How Workaway Enriched My Solo Trip to France

We are so excited to be introducing one of our new Workaway Ambassadors, Mariah from The Bare Foot Beat, who you will be seeing more often on our future blog posts. Her past travel stories have all been very inspiring. Here is her wonderful blog post on what she learned from her first solo trip with Workaway in France:

A few days after my 26th birthday, I found myself in the rural countryside of Brittany, France waiting for an English bloke I’d never met to pick me up from the train station. I’d just arrived from Paris. All I had to my name was a mustard coloured backpack, a phone number, and a faint idea of what I might be doing for the next two weeks during my first solo trip with Workaway.

After waiting for half an hour in the July afternoon sun, a navy blue station wagon with the driver’s seat on the wrong side of the car pulled up next to the curb. A gentleman named Carl flashed me a toothy smile and then popped the trunk so I could place my pack inside. I hopped in the passenger side, still somewhat bewildered by my new perspective on the left hand side of the vehicle.

I shook it off with my own smile and we introduced ourselves. Carl told me he and his wife were from England and had recently bought a property with several gîtes they were restoring, hoping to begin their own business in hospitality. I had recently quit my job as an I.C.U. nurse with a determination to travel the world using Workaway until I discovered what I might like to do instead of nursing. They had already fallen in love with France, and I was too.

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One of the gîtes we helped restore!

To be honest, I really had no idea what I was doing, or where I would go next. What I couldn’t know then was that the next two weeks at Carl’s would teach me important lessons that I still rely on several years, and many Workaways later. Whether you’re considering your first solo trip with Workaway or your thirtieth, I hope you’ll find them valuable too:

1. How to make frothy milk for my morning coffee

During my stay at Carl’s, I met volunteers from Brazil, Germany, Canada, Australia, Czech Republic, and Canada. One of the best parts about this was the food that was served every evening around our table of 14 or more! As each of us took turns planning and preparing a meal, we took pleasure in sharing a piece of our home, served with love.

Enjoying good company and good food!

As the American representative I had the honour of teaching everyone how to make s’mores around a bonfire and how to dip warm chocolate chip cookies in milk. For me, it was the first time I tasted homemade gazpacho, learned the proper technique for frothing my milk, ate pâté and deviled eggs for lunch, sipped pastis, and tried an English meat pie. What I learned was that food really is love and it comes in a richness and variety of culture I could’ve never tasted without the common denominator of Workaway bringing all of us together.

2. How to leave the dirty dishes on the table

“It’s okay, you don’t have to clear the dishes right away. We can just sit here and talk for awhile,” my host told me one evening. “You don’t always have to be doing something,” he gently advised with a twinkle in his eye. “Being is sometimes just as important as doing.”

Work can be fun with the right company, but make sure there’s a balance of rest, too!

As a volunteer it’s definitely important to be careful that you’re pitching in on the everyday chores, even if it’s your “off” time (this includes things like helping prepare meals, cleaning up after yourself, etc.) But it’s also important to relax and remember that the real reason you’re there is to enjoy it! There’s definitely a balance, but most hosts want you to feel at home and comfortable hanging out even when you’re not actively working. The gift of presence, being still, and not constantly thinking about the next ‘to-do’ on a list was one of the best lessons I still practice.

3. How Australians ask questions

“What do you think, hey?” “What’s that, hey?” The first few times I heard what’s typically an American greeting used to ask a question, I didn’t get it. Even if you think you are speaking the same language, it’s normal for things to get lost in translation. Clear, direct communication is a foolproof way to have an amazing time as a host and Workawayer, but if something isn’t clear, it’s your responsibility to double check until it is.

Thankfully some things are easy to translate, like this “Children Crossing” sign 🙂

If you haven’t understood an instruction for a task, need to be reminded about arrival and departure dates, get confused asking how to pass something at the dinner table, or find yourself laughing accidentally at someone’s charming accent, take a deep breath. Apologise (if necessary), explain you haven’t understood, and try again. If you don’t know the specific word try using synonyms or describing the word that isn’t clear. Ask for a demonstration or resort to hand gestures. The main things to remember are patience and persistence. Don’t give up and it will get easier!

4. How to stick together

From day trips to the beach to remodelling bathrooms, it’s important that you make an effort to get to know the other volunteers and host family. It will make your stay more enjoyable and give you the opportunity to form bonds that may last a lifetime. There are few chances in life to work, live, and play together and Workaway is one of them. Cherish it.

When I first began travelling, a friend from back home offered these comforting words, “Just remember, you have a safety net of people who love you you can always come home to.” I’m happy to say, thanks to Workaway that home is all over the world. The friendships I made while volunteering abroad are still some of my closest and dearest several years later. Not only have we stayed in touch, but we’ve even managed to travel and visit each other too!

What you learn from your first solo trip with Workaway might surprise you, but it’ll always stay with you.

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Reuniting with two Workawayers I volunteered with in Ghana two years later in Germany.

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About Mariah

Mariah is one of our regular workaway bloggers. She has been a world traveller since the tender age of 8 years old when her parents took her to visit her grandparents in Germany. By the age of 13 she ... show more...

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