What is it like doing your first Workaway exchange?

At Workaway we absolutely love getting to know you all whether it be meeting on the road, hearing stories through emails or by actually going on a Workaway trip ourselves. We couldn’t be prouder to be involved in such an inspiring community of travellers!

For all our regular readers you will know we have been running ‘Workawayer of the Month’ for some time now. We’ve interviewed people all over the world, doing amazing things to help others and getting to see beautiful things while they are at it. And this month we are so excited to interview Chloe, who is currently on her first ever Workaway experience in Italy. We loved talking to her and getting an insight of what it is like to do your first ever Workaway exchange. Over to you Chloe…

Hey Chloe, thanks for letting us interview you this month! Can you tell us more about your current Workaway exchange and what it involves?
My current Workaway exchange is in Genova, Italy, in the region of Liguria. I have been here since April 1st, living with a family of three. My primary role is to integrate as much English as I can into my time with the 3-year-old boy of the couple hosting me. Given his age, most of this comes through imaginary play, games, and craft projects. I also help the mother with a small amount of daily housekeeping tasks; i.e. ironing, sweeping, dishes, etc.
Aw, sounds so cute! How many Workaway projects have you done before this one, and how did you find out about us?
This is my first Workaway post. I signed up last winter, after learning of the program through a cousin of mine who used it while travelling abroad recently. She spoke so highly of the freedom, choice, and opportunity it presented her with, that I felt compelled to look into it!
High five to your cousin! What was it that made you choose Workaway rather than backpacking?
I chose WA because it seemed to encompass so many wonderful aspects of culturally immersive travel, while allowing for a financial budget I could handle. After seeing just a few examples of individual experiences, I was hooked. I have dreamed of travelling freely and at my own pace for years now, and this quickly became an exciting answer. Workaway would allow me to choose virtually everything about my travel plans; where to go, how long to stay, and what to do while there in exchange for a great gift: free room and board. Mainly it would allow me constant change, something I was greatly craving in my life.
We are so happy to have given you the tools to do that! Have you found it different from travelling without volunteering?
I’ve chosen to stay in someone’s home for my first position, so for me the biggest difference between normal travel and exchange is having a family. I’ve come to realize that even a hostel or camper can feel like home after a couple days, yet as someone deeply rooted in family, the addition of that aspect while away from my true home has been amazing. I’ve been lucky enough to land in a family who’ve welcomed me with open arms, and who care for me as if I were their own child. We’ve developed a routine in just a few short weeks, and we talk to each other often about our days, current events, my future travel plans, and relationships as if we’ve known each other for years. I’ve found my niche in their lives, and discovered what a mutual gift this exchange system can be. My previous travelling experiences have been incredible; vacations with my mother, studying abroad, working as an au pair, or just a few short weeks ago backpacking alone. I’ve gained knowledge during each phase that I am now able to put to use, furthering my belief that this is the life I am meant for – at least for now.
clothes hanging between buildings

What an amazing experience you have had so far! What are the most valuable lessons you think you have learnt?
The most valuable lesson I’ve learned so far is that you’ll never be prepared for which moments come naturally, and which will require every resource you’ve got. Things I thought would take time, inner strength or more boldness than I could master have come and gone with little effort: asking strangers for help in the supermarket, mastering the transportation system, making friends in hostels, evading sunglass salesmen on the beach, or simply learning to be alone.
What great lessons! How about obstacles?
The most prominent obstacle that I’ve begun to overcome, though not unusual by any standards, would be dealing with the unwelcome attentions from men, being a solo female traveller. As a native resident of New York State I am used to quite changeable and harsh weather conditions, and so upon arriving in mild, sunny Italy I didn’t done the typical March attire of jeans, boots, and down jacket. I opted instead for T-shirts, summer dresses, and sandals. Some might say I was inviting attention this way and that may be true, but I decided that if I was going to walk 15km a day I would rather be comfortable and learn to handle myself. It hasn’t always been easy, and yes there have been moments I wished for a sweltering down jacket walking through a crowd of men in line for their afternoon panini, but all in all I am pleased. My sense of strength and perseverance has skyrocketed, and I am content knowing I am growing a thicker skin, without adding goose feathers.
italy cultural travel
You go girl, that’s what we like to see; a strong independent traveller! On a lighter note, what is the funniest thing that has happened since volunteering?
Aside from the discovery that wine is truly cheaper than water here, or that it comes in individually-portioned juice boxes…the funniest thing for me was when a friend and I were recognized upon returning to one of the many focaccerias in central Genova, as the couple who’d bought every single piece of focaccia alle cipolle on our previous visit! (For those who haven’t had the pleasure of tasting this simple snack, I highly recommend it; oily, salty, crunchy focaccia topped with perfectly sweet and tender onions. Absolutely delicious.)
Oh, we know the ones you are talking about! So delicious! What is your one bit of advice for those who will be starting their first Workaway trips?
My greatest piece of advice; follow your gut! In Workaway, in travelling in any form, this will be your only constant tool and you need to trust in your instincts. I’ve made several decisions in my short journey so far that may seem rash on paper, and yet those few choices have led me to the best aspects of my experience so far. If you think you should walk into that cute little bar, walk; if the alleyway feels wrong, don’t go; if the price of that hostel is on point, give it a try; if that guy you just met seems trustworthy, go explore with him! Always know where your passport is, have an escape route in mind if you deem it necessary, and then let go! Learn to embrace the uncertainty, because believe me it will grow on you.
female workawayer hiking
I think we may write a book on those bits of advice – they are perfect!
So where are you off to next? What is your plan?
I absolutely plan to continue utilizing the amazing options Workaway has to offer, I cannot imagine this being the only exchange I partake in. While I would happily join another family as a language tutor, I would also really like to venture further out of my comfort zone and try working on a farm, or in a hostel. Each of these possibilities offer so many chances to grow more into who I am excited to become. I particularly look forward to the hostel option, as each of my stays in hostels so far have allowed me to meet other travellers, befriend the staff, and gain incredible insight into this new lifestyle I am learning to master.
My next plan is to do some travelling in Southern France with a visiting friend from home. Following that I will be joining my new partner in crime for a month of camper-living as we drive south along the Spanish Coast, and into Portugal. In the summer I will be visiting Croatia with a wonderful group of girls visiting from home, and then welcoming my loving mother to travel with me for a couple of weeks. I could not be more excited about my future, as so much of it has yet to be written. It’s a beautiful gift, freedom.

We love hearing stories of how travellers have gained so much from their Workaway experiences, and it is empowering to know when an independent traveller like Chloe is able to make so much out of the site,  even going on to find a new way of living! As we always say, you only get out of life what you put into it. Well done, Chloe!

Are you also an inspired Workawayer hoping to spread the love? If you want to be featured as our next Workawayer of the Month, email us!

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