UVA Clubs

Living with Strangers: Seeing the World as an Alternative Traveler

Independent travel has long been the only type that makes sense to me. I want my travels to be raw, real, and on my own schedule. The biggest question: what options are out there?

One afternoon after Italian 201 at U.Va., I stayed after class to speak with the instructor. I had just finished a summer as an intern for the federal government, padding my resume and making great money. The work, however, was unstimulating and I was ultimately unfulfilled. Having fallen in love with the Italian language, I asked my professor what I could do in Italy for a summer that was more relaxed and free than study abroad. When she suggested becoming an au pair (a live-in nanny), I knew that was my ticket.

Loads of emails and some Skype sessions later, I found a family in the south of Italy, near Naples. I lived with them for a month, earned some euro to keep me going, and spent the other month traveling all the way down the Ligurian Coast in a convertible. Was that last part expected? No. Would it have happened if my entire trip was pre-planned? Likely not. Option #1. greece

“Wait, explain this again. You are going to live with strangers? In another country?”

Great. My family thinks I am completely nuts.

“Yep, I will work for a few hours a day in exchange for food and accommodation. Each stay will be about two weeks I think. I haven’t planned it all out yet. My plane ticket to Portugal is the only one I have bought.”

I am currently on an extended trip with my Minnesotan boyfriend (a non-Wahoo, oops!). The idea is to travel for as long as we can, hopefully making it all the way around the world. We are coming up on month three, and it has certainly been a wild ride. The entire month of May was spent in Portugal, Spain and Morocco in June, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales in July. Croatia, Italy, Austria, and Oktoberfest in Germany will get us to the end of September. Visiting friends in Eastern Europe and trekking in Nepal will hopefully follow in October if all falls in to place. After that, who knows?

We have primarily been organizing stays through a website called Help Exchange: we work for 4-5 hours a day in exchange for food and accommodation with the hosts. We have lived in our own apartment in Portugal, a “casita” under a pool in Spain, a 400-year-old estate house in Scotland, and a caravan in Ireland, to name a few. Our work has included gardening, sanding yurt poles, painting sculptures, scooping ice cream at a dairy, and making beds in a hostel. Option #2.

We aren’t rich. Since landing in Portugal, we have spent just under $1100. Divided by three, that’s slightly over $500 a month, or the price of renting a room in Charlottesville. Our trip definitely hasn’t been one big party, but it also hasn’t been frugal to the point of cutting out all fun. Our work has brought more purpose to the trip, rather than just endless sightseeing and city-hopping.


Landing in completely different surroundings every few weeks certainly requires flexibility and patience, two important life skills. Drinking wine with a Lord and Lady in Scotland and whitewashing walls in Portugal are just about on opposite ends of the spectrum. Working for food and a bed, instead of a paycheck, has given me a whole new perspective on living in a cash society. If you are interested in independent travel, and are willing to put in the work, this wahoo’s perspective is to consider working as an au pair or volunteering through Help Exchange.

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