I came to volunteer at a guesthouse in Malaysia as part of my rehabilitation into the single people club. I needed some time to pick up the pieces and to decide what my next move would be before starting to travel again. Things seemed like they were lining up for me without having to ask, so I took the opportunity that was presenting itself – all I had to do was to hit the reply button, say “I’m on my way”, pack my bags, and go start this brand new chapter of my adventure. Opportunities to volunteer at guesthouses like this are usually found through work exchange websites, but I was actually poached by a previous guesthouse owner where I had stayed a few months prior – so in my case it was just a matter of good timing. And as unable as I was to decide what was best for me – it was indeed the perfect timing.
I spent nearly four months in Malacca – the longest I have stayed put anywhere in a very long time (I did have a 10 day holiday in Laos in the middle!) I had plenty of time to screw my head back on properly and make awesome travel plans – all the while having a great time in a city that I grew more and more fond of as time passed, and without spending any of my savings. I met people from all around the world, whilst living with local Chinese Malays, got lots of work done, both for my blog – catching up on everything I had let go by the wayside post-breakup – and freelancing on a few web and graphic design contracts. I also found time to meditate and do yoga twice daily. As an added unexpected bonus, the guesthouse was a Warmshowers host and I got to meet several cyclists from all walks of life who inspired me so much that I decided to continue my adventure on two wheels quickly after arriving in Malacca! All in all, it was a little bit like a holiday from the holiday – with a few daily chores.
Working for accommodation at a guesthouse is a great way of cutting down on expenses when you travel – especially if, like me, you enjoy slow travel and spending a full month (or more) in one place sounds like a nice way to discover it. And in light of my three months spent volunteering at a backpacker hostel in Malacca, I’m left wondering why I didn’t consider doing these kind of work/travel arrangements before – the money I could have saved! In return for various tasks (in my case: watering the plants, checking the guests in and out and taking them on bicycle tours at night as well as a few other light cleaning duties here and there), I was able to stay for free in a double room with free breakfast (don’t get too excited, it was white bread and tea – my healthy eating habits are also a little bit on holiday post-breakup!), with my own bicycle, free wifi, laundry and pocket money that ended up covering all my other expenses. Unfortunately I did not get a day off and sometimes things felt a little chaotic and unorganized for my liking, but once I decided to embrace the chaos, I quickly felt at home. Work usually took 3 or 4 hours each day and I was left with a big chunk of free time in the afternoons where I could do some sightseeing, hang out with the guests, get some work done on my computer or just lay down in a hammock on the rooftop. I also gave Thai massage by donation and taught yoga a few times. I managed to save a little extra cash that I used to buy a bicycle for the next leg on my journey.
There are several positions such as this on websites like Help Exchange and Workaway. Working arrangements vary greatly from place to place, so if you are considering volunteering at a guesthouse as part of your travel, I would recommend doing a little research before engaging yourself somewhere – unlike me! I was extremely lucky to end up at a place that suited me well, but you’ll probably want to investigate if a hostel is a party place, what exactly you are expected to do, if they have a lot of rooms and who is supposed to clean them, how many hours of work are required from you and in exchange for what, if you get days off, pocket money, etc. If you are an easy going person who loves the constant company of others and speaks good enough English, this could be a great opportunity to travel cheaper and longer.