My 8 Best "Aha!" Moments & Insights From a Decade of Travels

I’ll just clarify to start with -- I haven’t been a Workawayer non stop for ten years (though how amazing would that be!); rather it is just over ten years since I made my profile and started using this fantastic site on and off during travels. During these ten years I’ve fed goats, built earthen houses, helped tourists in the desert and served drinks in the Caribbean… Now that I have the time to slow down and reflect on my Workaway journeys, I can’t help but be awed by how each experience (yes, even the not-so-good ones) helped me grow into the person I am now!
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1. Making the extra effort goes a long way…

This one’s kind of obvious, but useful to note. Generally, workawayers are expected to help for around 5 hours a day with a couple of days off. Obviously though, every Workaway you go to will differ, with some being more chilled and some being a lot more intense than the others. Go in the spirit of giving and being of service, your hosts will be super grateful if you don’t quibble over the occasional extra half hour you’ve done. Similarly, if you are staying with a family or living communally, just because you aren’t working doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing your share of domestic chores . Doing the washing up or hanging out laundry are things you’d do in everyday life, whether you’re at your own home with your housemates, or living with your second family abroad - so keep doing them on placement! 

workawayer solo female building volunteer brick laying garden

2. ...But knowing when to assert your boundaries is vital too

When I was younger I found it hard to express or communicate my need, but I learned. If a host is asking you to help with something that makes you feel uncomfortable, especially when it’s something that wasn’t previously mentioned on their profile, you can -- and should! -- let them know.

About a year ago I was in Guatemala and was juggling a few hours of my own  online work with my Workaway exchange. My host was running a guesthouse which was under new management so my helping hours were sporadic and ad hoc to begin with, but when I laid it out and said I needed set hours in order to plan my days, he was really understanding and helpful. We ended up making a schedule for his whole team too which enabled things to run much more smoothly. The guesthouse manager was also very appreciative with my help in organising things.  As in so many situations, communication is key. Take care of your own needs as well as the hosts, you’ll stay on the road longer that way!

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3. Sometimes it's all about the special connections we make along the way

Travelling can get lonely even for the hardiest of wanderers at times, so it really makes a difference to have a community to fall back to . With Workaway, I get to forge connections and relationships in parts unknown, which are made stronger by spending quality time and working towards a common goal for a project or a meaningful cause together. I found a second home in a hobby farm in British Columbia , and I’ve kept in touch with the host and fellow workawayers ever since. It warms my heart to think of these beacons of comfort all over the world, knowing that even when I’m travelling on my own I’m never truly alone! 
volunteer abroad farmstead Canadian ranch goats

4. Real people and real culture over tourist trails

In Nova Scotia, there were numerous towns, beaches and beauty spots I ‘missed’. But by Workawaying in two little parts of the province I felt I had the best, most immersive time. I cycled to the nearby countryside to small towns full of colourful houses and got to know the coffee shops and local grocers; I went to a local event at a village hall and won a carrot cake in a raffle, and square danced the night away during an annual festival. 

Workaway is a great opportunity to get to know a place and get a real taste of its overall culture . It is a much  richer way to explore the world than visiting twenty towns and not really meeting anyone or getting involved with local traditions or everyday life.

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5. True happiness comes from being true to ourselves

Most hardened (read; more experienced) Workawayers and travellers I've met are pretty comfortable with living an unconventional life. When we should be studying (or not), getting married (or not), buying a house (or not) and having kids (or not) is and should be on our own terms. Sometimes we are made to feel odd for not wanting to settle down, but to step back and think about what you truly want is liberating!

When I think of the moments that bring me the most joy, I think of mornings on a Workaway on Quadra island, where I would get a mug of coffee before beginning the mornings tasks, put on my warmest coat and sit overlooking the rocky bay, sun coming up and sea lions roaring in the distance. Priceless. As a Workawayer, I got to discover a life beyond what society expects of us.  As long as we keep following our hearts, keep exploring and embracing new possibilities, happiness is always just a matter of choice.

solo female camping outdoor adventure enjoy tea

6. If you only have one life skill, learn to be adaptable

Being able to observe and fit into your new environment with ease is so important when on Workaway placement. Obviously when browsing through host profiles it isn't always the best idea to sign up for something that's completely out of your depth, but putting yourself a little outside of your comfort zone can lead to amazing things!  During my Workaways I found myself, often a desk based person in my ‘normal’ life, doing things like helping to build a pizza oven in the jungle, or using an electric strimmer to cut grass. I honestly think being adaptable has gotten me through more situations in life than any other skills. These new experiences might seem overwhelming at first, but  they are also very exhilarating and affirming -- you’ll feel capable of anything!

pizza oven building workaway with friends new experience

7. All experience is good experience -- even the not very good ones

One of my cringiest Workaway (and life) memories was when I got carried away on a wine tasting day in Western Australia and made a drunken idiot of myself in front of my host when I got home. I was mortified when I left, but i know it was also a good lesson in restraint and taking responsibility for myself.

Sometimes on Workaways, as with life, you might not ‘click’ with someone, you might struggle with your Workaway tasks or your personalities might just happen to clash. Being able to work through these problems is great, but knowing when to cut your losses is also very important. In all situations respect and understanding are hugely important; j ust as we might sometimes struggle when we’re injected into a new environment, the same can happen to hosts who are opening their lives and homes to complete strangers.  We are all humans and are not always at our best, so let's remember to be kind to each other.

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8. Life is too short for regrets!

Being part of the Workaway community is INCREDIBLE! Browsing and favouriting hosts that I want to email at a later date has really cheered me up during the Covid 19 madness. The freedom of knowing that all these opportunities exist, and that you can travel, connect with people and use your skills to make a difference is extremely special!

Workaway is a unique space where all of my most memorable travel experiences have come from, and I recommend it to anyone who asks, and sometimes to people who didn’t ask too! Go set up your profile first and you can thank me later. 😉

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guest blogger Emma workaway hiking outdoor adventure

Huge thanks to Emma for sharing her stories and perspectives with us! An experienced traveller and Workawayer from the UK, Emma has used Workaway to volunteer in Australia, Borneo, Canada, Guatemala, India and Thailand during her travels.

Catch up with her on Instagram for more adventures!

lifechangingvolunteer abroadworkawayer

About Contributor

We are so glad to have an active community of travellers and hosts who’ve been inspired by their Workaway experiences and want to share with us! Be it a funny story, interesting insights or helpful ti... show more...

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