One of the questions that I have been asked the most about by two month trip to Europe was "how?" and it tends to go a little something like this:
"How can you afford to travel for two months? Wait...you stayed in Italy for a month for free? How?! You're staying with a family that you found online? How did you hear about them? What are you going to be doing? How can I do this?!"
So here is how it all happened, and how you can travel anywhere for free...with a little research and hard work along the way.
WorkAway is a website where hosts can post jobs ranging from a few days to a few months that they need done in exchange for accommodations, and sometimes even meals. Many hosts advertise their need for handiwork, nanny work, or English teaching. Since, I'm not good with tools and not so great with kids (just being honest), I didn't think I would have much to offer to any host. After creating my profile and listing my desired destinations, I decided to take a step back and revisit the idea another time.
A few days later, I received a notification from an Italian family looking for someone to help with their children. I seriously contemplated responding enthusiastically, but I knew I wasn't the person that would be the best fit for their family. However, the site provides "similar" postings, and I saw a picture of an Italian home owned by a Californian and British couple asking for some assistance refurbishing an old farmhouse. The house was located just one hour away from Rome and a mere 45 minute train ride to Florence. Their profile advertised that they were looking for 5 hours of work per day and they would be happy to drive their workers to a nearby train station or airport for side trips for weekend side trips. It sounded perfect! I knew it was a long shot to ask if I could help in any way, but I reached out hoped for the best and in a bazaar way, I just knew something special hung in the balance of that email.
The next day, I got a response from the husband letting me know that they were full for the year, unless I knew how to sew. Now, I had always thought that my stint at SCAD for fashion design wouldn't yield much of a result, but all of a sudden, it was the most valuable education that I had undergone! When I responded that I had actually been sewing since I was 8 years old, they eagerly agreed to host me for the coming October.
In the months leading up to my trip, I was nervous, anxious and excited. What if they were weird? or demanding? or the house was sketchy? Here's where I relied on WorkAway once more to calm my nerves. I had read over 30 reviews from other WorkAwayers on this specific home, all giving praise for what a great experience they had.
So I prepped, I packed, and I headed to Moiano, Italy. Alex (the wife) greeted me warmly as soon as I hopped off the train. During my month he taught me the ways of conserving water, energy, and vegan cooking. We watched the political debates together, drank tea by the fire, perused the local markets, cooked, had intense decorating discussions regarding fabrics, and spent time just enjoying each other's company. I grew close to her two daughters, and spent time learning about their lives and interests. I was able to see the teamwork and time that it took to harvest the olives for fresh oil, and enjoy plenty of their previous harvest on fresh Italian bread. Even though I was sewing the majority of each day, I was able to enjoy my time, gain new friends, and absorb the culture of the area.
I'll never forget the fall that I spent with this family in Italy, and I also promised to return when I left...which I have every intention of doing. Travel changes people, and I am forever changed by their hospitality and the opportunity to stay in such a beautiful place.
If you are looking for an opportunity to help others and experience the world on a low budget, I suggest you check out these sites...but be warned, because the next thing you know, you may be volunteering on an elephant sanctuary in Thailand!
Check out some more photos of our time and adventures together in the gallery below: