From building an eco-village to managing a hostel, the range of opportunities available to volunteers on sites like HelpX, Workaway, and WWOOF are practically endless. I felt like I was living in a choose your own adventure book when reading the different host profiles. However, this wide gamut of possibility also means that there is an element of risk and surprise when arriving at a new host location. More often than not, the place is wonderful. Unfortunately, though you may find that a particular location, for whatever reason, is just not a good fit. And that’s okay.
It can not work out in a lot of ways. For instance, your host may cancel due to an injury, like what happened earlier in the trip. Plans may also fall through because the monks that you were communicating with for months just suddenly stop responding to your emails. (Whatever happened to those monks?) There is no way to be totally prepared for these situations. You just need to be a quick thinker, and you may need to improvise a little.
At this point in our journey, we are leaving Budapest and on our way to stay with our fourth Workaway host. Having already stayed with great hosts in Sweden and Belgium, we have high expectations. On this farm they need help picking plums and caring for the animals, mostly chickens and goats. (!!!)
However, we had misgivings about the place from the moment that our host led us into the dark and dank shack that would be our new temporary home. Unfortunately, our impressions of the place did not improve from there.
So, what do you do if you find yourself in a extremely uncomfortable living situation?
1. Decide what your limits are and what you can deal with.
While traveling as a volunteer (essentially relying on the kindness of others), you will have to keep an open mind and just learn to accept certain conditions as they are. However, each host should be able to provide a clean and comfortable place for volunteers to stay. Ideally, all hosts would be totally transparent about the accommodation that they provide. But, for a variety of reasons, many profiles are not totally complete. That’s why I also ask a lot of questions when making arrangements with volunteer hosts.
Sometimes, though, there will be questions that I just didn’t think to ask. Like, “Can you guarantee that my bed won’t be covered in cobwebs?” (Um, yes. There were cobwebs climbing from the corner of our would-be bed.) Or “Can I expect that children won’t be going in and out of my room all day because my room contains the only bathroom in the house?” (Admittedly not the host’s fault, just a major design flaw. But it did mean that the other volunteers, a family of four, would have to walk past our bed each time they used the toilet, even during the night.) So, when we were initially confronted with these two situations at this new volunteer location, we weren’t quite sure how to react. When she mentioned that there was no wifi in this house (contrary to her listing), it just felt like the last straw.
2. Weigh the decision to leave early very carefully.
Although we were extremely uncomfortable and could not really see ourselves staying in this situation, we still took time to consider the impact of our decision to leave early. Chris and I debated back and forth the pros and cons of staying or leaving. We didn’t want to make the decision lightly because we knew that they host was relying on us volunteers to do work that she couldn’t do alone. But we also felt that she had failed on her part to be a good host and provide at least a clean living space.
3. Be honest, yet polite when breaking the news to the host.
When our Workaway host came to check on us that afternoon, we told her that not having wifi was too much of an inconvenience as we had been relying on it to make this website, find work, make travel plans, etc, and, unfortunately, we would have to leave early. We apologized for the inconvenience and expressed our regret.
To our great relief, our host responded with true kindness. She said she understood completely. She then dropped us back off at the bus station and wished us luck with the rest of our trip.
4. Make a plan and stay calm.
Opting to leave the volunteer location early was a kind of big risk as we now had no guarantee of a place to sleep and no way of contacting anyone.
We used the time on the two-hour bus ride back to Budapest to discuss our options and make a game plan. Since we were scheduled to arrive at our next host in Bulgaria in two weeks, we decided to head to Sofia, the capital, as soon as possible. That way, if our next host could take us a bit early, we’d at least be in the same country.
We still needed to find a place to sleep though.
5. Think quickly and be flexible.
After climbing off the motor coach, we headed straight for the subway and the city center in search of a cheap restaurant with free wifi. After settling on a falafel joint, Chris whipped out his phone and I dug my iPad out of my bag. Then we spent a good 20 minutes scouring the net for a place to stay.
6. Breathe deep and relax.
I have never felt more relief than checking into the hotel that night at 10:30 PM. When we opened the door to our apartment-hotel, with its cobweb-free beds and private bathroom, it felt like everything else that had happened that day was a (stressful) dream.
And the next morning, I finally got a response from those pesky monks. (Just five days after our scheduled arrival date, but at least they wrote back!)
Oh well… onward and upward!
Have you ever found yourself in a situation like this? What would you do?