When I got to New Zealand, I had just quit my job and left with a one year visa and all my savings. I didn't have much plans. All I wanted was to discover the kiwi lifestyle and to explore the country as much as I could...
A Working Holiday Visa allows you to stay one year in New Zealand. I knew if I wanted to stay that long, I would need a way to get rid of all accommodation costs -even the cheaper dorm is ridiculously expensive there. Another one of my concerns was how to immerse myself into the local culture -I wasn't flying 18.000 kms to spend my time with other Europeans backpackers.
Work exchange appeared to me as an obvious decision. I would work a few hours a day, in exchange for food and accommodation. Let me explain...
work & travel : on how you can work for food and bed
If you've got time to offer and basic skills to swap, then work exchange is the best way to extend your trip without getting broke AND while having a truly authentic experience. There are different companies for that (Workaway, Woofing, HelpX). I chose HelpX for its diversity of job offers -it's not just farming, far from that.
The concept is simple: instead of being paid for your work, you're hosted and provided with meals. Which, in New Zealand, is very advantageous considering the cost of accommodation and food. We stayed in places we could never have afford otherwise!
The website connects volunteers and hosts to participate in work exchange. Each one has a profile with description, photos and testimonials from their previous hosts/helpers.
4 hours work per day for free accommodation, food and an authentic experience with the locals! where do I sign?
How to find a job with HelpX? You can either search a host depending on the region you're in or the type of work you're willing to do. You'll see the requirements needed on the host's page. Some will ask you to stay a minimum of time, other will be more flexible. It really depends on your luck, but during our six months, it has never been a problem to find a family happy to welcome us. Except maybe in certain parts of the South Island, in winter, when it's a bit more quiet.
Some tips to make your profile stand out:
- Upload one or a few recent photos of yourself
- List ALL your skills and work experience (we never know what a host can be looking for!)
- Always ask your previous hosts to leave you a review
Who are the hosts? What kind of job can I get?
From farmers to families in the city, hostels managers or even sailors, there's aaall kind of people on HelpX. And that's what makes the experience so enlightening. During our six months road trip in New Zealand traveling and working with HelpX, everyday was full of surprises. We met lots of very different people, stayed in all kind of places, and did many different jobs! From cooking, baby-sitting, gardening, dog-sitting, painting, renovating, but also helping to organize a farewell party, fishing, creating some illustrations for a hostel-to-be, doing some car mechanics, setting up a garage sale...
For months, we went from a family to another, every week. We never knew what was next. It was such thrilling way of living!
HelpX : 5 good reasons to travel with work exchange
The HelpX experience is one of the things that made my trip in New Zealand worth it. And if today I'd have to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing. That's how I met the locals, how I've discovered some hidden parts of the country and obviously, that's how I fell in love with New Zealand...
- You're part of the family
During my first 3 months in New Zealand, I was traveling solo. Even tough I LOVED my alone time, at the end of the day, I was always happy to share a dinner with a family. Most of the hosts made me feel like I was one of them from the first day. And in challenging moments, such as that day when I came back from the hair salon with the worst hair cut ever, I never felt lonely. I remember my host Rachel pouring me a big glass of red wine to help me forget and laugh about it.
- You get that comfort and that 'home feel'... for free
We stayed a few nights in backpackers hostels. I cost us a fortune, and we were shocked to see the conditions of the places -cold, dirty, noisy... Well, a backpacker, basically. HelpX allowed us to stay in some fabulous houses that made us feel like home. And believe me, after a 6 hours hike solo, there's nothing better than watching a movie in your cosy queen size bed while eating a homemade cake... Talking about food...
- You eat food made with love
...versus instant noodles when sleeping in backpackers. Depending on the country you're traveling in, food can put a dent on your budget -and that's the case in New Zealand. Most of the time, our work consisted on fixing stuff our hosts were supposed to do for months but they got too busy/lazy to take care of it. So when it was finally done, they were so happy they often cooked incredible meals, cakes and so on, as a big thank you... [And that's how you gain 7 kilos in 3 months, but that's another story!]
- You live the true kiwi lifestyle
Staying with the local is the best way to immerse yourself in the culture -far from the clichés.I spent hours with my hosts watching my maps, adding pins on it, changing my itineraries and listening to their stories and personal anecdotes...
- You feel like you're the luckiest people on Earth
Staying with the locals will make you feel like you're one lucky person to be living your dream road trip. On the contrary, my first night in a backpacker hostel was a disaster: I only met people who were doing the exact same trip and often compared "what? you haven't been there? Shame!". My trip suddenly lost all its magic!
Our best HelpX experiences during our road trip in new zealand
Sure, you'll connect more naturally with some people than with others. I guess I've been pretty lucky with my HelpX experiences. Six years later, I'm still in touch with some the families I met. Here's some of our best HelpX experiences...
- That time a family decided to adopt me
The F was the first family who welcomed me. I was supposed to stay 3 days with them, then I ended up staying 10. From the first day, they received me like a family member, helping me to buy a car, prepare my itinerary, and learn how to drive on the other side of the road. Before I left, they put me in touch with their cousins up north in the Bay of Islands, who needed some help too. I stayed 10 days with them, then met their parents, who invited me to come over to Hamilton the next month. It went like this, from one F family to the other, for 6 weeks until I knew everyone in the family.
- That time Jackie baked a surprise cake for my birthday
Brent & Jackie are part of the F family I was just telling you about. I got to their place pretty late after a long day driving. It was my birthday, and I had spent the day mainly by myself, on the road. So when I got to their place to find a homemade birthday cake with candles waiting for me, it was the best surprise I could have ever imagined.
- That time I took care of the luxurious villas of a millionaire
Not one, not two but three villas overlooking the Bay of Islands. After a year spending my days behind a screen and my coffee breaks by the boring coffee machine in Paris, it wasn't bad working outside all day with an ocean view (photos above) and having my 'coffee breaks' on the overflowing swimming pool. It wasn't bad either ending my day of work on a private beach, just for myself, while the boss was on a cruise.
- That time Jane helped G to surprise me from the other side of the world
After a week staying at Jane's place, I talked to her about the idea of leaving to go trekking in Abel Tasman Park. She somehow convinced me to stay a couple of days before, as she needed me to finish some gardening work. Or so she said. She had just talked to my boyfriend on the phone a few days ago, who was on his way to surprise me. The next night, someone knocked on my door. And here he was standing in front of me, not in France, no, just there, in New Zealand. G : "Surprise!"
- That time we worked in exchange for accommodation and... surf lessons
Nick gave us a choice: we could either work 2 hours per day in exchange for accommodation only, or 4 hours for accommodation + surf lessons. What do you think we chose? Even tough the water was freezing, there were penguins on the beach and sharks in the water, this stay in The Catlins was one of the most amazing travel experiences we've had. Funny enough, at that time his girlfriend Toko was the first person to introduce us to skiing in Japan. I remember nights talking about it and dreaming... Life is full of surprises, eh!
- That time we flew over Queenstown with a paragliding world champion
After a week at T&T's, our routine was set. Cleaning and tidying the house, walking the dog, cooking for the kids. One night, we offered to do some baby-sitting -the sparkle in their eyes was quite clear. They hadn't been going out without the kids for 4 years! The next day, T, who by the way is a paragliding world champion, offered to take us on a jump as a thank you. It was my second time flying -the first time was nice, but very tranquil, and, to be honest, a bit boring. T made sure I wouldn't get bored with him. We went extreme over Queenstown's lake, and it was SENSATIONAL!