By Rachael Thomas
Just as my phone overheated, shut down and I lost my navigation, I saw a sign to an aire coming up on the next right. I pulled in, parked up and tried to find a spot out of the sun where my phone could cool down. Much like myself, the phone wasn’t used to the 37° C heat we were experiencing in my little van. The last time I’d glanced at the map before it disappeared from the screen, I was approximately 20 minutes from my destination. So close, but I didn’t know the way.
It was while I sat waiting that it dawned on me: I was actually here. I’d been so focused on the drive from the ferry port down through the country, concentrating on keeping to the right, and learning French from the road signs, that I’d forgotten I’d eventually reach the end of my journey. Long drives always feel very therapeutic to me when I’m behind the wheel, especially when traveling alone. It just hits different; the freedom of pace, the autonomy, the route finding and the personalized playlists. Sometimes, you can’t beat it.
I felt empowered that I’d made it. All my decision-making and planning had accumulated to this moment and the month that lay ahead of me. But, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I was feeling a cocktail of excitement and nerves knowing I was so close. Not only was I traveling by myself, in my van, in a corner of the world that I’d not previously visited. But to add to that, it was my first Workaway experience and I was about to live and work with total strangers for the next 30 days. These feelings were exactly why I needed to do this and to say “yes” to life.
Back in the UK while daydreaming about potential travel plans for 2022, a friend of mine had mentioned Workaway, suggesting I take a look. Admittedly I spent a lot of time excitedly trawling through pages and pages of the hosts and experiences listed on there. I hadn’t quite made up my mind where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do, but I was certainly in the right place to be inspired.
Workaway is known for being ‘the leading community for cultural exchange, working holidays and volunteering’, so there really is something for everyone. By simply signing up to the site, you receive access to over 50,000 opportunities in more than 170 countries across the world. I’d save the host profiles that caught my eye the most, creating files according to the country they were based. Having my own profile meant I could contact my favorite hosts and discuss our availability, what their stay would entail and what was expected of me. I’d considered many options, from charity work and language exchanges to help with renovations and farm work.
At the time I was feeling particularly drawn to France with the intention of learning the language during my stay. I’d previously been researching language schools in the south of France for future plans. But knowing I hadn’t visited that part of the country before, I’d been a little cautious to commit to any of the schools. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to experience living abroad and Workaway felt like the perfect solution for me. Offering the opportunity to experience life in France without having to fork out lots of money to do so. My criteria for my Workaway was pretty simple; I wanted to work with people, learn a language and have enough free time to go on solo adventures in my van.
While searching for hosts in the south of France who had the same availability as me, I came across a profile which really ‘wowed’ me. “Live in Provence, experience the countryside lifestyle and help us with tasks around our B&B.” The profile was highly rated and the hosts shared what they had to offer and what they expected from their workawayer, in detail. They had great reviews, the photos they had shared were amazing and to top it off, they were located near the areas I was interested in visiting.
On Workaway, it is possible for hosts to reach out to workawayers but you’re more likely to get noticed by contacting them first. So that’s exactly what I did via the messaging platform within the site. Before I knew it, we’d sent messages back and forth and arranged for a video call to introduce ourselves, resulting in them choosing me to be their workawayer for September 2022!
Life as a Workawayer
On arrival at Domaine Les Martins B&B, I was welcomed into my host’s home (my dream home!) as if I was already part of the family. They'd prepared a delicious meal for me, knowing I’d spent most of the day driving, and allowed me time to rest and settle into my new room. I felt like I had walked into an alternate dimension where I was living a dream life, but this was in fact my life.
My hosts, David and Régis, showed me the ropes of how they ran the B&B, the tasks they wanted me to do and generally introduced me to my new surroundings. In the mornings I’d be assisting them prepare the delicious breakfast ready for the guests and in the evenings watering the plants around the pool area and lighting candles in the courtyard. And I can’t forget one of my favorite tasks of the day: walking my new four-legged friend, Lola.
As a team we worked every day, waking at 7am to be down in the kitchen ready for work at 7:30am, David often called me his Swiss clock, because “you’re always on time”. The breakfast service was always a joy to be a part of, especially working with two passionate and dedicated men like Régis & David. You can tell they love what they do and their attention to detail pays off. Not only did they spoil me with tasty home-cooked meals in return for my time and effort, they also treated me to meals out and extended invites to dinner parties with their friends. I felt included and appreciated as a workawayer and as a friend.
There was a perfect balance of work and play at Domaine Les Martins. Régis & David knew how much I love to hike and cycle, and were always happy to give me recommendations of places to visit and things to see in my free time. I often made trips to the surrounding areas visiting cities like Avignon and Aix-en-Provence, potential places where I will study in the future, scoping them out and seeing how I felt in the different locations.
This was my first Workaway experience, and it definitely won’t be my last! I was blown away and truly had the best time staying with a wonderful family, living a Provençal dream. Getting to know my hosts and learning French from them, sharing interesting conversations with guests and discovering the beauty of the south of France - I’ve created fond memories that will last a lifetime. With Workaway, you arrive as a stranger and leave as a friend…
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Benefits of Workaway?
Choose an experience that suits your needs: cultural exchange, working holiday, volunteering
Gain new skills while you travel
Travel on a budget
Meet new, like-minded people
Learn a language
Travel-buddy feature to meet other travellers
See host rating and review from previous workawayers
About Rachael Thomas
A keen hiker, sea swimmer and traveller. Rachael works in Marketing as a creative copywriter based in Cornwall, UK. Her love of discovering new places, people and cultures has taken her across the globe, from New Zealand to France and many beautiful countries in between. She has recently fallen in love with film photography and shares ‘life’s little moments’ over on her Instagram alongside her worldwide adventures.