On the Road: Volunteer Farmstays

After Charles Forsyth received an “offer” to take a voluntary separation from his employer (where he had worked since graduating college) his fiancé, Heather Molnar, decided to take the leap and quit her job. And the idea to take a “year off” to travel was born.

[singlepic=1752,300,,,right]In September of 2009 their adventure began and they decided that they would spend the year volunteering on organic farms in exchange for room and board. They share with us what the experience has been like and how they will incorporate lessons learned into their lives.

What made you decide to spend your travels volunteering and staying on organic farms and homestays?
Budget was definitely a factor in the beginning, but more so we were newly interested in learning more about sustainable living, gardening, farming and living a simpler lifestyle. By living on farms and in eco-hostels in Central America we not only honed gardening skills we learned to live with fewer material choices — such as supermarkets loaded with snacks and convenience foods.

What have been some highlights from your volunteer experience?
We loved living with and spending time with the children on our first homestay in Nicaragua. Without even knowing they were doing it, they helped us learn Spanish and introduced us to their way of life — work hard and play hard (daily games of family baseball and soccer in the barnyard that is).

We also very much enjoyed our month at an eco-lodge in Nicaragua where we lived with no electricity or indoor plumbing. This was easier than you might think when the company is good.

Finally, when else would we have been able to bottle-feed baby howler monkeys, and take an anteater for a daily walk on her leash [in Costa Rica]? Every place we’ve been has given us a new and enjoyable experience — though there were some “downsides” at times, we’ve always been able to take away a positive experience.

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Would you recommend these projects to other career breakers? Any resources you’d recommend?

Yes, we would definitely recommend these projects. We have relied on the web site Help Exchange.

What has surprised you the most about yourself during your career break?
For Charles, it was his first career break ever. Luckily, he had a few months of relaxing before leaving for the volunteer travel year. That gave him time to get comfortable with the idea of not having a job for a year and planning destinations on a month-to-month basis. Once traveling, he learned that scheduling everything in advance is not always better or possible. And that living a simpler life can actually be more rewarding than a fast paced career.

Heather, on the other hand, often left her jobs after about a year or two to pursue new interests, so leaving for a year wasn’t so much a leap of faith as it was for Charles. That said, she has learned that she can “go with the flow” more than she thought possible and that not everything can be controlled (buses run late or don’t come at all; indoor plumbing isn’t universal; internet connections are a luxury not a right…) She has also gotten over her fear of bugs…mostly.

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How are you going to apply lessons learned from your experience to your life and work when you return?
We have completely redefined our notion of “career” and in all likelihood, neither will return to our original careers. We have a new-found interest in farming and home gardening that we hope to expand when we are done traveling. We hope to take our new skills and expand them in such a way that we can rely on ourselves for some of our food needs. We will try to be a one-car couple; use less electricity at home; and rely less on technology in our daily lives. We will also be much more aware of how we spend our money on everything from food to gift-giving to socializing (more at home entertaining). Our choices will be not as materialistic and hopefully more thoughtful.

You can read more about Heather & Charles’ personal experiences on their blog – Heather & Charles – Choosing Our Adventure.

For more information on volunteer farmstays, visit Help Exchange.

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One Comment on "On the Road: Volunteer Farmstays"

  1. Briefcase Backpacks on Mon, 12th Apr 2010 9:13 pm 

    […] Backpacks On the Road Volunteer Farmstays Briefcase to Backpack Travel Advice for Career Breaks or Sabbaticals I found some cool stuff here: On the Road Volunteer Farmstays Briefcase to Backpack […]

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