Tried and tested: HelpX – An alternative method to travel on a budget

helpx

Malaysians love overseas travel, amirite?

This survey and this article say that a whopping 9 out of 10 Malaysians have travelled overseas in the last 2 years. At first I was shocked by the high number…. but it made sense, if my Facebook feed can be used as an indicator.

We seem to be pretty good at budget travel. Really good. I mean, AirAsia freaking started here – people my generation were told ‘Now everyone can travel’. With the amount of advertisement money spent by travel agencies, especially online-based (looking at you Expedia), we were practically begged to take holidays. Even the articles say that our average travel spending is lower than the regional and global average.

But can all that travelling habit continue in 2016? Mmmm many people say they will travel locally instead, because of the rising cost of living.

But if you still want to travel overseas, there’s still a way. To be clear, this article is not to advice you on ways to save money while travelingl/choosing a travel package. You guys already know how. This article is to review an alternative method to travel on the budget – HelpX.

HelpX stands for Help Exchange

What is it? Exactly what it says on the website. It’s an “online listing of host organic farms, non-organic farms, farmstays, homestays, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpackers hostels and even sailing boats who invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation.”

HelpX is considered a volunteering programme, and works best outside this region. I’m talking Europe, (North) America, Australia, places like that where these travel methods are more accepted. Without food and accommodation to worry about, your travel costs gets way, way cheaper.

Is it legit? Heck yeah. I’ll share my HelpX experiences below.

Note: I am not paid for this review. Just sharing my amazing experiences.

My experience:

You have to pay to become a member of HelpX – 20 Euros for 2 year membership (RM94.10 in today’s exchange). It is extremely worth it.

Once you paid, you can contact hosts (after you make your profile) and request to be hosted. Some hosts prefer shorter stays, some prefer longer. Hosters and Helpers can give each other reviews, so you can see past experiences of volunteers. All hosts expect you to work in exchange for food and accommodation, but in reality this was only like, 4 hours a day, more or less, and the type of work greatly varied.

I did 3 stints with HelpX. Once in rural France for 7 weeks, once near Perth, Australia for 3 weeks, and once in hills-part of Japan for 1 week. Hopefully this will give an idea of what happens during HelpX volunteering.

France

this place

I was hosted in rural France, in lower Normandy. My hosts, a retired British couple, picked me up from the airport. This was my first stint, and for some reason they agreed to take me in (a newbie during the time) for 7 weeks. This was honestly one of the most beautiful and memorable experiences in my life.

My main ‘work’ was taking care of farm animals. These included 3 goats (one of them extremely horny), 2 geese (one named, without irony, ‘Lucifer’), 2 dogs, 5 cats (including 1 old, blind, deaf, arthritic cat with liver problems, but otherwise very sweet), a bunch of rabbits and guinea pigs, and a bunch of chickens.

This was easy – wake up, feed the goats, geese and chickens, collect the eggs, feed the guinea pigs, clean the pen every other day, walk the dogs, cuddle the cat, stuff like that.

After ‘work’, I did whatever I wanted. Most of the time I read books (they had a big collection), or go online, or take walks. They had a cherry tree that I climbed (I kinda ate the whole tree, whoops). It was very rural – the nearest town was some drive away, but it was peaceful and slow. The host took me to a few touristy places, but that was only out of the kindness of his heart.

he brought me here

There’s a very personal story here: about a week in, I was told that the lady’s cancer came back. They asked if I wanted to leave, but by this time I was extremely attached to them, so I said I’ll help around. In a few weeks, her health worsen. She passed away about 4 weeks in, in her home, surrounded by her family and loved pets. I will always remember that I fed her her last meal: chocolate pudding.

It wasn’t sad, per se. She was a very joyful person. She was just like, ‘I hope I get to reincarnate into a seagull so I can steal your fries’. I am very happy I got to meet her.

Perth, Australia

Technically, it was in a town about 3 hours north of Perth. I stayed 3 weeks with a couple who owned an organic farm – my bedroom was an old van in front of their farm. It was fitted with a good mattress and blinds – a lot more comfortable that you’d think.

the farm and the van I slept in

The couple had an ambitious goal to collect every type of seeds from Australian plants.They were very environmentally conscious, and promoted sustainable farming. No chemicals, whatsoever. The toilet did not flush – you scoop sawdust after your business so it will decompose, turning into good quality fertilizer. I brushed my teeth with baking powder and washed my hair with apple cider vinegar. Also, they had a generator which only provided electricity for a couple of hours a day.

My work there was also quite minimal. I don’t know if I appeared to be useless for hard labour, but I was given just simple stuff. I seeded artichokes, planted onions, and weeded. They taught me a lot of stuff that I still practice/incorporate into my life today – how permaculture works, making jam, how to knit, and handling an op-shop (second-hand shop).

I will always remember this place as the place I beat my fear of the dark. The generator was turned off at night, and I was given a manual light to navigate back to the van. This is one of those things that you have to wind up to generate enough electricity to light up. I would wind it for hours. But as my arms got tired, and the light dimmed, and I got scared, I looked up to the sky in frustration… and I saw the galaxy. The beautiful, magnificent galaxy.

Now I don’t mind living in places with no electricity, if you can give me that view. It was gorgeous.

Japan (I forgot the prefecture)

I wanted to visit my host family, so to make the trip extra memorable I squeezed in a week-long stint. My host was an elderly Japanese man, who took me to his second house, a place that he rents out. I was supposed to help him with the cleaning up and general homekeeping before the next tenant came in, but in reality I was more like a granddaughter accompanying a grandfather.

He treated me to fancy sushi, made me homemade yogurt, introduced me to his neighbours (including someone who appeared to be an ex-yakuza dude, judging from his tattoos), took me to tourist attractions, and just generally discouraged me from working. I honestly can’t remember what I did there except to accompany him to photography trips – he was a photography buff. We went to take pictures of proud Mount Fuji, the changing colours of leaves in forests, as I hear about his photography passion.

I mean, I still worked – I helped him to clean the toilet and swept and stuff (had to earn my keep right), and he would thank me profusely. He was a sweet man.

Those are my experiences. If you choose to go, your experiences will not be the same as mine.

I had extremely good experiences, but some HelpXers had terrible experiences too. You’re basically juggling a friendship/family/worker relationship so you have to keep all these in balance so you, or your host, won’t be taken advantage of. It also boils down to your personality. Are you willing to adapt?

HelpX is good if you are willing to follow the schedule of your hosts, and are willing to forgo typical tourist experiences/locations in exchange for genuine people who actually live there. It’s great if you want to relax – pick a rural area.

Young people need to travel and see the world. Not only this is personally enriching, but you get to practice your language skills, and also get to know the different types of people. But young people also need to take their time in travelling – fast, rushed travelling brings you nothing. You just remember being late all the time.

You may ask – can I do this with my friend/partner? Yes, you can. Some even travel from one host to another as a family. I’ve only done it solo so I can’t comment too much on this.

If you want to know more about how it works, or just generally more info so you can start HelpX-ing too, let me know. I would recommend it to anyone.

 

Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close