There is a fire of excitement in his eyes and suddenly hands and arms are waving through the air as the energy in the room shifts and heightens. Instead of spinning the globe with our eyes closed and pointing, we are choosing countries from a drop down box. With the click of the mouse, he picks India and then selects the region of Kerala. Twenty-seven Workaway hosts are displayed and enthusiasm builds as we read descriptions of potential volunteer opportunities together like, “Help at a coffee bar/ restaurant on top of Varkala cliff” or “Help create a vegetable garden in our small beach resort.”
My smile widens as I watch this tattooed, Starbucks employee from Nashville begin to imagine himself serving coffee in India, and achieving his dream of world travel. We shift gears and try searching for hosts in Israel, another place he wants to visit. Forty-one hosts pop up with opportunities ranging from language help to hostel work, from living in a Kibbutz to staying on an organic farm harvesting grapes. A new adventure is born and unfolds before the page can scarcely finish loading. The excitement is contagious.
I felt the same excitement today when I opened up my inbox and received another message from the vibrant international family I find myself belonging to. As I read warm holiday wishes sent from southern France, all I could think about were tired summer evenings sitting around a bonfire, eating make-shift-close-enough-to-being-American s’mores, sipping on wine and sharing gypsy dreams.
I think of frothy milk being poured into hot cups of coffee each morning and afternoon, I think of driving through quaint French villages as we headed to the beach with the top rolled down, wind in our hair, freedom taking flight in our hearts. I remember barely perceptible German accents, and eating the best gazpacho of my life after another day spent sanding, painting, and scraping old carpet off of bathroom tiles. I remember liquid courage filling my veins as I realized I was not alone. Not alone in questioning the status-quo, not alone in searching for something more. I was not alone on this journey, I was no longer running away from, but running toward.
Pont Ivy, France 2013
Inguiniel, France 2013
It’s been over a year since I spent two weeks in the middle of nowhere France, working and living with a crazy, lovable group of international volunteers. It was my very first Workaway experience and two of the more challenging weeks of my trip, not because of the company, but because there were lessons to be learned, and lessons to pass on to others. I shared these two weeks with an older couple from Frankfurt who left everything behind to make a new life for themselves. They became my mentors during those weeks, teasing me about my French accent, my American pragmatism, and teaching me to stop apologizing for being a wanderer.
As I read their email update sharing the unfolding of their dream many months later, I realize how much of a lasting impact we had on each other. It was a brief encounter, an abrupt coming together that shaped the rest of my travels. Even though my first attempt at volunteering through Workaway was a bit negative, the connections shared and relationships we formed gave me the confidence to try again. I’m so glad I did.
Through my Workaway experiences I was welcomed with open arms into families, celebrated weddings and funerals, discovered sand dunes and castles, ate succulent meals around a table, and sang around a crackling fireplace. I weeded rose gardens, fluffed bed sheets, built raised garden beds and shoveled compost. I painted walls and ceilings and curbs, bandaged wounds and taught English grammar. I went hiking up red dirt mountains in Ghana, canoed down the Dordogne in France, and swam in the ocean. I picked acorns, read bed-time stories, and went on bicycle rides in the rain.
This was my official last day in France. It couldn’t have been spent more perfectly
I have to admit, there is something sort of magical and unbelievable about the community created through Workaway. More than giving my travels a greater purpose and perspective than tourism and consumption alone, it also provided evidence of the commonality and connectedness I’d been seeking. Instead of spending my money, I spent my time gathering anecdotes from around the world, tuning my ear to new accents and important life stories. I opened my heart and found others opening theirs to mine. I became a sister, Auntie, and daughter.
My host family in Ghana, 2013
Now I’m living in a new community where we share and laugh and love just like all of my surrogate families from around the world. I recognize the warmth and joy of home because I’ve felt it so many times before. We may not be as diverse, or come from as many places all over the world, but it’s the same community, the same sense of belonging I’ve been carrying with me this whole time. It’s never forgotten or lost, it can only expand.