I get a lot of different reactions when I tell people how I spent my 2016, especially when I get to the part where I lived in a foreign country, alone, for free.
“You stayed in a hostel??? For a month???”
“So you had never been to Croatia… weren’t you scared to go by yourself?”
“Don’t they film Game of Thrones in Croatia? Did you meet the Lanisters??”
Yes, I lived in a hostel in exchange for a few hours of work per week. Yes, I was scared at first. No, I did not see any fictional HBO characters.
What I did do was find myself outside my comfort zone and loving every second.
Except for the ones while I had the stomache flu. But that only lasted 28,800 seconds…
But really, for those looking for a unique travel experience, Workaway is awesome. If you’re not familiar with what Workaway is, take a look at my review of the website and program here. It’s a website that connects volunteers with people all over the world that are looking to exchange accommodation and meals for a bit of work.
Basically, travelers are hosted for an agreed amount of time for volunteering in different jobs, such as agriculture, home keeping, hospitality, language exchange, manual labor, etc.
My experience was in a youth hostel in Split, Croatia – a seaside town that has quickly become a holiday vacation destination.
When I visited the Workaway profile, what appealed to me was the help they were looking for – reception staff and social animator.
The fact that these responsibilities had no mention of cleaning was a huge bonus because scrubbing toilets and wiping down communal showers is just not my thing…. but I DO enjoy meeting new people and creating a fun atmosphere.
When I arrived, my manager suggested I take a few days to get settled into the hostel and become familiar with the area (aka take guests on all the pub crawls and spend a lot of time at the beach). I began helping with changing bed sheets at guest check outs and helping with breakfast set up, as well as learning about the general hostel operations and procedures.
After a few days of shadowing other staff members, I was put on the reception schedule for 8 hour reception shifts.
This mainly included checking guests in, showing them their beds and the various hostel amenities, and suggesting places to eat / see / drink.
Most of my shift was spent hanging out with guests in the common area, watching movies and providing the pre-drinking tunes as DJ HL before they left for their nights out.
In exchange for my work at the reception, I was provided a bed in a 7-bed dorm room as well as daily breakfast.
The hostel is located in a central area of Split, on the very edge of Old Town. My room had an amazing view of the main street, and a bizarre fountain that turned on and off at random times. I liked watching tourists become extremely confused by its erratic timing.
Breakfast was basic, with bread, cereals, juice, and spreads like nutella and jam. I supplemented the lack of options by purchasing fruit at the market or even some eggs and cheese to make a more American breakfast.
The other nice thing was that I had access to the breakfast stash throughout the day, so I often would use a bit of bread for an afternoon sandwich.
The main convenience that my hostel lacked was a kitchen – not so important when you’re staying there for a night or two as a guest, but after a week with nothing but nutella sandwiches and cereal, I had to get creative.
I started buying cooked half chickens from the local market, along with veggies and humus and eggs. I utilized the microwave like a wizard to make scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast, and reheated the chicken and cooked the veggies in a bowl with water for dinners.
The owner was also nice enough to offer me use of the kitchen in one of the apartments during an afternoon that it was vacant.
A few nights during my stay, I was lucky enough to have the entire 7 bed dorm to myself when it was a bit less busy.
There was a lot of it – which is what I was looking for. I utilized my Workaway stay as a way to travel and experience a foreign culture, but also to grow individually.
I made a point to visit Hvar on the island of Brac, which is absolute paradise. Like dreaming in sherbet.
My other big excursion was to Krka National Park, which I’ll be sure to post a review about in the near future. The waterfalls are out of this world.
I also was able to catch up on reading and grow my knowledge of SEO. I began working online as a freelance assistant through Upwork, which was easy to do between guest check ins while working reception (monetized multitasking expert level 10).
As I write this I am reminded of how extremely privileged I feel to have spent a month with my fellow hostel staff members. They were very welcoming, inclusive, and patient with my Croatian ignorance.
I quickly connected with two staff members that were my age, and we spent days visiting neighboring islands, going shopping, seeing live music, and looking up microwave recipes on Pinterest.
They taught me about Croatia and the culture. I introduced them to mac n cheese and taught them American phrases like “break the seal.”
I can not wait to participate in a Workaway exchange again and would highly suggest it as an alternative travel experience. Not only will you save money and live like a local, but you’ll be able to contribute to the success of a project or organization, which is just as rewarding.