After visiting dear friends/family in California and Reno, becoming gainfully employed, feeling recharged with a full heart, Malbec, Taco's, and 5 extra pounds, I'm off to the next journey across the pond, with England as the first stop. What!?...I thought you were going to spend time in South America you say? Well, Europe is calling my heart, so I must go. Thank you to a couple dear "sisters" who reminded me that I'm traveling for me and if a place isn't ringing my bell, I can move on. There will be visits to South America in the future, anyone want to go to Patagonia or Machu Picchu?
You don't want to miss this new adventure, with lots of "firsts" coming up; starting with where I decided to begin this journey, in a small village called Elham (Eelam), population around 1,600, about 20 minutes outside of Canterbury in County Kent. Known as "The Garden of England," this region is rich in wheat, hops, and fruit orchards...hello hard cider.
How did I chose Elham? Well, I signed up for Workaway, known as a "work exchange." You commit to volunteering a designated number of hours per week in exchange for free housing and 3 meals a day. In my case, 20 hours per week for 1 month. Cheap travel, meet new people from other cultures, make memories. Great idea. My first stop is a beautiful English countryside estate with a AirBnB tree house.
This was my first "budget" flight with Norwegian Airlines. Travel Tip (1): in addition to your ticket price, they charged $20 for food, $35 for luggage, and $20 for a hard seat. Still saved money, but not worth it. The poor couple next to me neglected to purchase food and had to share their own water and negotiate a bag of chips on a 9 hour flight. With slow travel, I rarely fly. So, I've promised myself to book a better class ticket in the future and arrive with my spine and hip sockets in order. You can hold this frugal traveler to that promise! Travel Tip (2): This flight, I decided to wear thigh high compression socks; great in theory until you're walking toward baggage claim and they meander down around your ankles-that was attractive! Plus, they consume precious space only to get used 2, maybe 3 times a year. In the future, I'll wear tights and stand more. Yes, I'm the lady on the plane doing lunges up and down the aisle, and various, annoying exercises. This trip, I added a small check in bag with non-immediate items and all my necessities in the trusty carry-on Osprey "The Turtle" compression pack. Watch for a future post on how to pack for long-term travel.
After an exhausting 23 hours of planes, trains, buses, and a taxi driver who asked, "Where to love?"... I arrived ready to begin my first Workaway…following some sleep, food, and recalling what my name was. Volunteers in their 20's and 30's from France, Ireland, Italy, and a Brazilian Vegan greeted me and I felt an immediate sense of community. OK...I felt like Auntie Sandi to this youthful group.
A separate cottage is provided and we take turns cooking, experiencing different cultures, eating dinner together, and conquering language barriers. The cottage, which was a stable from the 1800's, converted in early 2000, is a delightful little pile of stones that is always hopping with differing opinions of cleanliness, sleeping habits, and dinner times. The week before I arrived, I'm told there were 8 volunteers, snuggly living in the cottage; so glad I missed that! I spent my first week sharing a generous room with a French girl; but then, had the privilege to move into the main house...with my own bathroom! My work involves taking care of the main house-laundry, cleaning, organizing, and walking 3 dogs in the English countryside (tough job!) Other volunteers help prepare one of the cottages on this estate for rent with painting, weeding, and improvements. Yes, there were days when I cursed the work ethic my father instilled in me when I reached my 5 hours, but decided to keep going to finish the project; far exceeding that agreed upon 20 hours. Lesson learned! You can't do it all...
An average day may include breakfast at 7 am with cereal, fruit, cheese, coffee, then over to the main house to clean the kitchen/house, feed the dogs, clean the dogs area, start laundry, and depending on the day (and weather) walk the dogs down a side road, lined with hedge rows, wheat fields, sheep, large stock horses, and overall bliss. There's mud, rain, sunny days with pillowy clouds, wind, thunder storms, and summer arrived overnight. I tuck into the living room for a little piano therapy. My morning shower routine has gave way to the afternoon/post work shower, followed by tea time and exploring this area with rolling hills, more shades of green than you can count, and summer allergies-Achoo!! Travel Tip (3): Visiting a country known for it's lush green hills or grasslands? Pack your allergy meds; don't wait to purchase them upon arrival as that little village shop may not carry them. Scones and Beer-YES! Clariton-NO! I felt rather bullet proof and grateful I planned this detail before departure.
The owner is the classic English gentleman; asking if "we're happy," approving online weekly grocery deliveries for hungry youth (plus one 54 year old lady), juggling multiple projects on his estate, and always making time for the important cuppa tea with frothy milk.
It's fascinating to stay in a house dating back to the 1400's with expansions, quirks, and oddly placed electrical outlets...that's the Realtor coming out in me. We, the Workaway volunteers, work on a rotating schedule of welcoming tree house guests and cleaning it. More on that later.
There's a rambunctious Labrador puppy who has muddied many of my cloths, 2 Cocker Spaniels you would never guess are mother/daughter, and a delightful black & white cat named Jess who has dense fur like a mink and drools when happy. She milks us all for lap time and cuddles.
Arriving in England, I feel like, well, a Queen...blessed to live this life and share the adventures with you. I hope you are inspired to reach, risk, and go for whatever your wildest dreams may be. Watch for my next post on Elham. I'm off to walk the dogs.