Karen Kay: discovering a relatively cheap way of visiting more of the world

PUBLISHED: 09:57 08 June 2015 | UPDATED: 09:57 08 June 2015

Fancy heading off into the great outdoors?

Fancy heading off into the great outdoors?


Look! There’s a big, wide world out there and Karen’s discovered an intriguing - and relatively cheap - way to see and enjoy a lot more of our planet’s great outdoors

While working on a commission in Austria with my photographer husband (I know, I’m lucky, but bear with me… there’s a point to this), I had the privilege of meeting Mark and Rachel, a 50-something couple from New Zealand. We spent the best part of a week together, laughing, cycling, drinking various European wines and generally enjoying the company of relative strangers from opposite sides of the earth.

Mark, a carpenter, and Rachel, a travel agent, immediately struck us as decent folk: thoughtful, fun and real do-ers – the kind who seize the moment and cycle 25 miles through vineyards and apricot orchards on a glorious afternoon. So we joined in, and loved every second of it – despite the weary limbs the next day.

It turns out that they are do-ers on a much bigger scale. With grown-up children who’ve flown the nest, they’ve refused to settle into a leisurely life. They’ve rented out their house on a stretch of Kiwi coastline and set off to Europe on a three year working holiday. It’s pretty much a cost-neutral venture, thanks largely to fascinating undertakings arranged via an online community called workaway. No, I’d never heard of it either. But goodness me, I want to shout about it now.

The premise of workaway is to promote a fair exchange between budget travellers, culture-seekers or language learners and families, individuals or organisations looking for extra pairs of hands or brainpower. Initially, it might seem to be tailored to gap year students, but delve deeper and the scheme is a gold mine of opportunity for anyone willing to grab life by the horns. Whether you spend a fortnight helping on a farm in the French countryside, book a sabbatical to see South America over six months, or start retirement by travelling, the world, quite literally, is your oyster.

Ever fancied serving Pina Coladas in a beach bar in Panama? Now’s your chance. You’ll need to do a little gardening, shopping, cooking and some general maintenance too, but in return you’ll get accommodation in a shared cabin, and plenty of time to surf, snorkel, barbecue or take a siesta in a beach hammock. Like the sound of a stay at a wildlife sanctuary in New South Wales, caring for baby wallabies and koalas and doing some land maintenance? It’s yours for the taking, if you’re happy to deal with the odd snake and spider, too.

There’s a yoga retreat in Jamaica looking for help in the kitchen. Or, if you could help with IT or teaching school children in Tanzania, why not really make a difference to their future? I found a Swiss woman living on the Mexican coast who is looking for someone to tutor her daughters in English for a few hours a day in return for beachfront accommodation.

If you have skills such as plumbing, bricklaying, carpentry or plastering, or a teaching qualification, there’s plenty of places that could do with your help for four hours a day in return for board and lodging. Fancy living in Tonga for a while? I found people who need experienced construction workers to help complete their self-build home, and another family who take tourists swimming with hump-back whales, and seek a teacher to support their teenage children through distance-learning.

And this is what Mark and Rachel are doing. They’re working their way round Europe, renovating alpine chalets, building extensions in London, helping with grape harvests in Austria, and more. Aside from the cost of travelling between destinations, their existence is pretty-much cost-neutral.

You could register as a workaway host, and attract some dynamic characters to the leafy Home Counties: you might finally get that new patio laid or your windows painted, or your kids taught Spanish and horseriding, in exchange for a spare room and a few meals over the summer.

If Mark and Rachel are anything to go by, the experience has been positive all the way, with people who genuinely want a ‘fair exchange’. Like many online ventures, there is a user-generated feedback protocol in place, so anyone abusing the system would be rapidly weeded out. Generally, comments are warm and talk of friendships made, highlighting the spirit of the concept.

So, if you’re feeling a little stuck in your rut, why not consider what ties you REALLY have, and look at the opportunities out there. After all, there is a well-known saying: “You only regret the things in life you don’t do, and rarely the things you do do”.




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