After meeting abroad, our Workawayers of the Month
Felix and Jan decided to begin a new journey together. A truly international romance, they’ve
travelled all over the world learning about eco-farming and sustainability, with the end goal of settling down and going off-grid themselves. Read on to learn about how to let go of your expectations and find your Workaway path from some well seasoned experts!
Do you want to tell us a bit about yourselves?
I’m from Germany and by trade I’m a dental technician. We lived in China for seven years where I worked for a company in Germany. Then we decided to travel around the world, be part of Workaway and help in different projects. But then obviously COVID affected us all, so we came back to Thailand, where we spent half a year on Jan’s land. Then I found a job as a general manager for a graphic design company in the south of Thailand. So we moved to Phuket, and that’s where we’ve lived the last year.
I’m Jan, I’m from Thailand, originally from Chiang Mai, and I’ve been living in different places - Australia, the States, Sweden. We met in Chiang Mai and after that we wanted to travel and we found Workaway. Earlier, I was doing hospitality and I was a teacher. Now I’m teaching Thai on an online platform and that’s what I do alongside Workaway travels. Now we are in Phuket and we plan to go on travelling soon!
How and where did you meet? I’ve got to hear that story!
We met in Chiang Mai; I worked there from 2008 to 2010 and we were good friends in the same friend circle. Then we spent some time together and got along well. Actually, we hadn’t known each other for a long time, maybe just half a year, when
I left for Australia to work and travel and Jan followed me. So, that’s where the journey began.
What led you to Workaway?
Because we wanted to travel around the world! Initially we were only looking into different opportunities like
house sitting, but since our long term plan is actually to live a more sustainable life and get away from the big city, we started to look for something more like a work exchange so we could level up our skills during our Workaway experience. It seemed to be
the perfect way for us to stick to our budget while at the same time acquiring new skills and seeing if that lifestyle would suit us
So you’re both multilingual - what languages do you speak?
Felix speaks German, good English, a little bit of Thai and some Chinese. I speak Thai, English, I also understand a little bit of German and used to speak Swedish. We have lived in lots of different places - most of those places speak English apart from China, so we speak Chinese as well.
My Chinese is not as good as Jan’s, because she worked with kids so she could practice more in school, while I had a personal translator at work because it was very technical. There wasn’t a lot of room for me to experiment with the language, while if you work with kids it’s more playful.
What advice would you have for Workawayers who are travelling to learn languages?
Personally I think travelling is about communication.
When we want to talk to the locals, the host and other Workawayers, it is important to be able to express ourselves, our experience and our opinion clearly. Or like the tasks we have to do, we make sure we understand completely.
It's nice to be able to talk to local people, but I think it is not totally necessary that someone has to be perfect in English to be doing Workaway or to travel.
I think to a certain degree, it’s just about
being bold and jumping into it. My first time when I travelled after I finished my apprenticeship in Germany my English was far, far away from the level where it is now. It was just because I kind of... I jumped into the ice cold water, let’s call it like that. Whenever you’re living in any new country you really merge into the culture, immerse yourself... you learn fast because you have to.
I think even if you just know a little fraction, people will appreciate that and will give you the kind of feedback that will give you the confidence to learn more.
Get out of your comfort zone, that's great advice! What’s been your favourite Workaway experience so far?
We have so many experiences that we love, but if we had to pick one that would be a host we visited in Australia. It was really just what we were looking for, because we were looking for a sustainable lifestyle. It was
somewhere you could really completely live that lifestyle without having to invest into it to see if that would be something that suits us. And yeah, it was just great and we learned a lot. In the permaculture garden, he gave us the whole introduction into his organic gardens, and how to take care of the animals. There were lots of different aspects within that exchange.
The first thing we are looking at is what can we learn within this project about organic gardening.
We want to travel within this self-sustainability realm, so we always try to look for something in relation to permaculture, natural building and sometimes maybe a little bit of business within that area. So maybe people that run a glamping site -
something we could fit in with our skills but something too where we could level up our skills.
To a certain degree we would also consider accommodation because for Jan, as a freelancer, it is important that we have a little bit of stable internet connection.
For me, it’s the reviews that other Workawayers have left!
What do you think people should be getting more excited about in terms of sustainability?
People definitely can be excited about the transition which is happening, and we were surprised that actually there’s more and more global awareness especially witnessing the younger generations making a personal shift in their own lives. So if you reach out, you’ll find like-minded people everywhere and they’re willing to share the knowledge with you and that’s what people can really be excited about.
Because we are standing at a turning point where if we act together, we can really make a difference now, and if you truly follow your real intentions something will always reveal itself.
And for us a lot of times, it was better than what we expected of it. I think positive changes definitely are happening and you can see in more and more places in the world you have people who are willing to go into this sustainable or permaculture way of lifestyle. That kind of gives me confidence personally to just go into the unknown, because I know there will be enough people to learn from.
Have you got any advice for couples who haven’t travelled together yet?
I think it could make a couple stronger, or the other way!
I think it is essential that couples try to travel together to see how they get along because travelling together means you have to experience a lot of new things together.
Sometimes in a small space, or sometimes in the situation when you are doing your own work and only see each other in the evening. But I think it’s definitely something that was worth it for us. When we did Workaways there were many things Felix wanted to do and I thought, “Oh my god, this is not going to work!” One thing I didn't want to do at first is hitch-hiking from one city to another, because as a Thai person we just don’t do that. Our parents say “don’t hitchhike, it’s dangerous, something can happen” but then to a European like Felix, it’s just nice and fun. For me, it was something totally new in the Workaway trip and in the end it worked very well. We have also been very lucky with our hosts and everything else so far, so, yeah it gives me more confidence and has definitely pushed me to do new things I wouldn’t have if I was travelling alone..
Well I think to one degree it’s definitely trust, can you trust each other? For couples who have never travelled together I would definitely recommend they start with a short trip and try things out. I mean, we’ve been together for 12 years and we did many things that worked out well, we even lived in a 14 square metre room for half a year and shared a single bed in Australia. But then for example we did a trip in the van in New Zealand, and that was really challenging for us. If you’ve known each other for half a year, and you both come from a 9-5 job, don’t jump straight into a world trip.
Get to know each other 24/7 first. Then you figure out if you can travel together!
Some people need their own space. For us it was always okay to be very close together, but I think it’s something very individual. So play around with that, and play around with the different ways to travel too. Because it’s easy to get away from each other if you’re in a big house or whatever, but if you are really cramped into a small space - like a van! - then that can be a lot more challenging I would say.
Yeah, I think many people have had a taste of that with lockdown living! What was life like for you during the pandemic in Phuket? How much has it disrupted your plans?
It’s alright here, Thai people are going to get vaccinated, especially since if you are not vaccinated you are not allowed to travel. Everything was pretty much under control here and the whole year we lived here we didn’t have the feeling of a pandemic - it’s just quieter than earlier, which is nice for us because no traffic jams and of course less people around!
Yeah, I think Phuket was definitely not a bad choice because they have a very low number of cases and it is now a lot cheaper and quieter, and the beach is quiet too! Actually Phuket would have never been one of our destinations before COVID because it was just too much of a party scene, and we always try to avoid that.
We went on a random longtail boat trip one afternoon and we even saw a red shark! I think usually when it’s busy with so many boats around, they do not show up, so it was very lucky.
That’s amazing! So, when all this is over what’s your next big trip?
After we are done here, we will go back to the north of Thailand and spend some time there. Jan has some land in the north so we’ll practice a bit more permaculture and organic gardening, and we’ll try to connect with some Workaway hosts to work on some more projects within that self-sustainability realm. After that we plan to go to Europe next year, and then travel and find like-minded people. We’ll see if we can find something which is either already established in terms of a community which we could maybe become part of, or start something ourselves. Our main, long-term aim is to leave something behind for following generations, something we would be really proud of. Especially if it’s a piece of land, where we can really say we transformed something or left something here of value.
Even when we are not here anymore, our kids can look back and say they really tried to turn this thing around and do something about reversing climate change.
That sounds amazing, and I’m sure you’ll be spoilt for choice with our European hosts! Have you got any parting words of wisdom for our Workawayers?
Just do it!
What we figured out on the way is to find a lifestyle theme for yourself, and try to be more flexible with the rest of your plan. Like for us, sometimes we had destinations in mind but we were not too much like, this has to happen like that. Because a lot of times it didn’t happen, a lot of times you reach out and sometimes maybe hosts are busy.
We tend to plan our life in our head step by step, but it’s not like that with Workaway, or in general with travelling.
It’s more like you have to float …
Be the water.
… yeah, be like water, and be flexible and live that theme and if something hits your way, you have to be like, “Okay, why don’t we go around? Be a bit creative?” Then we go this way and that direction, and at the end it doesn’t matter for us if I do my gardening right here now with this family, or if I do it maybe with that family there.
And stay open minded.
The more expectations you have about a certain place, I think, the more you can be frustrated if it doesn’t look exactly like that. So just keep your heart open and let it evolve and see, it all can become very playful.
Great advice. It’s been so lovely speaking to you!
Check out our full interview with Felix and Jan here!
We hope you’re feeling as inspired as we are by Felix and Jan’s story! Do you want to be our next
Workawayer of the month? We are always on the lookout for inspirational Workawayers who have a great story to tell!
Email us and you could be featured next!
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