Workawayer of the Month: A Solo Female Traveler's Adventures
Cultural exchange site Workaway.info featured me as a "Workawayer of the month," and I was interviewed about my volunteer experience in Iceland.
Hey Krista, thanks for letting us interview you this month! Where in the world are you at the moment, and where was your last trip? Hello, and thank you! I’m currently home in Delaware in the United States, but I spent about a month in southern Iceland learning and living with an Icelandic family, milking cows on their dairy and horse farm. The farm was a quick walk from a black sand beach, and a short drive from the town of Vík. It was so glorious – just walking out of the house, we had a great view of Mýrdalsjökull glacier and a cliff, Dyrhólaey. The landscape was ethereal (the milking was not). I learned so much about both Icelandic and farm life – the pace, the methods, techniques, routines, mannerisms. And now I know how to milk a cow – or 40 cows.
We are obsessed with the sound of this trip already. Had you done any other Workaway exchanges before this one?
No, but I discovered Workaway about four years ago when I first started researching ways to travel extensively while on a tight budget, and I’ve always loved volunteering, so I started to pursue this.
Awesome! So how did you choose to travel via Workaway rather than any other form of travel?
The Workaway concept was very appealing to me. I mean, you get to really delve into the day-to-day existence of a foreign culture and its traditions, livelihoods, cuisine. You help people, make friends, push yourself to learn and experience new things – and it’s free! (minus the yearly sign up fee.) Everyone should do Workaway at least once. It’ll be the strangest, best experience of your life.
If we had a dollar for every time we said that too...Have you travelled in any other ways than volunteering and where to? How do you typically travel?
I backpacked through Europe a few years ago with a group of friends, travelled to Ireland, spent a month road-tripping through Mexico, and recently got back from Costa Rica. Generally, when I travel, I have a habit of wanting to get every possible glimpse of a country or region, which means long hours on the road in cars, taxis, buses, on ferries – I’m not bragging. This often exhausts my companions and me. But on the bright side, I guess, we typically end up in some remote and fascinating places.
We have to agree with you there, we also can’t get enough of wanting to do it all. What is the most valuable lesson you have learnt through cultural exchange?
Workaway is a great reminder to just go for it, I think. You’re entirely thrown out of your comfort zone, and are a little awkward and vulnerable. And from that, you gain this self-confidence that liberates an adventurous spirit that you may not have had the chance to unleash otherwise.
How easy did you find it to find a suitable hosts on Workaway?
The hard part, I think, is narrowing down all of the amazing hosts! Like, “Hmm, do I want to learn about this farm overlooking the ocean or stay in a hostel that offers free glacier tours to volunteers?” I made sure to ask a lot of questions, though – and used Skype. Otherwise, it was easy.
Looking through over 23,000 hosts could indeed take up a lot of your time! What is the funniest thing that has happened to you while on a Workaway experience?
Oh, man. In Iceland, the hosts were kind enough to offer volunteers a car to drive wherever we wanted to go. But it was five-speed and I could only drive automatic. We were on a farm on a sprawling tundra, miles from civilization – we needed to get out sometimes. My sister and I spent an entire afternoon teaching ourselves how to drive stick, stalling our way down the two-mile driveway with this absurdly surreal backdrop of glaciers and rainbows, and the intermittent and very-Icelandic torrential downpour. I was able to drive to Skógafoss waterfall – down flat Rt. 1 in one direction – but of course the town, Vík, was in the opposite direction. Over a mountain. With a switchback road. Seriously, for the next day or so, I was obsessively haunted by this mountain. It was like my Moby Dick. So one morning, with my sister Leilah coaching from the passenger seat and me, quaking at the helm, I drove full speed toward the thing. All was well for the first 10 seconds, until the car started sputtering and the speedometer dropped steadily – to 8 kph. I hadn’t downshifted. I didn’t know I was supposed to. I would have loved to view the drive from an aerial or panoramic view – two foreigners, blasting the proverbial Sigur Ros, puttering up a mountain with ghastly expressions. But we made it. I conquered my mountain and we got to town.
We just laughed a little too hard. How did Workaway live up to your expectation?
Although my sister spontaneously ended up joining me toward the end of the trip, I started out with a solo mindset, so going into it, I was definitely intimidated, even about the little things that stress me out like logistics of getting from the airport to the Workaway destination – it’s all on you and you alone to figure out; but that’s what stretches you and makes you grow. And as a female solo traveler, I feel like there was an added precaution I had to take, however much I hate that ingrained mentality. I knew, too, I especially wanted to be near scenic areas for photography and hiking, and begin to get an understanding of Icelandic culture. I’d say both of those expectations were fulfilled – and I definitely gained confidence, too, as a person travelling alone.
Do you have plans to do another Workaway? What kind of work exchange would you be interested in doing? Yes! I’m always scrambling to figure out ways to do more Workaway – I’d love to pursue organic farming, or work somewhere with an herbalist host. And at some point, I’d love to spend a few months on a tea farm in Nepal or coffee farm in Hawaii.
So as a solo female traveler, who (nearly) conquered the mountains of Iceland in a car you couldn’t drive, what would be your top advice for Workawayers about to embark on a trip?
Immerse yourself. That may seem obvious, but it’s easy to sink deeper into yourself when you’re thrown into a new or intimidating situation, like living in a stranger’s home or trying out work you’ve never done. Workaway is an adventure, and any true adventure is guaranteed to be uncomfortable at times. But don’t let yourself feel silly or scared – embrace moments of insecurity and conquer them, because they’re the ones you’ll play over in your head when you’re back home at your office, or surrounded by old friends, when you’re realizing that you actually did it.
Krista, we crown you the ultimate Workawayer. Those words of wisdom will be etched into our website forever more. What are your next plans?
Soon, I hope to spend a full year Workawaying in Scotland and Ireland. Have you seen the castles and manor houses that accept volunteers?! In the meantime I’m working on building a website, though Workawayers can find me on Instagram @kristaconnor, too.
Thanks again Krista, we will be sure to follow your Instagram for more funny stories and Workaway adventures!