With the exception of four nights in a hotel in Paris, two overnight trains, a nine night cruise and three nights in a hotel with my family in Gatteo a Mare and Bologna… Adam and I had to find ways to stay/live in Europe for 77 days. How did we manage that? By two wonderful organizations – Workaway and Couchsurfing.
Both of these organizations are semi free. Why semi free? Because there is no such thing as a free lunch. With Workaway you become a volunteer and pay a one year fee ($29 for a single person, $38 for a couple/two friends). In addition to the fee, as a volunteer you are working “volunteering” for your accommodation. With Couchsurfing you can create a profile for free, but to give yourself more creditability you can pay $25 for a verified profile. Regardless of the fee, it is also generous that “surfers” bring their host a gift, buy a round of drinks, help pay for groceries, or any small token of gratitude. Every host we stayed with, both Workaway and Couchsurfing, we gave them gifts from Texas or paid for dinner as our token of gratitude.
Workaway has been the most rewarding and fulfilling experience. We joined Workaway because it allowed us to achieve my dream of living, working and traveling in Italy while learning Italian cuisine. It allowed us to not just travel throughout Italy, but to immerse ourselves in the culture.
So what is Workaway? Workaway is an unique organization that touches the travel community for people who want to volunteer whilst seeing the world and immersing themselves in different cultures. In exchange for food and accommodation, Workaway volunteers, “workawayers” work and help their hosts in anyway they can. Both hosts and workawayers create profiles to show what they need, what skills they can provide, etc. Workawayers and hosts can message each other through their profiles to get to know each other and arrange for the arrival. Upon a prearranged agreement the workawayers can work anywhere between five hours, five days a week to six hours, four days a week. It all depends on what the host asks of the workawayer. Workaway is found in over 155 countries and volunteers can help with – helping a family take care of their children or be an au pair, working on a garden/farm, teaching a language, working at a b&b or hostel, etc.
- Our first host family needed my help to teach English to an Italian chef. My work required me to help teach and coach him how to cook and give lessons in English. How many hours a day did we do this? I have no idea, I would say we did two lessons a day (lunch and dinner) and each lesson was around four hours. It was easy to teach him and through helping him learn English I learned how to cook some amazing Italian dishes. So for me how much time I spent “working” never felt like work at all. In addition to our lessons, we were also constantly speaking to him in English at the dinner table or just a casual conversation. While I taught English (which Adam also helped with), he worked with the mother taking care of chores around the house and watching and playing with their two little boys. We felt a part of their family and helping them with anything they needed was never really a chore, but a pleasure.
- Our second host had a more thorough schedule for us. We would wake up and start work at 9am and work till 11:30am, then clean up and help prepare lunch with our hosts (this would be immersing ourself in their culture and lifestyle because cooking and eating took at least 3 hours). After lunch we would have free time and then at 5pm we would work again until 7:30pm, then clean up and help prepare for dinner. We did this five days week and worked on their farm/garden harvesting produce such as, raspberries, blackberries, hazelnuts, tomatoes, green beens, etc. It was a beautiful experience learning how to garden and how to nurture the healthy produce. We also helped refurbish their windows and doors in two of their houses by sanding and painting them. During our stay here we were really close to nature and learned a lot about our mind and spirit.
- Our last hosts were very flexible and laid back, they were so thankful to have us because they had not been able to go on vacation for over three months. All they needed from us was to watch their three dogs for three days. In addition to dog sitting we helped sand and paint their front door. We also worked in the kitchen to make fresh tomato sauce that took us six hours a day for four straight days. Again this was immersing ourselves in the culture and we loved it! How often can you make fresh tomato sauce in an Italian home?
- Our volunteering was always more rewarding than calling it “work”. So as you can see with three different hosts we had three different unique experiences.
On our off days we were allowed to go and do whatever we wanted. In our time in Italy we stayed in three wonderful homes in three different cities (Brescia, Castiglion Fiorentino, Agropoli), but we visited around 15 cities in Italy. One host said that we had seen more of Italy in our 50+ days than she had seen in her 60 year lifetime. This is the purpose of Workaway – to see the world and to experience it in a beautiful, rewarding way! To fulfill your dreams! I have learned so much Italian cuisine and pastries and I have learned about the Italian culture in a way I never imagined. Both Adam and I came out of our trip as two different people and a lot has to do with our experiences and the people we met through Workaway.
To this day we still talk to all three of our hosts. We now feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. We feel a part of the community and I hope to inspire more people to join us in the Workaway community. If you are on a budget or just want to see the world in a different perspective I urge you to join Workaway. It is one click away… https://www.workaway.info/
Couchsurfing was recommended to me by a friend of mine who had traveled around the world for three months while using Couchsurfing. She suggested Couchsurfing to me because she knew we were on a budget and that we wanted to experience Europe differently than most tourists. Couchsurfing is an organization that provides people a platform to “surf” for a couch to sleep on, hence “couchsurfing”. People open their homes to strangers and allow them to crash on their couch while showing them the city. This allows the “surfers” to experience the city as a local, to immerse in their cultural and lifestyle. Everyone creates a profile that explains why they are on Couchsurfing, what their personality is, where they have traveled to, etc. The more personal the profile the more you attract yourself for people to stay with you or you stay with someone. Couchsurfing is a also a great community, people get together at events, meet up in the city, etc. During our travels we stayed with six different hosts and met two more surfers at events.
- We stayed two nights with Jim in Amsterdam, Netherlands and he had a spare bedroom with a queen sized bed. He showed us some great food places, he let us borrow his bikes to see the city, took us around Amsterdam at night which meant seeing the Red Light District and shared several stories along the way. Jim was our first Couchsurfing host ever, and really set the tone for our next hosts. He shared some great travel tips with us and we really enjoyed spending time with him.
- We stayed one night with Mosio in Turin, Italy and he was generous to host us for such a short time. We arrived in the afternoon and Mosio had cooked lunch for us and then took us on a grand tour throughout Turin. Then we met Fabio at a bar and the four of us bonded over soccer with beer and food. Fabio ended up taking Adam and I to and from the Juventus game and helped us make sure we got to our seats okay. Both great guys.
- Our third host was with Lorenzo in Milan, Italy. He was also generous because we literally arrived in Milan at midnight and were catching a train to Switzerland at 8am the next morning. We stayed up till 2 am talking with Lorenzo and his roommate about where we had been and where they had traveled. We wished we had more time because we enjoyed our short visit with Lorenzo.
- Our fourth host was with Phillip in Zermatt, Switzerland and was an amazing experience! We were only supposed to stay with Phillip for one night, but after some convincing and not being able to see everything we wanted to, we stayed one more night and it was the best decision of our trip! On our second night with Phillip he hosted two more surfers (Rachid from Morocco and Silvia from Canada) and invited friends over. We all drank wine, made Swiss fondue (which was amazing) and shared stories – in one night we were surrounded by so many different people from three different continents. That night really ignited what Couchsurfing is about – meeting people from all around the world, and traveling by the flow brings the most unexpected and best surprises.
- We stayed two nights with our fifth host, Sergio, in Lucerne, Switzerland. Adam and I spent the day exploring and going on different adventures and would meet up with Sergio at night after he got off work. Both nights Sergio cooked us amazing Swiss meals, one being raclette, our new favorite Swiss meal. The experience of cooking with Sergio and having home cooked Swiss cuisine was awesome.
- Our last host was with Zeljko in Munich, Germany and he took us to Oktoberfest! During Oktoberfest we ended up meeting two people by random, Leo and Maylee, and another couchsurfer, Anthony. The six of us ended up tent hopping and drinking our beers all night long – prosst! We had so much fun at Oktoberfest that the next morning we all got together again and went sightseeing in Munich. Another great, unexpected couchsurfing experience!
So as you can see we were able to meet so many people, from all around the world, in four different countries. Every host was different and special in their own way. Every sleeping arrangement was different – one time we had our own room, a couple of times our hosts had us sleep in their beds, one time we slept on a couch and another time on an air mattress. It never mattered to us. We were in it for the experience and relationships. Some times we were able to see the city with our hosts, other times they had to work so they would give us great local tips and we would explore the city on our own. We were always grateful to our hosts and as I stated before we always thanked them with generous gifts, buying dinner, or anything else related to being a token of gratitude.
Couchsurfing reunites the feeling that there are good people out there in the world and we certainly met them. When using Couchsurfing you always have to be careful and beware of your safety. There are bad situations people have been in with Couchsurfing, but that shouldn’t discourage you to break out of your comfort zone and try. Amazing things can happen when you break out of your comfort zone – it certainly did for us! I encourage you to use Couchsurfing, smart and safely, the next time you travel! To get started click here…
Lastly, as I stated in the beginning of this post we used overnight trains to help us stay and get around Europe. Overnight trains is literally killing THREE birds with one stone. You get to use time, train, and accommodation in one. An overnight train is best when you are in one city, but want to get to another city at a reasonable distance, the price is right and preferably you get a couchette. You cannot use an overnight train and have it work as accommodation if the train ride is only three hours long. When we used overnight trains they were at least ten hours long and a great price. One time we had reclining chairs that weren’t terrible and another time we had a couchette. For example:
- We left Milan at 10pm and arrived in Agropoli close to 7am. This train COST us around $120 total, thats $60 per person. This train route also cost anywhere between $100-$140 at anytime during the day so regardless of when we left we would be paying the same amount of money. In addition to cost is TIME. Why would we want to waste 6-10 hours of precious daylight on a train when we could be sightseeing? Lastly, ACCOMMODATION, we are essentially getting a free night stay and are able to go to sleep in one city and wake up in another! Is the train the most comfortable bed we could sleep on? No, but it’s actually a fun experience and you are saving yourself a lot of time and money.
Adam and I loved riding the trains, train hopping or running through the terminal trying to find our next train. It was all part of our traveling experience. Is overnight trains for everyone? Maybe not, but for budget savvy travelers I say go for it! A great train website we used for all our bookings is Captain Train, now known as Train Line. Train Line allows Americans to book and pay their train tickets with their American credit cards at the same price as Europeans pay. Some websites allow Americans to book European trains, but at an extra cost. Train Line does not do that and I highly recommend it. https://www.trainline.eu/search
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