Cousurfing, hitch-hiking and working on farms has meant I have barely spent any money in the last few weeks. I love a bargain (some might say I’m a tight-arse, I prefer the term fabulously frugal), so being able to travel through Europe almost for free, is like a fabulously frugal dream come true.
There are a couple of websites where people or ‘hosts’ can offer food and accommodation in exchange for a few hours work. Some hosts are offering work ‘opportunities’ which are basically exploitation. “Come and sleep on my floor somewhere and have a bit of food in exchange for 6-8 hours of work per day, people with lots of training and skills and experience prefered.”
Most places however are resonable in what they expect people to do and it’s more in the spirit of sharing and co-operation and meeting new people.
My first work exchange place was on a little farm called “Rapato” in France near the village of Chambon.
The first night I arrived there were already 18 people from all over the world. Someone was heading into town so we all threw in money to buy wine and beer. There were a load of Scottish and Irish boys who all had guitars. That first night we all crammed into the communal tent and drank and sang, and I knew it was my kind of place. I ended up spending a lot of my first few days crammed in that tent because it rained and rained and rained some more. Everyone was getting cabin fever and depressed when finally the sun came out.
Life was…. rustic. There was no shower, but there was a creek with a small waterfall further upstream so everyone just washed there. The toilet was a dry composting toilet, it smelled awful most of the time, so if it was just a wee I needed to do, I just went in the bush. I quickly learned to check my surrounding very carefully after squatting down and sticking my bare bum on some stinging nettles.
Mostly I worked in the gardens weeding and stuff like that. I also did a lot of cooking and just helping out with whatever was needed.
It was pretty relaxed, just a few hours in the morning, a big break for lunch then a few hours in the arvo. Evenings were spent talking and singing and drinking around the campfire.
After 11 days it was time for a change so my new friend Ida and I left Rapato to head to Spain, where she had some friends, with plans to then on go to Portugal where we planned to go to Boom Festival (Which has bloody sold out!)
Ida and I tried our luck with hitch-hiking and within minutes of standing by the road, we were picked up by a wealthy Dutch couple. They were headed to Birratz, right near the Spanish border. I think they felt a bit sorry for us because when we’d stop at the big petrol stations, they kept offering to buy us food.
The Dutch man offered us some life advice, “find a rich husband,” he said, “then you never have to work again.”
Ida told him she didn’t think money was so important, and he said, “You girls might think that now, but wait until you are 30!”
I didn’t want to mention I am actually 32. I don’t think I look particuly young for my age, but I suppose when you see two girls hitch-hiking, trying to get to a music festival, looking like ragamuffins, you just assume they are in their 20s.
I stayed a few days with Ida and her friends in Basque Country, then it was time to say good-bye and move on to my next volunteer working place. This time I took a bus. Spain and Portugal are notoriously hard to hitch-hike in, and I was a bit nervous hitching on my own anyway.
Now I am in the north of Portugal staying with a family and helping with their plot of land. They are originally from the UK and have lots of plans of getting off the grid and more self-sufficient, but they are right at the beginning of this project. I want to buy some land in the next few years so it has been really interesting seeing how this can work.
So thats about where I am at with my trip so far. I’ll probably stay a little while, then there is another place further south I want to check out.