WELL, THAT HAPPENED: Trading the Hole for the Unknown

By on February 2, 2016

A microcosm of international travelers come together to WorkAway.

Australian WorkAwayer Kellen Bush meanders through the quiet streets of Neskaupstaður, Iceland, population 1,500.  (Photo: Elizabeth Moss/mossandbush.com)

Australian WorkAwayer Kellen Bush meanders through the quiet streets of Neskaupstaður, Iceland, population 1,500.  (Photo: Elizabeth Moss/mossandbush.com)

Last fall, over two steaming cups of tea at the Lotus Cafe, Jamie Dunphy and I chatted about my plans for Iceland. I knew that my life in Jackson was full of opportunity, friends and family, but something was missing. Something challenging and unpredictable. Having traveled to Iceland three times, including one six-month stint as a whale-watching guide, I still had an urge for adventure and instability. A good handful of people told me I was crazy to leave the Hole for an undetermined amount of time (“At least a year,” I said.), but I still couldn’t shake the Iceland bug. I needed to get back.

The other handful of people envied me, saying, “I wish I could do what you’re doing.” But because my decision was completely fueled by impulsive urges, I didn’t have a plan, per se, and as I’m writing this column in the midst of a snowstorm while a fishing vessel from Greenland maneuvers into harbor outside my window, I still don’t.

And I’m totally OK with that.

Luckily, Jamie had asked me if I’d ever heard of a program called WorkAway, and recommended I check it out. The program operates in a similar fashion to the popular travel accommodation site CouchSurfing, but is more of a work exchange than just a free bed. Hosts from all around the world put a call out to travelers offering free accommodation and food in exchange for 20-25 hours of work per week. Farms, guesthouses, tourism companies and regular families seek temporary workers for various odd jobs that can range anywhere from cleaning hotel rooms to cooking for a family of five. Whether for only two weeks or multiple months, hosts post their needs, and travelers heading to those respective countries answer the call.

Thanks to Jamie’s recommendation, I checked out the site, browsed through the Icelandic hosts, and got hooked up right here at the Hildibrand Hotel in Neskaupstaður. I posted my work experiences and skills. The boss, Hákon, said he would find a spot for me on their temporary staff.

Upon arriving in November, I was surprised to see 13 other WorkAwayers who had been helping out at the hotel, including a couple from Slovakia, two girls from the States, a girl from Lithuania and two Irish gents. As time has gone by, our staff has morphed, with people heading back home or traveling on to new countries. We’ve even had a few people come back after spending the holidays with their families.

We all stay in apartments at the hotel and get fed three hearty meals a day in exchange for our work. Some of us will head out to Hákon’s family farm to help with the horses while others work in the bakery making cakes and breads, or wait tables in the restaurant. I primarily work in the kitchen, but the other day I was breaking down sheep carcasses, transforming them into 485 lamb burgers. Today I was told to find a great rustic bread recipe, and, for the first time in my life, successfully made loaves of bread.

WorkAwayers do not get paid for their work (although the hotel is going to hire me full-time in the summer), but every other aspect of the experience is exactly what my life in Jackson had been lacking: each day is an adventure, and 90 percent of the time I go to sleep without knowing what I’ll be doing when I wake up.

Because of our desire to reciprocate the generosity of our employer, we each put in extra hours and do our best to keep the hotel alive and running. And since no one is getting paid more than anyone else, tension or stress is very rare. We’ve become a family, all of us from different backgrounds and different cultures. We speak different languages but always come together for our staff meals and room together. Sure, life in a town of 1,500 people can be grudgingly slow, but it’s so refreshing to escape the hustle of what we sadly call the “real world.”

I know Jackson folks are always anxious to get out of town, especially in the winter. I cannot recommend enough you partake in WorkAway the next time you travel. And should you get the urge to butcher some lamb and/or prepare mussels for dinner, just let me know. PJH

About Andrew Munz

You must be logged in to post a comment Login