Monthly Archives: February 2011

Help Exchange: A New Way to Experience the World

One of the things I hope to gain through traveling is knowledge of and appreciation for other people and their cultures. I believe I can do this through Help Exchange, “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, as it is known, connects local people, who are looking for help with various home or work projects, with volunteering travelers, who want a different way to experience the place they are visiting. Hosts list their projects and needs, and helpers upload their profiles and current location. When hosts and helpers match up, hosts secure a short-term volunteer assistant and helpers usually receive free food, accommodation and, most importantly, a first-hand look at the life of a local. The idea is similar to the homestay concept that many students experience when they study abroad or the more modern WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) community.

HelpX has two different membership levels – free and paid. I signed up for the free membership to get a feel of the website and its services. Once I start traveling, I may upgrade to the paid membership in order to fully use the site. The projects, locations, living conditions and amenities vary greatly from host to host, so it’s important to discuss the expectations of both parties before accepting the project. It is best that the host and helper are specific when talking about their needs.

I look forward to using Help Exchange to meet locals, learn about their lives and pick up some new skills as I travel. There’s no denying that the HelpX set up is also a great way to reduce spending on hostels and meals. But, I believe the most beneficial aspect of the program is the interaction and exchange that will take place between people.

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Filed under Accommodation, Travel, Volunteering

Why Travel

Like many people, I’ve lived a somewhat boring and unremarkable life. In my youth, I must admit to following the crowd. I played by the rules and colored within the lines. I joined the band in junior high and played sports in high school. I took honors classes and earned good grades. For the most part, I didn’t give my parents too much to worry about. All in all, I was a good kid.

By the time I was in college, I was an expert at living this complacent existence. Of course, I didn’t know it then. However, something should’ve tipped me off when I couldn’t decide on a major. I wasn’t really passionate about anything particular and finally just settled on something I thought I’d be good at. It turned out that I was really good at certain aspects but was completely unsuited with others. Despite the mismatch, I pushed forward to graduate and get out into the workforce. I don’t even know what I expected to find there. Something more, obviously. But what?

After graduation, with two undergraduate degrees in hand, I set off like a good worker bee and got a job. I have since held a number of jobs and learned something new at each place of employment. But, after years of following this conventional path, life still seems incomplete to me. Yes, I am able to support myself while tucking a bit of money into my savings, 401(k) and Roth IRA accounts. Yes, I own my car outright and am working toward homeownership. Yes, with each new job I take on more responsibilities as I climb the proverbial ladder. So what’s the problem? 

Over the past few years I’ve come to realize that perhaps this life I’m living isn’t enough. I want more than what I’m getting and believe there’s more that I can give. Why live a half-fulfilled life when a fully realized life is within your grasp? This is why I travel.

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Filed under Travel