Work exchange with Worldpackers: my first hand experience

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Photo by Asia Colonna

In springtime 2022, I was traveling in Italy and my stay in an animal shelter was coming to end. It was time to find another place to volunteer. I decided to join Worldpackers. Worldpackers is an online community that connects hosts with travelers, offering volunteer opportunities in over 140 countries around the world

While traveling, you can find accommodation (and sometimes all meals or some of them are included) in exchange for some hours of work per day. There are many types  of projects that you can  apply for: eco projects, organic farms, hostels, holistic centers, schools, and animal shelters, just to name a few areas of activities. In most cases prior experience or special skills aren’t required. But there are specific projects that need people with a particular skill set, such as; carpenter, painter, gardener, teacher, artist, driver etc.

Worldpackers is a subscription based platform

Once you choose your plan you can sign up to the Worldpackers platform and create your profile. After that you can see the projects and contact as many people as you want for one year (every year you can decide whether to renew the subscription or not). You can start messaging to project owners you would like to apply to and begin your new adventure!

My volunteer adventure in a camping on Elba Island

I was in Tuscany and I applied for a work exchange project  on the island of Elba (which is the biggest island of the Tuscan Archipelago and the third largest in Italy after Sardinia and Sicily). This is a very touristic place. Every summer the island welcomes tens of thousands of tourists from all over the world. 

Fortunately, I went there during the low season. It was mid-April and the campsite where I volunteered  needed a helping hand to prepare for the summer season.

Being a family-run camping, it felt very familiar and welcoming from the very beginning.

It is a very peculiar place: the owner is an Italian-Thailandese family who decided to combine the two cultures that were perfectly mixed giving the camping a gorgeous charm. From The outside it looks like it’s a regular camping spot in Tuscany, but once you enter, it seems like you are transported to Southeast Asia.

There are Thai statues, Zen gardens, flowers and tall trees everywhere to create a exotic  atmosphere.

My accommodation was in a wooden bungalow, with two bedrooms and a kitchen. On the front porch there was a table with benches.

It was very simple, yet so cozy and still, you could experience the camping life, as there wasn’t running water and we used shared toilets.

Challenges of the first week

The first day I arrived, I met the other volunteers. None of them was Italian, so I had the chance to practice English and discover new cultures. The crazy thing is that I did all this while I was staying in Italy, not that far from the place where I live!

My third day was Easter: the family invited some of their relatives and they prepared a lunch with typical Italian and Thai dishes, in true Italian style. We volunteers were invited as well and it was a joy to be able to celebrate Easter with a family, even though it was not mine.

The two siblings Francesco and Betty, the owners of the campsite, liked to go out in the evenings to have fun with friends, and they always invited us volunteers to go with them. As you can imagine the atmosphere was always very relaxed and informal, and super welcoming.

However, the first week wasn’t that easy for me. I was the last one to arrive and all the other had volunteers worked and lived together for two weeks. For an introvert person like me, it was very challenging, especially because we didn’t have that much in common with the other volunteers.

Luckily, the job was easy and fun, and the owners were very friendly. We basically had to scrape the old paint from the gates and paint them again, or do the same just with  tables, benches etc. Basically a lot of scraping and painting.

But after 6 hours working, we were free to enjoy the beach, ride a bike (they were at our disposal for free use) or go on a hike.

The eastern and western points of Elba Island can be reached by motorcycle in 50 minutes from the camping site.

The sea is just wonderful: clean and crystalline water, surrounded by beautiful vegetation.

But you just need to go inland to findHeading towards the center of the island you could do exciting hikes in the unspoiled nature. 

So basically, this island is perfect if you enjoy both mountains and seaside: you can have both on the same day!

Finding new volunteer friends at the camping

After the first week I’d spent at the camping, a new girl arrived: Cleo, from Germany. With her arrival things changed for the better. She is a really smart and kind person, with whom it was really easy to become friends. Working together and chatting was a joy, because time flew by without us realizing it, and we had eye opening conversations and touched a lot of interesting topics.

Shortly after, many other wonderful people arrived: Holly and Anne from the Netherlands, Naira from Canada, Tom from Germany. We weren’t just volunteers anymore, became a real group of friends. We worked (but it was a lot of fun) during the day, played games and enjoyed nature in the afternoons, we ate together and we had a party every now and then. 

I would have so many anecdotes to tell, it was an unforgattable month. I’ll always carry all these people in my heart, together with those who arrived later in my stay and with whom I didn’t spend much time but shared many pleasant moments and memories.

It’s insane that we met so randomly, and with many of them we have been together for a relatively short time, yet we shared our life and learned so much from each other!

Photo by Asia Colonna

The takeaway of my first Worldpackers experience

My time as a volunteer on the island of Elba was one of the most enriching experiences I have ever had. I had the opportunity to meet many new, interesting people and learn from them. I learned new, useful skills. 

I was able to visit a place that I could otherwise never afford, spending very little and living like a local, having a great time.

I had a lot of time for myself: after work I had time to write articles, have fun with other volunteers or do something on my own. We used a common kitchen which was a central place in our daily volunteer lives. We exchanged recipes, learned and tried dishes from several nations, we created very beautiful bonds while cooking and eating together.

Overall, working as a traveling volunteer in my own country was a wonderful, one of a lifetime experience. I wholeheartedly recommend anyone wishing to travel on a budget to try a work exchange experience with Worldpackers or other platforms and start the next adventure of their lives!

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