I remember several years ago being at a concert in Dallas with some friends. A girl told me about how she planned to go to Europe for a year with only $1,000. I remember thinking, that's impossible. How?! She told me about HelpX- A work exchange program where you do free volunteer work in exchange for room and board (aka tons of delicious food.) It's an alternative way to travel that enriches your life, saves you money, helps people, and is the adventure of a lifetime. After hearing about her future journey I was hooked. I remember booking my flight shortly after that. I worked in Bed & Breakfasts and farms, met the most incredible people, and changed my life forever. It kick started my passion for photography, my desire to convince others to travel, and led me to my life now in Germany. When I say I am an advocate of travel, I don't mean lounging in fancy resorts, gambling in Vegas, or shopping in the streets of Monaco. I mean taking a backpack, sleeping on people's couches, counting your little amount of money at the local markets for food. I mean scaring yourself, trying a new language, or challenging your morals and views. Here are 10 reasons why you should sign up for HelpX and book your flight to the most random place ASAP. 

  1. YOU MAKE FRIENDSHIPS FOR A LIFETIME. When you travel and are thrown into uncomfortable or unfamiliar situations you quickly cling on to the closest person to you. You confide in them in ways you haven't with other people because they are unbiased, or you think you may never see them again. I remember I did a BlablaCar to Munich once, a 6 hour car ride, and within the first few hours I knew pretty much everyone's life story, the good, bad, and ugly. I learned about their dreams and (sometimes harsh) thoughts about the politics in America. You get to know people quicker and you cherish the moments with them more because you never know where your paths will cross again. 
  2. YOU WILL SAVE A TON OF MONEY. I sold my car and had some money from graduation which was a great foundation for my trip which lasted me the 5 months I was there. When working for HelpX, you work 5 days a week (not always back to back) and get plenty of free time in the afternoons. With free room and board (food) you can save a ton money. The only thing you have to account for is going out and cost of transportation. Shopping will quickly become a thing you only do if absolutely necessary (for example the soles of your shoes get holes in them from walking so much.) 
  3. YOU'LL DISCOVER THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF THAT YOU NEVER KNEW BEFORE. I left for Europe only a week after (finally) graduating college. After 5 years of studying business I thought I would come back home and do real estate or something of that nature. It wasn't until I was backpacking that I found my love for documenting travel through photography. I challenged myself to photograph new things and it became a hobby that I was constantly excited about. When working in Scotland, my job was mostly to tend to the garden (music to my mom's ears) Growing up I never understood my mom's passion for being in the yard and taking care of her plants but when I spent hours upon hours a day, listening to music, tending to the vegetables that we would later eat in our meals there, I fell in love with it. 
  4. YOU WILL CHALLENGE/ SURPRISE YOURSELF. Challenging yourself is one of the most important ways to grow. While being in uncomfortable dinner conversations about politics to everyone joking about "George Bush and guns" when you say you're from Texas, Americans don't have it easy abroad. At first you find yourself relentlessly defending your birth place, to eventually biting your tongue and listening to other peoples thoughts and opinions. I learned the importance of learning from others, who were taught in different ways about the world. Taking a leap of faith and surprising yourself builds self confidence. Daring to go on that 6 hour steep hike in Wales, throwing up a thumb in hopes to catch a ride home when the last bus has already left, or asking a stranger for help when you're scared and alone at a train station at night- when you have to be brave you'll surprise yourself.
  5. YOU FIND FAITH IN HUMANITY.  I remember one night I left my passport at a house that I was house sitting in the middle of nowhere Italy. It was up a mountain in the South West- a tiny town called Taggia De Arma. I had a few days alone there before my friend was meeting me for the holidays so I decided to travel back to Nice in France so I wouldn't have to sleep in the house alone. It had no immediate neighbors nearby, no internet or phone, and no car for me to access. The walk from the bottom of the village was a solid hour and I was too scared to do it alone in the dark. I went into the only cafe that had wifi, a smokey hole in the wall sports bar, and tried asking for help to call a cab. No one spoke English but you could see the concern on their faces. A woman, probably in her 40's understood a tiny bit of what I was trying to say- I needed to go up the mountain to get my passport and then go to the train station. She told her husband in Italian and he motioned for me to follow him. He drove me as far up the mountain as he could until the tiny gravel road became too steep. I spoke loud and slowly in English, saying 10 MINUTES, I'll be back in 10 MINUTES, as I sprinted up the hill into the darkness. Thankfully, when I returned with my passport he was still waiting. He drove me all the way down to the train station in silence and I tried using my broken Spanish to get things across. (Spanish and Italian may sound similar to an outsider but the languages aren't alike at all, cue dumb American jokes.) I pulled out 20 euros from my bag and tried giving it to him but he refused. I'll never forget this man that helped me that night, or the hundreds of others that helped me along the way. 
  6. YOU WILL BECOME MORE HUMBLE. So I had just graduated college and a week later I was scrubbing toilets and making beds in a Bed & Breakfast. The upside- living in a beautiful church converted into a B&B in a valley in Snowdonia National Park in the middle of the Welsh mountainside. It didn't matter what I was doing, it was where I was doing it. I had to swallow my pride a little bit and took the jobs I could get, in order to make it work living abroad. Taking a break from a big ego and being on your high horse can sometimes do a person good. 
  7. YOU WILL BE THROWN INTO NEW CULTURES. My second job was working at a beautiful three story home in the Scottish countryside. One evening, after preparing all day for a beautiful dinner party, my host mom invited me to join them at the fancy dinner table. I remember how carefully I chose my words and how I watched which fork to use or wine to sip. Of course this was a glamorous occasion but some of my fondest memories were just eating dinners with different families,  from learning how they cook or clean and socialize differently. No one was on their cell phones or had the tv on in the background. Meal time was family time and it lasted hours. 
  8. YOU WILL HAVE A NEWFOUND RESPECT FOR HOME. As incredible as it is to get away, leaving for longer periods of time will make you appreciate home more. The comfort, your family, familiarity. All the things you long for while you're away. It's okay to get homesick but you never really appreciate everything as much until you leave for a while. 
  9. YOU'LL FIND CLEAN LAUNDRY, A COMFY BED, AND WIFI A LUXURYAll the normal things we are used to at home become a luxury. Hunting down a cafe where you have to buy a drink to get wifi, a laundry mat, or a decent hostel bed, all make you appreciate things we never realized were a luxury before. 
  10. YOU START TO LOSE INTEREST IN MATERIAL THINGS. I recall leaving Texas looking like a turtle, with my Osprey backpack jammed so full it looked like if I barely tipped backwards I would fall flat on my back. I quickly realized on my journey that the excessive clothes, make up, and shoes were not worth the weight on my back. Carrying your stuff yourself in backpack when you're running up and down stairs in a train station can quickly become a burden. The less you have the better. When you're in hostels with other travelers you realize no one cares about the brands you're wearing or kind of purse you have. 
Caitlin CollinsComment