The beginning of a new adventure starts here—my first travel volunteer experience. I was living on a farm, in a yurt, in the mountains of Portugal.
How everything started
The idea of traveling through volunteering came from my burning desire to travel the world for less. I had to make this happen somehow, even though I did not have sufficient money, or what I considered sufficient, finances to travel. Before taking this step, I had been thinking about my best path. A path that allows me to travel while creating content without worrying about food and accommodation: so I started looking online for volunteering opportunities that align with my vision, and I found the ones below, which I used:
- WWOOF, this site is excellent if you are interested in Eco farms, sustainable living, connecting with nature, and meeting like-minded people globally. The cost for a 1-year membership is 20 euro for a person and 30 for more than one. You have to pay separately for each country you want to volunteer in. So, if you make a woofing account for Greece, you can’t use the same account to find hosts in Italy. You need to pay for another account for that specific country.
- HOVOS, here you can find work such as helping in hostels, living on farms, helping to practice a language, or being an au-pair. The cost for a 1-year membership is only 10 euro. Super affordable.
- Workaway is a great way to connect globally with travelers and hosts. Get immersed in the local culture and learn new skills or share your skills. The cost for one year per person is 39 euro, and for two people, it is 49 euro.
- Worldpackers is a fantastic platform to connect with hosts and find the perfect experience for you. Share your skills in marketing, content creation, and Eco projects, or learn new ones while exploring a different culture and creating valuable experiences. The cost to get in contact with the hosts is 49$ and 99$ to have access to the academy courses + the hosts. Both are valid for one year and six months.
- Facebook groups, if you don’t want to pay for any of the platforms mentioned above, you can always take advantage of Facebook’s benefits. There are tons of groups on this social site. If you know to which country you want to go, look for groups on volunteering, farming, marketing, or anything that interests you. Before coming to Portugal, I found these groups, Permaculture Portugal, Rural Tribe, and Portugal Farm Network. These are groups that focus on sustainable living and organic farming.
At the time, I was in Alicante, Spain, looking for a warm place to spend the winter months. And I just had the idea of visiting Portugal. It’s a warm country, never been to it before and only heard good things about it. I posted a message in several volunteering Facebook groups, and soon after, I found where I would spend the next two months. I also messaged many people on different sites, but not everyone replies when you want them to. Everything takes time. Once I knew my travel day, I booked a BlaBlacar from Spain and started my first solo travel volunteering experience in Portugal.
Oh well, it just happens that I forgot a small detail, that winter is coming. While Portugal is amiable and great to explore, it’s challenging to be outside when it’s raining daily. Although, in the south does not rain as much as in the north. In my mind, I still imagined myself living by the sea in a warm climate during winter, just like while I was in Alicante. As a result, I mostly packed summer clothes. Before leaving Spain, I bought a swimsuit instead of a winter jacket.
My first travel volunteer experience
I reached the city of Portimão in the south of Portugal in just ten hours from Alicante. Using a car-sharing ride is fast and affordable. I spent the night in the city in a lovely hostel, Alameda, in the town’s center. It’s a spotless and beautiful hostel with a lovely staff. There are lots of vegan places around within walking distance. The next day I went to the beach, which is around 30 min walk. And to my surprise, the water was freezing. Nobody warned me of this. The Portuguese coast borders the Atlantic Ocean, and the water is cold all year round. The beaches are vast, wild, and clean, with soft sand. I was impressed by how gorgeous the beaches were.
In the evening, my new host, João, came to pick me up from the hostel, and we went to have dinner and talk. It was already night when we drove to my new mountain home. I couldn’t see anything, but we were going up in altitude. I could see some scattered lights here and there. Once we left the national road onto the last bit that was taking us to the farm, the road started to be bumpy.
The night view was spectacular when we finally reached it, and I exited the car. The city I just left, Portimão, was beautifully shining its light from some 27 km away. The quietness of the mountains, the sound of the trees, the wind, and the birds were all present and alive. I remember the air was chilly, but not much compared to the city. At the beginning of September, I was still in summer clothes. The night sky is so beautiful and full of stars—something you don’t see in the city with all the lights.
We took my two small suitcases to the yurt and prepared my bed. It was my first time sleeping in a yurt, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt a bit cold the first night because I did not put enough mattresses and sleeping bags. I solved this problem the next day and used everything available to make a double soft and comfortable bed. Never felt cold after. The yurt was built with sustainable local materials. The floor was wood and cork. There was no electricity in the yurt, but I had a lamp I was charging in the sun during the day and using at night.
I remember the first time that I made a fire in the yurt. Oh my! It was 2 AM. I don’t know why I was still awake, but I decided to make a fire. What a disastrous moment. I filled the yurt with smoke and had to stay out for about 20 minutes, maybe more, waiting for the smoke to go out. After the first fire, I never had a problem again with smoke. The problem was that the tube for the smoke to go out was closed. I realized that, but too late.
The next day when I woke up, I could see what the place looked like. I was in the heart of the mountains, surrounded by eucalyptus trees and all kinds of small animals, lizards, snakes, flies, mosquitos, and birds. You know, the usual. The place is lovely, nevertheless.
Over almost two months, I did lots of things. The agreement was to work for 4 hours a day from Monday to Friday, and the rest be free. While there, I started preparing the land to make a small garden, which you can see in the picture below. I planted salad, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, parsley, thyme, basil, and eggplant. The kitty, though, was my number one assistant and helper. They are such funny and intelligent creatures. One of them started to dig a hole right next to the salad to pee, then covered it.
Living with five cats was super fun. I loved to play with them and observe them. Also, I took so many pictures and videos. You can see some below.
There were volunteers from different places of the world that came to the farm. Places such as Hawaii, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, and Portugal. It’s always exciting when meeting new people cause everyone has an interesting story and things to learn from. I remember in the evenings, we would gather in the kitchen, make a fire, have yummy food, relax and talk about life. Every day was different. Great times.
On the weekends we would go with João to the beach, to surf, for those that know? Not me, though. My favorite thing was taking pictures, hiking the rocks around the beach to get a panorama view, and sleeping on the beach. The ideal thing is to have a car to explore and get around whenever possible. Since the farm is in the mountains, you feel isolated from civilization, which is not terrible, but sometimes you feel the need to get out. It’s a great place to meditate, work on self-discovery, and connect with nature and world travelers.
In the mountains of Monchique, the weather can be very different from the city. Once autumn starts, there will be more rainy, windy, and foggy days. Working in these conditions is rugged and tough, so the best way to volunteer in the mountains anywhere in Portugal would be much more enjoyable from spring to late autumn.
The farm was on the way to becoming self-sustainable. It was running entirely on solar panels. On rainy days, we would have to cook with gas, use candles in the evenings, and have no laptop or phone cause there was no energy to charge. I wrote this post about my many challenges while living off the grid. Luckily, there were not many days of rain while I was there, and I could enjoy nature and the sun.
João was an incredible host and provided us with everything we needed. The food he bought was 90% organic, and we cooked vegan food. We had an abundance of fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds. The property has two yurts and a tipi, one big kitchen with a sitting area and showers, and dry composting toilets nearby.
Overall, my first travel volunteer experience has been excellent. I couldn’t have asked for a better host and place. Go out there. It’s not as scary as you might think. It’s fun and educative. This is a valuable, practical life experience, and you will probably be using the skills you learn repeatedly. I also had fun in Greece volunteering on Crete Island. After Crete, I went to Santorini and Corfu and had other fun adventures.
What I learned/realized from this travel volunteer experience (about Portugal and life)
- That eucalyptus grows like crazy everywhere in Portugal. While making essential oil, timber, and honey is excellent, it is highly flammable. From the north to the south, Portugal is invaded by eucalyptus.
- To appreciate more what I have and the people in my life.
- This is something that I already know, but I thought it would be nice to mention it since I met people from both sides recently. So, we are all vulnerable, sensitive, and emotional beings. And that there are two types of people. The ones that have solved their emotional and trauma issues from the past and others that get triggered very quickly due to their unresolved issues with themselves and past events which still control them in the present. Be kind and patient with everyone. We are all at different stages in our life journey.
Don’t let other people decide your life path. If you want to go out there and explore, now it’s the time. People are not bad, and the world is not scary. Show love, care, and smile often. And you will get in return tenfold. You can embark on your first travel volunteer experience right now if you take action. The power is in your hands. What are you going to do with it?