Exhausted 9-hour driving from the north of Finland to the south left behind. Finally I arrived in Turku. After 3 weeks of the silence and loneliness on the north pole, I needed dynamics of the city, its night lights, fun and ambience.
The main rule of my trips is to communicate with locals as much as I can. No boring hotels or even hostels, only friends from all over the world, couchsurfing and various projects with staying with locals. This way I can plunge into the local culture and learn from the people.
My host from couchsurfing was waiting for me at the bus station. For the following weekend student campus and a mattress on the floor became my home.
It was a Friday evening. Vibrations of the city, crowd, noise of bars and neon lights attracted me. I had a feeling that I came back if not at home but at least to the usual life.
Quick shower, estonian cider for the road – and we went to the city center.
In Finland you can drink legally on the street, without looking around nervously for the police. It was such a relief from strict rules in my country and I enjoyed walking and drinking beer without feeling like a criminal.
Cider was Estonian for the simple reason: in Estonia alcohol is cheaper and everyone goes there to buy it.
We went to the bar called Bar (Baari Baari in Finnish). Absolutely crazy place – instead of boring tables and chairs, you can sit in the bathtub and drink beers for 5 euros (good price for Finland, especially comparing to the pricy Lapland), or you can chose a swing or a car in the middle of the hall.
The local pop-punk band performed there that evening. Finnish quality, although a bit boring. In Finland you can come to every the concert without worries and get a good quality rock music. Rock culture here is very strong, all year around tons of concerts and rock festivals happens in this little country.
On our way home at night a giant rabbit crossed the road. “Finnish beer is pretty strong” I thought, but the rabbit did not appeared only to me but also to my friend.
How varied is our world! In Russia you can not step without kicking a pigeon, in Canada thousands of squirrels rush through the streets, paying no attention to you, in Finland rabbits the size of an elephant scare boozy passersby.
The next morning was the happiest morning in the world, Morning Without An Alarm Clock. It’s so precious to meet a person who also likes to sleep until noon! Furthermore the weather did not inspire to go out.
In the pouring rain we went to the library to print some documents. The first Turku’s monument appeared right in front of the campus. A huge duck in the form of a penis was proudly looking at the campus from the hill. “This is our Dick Duck,” my host said. Nothing unusual, just a giant pink dick in the middle of the city.
There was a bicycle race in the city center that day. Finnish people don’t give a fuck about the weather and bike all year around in any weather conditions. Bicycle in Finland is a most popular transport. Hole country is covered with a network of bicycle paths.
Caught by the rain we went to the Cathedral. It is over 700 years old and it’s considered to be one of the most valuable architectural monuments of Finland. My friend whispered me a history of the church, in which he easily elevated the bishops buried in chapels to the rank of kings and then he brought me to an ancient corner where ancient prints of the ancient cats were imprinted on the ancient floor.
During our visit there was a bunch of teenagers inside the cathedral. My friend told me that at the age of fifteen finnish kids can get a special permission for a wedding from the church. In honor of this event relatives make a big party and give them an amount of money. Lots of people do it even if they don’t plan to get married.
There is also a tax of 200 euros each year, just to be able to belong to the church. That was quite surprising for me.
The weather in Turku is similar to St. Petersburg. In one hour you can live all kinds of weather – the sun, the heat, the wind, the rain, the snow or the hail. Only one second ago I was smiling to the sun, enjoying it’s soft rays and began the thought “oh, what a lovely sunshine…”, but suddenly big cold hailstone knocked me on the nose.
Nevertheless, we decided to try our luck. When the sky took 10-minute break and stopped showering as hell, we climbed fast onto a large stone in the center of the city. There we found a wonderful view there on the Cathedral and city landscape.
However we had to pay for our adventure mood and run super fast to the nearest city market to hide from sudden hailstorm. We stopped there for the coffee in an old train cabin. People in Finland are good in adapting old things to the interior items. Coffee (‘kahvi’ in finnish) here is very soft and you can easily drink 5-6 cups a day.
At the end of this cold windy snowy crazy day I went to the sauna. It’s the best thing finnish culture brought to the world.
The sauna for students was free, and my host booked it for me. Sunset view from the top floor and another estonian cider was an addition to the pleasure of the sauna by itself.
For some reason we didn’t go out that night. Instead of it we did a typical finnish thing – “kalsarikannit”, that means “to get drunk at home in the underwear”. We stayed at home, talked about everything and listened to radio from around the world. There is the cool website called radio.garden, where you can make a trip around all the world’s major radio stations.
I love to meet new people. With some of them I had a good connection at the first moment, shared this talks, beers, ideas, experiences, was inspired by them and sometimes (hopefully) inspire them with my thoughts. With the lifestyle of traveler you have to open yourself to this connection, friendship very quickly. Live the moment with this people like they are forever in your life and not going anywhere. And through away thoughts that they are actually just passerby in yout life. Some of them are simply awesome and I always want so badly to put them in my backpack and take into my life. And they are my Friends at least for that moment.
Live fully the moment – is one of the most important skills I got in my travels.
From time to time I feel really lonely on my never ending trip. I meet people and at the first moment I know that our friendship have an expiration date. Soon, regardless of whether I want to or not, I’ll have to say, looking at their eyes, “see you soon again”. But I’m grateful that I had chance to spend any time with them. So many wonderful people in the world, so thoughtful, intelligent, adventerous. They all will stay in my heart matter if we will meet again or not.
Workaway is a cultural exchange. Five hours of work a day in general in exchange for accommodation, food and the opportunity to live and communicate with the locals and integrate into their culture. You will see the country from inside like a local, not like a tourist.
Almost all countries are represented on the workaway (although the only Cuban host left the project the week before my arrival, but this is an exception).
Hosts are local people or organizations who asking for a help. Requirements for each project are different and depends on the host. Workaway only gives us opportunity to find a project by giving a list of hosts, their profiles and other volunteer’s feedback about their experience with this host.
Through the website you have to contact host directly if you like a project and accept their rules. If they like you (your profile and message), they will accept you. Nothing else is demanded – no paper work, documents, etc. You just go straight to the project.
First step – registration and payment $ 29 a year (not too much for the great travel opportunity you’ll get.
Create a nice profile. Take your time and make some effort to fill it out nicely. This is your face on workaway, it’s a kind of CV, but I recommend to pay attention not only on your working skills but also describe yourself as a person. Make your text warm and friendly.
Both parts of workaway take a risk by inviting strangers at their home and going to someones home without knowing each other. Let your profile tell the most about you to not let misunderstandings come between you when you’ll start working.
If you are vegan, wake up very late, allergic on cats or you can’t live a minute without wifi – write down everything that is important for you.
Write what languages you speak (and how fluent you are). Point out any additional skills, like photography or diving courses you finished, if you want to try yourself in this field.
Your diplomas and working experience are not that important here, it is volunteer work. More important is the desire to work, your curiosity, ability to learn quickly and smile on your face.
Search for a host. Mostly there are hotels and hostels represented on the workaway. There are also many farms – there you should be ready for physical work outdoors, but also for fresh vegetables and fruits every day. There are also unique projects like national parks, coffee plantations in Colombia, banana farms, diving centers or a shaman village in the jungle of the Amazon.
In the Host list section select the continent and the country. You will see a list with a lot of different projects that you have to check carefully and choose the most interesting ones for you.
Read carefully host’s profile.
It’s Work away, not a Play away and not a Slave away. Let’s be honest to each other. Work your best and don’t be lazy but don’t let people use you as a free worker
Read feedbacks. Pay attention to the reviews that left by other volunteers. There you will find whether the host was interested in cultural exchange, helped to learn about his culture and improve your language skills, helped to organize your free time, etc. Communication with the host is an important part of the exchange
Choose few interesting projects. Do not expect that all hosts will respond – about half of them ignore even beautifully written letters. Send several letters – but don’t copypast them. Host will appreciate more an individual letter and it gives you better chance to be accepted. Do not send dozens of messages but also do not count on the only project.
Check the calendar – you will see it in a host’s profile. If the month you plan to go for a trip is marked in red – don’t contact a host, he is unavailable for those dates. If the color of the month is yellow, you can try to write a message – but point that you saw the yellow mark, this way host will see that you’ve read his profile carefully. Green color means that host are ready to receive volunteers.
A respectable host will respond within a week (do not forget, on farms and at some countries Internet is limited). If the answer took much longer – ignore them, this host is not interested in volunteers.
Important! Respond also quickly, show yourself as a responsible and organized person.
Documents. Tickets, visa and insurance are paid by the volunteer. In most countries, a normal tourist visa is enough to participate in the Workaway, but some European countries like France, require a working visa. You will find this information on the Workaway website after selecting the country you want to go to.
Come prepared. Ask the host if there is anything in particular you need to take with you – like raincoat, rubber boots or a sleeping bag. It is your responsibility to came prepared. A good host won’t let you in trouble but don’t expect them to provide everything you need like suitable clothes, cosmetics, etc.
Stay in touch with the host. Write down his number and contact him a couple of days before the arrival to clarify that nothing have changed. Always have a second option like a nearest hostel to don’t stay on the street if you won’t meet your host for any reason.
If your plans have changed and you can’t come – warn the host in advance. Respect others – and they will respect you.
Yes, and if you won’t come without warning, host will leave you a negative feedback, which will make your future searches more difficult.
I don’t think I need to remind that you must be tidy, polite, honest, trustful, etc. Be responsible, credible and hard working at work; open minded, cheerful, funny, easy going all the time. The rule is simple – be a guest and a worker you want to see at your own house.
If something goes wrong and you are not happy with a host – don’t stay silent. Your host can’t read your mind, so talk to them and explain yourself. This exchange is a team work and you both are able to turn it out in a great experience.
It covers main expenses of travel – accommodation and food.
It gives the opportunity to communicate with locals and join their daily life, become a part of the family and the community and make new friends.
The majority of workaway hosts located on the off beaten path, not in a touristy areas. You will integrate in a normal local life. However, you will be able to see some must see places on day trips on your weekend or find some projects in a popular area (usually it’s hostels). You can see part of a country that you may not have even considered before – why not to explore new traveler’s paths?
You can stay at one place longer. For short stops it’s better to use couchsurfing (where it’s polite to stay maximum for a week. Although I had situations when I came for two days and eventually stayed for two weeks, because they did not want to let me go :))
The usual term for Work away is from two weeks to a month, sometimes two. On average, it is better to choose 3-4 weeks.
Learn the language. There is no better way to start to speak foreign language fluently than to practice it with native speakers. Daily work and communication at workaway will help you to speak freely.
You will try the local cuisine. Usually volunteers dinner with a host family, so you will eat like everyone eat at this country. Maybe you’ll even bring home a couple of recipes?
Try a new job. In a hotel, on a farm or butchery, in a diving club or yacht – why not to try something new? You will learn, for example, how coffee grows, how to take care of rabbits or how to get honey. Treat your curiosity and be open to the world, there are plenty of interesting things that you’ve never thought about.
Moreover, you will take inside look on the business like running a hotel or a restaurant, or maybe coffee plantation or operating a diving center. Maybe one day you will end up having a little guest house in the middle of a jungle?
Birdwatchers are people who like to observe wild birds in their natural habitat.
You don’t have to open your school books again or be an ornitolog to do birdwatching. Lot’s of people just simply enjoy watching wild life.
No! You never would have thought what a busy bird life happened every day around us. However we don’t pay attention to it in a daily rush.
You would be surprised how many species of birds living in the city! Wherever you live, there are about hundred of different species in your area which are easy to find.
At the first time all birds seems the same. We recognize only pigeons or ducks just because they are familiar to us. When you will start to observe birds, you’ll find out that there are much more beautiful birds around us every day.
For fun and self-education.
Birds are almost the only connection of a modern urban man with a wildlife.
Living in the cities, we are increasingly moving away from nature and forgetting that there is life beyond our stone jungle.
Attention to the life around you in general. Start observing birds makes you pay more attention on details. To identify the bird you’ll need to spot this little creatures in the huge area and notice details as their color, habits, etc.
You’ll bring soon attention skills to you daily life. You’ll start to pay more attention to the people in your life, your family, friends, neighbors.
And it’s very important, isn’t it?
Check out most famouse movies about birdwatching:
A Birderʼs Guide to Everything by Rob Meyer
The Big year (2011)
Birders: The Central Park Effect (2012)