At Workaway, we absolutely love getting to know you all whether it’s meeting on the road, hearing stories through emails or by actually going on a Workaway trip ourselves. We couldn’t be prouder to be involved with such an inspiring community of travellers! So we just had to share some of the stories you tell us!
June takes us to Kat from Hungary (now based in the US) who has been in a long distance relationship since 2007 and using Workaway for the last 4 years.
Hey, Kat thanks for letting us interview you this month and congratulations for being chosen as our Workawyer of the month. Where in the world are you and what is your experience with using Workaway?
Thanks! I’m currently not doing any Workaways, I just got back from travelling around Asia and am now in the US, but I’m soon off to Canada to explore. My last Workaway experience was in Guatemala at an adventure hostel, I helped out with checking in, and checking out guests, answering questions, setting up tours, and such. That was just one of many wonderful Workaways I’ve done in the past 4 years, both solo and with my partner.
4 years? That’s great, you must have a lot of stories to tell. What was it that made you choose Workaway over backpacking or vacations?
My boyfriend (now husband) and I are from two different countries. He is American, and I am Hungarian. After years of long-distance and short-term travels together, we wanted to be in the same place again. Finding work abroad can be difficult, and we were too broke to just travel long-term. Travelling or volunteering abroad together seemed like a great option. We were in Costa Rica where we met a guy who was doing Workaway at a cacao farm. This became the right answer to our question: we could travel together cheap. Within a few months, we were on a tomato farm in Germany for our first Workaway. Four years, and maaaany Workaways later, I can now confidently say that this is an awesome way to travel and to live internationally.
What a great way to bring you guys together, we’re happy we (kind of) had a part to play in it. What is your travel background?
My first travel experience was a 3-week holiday in Greece with my parents. I was 4 years old. Growing up, we tried to travel every summer, usually going camping. We lived in Italy for several months due to a work-exchange my mum was on. I was 17 when I moved to the US from Hungary and lived there for over 8 years – experiencing the international student life, travelling around the US – for holidays and with my university track team, and travelling in Europe for a bit during the summers. I had a huge wanderlust, so when my student visa expired I moved to Amsterdam in 2009. I’ve been a nomad ever since.
Until 2015 I’ve changed countries every few months across 4 continents. I’ve studied abroad, worked abroad (as a social researcher, and as an EFL teacher), volunteered abroad, backpacked abroad, house-sat abroad, and Workawayed, of course. I can’t recall being on an actual vacation for over 15 years though.
I’ve travelled solo, with friends, and with my partner. We got married last year, and though my nomad life slowed down a bit, and we are mostly US based, we don’t have a home-base, and travel both nationally and internationally. Workaway is one of my favourite ways to travel, because of the unique experience you have, and of course, because it is a great way to save money too.
Your life sounds pretty amazing! How have you guys found travelling through Workaway different from other kinds of travel?
Workaway is very different because you are actually giving back and not just sightseeing or laying on a beach. Many Workaways are located “off the beaten track” so you get to see a different side of the country. It allows cultural exchange with your host, and perhaps developing life-long friendships. It helps you to get out of your comfort zone. You have a chance to learn new skills: for example, now I know how to take care of tomato plants, create compost, different ways to pick olives, all the hard work that goes into running a hostel, and so on. All Workaway experiences are different, and in one way or another, they are always worthwhile.
Workaway is also a wonderful way to save money on food and accommodation. Some Workaway host prefer short-term volunteers, while others need medium, or long-term ones. I personally stayed with all of my hosts for 3 – 6 weeks. That feels neither: it is enough time to learn and to connect, but not too long to get restless and bogged down in routine, or fall into a comfort zone.
You must have learnt so much, what is the most valuable lesson you have learnt through cultural exchange?
Be open to new experiences. Communicate your needs, including special dietary needs or physical limitations. Don’t be afraid of changes. Go with the flow. We are more similar than we are different. Deep inside everyone is good. We all want the same thing in life: to be happy and loved.
Those are great values – some we are definitely going to use ourselves. So come on, tell us the funniest thing that has happened to you while on a Workaway experience?
Oh, I always have trouble with questions like this. First of all, it is sooo difficult to pick one. Secondly, it is hard to even put them into words. Most are inside jokes – you just had to be there. One of the most beautiful experiences, however, was spending Christmas of 2012 in Turkey. They don’t traditionally celebrate Christmas there, so our Turkish host took us on a ride on the coast then to a little, hidden valley with the most beautiful empty beach.
We know what you mean, we have so many inside jokes from our travels. Is there anything you wish you brought along with you through your journeys that you didn’t?
I am not sure. It is more like I wish what I didn’t bring along, you can always downsize no matter how little you have. I wish I was able to take with me a little kitten I’ve made friends with in Turkey – sadly, cats don’t travel well, so I had to say goodbye.
As far as stuff I take with, though I own very few things, having a few sentimental things is important to me: a little bear I got from my boyfriend, my favourite stuffed animal from my childhood, pictures (yes, actual paper pictures!) of loved ones. As a runner, my running shoes are essential. I always carry a journal and pen with me too. My cheap point-and-shoot camera is a must, and my laptop is essential due to my online work. I don’t own a smartphone – or any kind of phone – and watching other travels, sometimes I feel that it would make things easier. At the same time, I enjoy not being glued to technology at all times.
Taking a small gift to your hosts is a small gesture, but if you are travelling long-term, you can just surprise and thank them with a cake you’ve baked or a small handmade artwork.
That is so refreshing to hear you are not a slave to technology. Do you have plans to do another Workaway? What kind of help and cultural exchange are you interested in participating?
Yes. I don’t have exact plans, but I am definitely planning on doing many more Workaways in the future. I would love to volunteer help at a holistic health centre or retreat of some sort, perhaps an animal sanctuary. I would love to work with a vegan or raw vegan community, or on a fruit farm too. I have definitely enjoyed volunteering on vegetable farms, eco-projects, and hostels, so I would do them again. As a certified EFL teacher, I would be open to teaching as well!
Can we join you on all of those? If you could give any advice to new Workawayers what it be?
Communication is the key. I think it is important to communicate your needs and ask very specific questions about their needs and expectations before you agree to one project. Things may still be different than expected, but it is important to discuss some terms and conditions beforehand. If something is not going right, communicate and try to sort it out in a kind and understanding manner. If you’ve tried your best and have decided a place is not right for you, don’t be afraid to move on. Instead if you love a place, don’t be afraid to stay longer. Be flexible. Expect the unexpected. Be ready to learn, but also be ready to help. Be yourself. Smile. Enjoy.
Kat, we’ve LOVED talking to you, and we really want to continue following your travels. Where are you going next?
I am currently in Upstate New York. Soon we are going on a road trip in Canada. I am particularly excited about Prince Edward Island and Montreal. Then we are heading to the Midwest, then who knows… “I haven’t been everywhere but it’s on my list” is my motto in life, and open to anything. South-East Asia is on the menu, and possibly Ghana. We are going with the flow.
I am running a website inspired by my travels and journey with my husband where I offer tips, resources, coaching, and advice to those who are in or planning to be in a relationship or simply want to be travelling solo for a bit even though they are married or in a relationship. I definitely know about long distance relationship, as half our relationship was through the distance with my love. Though we are married now, we still embrace solo travel along with our adventures together as a couple. Thanks, Workaway I’ve loved sharing my experience with you, if you want to keep following you can do on my Facebook page!