A Call to Attention
Work for Your Travel
First off, this article will not teach you how to earn money for your travels, although the possibility is out there. I intend to steer you right past that thought and onto the open road of travel by the cheapest way I know how. I currently live out of my car. I do not have dreadlocks, I can barely surf and I’m not an international tourist. However, I suppose I am technically homeless. I’m travelling on an open-ended road trip, or more aptly, I live on the road. My method of travel is by no means uncommon or revolutionary, but I am under the impression it is uncommon among Australians. The road trip is a staple of Australian travel, we don’t have much choice to be frank, it’s a big country with a lot to see that’s spread out over a bloody lot of kilometres. I think it is safe to assume that most Australians have been on a road trip, even if it was just with the parents. But a lot of road trips are tightly scheduled, a little too hasty and a bunch too expensive. Well, much to the expected delight of those many adventurous souls amongst you who idealise the road trip, there are a multitude of hosts out there who will let you crash and feed in exchange for a bit of work around whatever establishment they call home.
Pretty much every young adult goes through at least a period of wanderlust, and we all have that friend who seems to be constantly travelling. They’re posting amazing pictures of pristine waterfalls and quaint European villages on slopes above some reflective lake complete with hashtags out their arse. Yes, yes we all want to live like that. I won’t deny that a big stash of money makes travel easier but maybe we need to adjust our perception of travel. Accommodation and food are two massive financial factors when you plan to travel; even the cost of hostels, cheap as they can be, adds up alarmingly fast. How about replacing the hostels with somebody else’s cosy home instead? Most of you will have heard of international travellers working on farms or volunteer working and some of you might have friends who have, or have done so yourself overseas. Believe me when I say, you can travel Australia doing this and it can be damn cheap!
The concept of WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) has been around since 1972 and in Australia since 1981, so it’s been around for a while. In reality, it’s a very old concept, you work for your food and board, bypass money, they need help and you need shelter. Simple as that. Other organisations have arisen over the years (HelpX and Workaway in particular) that have slight variations in philosophy, but can be utilised to the same ends. Each organisation charges a fee to use their service, WWOOF charges $70pa, HelpX ~$35 for a two-year subscription and Workaway $30pa. At some stage this concept spread throughout the country and hosts are in abundance, unsurprisingly the idea of essentially free workers appealed to a few, but the number of Australians travelling by this manner appears to be low. Respect and courtesy are expected, limitations on work amount are in place, usually 4-5 hours, 5-6 days per week, but in general it is a quite flexible arrangement and relies on the honesty of participants. It goes without saying that you are staying at a stranger’s place and common sense is advised. Remember though, most hosts are just as anxious as you, they’re inviting strangers into their homes.
At the time of writing this article I am living out of a station wagon car with a bed in the back and am travelling from host to host on an open-ended timeframe. I’ve known about the concept of HelpX for some years now and it seemed obvious to travel like this in Australia. I was surprised by the number of Australians I’ve come across that had not heard of the concept but also by the sheer number that loved the idea while not believing it was possible for them. A common misconception was the finances that people expected were needed, before I left, I met a guy who was surprised that I hadn’t saved up $25000 for the trip (the amount he thought acceptable). I spent about $3000 on my car…
If a traveller stayed solely with hosts, a car may not even be necessary, many internationals travellers do not travel in one and often hosts are happy to pick up from transport hubs. For those who already own cars the only major expense would be fuel. Realistically, it is wise to have an emergency fund for whatever potential mishaps i.e. your house on wheels dying. It is not unreasonable to think that with a bit of frugality a road trip from Melbourne to Darwin, with stays throughout, would be possible for less than a return flight to London.
I’m under no illusions that this form of travel may not be for everyone, the idea of having to work when you’re supposed to be living it up on holiday may irk some. But to borrow a line of thought from Henry David Thoreau; with all the time spent working at home to save for your accommodation on the trip, could you not just leave now and do the work while you travel? I promise you will learn more skills than you bargained for. A certain level of, self-reliance, flexibility and common sense are required but the opportunity for extremely frugal travel is there. I’ve stayed in a self-contained cottage for a month with all food supplied and learnt about fish farming (and harvesting) and raising British Short-Hair kittens. Lived off-grid for a week eating almost entirely from their garden on another stay. When I feel I need a change I go and camp by the beach. There’s a lot of unique opportunities out there.
Using these volunteer work stays is a flexible manner of travel. A brief stint with a host who lives by the beach or in a cabin deep in the bush a short walk from waterfalls is entirely possible. A few weeks later you’re back in the daily grind. Travelling like this is truly only what you make of it. There are hosts with positions on the beach, in mountains, farming alpacas, party hostels, completely off-grid and sustainable, all kinds of stuff. You can tailor your very own Australian tour. Living on the road is not only possible, but also (reasonably) comfortable thanks to these opportunities. Consider it next time you’re bored shitless.