If you’ve been following my travels over the past year, then you’ll know that I participated in Workaway, a work exchange organization, in Italy this past April. There, I spent 10 days working for an adorable little Italian woman named Francesca at her Sicilian Bed & Breakfast in the rolling hills of Caltagirone. Now, sitting in the Ben Gurion Airport, I’m reflecting on the past five weeks of my second Workaway experience – that, and wondering if the cheaper EasyJet ticket was really worth this 3 and a half hour delay…
Without sounding like I’m promoting or advertising this organization, I just want to give you a little taste of what it enables. From what I’ve noticed in talking to people, Workaway, in addition to WWOOFing and Helpx, isn’t really well known in the U.S., at least not compared to other countries, which is unfortunate. The incredible part of Workaway is the opportunity it gives travelers to enter and become part of a little corner of the world they’d never have known existed, which ultimately makes traveling more unique and rewarding, not to mention affordable. It’s easy enough to book a flight, find a hostel or hotel, and buy a guidebook. And while there’s nothing wrong with all that, sometimes it’s just not enough. When you participate in these work exchanges, you’re often also committing to a cultural and linguistic exchange in which you can really understand a new way of life, possibly completely different from what you’re used to. Instead of skimming the surface of the place you’re visiting, you are instead plunged into the swirling depths of that little corner of which you’ve now become an active member.
My work exchange in Tel Aviv was five weeks working in a travel hostel in return for a free bed, a chance to live in Israel for longer than my previous trips of 7-10 days, and a constantly crazy cast of characters. Maybe you’re wondering what I actually did every day in Tel Aviv when I wasn’t working at the hostel…besides going to the beach and eating falafel? To be completely honest, not too much. Most of the other volunteers at Milk & Honey had a job or internship on the side of working at the hostel. I didn’t though, and that was just fine by me. I tried looking for a job, but with my lack of Hebrew and an actual degree, a 5-week summer job wasn’t the easiest thing to find. So I enjoyed the charming area of Jaffa (southern Tel Aviv where my hostel was located), explored central Tel Aviv, traveled a bit throughout Israel, and saw Israeli cousins and friends from back home, some who I hadn’t seen in years.
(hitch)hiking and camping with my amazing Israeli and Swiss co-volunteers
My summer highlight? Milk & Honey was a 5-minute walk to the beach, and often I’d throw on my bathing suit at 7 in the evening, head to the beach, and float in the water as the sun set perfectly into the cloudless horizon. Coming from the east coast of the United States, I was always in awe of the perfect position that Jaffa offered to watch the sunset – straight coastline looking off to the west, and as the sky darkened I could watch the entire Tel Aviv skyline light up in the north and listen to the magical call to prayer ringing out from the mosque in Old Jaffa to my south. The entire sequence of sunset, illuminated city lights, enchanting prayer call, finally followed by a burst of colors in the sky blew me away every single time.
Unlike my experience in Sicily, I didn’t spend as much time with locals nor learn much of the local language (everyone spoke English at the hostel); instead, this time I lived with people from all over the world. Milk & Honey Hostel, while attracting awesome volunteers, also attracted interesting, sometimes quite strange, but always interesting, guests. I learned what it’s like to work in a hostel (not a huge fan of cleaning toilets) and how, yes we do gossip about all the guests – from the smelly French Santa Claus to the beautiful Brit polyglot. And while living in such close quarters with so many people could get exhausting, I could just as easily escape to the beach, to a nearby café, or even to Jerusalem for the day.
Western Wall and Dome of the Rock; Julz and Jules in Jerusalem; enjoying a Ramallah sunset
Still, forced to live and breathe and sleep within feet of the same people for so many weeks understandably brought us close together. Often I wouldn’t have any plans at night but would walk into the kitchen around dinnertime just to see what everyone was up to and who wanted to go out. We had our favorite hipster café in Jaffa, thanks to our lovely German volunteer, and our favorite tiny, local dance bar, introduced by our irreplaceable Texan. I’d relish in my love for the French language with any French-speaking guest who walked in the door and, finally during my last couple weeks, with a French volunteer. We became like a weird, mismatched, multi-ethnic, reality-show-esque family, volunteers and guests included. On my birthday, I walked into the kitchen after a day spent wandering through Jerusalem to find that the other volunteers and several guests had cooked me a birthday dinner, with candles, presents, and singing. It’s these little moments and relationships that comes from throwing yourself into a new place, by plunging below the surface, and by cozying up into one of an infinite number of little corners of the world that make Workaway so special and makes me never want to stop traveling.
[And if I didn’t mention it enough, I send all my love to Milk & Honey Hostel. From the worst to the best moments, I don’t regret a thing.]