At Workaway, we absolutely love getting to know you all, whether it’s meeting you on the road, at a Workaway trip or hearing about your adventures through e-mails and social media. We couldn’t be prouder to be involved with such an inspiring community of travellers, which is why we just have to share some of the stories you tell us!
Meet Portuguese couple Miguel and Mariana, who one day surprised their family and friends by deciding to leave their beloved homeland behind – but not because there was anything they were specifically unhappy about. They had been living together for 6 or 7 years and were both fortunate to have work, friends and a loving family…but something was niggling them. They wanted to travel, but not as tourists…they wanted to do something different, but didn’t know what. A perceptive work colleague showed Mariana the Workaway website he had stumbled upon.
“OK, this sounds SO cool!!…but I wonder if it actually works. Can I actually trust these people? Or should I bring body armour under my shirt or something…” (extract from their blog travel diary, ‘What the heck is Workaway?’)
However, once they had embarked on their first placement their skepticism for Workaway vanished and they became totally convinced that it offered them the perfect way to find a home from home everywhere they went. They extensively explored South East Asia spending 90% of their travel time staying with many different Workaway hosts and doing a wide range of projects including: teaching, modelling, running a hostel, creating artwork, selling jewelry, reception work and gardening.
To take the first step to leave was a challenge. Miguel and Mariana had to break away from the path that they were expected to tread. Coming from a culture in which family ties and work ethics are paramount, especially in a climate of high unemployment, their decision to quit their 9-5 jobs lives and become full-time Workawaying nomads must have seemed controversial. We asked them how it felt to make this leap of faith into the unknown…
Nice to meet you two, Miguel and Mariana!
We are fascinated by your enthusiasm and stamina to keep on travelling and volunteering despite the pressures to conform to certain social expectations. Being so close to your family back at home, can you tell us how did they react to your decision to become full-time Workawaying nomads?
Mariana: Hi! We are so thrilled to be sharing our story with all readers. We’d also like to thank the whole team for all the work that makes Workaway possible. 🙂
It’s true we both found that the hardest part about leaving is untangling yourselves from your ties at home. Initially some family members and friends were really shocked to learn about our long term travel plan. They didn’t understand why we would want to risk the financial stability of giving up our jobs or breaking up the close-knit ties we have. However in the end it seems that it has been less hard on the family than I expected. Once you buy your ticket the rest will follow…!
Miguel: It may have looked like we were running away from something, or that we’d had enough of Portugal…it definitely wasn’t that, but a yearning for new experiences.
Seeing us so happy makes it easier for them to understand. And because of technology I think I communicated with my father more when I was away than I did when I lived in Portugal. My father calls us nomads now and smiles!
What initially attracted you to combining volunteering with travelling rather than just backpacking?
Miguel: We decided on the very beginning that we would take our time and try to experience more deeply what it’s like to live in each of the places we visit. This means NO to rushing and NO to fully-booked days, but mostly it also means a big YES to creating connections and living experiences which would not likely be as easily accessible if we were on a timer.
Mariana: I had mentioned to a colleague at work that I wanted to travel, but in a more meaningful way than the 2-3 week holidays we had done in the past. He told me that he had come across a website called Workaway which might be of interest to us. Neither of us knew anyone who had done anything like this.
Miguel: I was even surprised to see that there were hosts in Portugal offering a wide range of projects and activities. We were ready to try something different and Workaway seemed to offer us that. It appeared to us like some kind of mythical creature that would solve all our problems – with every new successful project we feel very grateful for having found it!
Mariana: Yes, it was something which resonated with us because it would give us the chance to do something different and at the same time reduce our spending. We had saved up some money, but not a vast amount.
So did your Workaway experience live up to your expectations?
Miguel: We were originally a bit confused and had reservations about how the exchange would work, that something like Workaway could really exist– it just sounded too good to be true. But we really liked the concept of travelling this way so we went for it.
Our first experience as teachers in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam was full of so many enriching experiences that I like to re-live the memories over and over again. Interacting with over 50 local students gave us the chance for real cultural exchange. We met some great fellow workawayers too. Almost everyone, with very few exceptions, embraced the spirit of Workaway. Our positive experiences gave us confidence to continue to travel in this way, plus work exchange cut our costs down to less than half.
Mariana: Yes, it turns out that all our hopes for Workaway weren’t for nothing. It was a huge success in every way! 🙂
Do you think travelling in this way challenges a couple?
Mariana: Yes, definitely it could lead to a make or break scenario. We had been living together and had travelled together before but I was a little worried how we would get on living together 24/7. Being on the road together for a long term takes the meaning of flexibility onto a whole new level! It’s important to accept how a person is. Also, instead of keeping a record of all the things they have done to annoy you, you just have to move on and let it go.
Miguel: Fortunately we are both patient and tolerant…and it’s important to be flexible too.
Would you recommend the experience as a good way to find out whether a couple is compatible or not? Living together 24/7 for a year would be equivalent to 4-5 years in a normal scenario!
Mariana: Haha! Yes, that’s true. But why not? There would probably come a point later on in their relationship when their compatibility would be tested anyway. Also, at least now we feel that if we embark on something and it doesn’t work out it isn’t the fault of our relationship. I suppose you could say that we have returned from our trip feeling that we can face things together and that we are stronger as a result.
Miguel: On the whole I believe what’s important in a relationship back home is also important while travelling. Hmm, I don’t know if I would recommend it unless you specifically wanted to get out of your comfort zone. In my opinion the most important thing is to respect each other’s space, staying flexible and knowing how to compromise. And of course, having a little patience.
Your relationship has passed the test for sure!
Did you find that people often ask you what went wrong on your trip with more eagerness than hearing what went right?
Miguel: Actually yes, that does seem to happen. I guess in a way there’s some part of them that wants justification for not taking the leap to make such a big change themselves.
Haha, good insight there! But DID you experience any hurdles along the way?
Miguel: We had one or two surprises, but nothing really serious. With technology everything has become so simple, there are so many great online tools, services and communities these days… You can easily get information and find your way around without any hassles so you won’t ever feel alone or unprepared to take that one big step out of the door. What can go wrong?
Mariana: Also getting to know local people gives us a sense of security. When we were in Taiwan we heard that a typhoon was heading our way. I messaged a local friend to ask if we should still go ahead and rent motorbikes and she said “No way, are you crazy?”
Miguel: One of the best things we found about Workaway is that we have a home wherever we go— we arrive somewhere new and normally it only takes us 2 days to settle in and then we are at home!! So as time has gone by we have become more and more confident. Any information you need to know is out there and we always have friends around us to ask.
Which Workaway placement did you find the most rewarding?
Miguel: For me it was the first one in Vietnam as I was able to teach for the first time. I had never had the opportunity before and I found that I really enjoyed it, in fact it may well be something that I go on to do more in the future.
Mariana: When I look back on my time away my fondest memories are all of the people who I met along the way. The human interaction I had was in the end more important than the place. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing new places, but my appreciation of them was enhanced by the people that I met there.
Did you feel that you had found a new family during your travels?
Mariana: Yes, exactly. In Singapore we really became a part of Emma and Ben’s routine. Now when I go somewhere I am constantly thinking Ben would like this (he is a really cool boy that we homeschooled in Singapore…), or I must write to Emma and tell her about that.
So, did your Workaway stays with kids introduce you to different styles of parenting too?
Miguel: Yes, to see totally different approaches was definitely very refreshing.
Mariana: Because what his mother wanted was not for us to teach him, but more of an “unschooling” approach. We exposed him to different things and if he showed interest we’d let his curiosity lead us. Although having children is not really something I’m considering at the moment!
I know you are both foodies, it must have been hard to leave behind those Portuguese favourites, so what delights did you discover en route?
Mariana: Well, in Singapore I learnt how to make kombucha and since I got back to Portugal one of the first things I wanted to do was to track down some scobies and start producing my own. Also in Penang, Malaysia, we were able to witness a long and interesting Hare Krishna ceremony at a private house, which of course ended with an awesome vegetarian buffet!
Miguel: We did a cooking course with a Workaway Cookery school hosts in Chiang Mai– I absolutely love Thai food!! I also really enjoyed both Vietnamese and Malay cuisine. We do have Thai restaurants in Portugal, but food like what we had in the streets of Vietnam is impossible to find elsewhere.
Has the experience changed your life in any way?
Mariana: Our relationship to material stuff has changed. I gave a lot of my things away before I left Portugal.
When we Workawayed in Phuket we stayed with a family who showed us how to live and bring up children with a minimalism I couldn’t believe. They had so little and yet they had more than enough to enjoy life. If they wanted to go to the beach, the mum would put her baby in a sling and hitch-hike. Very different from all the baby paraphernalia our families use back home!
Miguel: Yes, cutting down on how much we take with us has become a priority. On my return home I now see how much stuff my family has just lying around the house, and I feel that if I were to remove something they probably wouldn’t even notice it had gone.
We also like to hear if you have any advice or wisdom you’d like to pass on to fellow aspiring travellers/ workawayers?
Mariana: Many of our friends and family think we are very courageous for giving everything up and leaving it all behind, but we don’t see it like that at all.
Miguel: We become entangled in our habits with our jobs, with buying a house, a car and keeping up a certain lifestyle. BUT if you have the itch to travel there is no point putting it off and waiting for the best moment…there is never a perfect time! Just do it!
And the BIG question…what are your hopes for the future?
Miguel: We both know that we want to keep living this way. I don’t want to have the lifestyle I had before. And I can’t even bear the thought of working the same 9-5 routine day after day anymore. I think our relationship with time and routine has totally changed from when we were travelling and Workawaying.
Mariana: We are not sure what will happen in 4 or 5 years time, but at the moment we want to keep on moving. When someone now asks me where my home is…I don’t really know how to answer. It’s nowhere and at the same time, it’s where we are at the moment!
Where are your itchy feet taking you next?
Mariana: We are in the process of organizing our next trip and will be leaving soon for Morocco; as it is so close but we have never been there. We want to stop in Southern Portugal and Spain en-route too to meet up with other Workawayers/ people we met from our time in South East Asia.
Miguel: It really is a small world; and in fact, that’s probably the greatest lesson we took from our experience! We are still Portuguese, but we now feel like part of ONE WORLD.
What a great conclusion to our chat today. Thank you both so much for sharing your stories and perspectives with us!
If you want to read more about Miguel and Mariana’s travel stories and perspectives here is a link to their entertaining travel blog, ‘Hey! What’s the way?‘
Do you want to be our next Workawayer of the month? We are always on the lookout for inspirational Workawayers who have a great story to tell! Email us over and you could be featured next!