Ever since I landed in Chile, I have been doing voluntourism with a couple different hostels, and I find that this type of travel seems to suit me. Instead of just paying for a hotel, or hostel, I get room (bed), and sometimes board (food) in exchange for 30 hours of work.
One of the hostels I volunteered at was also the office of the owners many other business interests, many of which included cellphone towers, intranet and even a tv movie service similar to Netflix. I found it through the website workaway.info, which is a site that puts volunteers together with hosts who need help.
The workaway was located in Frutillar, one of those cute tourist towns near their lakes district which was founded by Germans back in the 1800’s (I believe).
At first I thought I’d be working on an ERP system, but since I was only going to be there for 2 weeks max, they decided I’d create a animated logo.
It was sort of a throwback to my previous work as a web site designer. But, it almost felt to me like an unequal exchange. Like, I got room and board for a week for an animated logo – right?
I had an entire house to myself – and while quite cold and damp it had 3 bedrooms and I ate meals with the family at their house next door.
For an animated logo.
Just didn’t seem fair to me, which bothered me. The host, though, seemed delighted with the logo. It’s what I used to tell a friend of mine: It may be simple for you, but for someone who doesn’t know how you did it, it is like unimaginable magic.
The gig was pretty good, but the house was located about a 45 minute walk from the tourist village, and after going to the Concert hall, and eating at a few restaurants I found that I exhausted the interesting tidbits about the town.
So, every day I would leave after work for a rainy stroll to town and back, eating one of the specials of the day, drinking a local germanic-like beer, then walking back before it got dark.
So, after a week, and seeing another week stretch in front of me into an eternity-seeming repetition of my days ahead, after a week I had had enough. I talked to the other volunteer named Fucundo, and asked him how long he had been volunteering, and he said: ‘One year.’
Blew my mind.
How was that possible? One week for me and I was already going stir crazy. I think part of it was just escaping a Colorado Winter, and even with it being mild as it was it was a shock to go from Spring straight back into another Winter.
But then I found out where Fucundo was from, and he said it was the most southern part of Argentina. From his description it sounded like an alternate universe Alaska – Long cold Winters, and maybe a brief couple weeks where they might see some sun. After something like that, Frutillar must have seemed like a decent place to hangout for a year – or more!
But for me, I had had enough.
The thing about traveling is that you are in charge of the experience that you want, and since the host and I had not established how long I should stay, it was simply up to me how long to remain.
I completed the logo and bought a ticket back to Santiago.
Coincidentally, I received an offer to work in a hostel through a different volunteer service called helpx.net , otherwise known as Help Exchange. La Casa Roja was quite large, with the ability to host nearly 100 hostel guests. I was to be part of around 20 people, some paid staff, and the rest volunteers like myself.
The hostel need many different types of help, and so far I’ve done cleaning, grounds maintenance, helped make a fire for a BBQ and even learned some basic bartending!
I actually spent 2 days as a regular guest until my voluntourism gig came up, just to check them out, and found they facilitated alot of activities for the hostel guests, like movie night, arranging guided tours, and had a nice bar with cheap drinks.
And after spending a few nights ona shaky top bunk, it was nice to stay in the staff bedroom with only 3 other people (instead of 7) with a bed to myself, and even a dresser!
It’s so pleasant, and the tasks well organized and communicated that I may even extend my stay!
Being a volunteer also helps you connect with both regular staff, who are typically locals, and also an international contingent of people also traveling by doing voluntourism. I’ve practiced my basic Spanish with the staff, as well as get travel information from the other volunteers. It’s a great combination, because as a guest, while you may interact a bit with both staff and other travelers, as a volunteer you become almost quasi-staff, with more privileges, and some unique to staff perks.
For example, I get free breakfast as a volunteer on top of my free room. And certain volunteer activities allow volunteers extras, such as BBQ night you get to also get a plate of food, or bartending usually gets a free pint of beer as well as any tips. And certain things like bartending are great skills to develop – they travel well, and how cool is it to say, ‘Hey, yeah I learned to bartend in Santiago, Chile…’
I’m sure I will find alternate ways to do work exchanges, or even paid gigs like teaching english – or bartending! But, helping out at hostels and other places that need a hand is turning out to be a great way to facilitate travel in ways you might not have thought of! I certainly didn’t. And if you are planning a long-term travel trip I most definitely recommend that you give it a try.