Before arriving in Europe a few months ago we researched what would be the cheapest and most effective way to travel here (on a budget). We found that volunteering in exchange for food and accommodation was very popular which we thought was a fantastic idea as this would make our savings last much longer! After some more research we signed up to workaway.info and began searching for suitable hosts throughout France…literally thousands!!
We arrived in France in the beginning of November and spent our first week in Paris with our friend Alizee and her family. We then headed down to Bourges in Central france to start our very first work exchange in a small hotel & restaurant.
We quickly settled in Hôtel L’echalier and grew into a routine which would last for 3 weeks. From 9am until 1pm Sandy, myself and another volunteer, Alice, were renovating and redecorating a small bedroom in one of the apartments, none of us had ever had much experience in doing something like this before but after a few YouTube lessons we were well on our way.
After the morning shift we were always rewarded with a 3 course lunch, which most of the time we would be licking the plate, though there were times we literally couldn’t finish all the food… And that didn’t always go down well with our host and sometimes led to a few awkward moments…ooops!
After we had recovered from our food coma we pretty much chilled out in the restaurant. Since we were in a small village about an hours walk from the city we decided to spend some time indoors to relax and recharge, we practiced our French, caught up on social media, did some blogging, edited pictures, read books, etc..on the odd occasion we took a trip into the city before heading back for our English class in the evenings with 2 French girls who worked at the restaurant. After class, another 3 course meal accompanied with a bottle or 2 of the house red (my favourite time of the day!)
Although our volunteer exchange was excellent, we didn’t really have much in common with our host, we were getting that ‘itchy feet’ feeling again and we craved a more social environment. So, we decided to move on to a new place for a couple of weeks before heading back to England for Christmas. We jumped on the ‘last minute’ section of workaway.info and found a hosts in Lower Normandy in the North of France.
The contrast between these places were clear and we immediately felt happier, we’d hit it off straight away with our new hosts, all the food here was vegetarian which we were longing for, there were a few other like minded volunteers there to socialise with and we had our own commune house which gave us a lot more independence.
In Normandy we didn’t have wifi, we just had 1 dial-up computer for us all to share, and at first we thought we would have a problem since our generation can’t seem to do anything that doesn’t involve the Internet…However we found that we were so much more social without it. We found common ground and always had something to talk about, which really allowed us to get to know the other volunteers as well as our hosts. We watched ‘old’ movies on the VCR, played board games, drank wine and just had a good time whilst being ourselves rather than being unsociable behind our mobile devices.
Our usual day would look something like, starting work at 11am, having an hour lunch break at 2pm and then finishing the work day at 6pm. There was a rotating roster for household chores and cooking dinner for after work. This was the first time we cooked dinner for 7 people which really got us outside our comfort zones and has now given us more confidence in the kitchen. After dinner, our hosts would come around with a few bottles of wine and some snacks and then the night would begin..usually ending around 2 am!
The work wasn’t monotonous whatsoever and varied from manual labour in the 3 acres of farmland, to feeding the farm animals, and even playing scrabble with Debbie’s elderly mum. After a very quick 2 weeks it was time for us to head back to the UK for all the Christmas festivities. We had a great time learning new skills and meeting some awesome people so we were sad to leave this place.
So after spending a week exploring Paris, volunteering for 3 weeks in Bourges and Normandy for 2 weeks, we had some unforgettable experiences and learnt a hell of a lot not just about the French culture but also about ourselves and what we were capable of. It was satisfying to see the many projects we worked on eventually start to take shape, with our happiest achievement being that we know our English lessons with the French girls made a huge impact.
I highly recommend volunteering in return for food and accommodation. There are way too many benefits to list but If you’re looking for new experiences in different countries and wanting to spend as least amount of money as possible then you will love it. You can’t always guarantee that you will love every single place you volunteer at, however by taking a chance you might just have the best experiences and meet some amazing people. We will be continuing to volunteer like this in 2016 and have just arrived in The Algarve in Portugal ready to start our next work exchange.
Have you volunteered before? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below…
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