Permaculture and finding your place in the world: meet Penny, our Workawayer of the Month

Ever wanted to pack it all up, pack it all in and let the adventures begin? It might sound like an option only for care-free twenty-somethings, but it’s never too late to travel. Meet our Workawayer of the Month and new inspiration, Penny, who left full-time employment behind for the wide blue yonder of Workaway and found a second home in Kenya. Read on to find out more about her insights as an experienced traveller, her adventures in permaculture farming, how to make friends along the road and finding your place in the world!
What started you on your travelling journey? 
I won an all-inclusive paid trip to the Bahamas through a business that I was involved with. I was there for a week, and I enjoyed it a lot. But at the end of that stay, I realised that that kind of all-inclusive, fancy trip wasn't really my thing. So when I got home, I decided to look into international travel. I started by doing two volunteer trips with an organisation that I was volunteering with at home. One trip was to El Salvador, and one was to Chile, helping low-income families build homes. It was a really good experience and it was my initiation, I guess, into the developing world.

It really did something to me - it changed my outlook on life, on everything. I started looking for more volunteering, and then I came across an opportunity to travel to Kenya and do some Workaways, which was my first big solo trip. It was amazing, and now I can't get enough of Kenya and international travel in general, to be honest. Yeah, I just love it! 
dancing with new friends in kenya during workaway volunteer trip

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You mentioned to me earlier that you took the leap to quit your job to travel full time. Scary! What advice would you have for people considering doing the same?
Yeah, that was really scary. I made that decision after my third trip to Kenya. I had just returned after taking eight months off to volunteer at a Workaway at a permaculture farm, and I became very close with the family and the people there. I wanted to do more of that - I had a strong feeling of helping and doing something good in a world that was very different from my own. When I went back to work I had surgery, and as soon as my surgery was over, I asked if I could have another leave of absence. My boss said to me, “You need to choose - either you work, or you go”.

It didn't take me long to make that decision. I was sad to leave my work, but I was really happy to step out and explore something new. For other people who are thinking about doing something like that … everyone has a different life, and different responsibilities. At that time I didn't really have any responsibilities, and I worked for three years up until then to pay off all my debt. It wasn't really a hard decision for me to make, because I didn't have any expenses or any big reasons to be there.

So look at your circumstances. If you're feeling really strongly about something, fear is the hardest thing, the biggest reason that we don't do things. Absolutely, for sure. But I think if you take that leap of faith, and believe that you're doing something that you really truly want to do, it will all work out in the end.
workawayer penny and local musician cultural exchange

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Great advice! So, tell me more about the eco-farm in Kenya - what was so special about that experience? 
When I met the host, went out and saw what he was doing, it just seemed like a fit for me. I met his family, and they became family for me. The home that I lived in had doors, but so often the doors were left wide open, and the cows would walk through, the chickens would come in and lay eggs, the kids would come and go. It was just so different from how we live in Canada, even though I grew up on a farm myself. Most of the time in Kenya, families all live together in a common compound. In this family, there were three brothers, a sister and their families and children. The children became just like my own children. It just felt like that's where I belonged. It was really easy for me to fall in love with that area, and with those people.
workawayer penny carrying a bucket of water on her head

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I learned from my past trips that some countries are suffering from water shortages. When I started volunteering at the permaculture project, I became even more aware of the importance of water conservation.

The home that I lived in didn't have any running water, it had no electricity and an outdoor toilet. I experienced true rural life, having to carry water on my head. Most of the farm work was manual too. We planted a lot of trees, and we built swales and canals to bring water in from nearby Lake Victoria. We built raised beds and hauled manure in wheelbarrows along a big track… It was hard enough work, but it's really near and dear to me -- that project, those families, those children and their mum. Their dad, unfortunately, sadly passed away last year. One of my biggest heartfelt memories is Baba, which means dad in Swahili, sitting in the middle of the yard underneath this huge tree. He would sit there and read his newspaper, drink his coffee or his tea, and the children would all sit with him, it was their bonding time.
workaway permaculture experience in kenya

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You've made such strong bonds with people through travel. You even mentioned that you're friends with Daniel, who has been our  Workawayer of the Month before! How did you meet him, and how do you make new friends when you're travelling?
I actually met Daniel on my way to a Workaway project in Tanzania. He told me that he was on his way to volunteer at another Workaway project, and he mentioned he was a Workawayer of the Month, which is kind of cool! At the beginning of my travels, I would often couch-surf, and I found a lot of my friends that way too.
I find that it’s really important to connect to the people that you stay with, or that you meet along the way, because you never know when you're going to maybe need a contact in that location. Friendships are important to me.
penny smiling selfie with workaway host's little boy

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We hear from a lot of mature women who want to travel alone, but they're nervous. What advice would you have for them?
I think that, for me, travel is a necessary thing, because you experience different things outside of your little bubble. I always say you just have to do it. You have to step outside your comfort zone. If you don't, you're stuck where you are … I shouldn't say stuck. But you're where you are, and you don't get to experience the wonderment of the world that we live in. It’s amazing to experience new cultures, different people, different countries, different lands. So I tell people to just do it, there’s nothing to be scared about. I don't know anything else other than to say, just do it. Step out. Don't be afraid. Be strong. 
carrying heavy sacks for sustainable project with happiness

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You do some travel writing on  your blog, how did you get started with that?
I started writing my blog after I started visiting Kenya, to show people that there's more to these developing countries than what the media portrays. When I first arrived in Nairobi, I was like 'Wow! Whoa, this is really scary for me.' When you travel somewhere like that for a short holiday, the first thing you see is the massive amounts of people. You see so much poverty, and you see the garbage, and so that's what social media ends up showing too.

Because I stayed there a long time, I saw so much more than just poverty. I saw human beings. I saw how beautiful the people are. I saw the culture, the different lifestyles, the different ways that they live with their families. I wanted to use my blog to show people that they shouldn't believe everything you see in the media, because it's not always the full picture.
planting a tree with local host family

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What a great reason to be writing! So what are you up to now?
Yeah, sure! Because of the pandemic, I’m back home in Saskatchewan, Canada. I’m working with a local Workaway host, on a wetland restoration project that beautifies the area that I live in. We are restoring some pasture land at the very entrance to our little village, trying to bring back a healthy ecosystem and to put in some flood control because it is a low lying area. 

We are also trying to create a healthy area for the birds and the life within the wetland, and we have planted hundreds and hundreds of trees. It's really exciting, I love trees! This year coming up we are putting in 2,000 feet of walking paths, with lots of interpretive signage. We're also starting a tree-adoption programme in our planting garden for the youth in the community, so they can learn a little bit about the importance of trees in the environment, and about composting, mulching, gardening, and sustainability. We're so excited about it, it's a really fun project! 
from workawayer to host giving back to local nature

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When the pandemic is over, where are you off to next? 
I’ll definitely go back to Kenya. It will have been five years since I have seen my family. After that, I don't know!

I have different ideas of where I want to go -- I open up my Workaway and see if I can find something that calls to me and just go. There are so many places that I want to see, the entire world. I don't know if I have enough time left in my life to see everything, but I'm gonna do my very best!
cuddling goat while workaway volunteering with animals

Related blog post: Ten best destinations for solo female travellers

Any parting words of wisdom for our Workawayers? 
Oh, I think that you just have to reach out and go! Pick different projects that you're not used to being part of, something that's different. Because why go to do something that you normally do at home? For me, I like to do something that I've never done before, something that calls to me, something that I feel like I'm doing a better good for. So I say, just do it! 

If you're not a Workawayer yet, and you're looking to do Workaway, sign up because it will change your life. It has changed my life! I've seen the most amazing parts of the world, met amazing people, learned about some very different kinds of cultures that I would never have learned if I hadn't stepped into the Workaway world and it’s been really, really amazing. So do it, just do it. Step aside from your fear and just do it.
hauling manure in wheelbarrows sustainable workaway

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Excellent advice, thank you so much for talking to us!

Check out our full interview with Penny here

We hope you enjoyed reading! If Penny's story has inspired you to get on the road, keep checking out our blog for more travelling tips and tricks - or take the plunge, and sign up here! And if you're a workawayer who also has inspiring stories to share, email us and you could be featured as our next Workawayer of the Month!
permaculturesolo female travellersustainable travel

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