffee and a croissant early in the morning and watch the streets come to life. It is definitely somewhere I’d like to return to.

Toronto was very short visit, and I was exhausted to be honest, but it was still a fun day. The Inside Out Film Festival was going on, and while I didn’t get to see a film, the displays and hype around the area were awesome to witness. I also found Milk Bar Toronto, where I bought the most expensive ice cream of my life and it was absolutely worth it.

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Finally, I got on the last bus of my trip for a twelve-hour journey back to Philadelphia, where my dad picked me up. We did a bit of fangirling before heading home.

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I’m really glad that I took this trip, and I definitely plan to Workaway again in the future, as it’s such a great way of learning new skills and meeting new people while experiencing different environments. While ideally, I would have traveled longer, this shorter trip gave me insight about myself and how I deal with traveling independently. I found that I am perfectly capable of figuring things out for myself, but that the people I met are really what made the experience. I was also once again reminded of how few material things I really needed, and was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuffin my house when I returned. In the same vein, I found the feeling of being able to carry everything I needed on my back was quite empowering, as was the ability to rely on my own feet for transportation. So in a word, this trip made me think deeply about simplicity, and that is what I want to take away from it. We don’t need much, but we need each other.

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