One of my favourite parts of traveling is meeting new people and hearing their travel stories. When I was in Tallinn, Estonia, I met George, who was working at Tallinn Backpackers, the hostel where I was staying. We got to talking and he told me all about how he was working his way across Europe and I thought it was such an interesting way to travel that I asked if I could interview him for the blog! Read on to hear all about his adventures!
AWA: How long are you traveling for?
George: I started last September and I don’t have a definitive end date. I am using my savings to fund this trip, so I have until they run out or I find myself somewhere to settle.
AWA: Why did you decide to do this type of trip? Why not do the more traditional kind of working holiday (for example, working in one place for a year like in Australia or something)
George: It started off as a typical backpacking trip: staying in hostels, spending a couple of days in one place before moving, but I realised a trip like that, with the money I had saved, would mean I would only be able to travel for 3-4 months before running out of funds. So, being British and a member of the EU (for now), I’m able to work in Europe without a visa, making applying for work much easier than Australia or even Canada. Although they’re both still on the agenda.
AWA: I highly recommend Canada! 🙂
AWA: Where have you been so far?
George: So far I’ve been on a horse farm in France, just outside Laval and whilst there I spent two days in Zurich and Basel, Switzerland. From there I traveled to Tallinn, Estonia and volunteered in a hostel. After Tallinn I spent two months in Greece, first to Skopelos, followed by Skiathos and then finally Athens. I went home for Christmas, then went to Amsterdam and Austria with some friends before returning to the hostel in Tallinn for nearly 3 months. Now I’m home in England, working and saving for the next adventure. I’ll be going up to Scotland soon to hopefully get a job somewhat close to a ski resort.
AWA: What kind of jobs have you done?
George: The horse farm was interesting because it was such a big property that there was always something to do, whether it was horse related or not. During the week we completed odd jobs, laid flooring around the horse feeders, erected a field gate, sawed branches into logs and sorted them, etc… On the weekends we fed the horses then cleaned their holdings as the helper that usually did it had weekends off. I had most afternoons off where I was free to walk around the farm, take advantage of the private lake and lounge around on the balcony. I don’t think “work” can really be used to describe my time on the farm.
Volunteering at the hostel in Tallinn was a great experience. The work was split between two types of shifts: a front desk shift or a cleaning shift. A front desk shift involved checking guests in/out, walking through the map of Tallinn with new guests, laying out breakfast, doing laundry, amongst other things. A cleaning shift meant cleaning the rooms and bathrooms, stripping the bed sheets and replacing them with fresh ones, vacuuming and mopping everywhere. Again, not exactly difficult work but it sure beats paying for accommodation.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the view from my accommodation in Greece, trees and bushes sprawled before me in a sea of green, leading down towards the coast where the actual sea spread across the landscape, being interrupted by several islands just as beautiful as the one I was on. And all I had to do was house sit for a couple that had gone home for the winter season. I kept the place tidy, looked after their cat (which mostly involved feeding her and being scratched), used the log burner to keep the house dry and just general housekeeping chores. I was there for two months and spent most of my time exploring the island and watching the sunset with the cat.
AWA: That sounds pretty amazing! And the jobs were really varied, which keeps things interesting. It’s a really cool way of traveling around Europe and kind of makes me want to do it, lol.
AWA: What has been your favourite part of the work/travel experience?
George: It’s difficult but I’d say my favourite part so far has been volunteering in the hostel in Tallinn. The best part was meeting new people nearly every day and getting to know them, I made so many new friends! Plus Tallinn is just a great city, there was an Irish bar which showed English football so I could watch my local team and the nightlife is lively.
After I went back home for Christmas, my friends and I went to Amsterdam. We spent a few days there, it’s a beautiful city. Though walking through the Red Light District at night was like a whole other world. From there we went to Austria, landing in Salzburg. That was crazy, it was snowing pretty heavily and we could only see glimpses of the ground as we were landing then all of a sudden there was a bit of a bump and we were back on the ground! From there we got a train to Zell Am See and that was incredible. It went through the countryside, going past rivers and small villages all covered in snow. Zell Am See itself was beautiful. Our hotel was right on the lake and we had a great view of it and the surrounding mountains from our room. The skiing was great and we were blessed with some good weather for the most part. Although the guys I was with will agree that lugging our gear to and from the bus stop each day was a pain!
So there I was in Austria, not really sure where I was going next when I emailed the manager of the hostel I worked at in Tallinn and asked to come back. It was only supposed to be for a month or so but it ended up being closer to three! It was funny, I thought of you whenever I walked past that awful pizza place we went to after the walking tour (AWA: Oh yeah, that pizza place was NOT good). After Tallinn I realised my money was running out and I should start to make a move home. I spent a week in Warsaw before flying back to England. Now I’m back, got a job and am saving for the next adventure. I’m determined to ski most of the winter so even if I don’t get a job I want to have the savings to go.
AWA: That sounds amazing! I love skiing/snowboarding and don’t get to do it often enough. You know, we have great ski resorts in Canada!
AWA: What has the experience taught you?
George: I’ve learned a bunch of such varying things. I’d never had a manual labour sort of job before, so the horse farm was good for teaching me small things like operating tools (the chainsaw was the most fun) and the correct technique for lifting heavy objects. Just small things everyone should know. I also learned how to greet a horse who isn’t familiar with you and how to handle them comfortably. Volunteering at the hostel, I mostly relied on my previous customer service experience so other than the computer systems there wasn’t much to learn. Greece taught me that living alone on an island with nothing but a temperamental cat gets awfully lonely.
Traveling in general has taught me that I can rely on myself more than I realised. Like, I never would have thought I could go to a foreign country and rely on nothing but street signs and a brief look at Google maps before setting off to find where I needed to be. Also how to deal with plane or bus transfers, things that seem simple, but are kind of scary at first
AWA: What’s been your least favourite part of the work/travel experience?
George: My least favourite part was when I first got to Greece. I flew from Athens to an island called Skiathos, landing around 10pm, so it was already dark. I needed to go to the port and I avoid expensive things like taxis at any opportunity. So after looking at the route to the port from the airport on Google maps I got the gist of where I was going, although for some reason the route took me all the way around the airport and then along the coast. Simple enough I thought, find the coast. As soon as I left the airport I was greeted by a stray dog who started barking at me, clearly not happy with my being there. I moved on and thankfully the dog didn’t follow me, but not a great start.
AWA: Omg, the stray dogs in Greece! There are sooooo many, they’re everywhere!
I followed the road along, the whole time hearing lots of barking from different dogs, and came to a set of houses. There was only one way to go, which was to the left of the houses, a dirt track which led into some woods. “Am I really about to go wandering into the woods?” I asked myself? The answer was yes.
The street lights had stopped by this point so it was pitch black and I had to use the light from my phone screen so I could see the ground, but I still couldn’t see anything in front of me. The worst part was that I could hear barking from all angles. After slowly making my way through the woods it suddenly opened up to a large patch of land which again had no street lighting, so was more unnerving than the woods, as I was exposed on all sides. It was at this point my over active imagination started to wonder if mountain lions were native to Greece (they’re not).
AWA: I love that that’s where your mind went, mountain lions!!! Lol!
After walking for a while the road started to turn and as I went around the corner I saw a car parked on this dirt track, with its headlights on, seemingly with no reason for being there. I stopped and checked it out for a few seconds. Then decided that despite how sketchy it looked I was just going to carry on. Then as I moved, it drove off.
AWA: Ummm, that sounds super creepy!!!!!
Soon after that the street lights were back and the road was tarmac again. Back to civilization. Although I was convinced I was going the wrong way, I carried on for another half an hour, unsure of myself still, until I saw boats! From there I followed them along and came to the main coast and after a while I came across a restaurant and ordered a pizza. They asked if I had a place to stay and when I said I didn’t, they were straight on the phone booking me a hotel. So it was a happy ending! But at the time I was pretty freaked out, definitely a look back and laugh kind of situation. The most annoying part was when I walked from the port to the airport on my way back (without looking at Google maps) the route I took was only half an hour and didn’t have me traipsing around seemingly lost in the dark.
AWA: Oh google maps! Sometimes it’s so good and other times it’s so completely wrong! I’ve had some similarly sketchy google map/gps experiences (like this one and this one). Always a love/hate relationship.
AWA: What have been some of the highlights/new experiences of your trip so far?
George: It might be a bit cliché to say but it’s all been a highlight! Of course I have particular highlights from all the places I’ve been. In Greece, it was going to a lonely church sat on a rock, which was surrounded by crystal blue water. At the horse farm in France, it was working with the horses and realizing how much I actually like animals (Side note: Amsterdam Zoo was quite fun, even if seeing the animals caged did make me kind of sad). Skiing in Austria is definitely the experience that has stuck in my head, to the point that I’ve already decided that I’m going to look for a season job so I can ski all winter.
AWA: How do you find the jobs or volunteer/work placements?
George: I use a few different resources for finding work, WWOOF, workaway.info and hosteljobs.net. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and is a collection of websites (each country has its own) which you sign up to for an annual fee and it gives you access to a host list. From there it’s just a case of finding a host you like the look of and sending them a friendly email. The one drawback to WWOOFing is that you have to pay every time you sign up to one of their websites, so if you wanted to do it in multiple countries the join up fees alone could get quite costly. Workaway is similar to WWOOFing but with about every type of opportunity you could think of from au pairing, construction, hostel work, house sitting, etc… I could go on! Again it is an annual fee to join but it is worldwide which is helpful. It works the same as WWOOFing in that you get access to a host list and you email the ones you’re interested in. Hosteljobs is basically a job board, it’s free to make an account and you get a whole lot of hostels to choose from. It’s not the best website in the world and the listings don’t have dates of when people are needed, but it never hurts to email anyway.
AWA: Would you recommend this type of trip to others?
George: Absolutely! I heard from countless people as I was gearing up to leave, how jealous they were of me and how they wished they could do something like it. And my advice was always the same, you can! It’s not difficult to find opportunities, not with the plethora of great websites and resources out there. It’s a little scary uprooting your life and quitting your job, but I know I wasn’t alone in being unhappy with the full time/9-5 work life, and what would be so bad about taking some time away from that? There will always be jobs when/if you come back. I’ve had such a great time so far and I’m not even done!
AWA: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer all my questions and sharing your work/travel experiences with me. What an amazing and interesting year you’ve had, working and traveling across Europe, learning so many new skills and getting to experience so many exciting adventures. Hopefully your experiences will inspire many others to do the same!