What is Workaway?
Workaway is an online scheme whereby you pay an annual subscription fee (46.00 US dollars for a joint/family account) to have access to hosts that want to invite people to volunteer their time and skills to assist their many varied projects. Projects can include working on farms, small-holdings, eco-projects or even around the host’s home. There are lots of work options to choose from gardening, harvesting, cooking, childcare, teaching languages, DIY, renovations and building work. In return for all your hard efforts (on average five hours a day, five days a week) the host will graciously equip you with a place to stay and all the food you need to keep you going. It can be a great way to immerse yourself in a destination, learn more of the language and get a unique local perspective, whilst hopefully making some rather cool new friends.
Our First day
After a couple of messages online, we followed some excellent directions down a dusty dirt track to arrive at our new home for the next few days. It was 10.30am and we were met by our host Jason and three year old son Evan. They gave us the guided tour of their 12 acre plot, including natural springs, veg plot, cabin and outhouses all in a secluded valley, in a rural part of Portugal, within walking distance of the Atlantic ocean. He introduced us to the lovely Isobel, his wife, and after a quick spicy bean enchilada and green salad for lunch we all eagerly set to work. The most urgent job that needed doing was clearing the brambles as the site had previously been abandoned for a few years and brambles had completly engulfed the house at some point. They provided us with loppers, sturdy gloves and a strimmer and off we set into the scrub whilst the children all played happily together with baskets of toys, getting acquainted, under our watchful eye through the large windows in the idylic sun room. We all worked hard until about 6pm, chopping, dragging and piling up brambles on the fire, excited to get as much cleared as we could before nightfall! That evening at 8pm we were offered a warming bean stew for dinner and fell happy into our beds with tired bodies and clear minds.
Our Workaway Experience
We enjoyed many different days of work, our hosts were flexible with what hours we worked…sometimes we started at 8.30am and other days not till 10am. If we started early they were always happy for us to stop at lunch and take the afternoon off…in fact they encouraged us to do so! One day Jason offered to watch all the children so we could take the afternoon off and just take some time to relax! I was so appreciative of this time as we don’t really have a network of babysitters back home even, so this was an unexpected gift of kindness that meant a lot. We were really happy that they allowed us to set our own times as it helped us be flexible around the children, depending on their needs each day. Some of our jobs involved weeding, clearing ground, chopping trees, stripping bark, helping to build a garden shed, rescuing some old reclaimed chairs with a good coat of linseed oil, making a reclaimed wood shelf, washing up after dinner and inviting their little one to read stories and help us do little jobs in the garden (he was a particularly skilled pruner with the loppers!).
How did it work volunteering as a Family?
My initial concern about signing up to a workaway project was how the logistics would work out for us as a family, would the work be too much for us to take on and leave our children to fend for themselves? Would it be awkward living so close to another family and the expectations to fit in with their schedules? What if the children didn’t get on? Loads of questions were running through my head the night before, it was all new and I just crossed my fingers and hoped that it would all work out smoothly and what ever may arise that we could deal with it.
It all turned out a lot better than I could of hoped. The children formed a lovely bond after a few days of getting to know each other. The work seemed fair and balanced, the hosts were always keen to make sure that the jobs were varied and we never got stuck doing things we did not enjoy or seemed mundane. We learnt a lot from trying new task without the pressure of it being paid work for someone else as such. So in a way it was like getting a free course in permaculture and natural building methods as we had a wonderful opportunity to soak up some first hand knowledge about the environment around us that we would never have otherwise had the opportunity to come accross, whilst practicing some new skills that we can always take with us in life.
As a family we have always naturally leaned towards attachment and gentle parenting ideas, so the majority of our childcare activities are child led. I was worried how this would fit in with being around another family but the host family were kind, understanding and just as patient with our own children as they were their own. If a job suddenly took an hour longer then it needed to because the children suddenly all became involved and wanted to help, that was ok. Or if the small ones were tired and needed to bed down early they were happy for us to take our evening meal from their kitchen and eat it back at our accomodation. To say we fell in love with the place and the people is a slight understatement! The children in particular got a lot out of having a new environment to learn from, new relationships to develop, interesting and busy adults to watch and learn from, new food to taste and a huge enclosed garden to run around in and let off steam.
What We Gained
We met a beautiful family, who we found to be accommodating and kind hosts. We enjoyed our chats with them about the world, family life, their travels, gaining knowledge about the local area and hearing about their homestead plans. They were both fantastic chefs and served us up many wholesome and delicious lunches and dinners in our time with them. We were also treated to many cups of fresh herbal tea and even the occasional beer to keep us going.
The accommodation on offer turned out to be a bit more of a work in progress…so although we really don’t mind rustic, the cabins didn’t yet have a water supply to the bathroom and kitchen, which made it a bit tricky to get washed down at the end of a hard days grafting. However this did seem like a huge priority for the hosts as soon as we arrived and they put a lot of effort into trying to install a water pump whilst we were there. They said that we could use their shower in the house but the water was never warm enough to take a shower and the lock on their bathroom door was dodgy which was tricky with small children wanting to run in and out!
The only other draw back we found was that there were no laundry facilities on site, so we had to budget in an extra 20-30 Euro each week to drive out and get our clothes/towels/bedding/yucky socks cleaned and dried (it was super wet weather whilst we were there!). Both of these niggles were totally our fault for not asking more probing questions at the initial stage. So I would definitly recommend not being afraid to ask as many direct questions as you want about what facilities are available in the initial chats, so that you know exactly what to expect when you arrive.
Overall though we had a great time and really loved the work and the family, when the time came for us to move on it was sad to leave. Hopefully we can find something that is just as fun and rewarding next time, perhaps eventually we will have friends dotted around all over the world through this amazing workaway family scheme.