Sunday, July 15, 2012

HelpX - the pros, the cons and tips

I'm here to warmly introduce you to the amazing world that is 'HelpX-ing'... aka volunteering your arms, legs, muscles, previously learnt skills, enthusiasm and mind to local residents in exchange for free food and accommodation. I know I have talked about it in previous posts, but until now I didn't feel I had the experience to dedicate an entire post to it.. So for the backpacker interested in experiencing local culture first hand - here is your icebreaker!

the pros...

I've been backpacking for nearly three months now, and majority of that time has been for free due to HelpX... I have my own room with a king size bed, free wifi, free food, we get to keep any tips we receive, and I am learning new skills constantly. My hosts are fantastic people who have been extremely generous and flexible. There are three other awesome workers - each from Ireland, Paris and Montreal... It's going to be a very sad day when we all part ways!!

A normal day for me includes:
- Wake up at 7am
- Do chores (Clean 2 bathrooms OR feeding horses OR clean the kitchen OR clean the hot tub)
- Have breakfast and be ready to go by 8am
- Work horses in the morning for a few hours under instruction with natural horsemanship techniques
- Have lunch
- Either help the hosts with any maintenance work or have the afternoon off
- Have dinner and go to bed

Our hosts live on a separate property, about five miles from the guest ranch. So we basically have the whole ranch to ourselves. The guests that come and stay are absolutely fantastic, and I have made some amazing friends just by working here.

We are learning how to make bread, how to run a guest ranch, how to build and repair everything, how to fix fencing, how to train a horse using Parelli methods, etc, etc. I could go on forever! It has been a fantastic experience so far.

the cons...

The only con would be that this particular ranch is rather isolated. The nearest town is tiny, and 6km's or so away, and the closest major town is a 40 minute drive... so if you don't have a car, getting out and about can become pretty difficult!

If I could do it over again, I probably would have organised two or three different HelpX stays for the 4 months I planned to volunteer - just to see more of the countryside. Staying in the one place for so long is probably not the most ideal situation when you want to see as much as possible in a short time.. and it was something that I didn't think of at the time, but I really don't regret my decision that much so far - and I don't think I will at the end. Time is flying as it is!

the tips...

So the trick to being a happy HelpX-er is to choose your host wisely and make sure you ask the following basic questions if they are not already provided in the advert:

- What does a normal day require?
- Are there going to be any other helpers?
- What are my sleeping arrangements?
- Will I be sharing a room/bathroom?
- What sort of food do you provide? (Do you cater for Vegetarian etc)
- What clothes will I need to bring?
- What specific chores will need to be done?
- How do I get to your house/Is it easy via public transport?
- Are there shops near by/Is it easy to get to and from the nearest town?
- How many days of work/days off are there typically?
- How many hours of work do you require per day?
- What kind of person/worker are you looking for?
- Will I need insect repellent?

You have no idea of the importance of that last question!!!
Outline roughly how many weeks you intend to stay - I would confirm with the host that I intend stay for the minimum amount of time, (which for most is around 2 weeks to 30 days), and if the arrangement is working really well and I am enjoying my time, then I'd extend my stay if possible. The best advice I have is to ask as many questions as you can, and if the hosts are willing, get them to take photos for you.

about HelpX...

Welcome to HelpX (not HelpEx), 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 provided primarily as a cultural exchange for working holiday makers who would like the opportunity during their travels abroad, to stay with local people and gain practical experience. In the typical arrangement, the helper works an average of 4 hours per day and receives free accommodation and meals for their efforts. This time range can vary considerably depending on the tasks at hand and the host’s preferences. Some hosts may require just 2 hours per day for accommodation only, and ask you to provide and cook your own food. Others may expect 6 hours per day in return for meals, your own room and sometimes other benefits such as free Internet use, horse riding, kayaking, bikes, local sight-seeing trips, yoga or English lessons, etc. Some will give weekends off, while others might allow you to put in 8 hours one day and later take a full day off. Helpers often live with the host family and are expected to join in and offer a helping hand with day-to-day activities.