I don’t think the goal of any traveler is to end up working while on vacation.
Work? That’s the last thing on anyone’s mind when abroad.
When we last wrote you guys, our plan was to hike another 470 miles from Kirk Yetholm to Cape Wrath, the far northwest of Scotland. But after I realized that I did not find hiking the rest of our trip appealing, we decided to think of other ideas.
It wasn’t until we were in the midst of Edinburgh’s city center that we knew it was time for a plan B.
Finishing up our 267 mile Pennine Way trek felt good. Great, in fact. We were done, and I felt a sense of completion unlike I had in a while. As most of life goes, when you get to that point, the next question is always:
While we were still hiking, we thought it might be a good idea to look at travel alternatives. What could we do that doesn’t cost us the rest of our adventure fund but still allows us the flexibility of travel?
We had heard of cultural exchange programs like WWOOF and had friends say that it was a worthwhile experience. So, we put together our own WWOOFing profile ($30 annually) and started searching for prospective hosts in the United Kingdom.
Within a week, we had contact with our first WWOOFing host.
We were still a month out from arriving at her home in Perth, and since a month abroad gets costly we wanted to have two prospective hosts to finish off the trip.
We looked on WWOOF for a while and realized we weren’t making any other kind of contact, so Jeremy Googled “cultural exchange programs for food and stay” (or something like that) and Workaway popped up.
Workaway is the same idea as WWOOF, but it’s not necessarily on organic farms; it’s all kinds of work.
So, we began our search.
We saw host families that were running their own hotels or hostels and others that simply needed childcare. But there was one that caught Jeremy’s eye:
‘We are a married couple with a son aged 20 and daughter aged 18, We live in the village of Dornie, across the road is Eilean Donan Castle (the one in Highlander the movie was made in 1986 ) Our home is an old croft house on the shore of a sea loch in the West Highlands of Scotland…”
And if that wasn’t enough to peak our interest, the reviews from other workaways blew everyone else out of the water. So, we reached out and they got back to us within the day. Two weeks in Dornie, done.
Shortly after we finished our hike, we headed to the remote village of Dornie on the west coast of Scotland. Eilean Donan Castle greeted us as we arrived by bus.
“Melanie and Jeremy?” A voice called from a few feet away.
“Yes?” We responded.
Jamie, the family’s eldest, had walked across the road to greet us and show us to our new home.
“I’m always telling mom to let workaways know we live across the street from the castle, not right next to it. It’s confusing.”
“Ha! Thanks for coming to our rescue.”
After about a minute walk, we had arrived to their beautiful 300 year old croft house. We were met by a hug and kiss at the front door. Needless to say, we were hooked.
We spent the following two weeks finishing a boat jetty, building concrete walls for a pontoon we helped refurbish, and other various tasks.
The host family was more than we could have hoped for and we thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them and spend time with them. They even took us on a drive tour of the village area and the southeastern part of Skye.
We toured a few brochs, old stone structures used by the early Scottish people for storage, cooking, housing, etc. They were pretty well in tact and super cool to look around.
The family’s youngest, Rosanna, also had a “pack” of chickens and ducks she raises, so each day was even more entertaining with these guys around.
There was a night when one of our host’s friends brought them a huge cooler of freshly caught Mackerel. The boys fileted those suckers and we had homemade fish and chips. HEAVEN.
We were made to be family while in Dornie.
I know not all experiences you put yourself out there for are rich and full of learning, but we were fortunate. And we will for sure find ourselves in Dornie in the not so far future.
The last week of our trip was spent in Kinclaven by Stanley near Perth. We ventured by train from the west coast to the east coast and were met by rolling plains and billowy clouds.
Our host lived in an old blacksmith smithy that she ran as a bed and breakfast.
Jeremy spent a lot of his time as her handyman, and I spent most of my time organizing her garage and other odds and ends.
Our last day was spent in the cute town of Pitlochry, the gateway to the Highlands, it’s called. We toured the Blair Athol Distillery for free, since we met a girl who worked there.
Our time in Perth was short, we were ready to be home. And while we’re glad to have had the experience, it wasn’t like what we had in Dornie.
Of course, everyone’s experiences will be different. You will have different hosts (maybe, it’s a small world!) with different tasks required of you and different personalities to contend with.
But if you are a traveler looking for affordable experiences while abroad, what better way to do that than to look up some work and gain experience? All food and accommodation are given to you and you can learn new skills and meet new people as you go.
Cultural exchange programs are a brilliant way to connect the traveler with the rest of the world. Not simply travel somewhere and see things for a moment or two, but you get the opportunity to live and work among people in their homes.