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!
This month workawayer Michael sent us an email with a pretty inspiring story. With only $15 left to his name during his travels.. we just had to dig a little deeper to find out!
Hey Michael, we have to say when your email landed in our inbox recently we were so excited to talk to you! Tell us, what was it that made you take the leap into travelling?
There were a few things that guided me to start this journey. I would say the main catalyst for my motivation to travel was my father’s passing from lung cancer when I was 18 years old. It caused me to grow up very quickly, and made me realize how short life can really be. My dad was heavily involved in missionary work for the majority of my life. As such, we frequently moved across the state of Florida more or less every year. Our family of four (plus dog) lived in everything from a 28 foot trailer in a campground to a farm out in the middle of nowhere. We were never poor but because of our simple low-budget lifestyle I never became a materialistic person. My father was an incredible person who had lost his leg in Vietnam. Even after his “disability” he was a skier, surfer, hostage negotiator, photographer, radio show host, pastor and overall hard ass. I remember crying after breaking my leg in high school and him telling me he wished he had a leg to break. Underneath his tough exterior though he had a heart of gold, and his strictness and early to rise methods greatly shaped who I would become and how I viewed the world.
With no real inheritance, and a tiny bit of life insurance money, my older brother used his portion of money to move to Aguada, Puerto Rico. My dad was adopted and we never knew his real family, only thing we know is that his mother was a young Puerto Rican girl. Although I had never been there before, it instantly felt like home as soon as I got there, as if I had finally filled some cultural/generational void in my soul. I visited him several times while he lived there and was determined to make Latin America a part of my life.
You are such a great example of turning tragedy on its head. How did you find out about Workaway?
I was living on my friend’s couch after returning to Florida proceeding an unsuccessful attempt to move to Colorado. He had been talking about moving to Costa Rica for quite some time; something I was highly skeptical/doubtful of. He then showed me the Workaway website and I couldn’t believe something like this existed and was so accessible. I actually found a hostel to host me before he did! I bought a one-way ticket to Puerto Escondido, in the South-West part of Mexico within 2 weeks of learning about Workaway. Something I never would have dreamed of.
Amazing, what a great friend! How much money did you bring with you for your trip?
I’d say a little less than $700 after I bought my ticket for my first trip. I was so excited after hearing about Workaway, I couldn’t stand to work in the restaurant for more than a few weeks after knowing what opportunity was available to me.
Wow only $700! Was there ever a point you ran out of money? And if so how did you change that?
I realized I was out of money when I was in Antigua, Guatemala headed down to my next Workaway in Nicaragua. I didn’t consider ATM fees charging me from Mexico and the US, which turns out to be a pretty big chunk of your money when you’re frequently visiting them. I had $15 in my bank account after I bought a 17 hour shuttle from Antigua to Leon, Nicaragua that would leave the next night. The ironic part being I could only withdrawal $20 denominations at a time. I could have withdrawn Guatemalan currency but with conversion rates, ATM fees, and just being in town for another night it would have been useless.
I remember walking down the streets of Antigua with my small backpack and skateboard remembering something I said to my friends before I started my trip. “I’d rather be broke in Central America than bored in the US.” It’s easy to say, but when it actually happens it’s surreal. All I could do was laugh. It’s a weird feeling when you literally have no money. I didn’t feel scared or upset. I felt…liberated.
I could have asked my friends for help or to use their credit cards for a plane back home but I was determined to see this thing through. I went to a few hostels and offered 15 minute massages in exchange for pocket money and food. One time I did one for a really big avocado. I walked out of that hostel devouring that fatty fruit with no salt or any sort of preparation. I used the pocket change to buy a small bag of granola to hold me over for the next 28 hours until I could make it to my workaway host in Poneloya where my meals would be provided. I found it pretty easy for me to pick up work along the way too, so I made some money from giving massages on the beach…6 weeks after I arrived at Poneloya, I was able to pay for my plane ticket home.
That is the coolest thing we’ve ever heard! You exchanged massages for avocados! Did you do any other Workaways during this trip?
Yes! I had previously arranged a Workaway in Nicaragua at a surfing lodge when I was first planning this whole trip. I was mainly helping to coordinate events and occasionally helping out at the bar and as well as doing conservation work to rescue sea turtles. I also landed a perfect deal in Mexico: 3 meals a day and free surfboard rentals on an isolated beach. And they had a massage table so as someone with a massage therapy background I could make some extra cash while I was there.
I’ve done 3 separate trips all within the past year. I’ve workawayed to help with graphic arts design and in a bar in Medellin, Colombia, a second time volunteering at the turtle sanctuary, and two other Workaways helping out in kitchens in Nicaragua. My formula so far has been a month or two of waiting tables in Florida while living frugally followed by about 3 months of Workaway until the money runs out. The restaurant where I work back in Florida is in a college town so as long as I leave on good terms they’re always in need of people.
Did you have any mishaps while on this trip as it happened so suddenly?
Oh man, so many. As soon as I got dropped off at the airport at 6:00 am in Orlando, I was told there was something wrong with my connecting flight from Mexico City to Puerto Escondido. They didn’t know what it was and they told me I could try to reschedule or take my chances.
So there I was in Mexico City, many Español interactions ago, trying to figure out what was going on with my flight. I was told my flight was “no mas” and I would instead be flown into some place called Huatulco and I could take a bus from there to Puerto Escondido. As someone who had never been in Mexico, you could have told me Huatulco was next to Tijuana in the north and I would have no choice but to believe you. Using my last bit of cell phone data I did some Intel at the airport and learned there was indeed an unmarked bus stop right outside of the airport on a small road in the middle of no where. A taxi inside of the airport was going to run me for at least $50, and it advised me that the taxi drivers would try to scare you into riding with them.
Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. I had 4-5 taxi drivers drive up to me as I was walking out of the airport gates telling me there was no bus and this was not a good area for a gringo to be at this time. After about a half hour of waiting on a random road in Mexico, with a setting sun, an old lady with a bucket of fish who spoke no English basically dragged me into a smaller mini van that I thought would be impossible for me to fit in.
Oh whoops, but I guess not everything can go smoothly! But what do you think your biggest lesson and biggest achievement was during these travels?
Travelling isn’t about having the perfect trip or things going flawlessly. Some of my fondest memories have happened in the face of absolute uncertainty and an extreme lack of finances. Things always seem to work out when you’re proactive, positive and friendly to people. Often it works in ways you could never imagine if you hadn’t stepped off the ledge of stability and familiarity.
I’d say my biggest achievement was my work helping rescue sea turtles in Nicaragua. We had a turtle sanctuary where we would bury eggs until they were ready to be released. My first night there we released over 100 turtles into the ocean! The beaches of Poneloya were a rural area well known among the locals as a place to take turtle eggs from the mother and sell them in the markets. We would buy the eggs off of poachers instead in order to save them from the markets. Many people think of poachers as scary heartless people, but in reality they were regular people in a poor country trying to put beans and rice on the table to feed their families. It was a very strange cycle of business but it was our way of making a difference.
That does sound like an incredible experience! What advice would you give to Workawayers looking to travel?
If you’re wondering whether or not you should do it, then go for it. You choose the life you live so stop making excuses. It’s easy to save money when you look at what you’re spending. That new iPhone isn’t going to bring you any more happiness; the $400/month car you pay for would only impress people who don’t really matter. People tell me I’m brave, when in reality all I did was go online and push a button. Workaway makes everything so easy and accessible.
If it’s your first time, search for something you have experience in. If you have a light resume, there’re plenty of places looking for help with tourists. Or try something completely different. It’s like participating in a global job fair in places you only dreamed of. One of my favourite things about Workaway is the two-way review system. If you’re unsure, find one that a few people have already volunteered in. Some of my favourite workaways have been brand new hosts though!
Michael, you are a true inspiration and your words ring true to us. Where will you be next?
That’s the hardest decision I have in my life right now! And I love that that’s my biggest problem. 😀 After another restaurant run in Florida I’d like to be back on the road. I spent relatively no time in El Salvador/Guatemala and have heard amazing things about the surf out there. I also fell in love with Colombia though, and would love to keep exploring South America and make it to the legendary wave Chicama in Peru. I live moment by moment though so it may be something entirely different at the last minute. Who knows what exciting Workaway opportunity may lead me?
Do you want to be our next Workawayer of the month or Host of the month? We are always on the lookout for inspired workawayers or hosts who have a great story to tell! Email us over at firstname.lastname@example.org and you could be in our next feature!