What’s a workaway? Work while you’re away, that’s what Watt. What work’s that then? Whatever work you want Watt. What work have you done on a workaway? All sort of work that’s what Watt.
Back in the eighties my teenage self could have had such a conversation with an annoyingly inquisitive lad named Watt, if I knew one. But, as I didn’t, the hot topic at the back of the 89 bus to Lewisham was probably about a cheesy snack called Wotsits (that’s what Watt).
For anyone planning long-term travelling you’ll need to manage some kind of budget and one good way of stretching your pennies (cents) further is to source some free accommodation. Of course, not much in this world is absolutely free so you’ll need to do a little work in exchange. Luckily, there’s several websites that can point you in the right direction.
I’ll quote workaway.info, ‘Workawayers typically are interested in cultural exchange and learning and will help out for a few hours a day in exchange for food and accommodation… try something new you’d never normally get to do and pick up new skills along the way.’ The reality is that this is an incredibly loose arrangement that can easily be abused so do your research, ensure you get plenty of information and communication from your potential host then agree what they want from you and what they’ll provide for you in exchange.
Of course, we didn’t do any of that – far too sensible – we just dived in with both feet and adapted to whatever situation we found ourselves in. Our approach was, ‘if we don’t like it we’ll leave’.
Our first workaway was in Malaysia. We were lead to believe we were to help out at a hostel in the Cameron Highlands but it soon became apparent our job was to manage it. Initial thoughts were to run off into the jungle. We stuck at it and had a wonderful time and the constant turn-over of customers meant we met loads of interesting people. Day-to-day we controlled the booking system that included off-the-street enquiries, maintaining the airbnb site and setting up the hostels.com site. We took the cash, we checked them in and we checked them out. There’s a previous post that relates to our experience in greater detail, just search ‘Jumpa Lagi’ on this site.
Our other workaways were nearer to home in terms of both location – France – as well as experience and were far better arrangements. Much of our time was spent out in the garden enjoying the pleasant weather while we toiled. Along side the usual maintenance work of pruning, sweeping, cleaning and painting we completed several nice little projects that put our creative talents to good use.
Gardening is one of our favourite pastimes so creating an attractive seating area from a tired collection of old, pot-bound plants and overgrown trays of bedding plants was a pleasurable task. Luckily, there were plenty of large rocks available to provide a touch of hard landscaping too. Completing the construction of a new greenhouse then filling it with topsoil was more of a physical challenge but none-the-less satisfying.
Various holes have been dug and fences erected. Stone walls have been built and pointed in traditional French style. Garden decorations have materialised from damaged water butts in an attempt to recycle and upcycle.
Rotting cartwheels have been re-imagined as elaborate plant globes, an attractive feature that stimulated much interest and comment.
A beautiful slice of acacia was used for a house sign that was lovingly hand-painted in an original typeface.
Install a log-burning stove. Tick! This beast is a Yeoman County double-sided stove that I helped to install in an old French farmhouse located in the grounds of a chateau. Proper, hard work up and down ladders and a physics lesson in convection currents to boot!
Also, we’ve been learning all about pool maintenance this summer and at the end of a hard day’s graft in the sunshine the one thing you desire is a relaxing dip in cooling, crystal-clear water, all-the-more satisfying when you know you’ve hoovered the pool that morning.
There are many other skills that we’ve acquired but we’ve either forgotten them or don’t have a photo to illustrate them. If you still have that thirst for knowledge that, hopefully, you had as a child then there’s so much more still to learn out in the big, wide world and working while you’re away is a rewarding way to quench it.
Now you know what’s what Watt, what are you waiting for?