How we saved $5,250 of expenses in Australia
A recap of our spending in Asia highlighted that accommodation and food were our biggest expenses. And that was in a country where you can get a decent hotel room for less than a tenner and a curry for a few pounds. This got us thinking about how high our expenses were going to be in Australia. A few google sessions and blog posts later and we’d discovered Helpx. To date Helpx has saved us over $5,250. We started travelling in August 2014 and we would like to continue until November 2015. Helpx is vital to us being able to afford to travel long term.
What is Helpx?
Helpx describes itself as “a cultural exchange for working holiday makers who would like the opportunity during their travels abroad, to stay with local people and gain practical experience. In the typical arrangement, the helper works an average of 4 hours per day and receives free accommodation and meals for their efforts”. Helpx offers a way for us to see Australia without constantly forking out for accommodation and food. If we didn’t do Helpx we would have to get a paid job which would tie us to one place. Helpx gives us flexibility to keep moving and seeing more of Oz. We joined Helpx while in Asia and had our first Helpx arranged before we arrived in Australia. It costs €20 to join and we have definitely recovered that initial cost. You can join Helpx at www.helpx.net
How we’ve saved $5,250 by Helpxing
So far we have completed 105 days of Helpx and we have calculated that we have saved over $5,250. That figure is calculated by assuming a bed in a hostel would be $20 per person per night each and we’d spend less than $10 a day on food. A $20 bed is harder to find than you’d think. You show me an Australian hostel with a bed for $20 and I’ll show you bed bugs! Similarly $10 a day on food won’t get you much for two people. Since we are being conservative $5,250 is the minimum we have saved so far.
A brief overview of our Helpx experiences so far
Terry, Angie and Jessie in Durham Lead, Victoria
Terry and Ang live in the Bush about one hour 30 minutes north of Melbourne. They have a lovely home and a playful border collie puppy called Jessie. Work at Terry and Ang’s was mainly gardening, wood collection, cooking and cleaning. We worked from 8.30 to 3.30ish with breaks in exchange for food and board. Our accommodation in Durham Lead was initially a caravan and then a granny flat. Both of these were our own private areas. Terry and Ang felt strongly that everyone should have their own space for privacy and time out and that was really considerate of them. This isn’t the case with every Helpx. The food at Terry and Ang’s house was very good. They are meat eaters so we had several BBQs and lots of other lovely food like lasagne, quiche and Aussie pizza! This food was a welcome change from all the Asian food we had been eating while travelling. Terry and Ang were very generous with their time and helped us enrich our stay by taking us on kangaroo safaris, motorbike rides and driving us into Ballarat on our days off.
The O’briens in Rye, Victoria
Our second Helpx was with the O’briens in their family home on the Mornington Peninsula. Rye is a beautiful seaside town with a small high street. This was the least remote of our Helpx so far and we enjoyed being near shops and other people. Work at Jahna and Nathans was mainly baby sitting, cooking, cleaning and helping in their Mexican restaurant. At this Helpx we felt appreciated because it was obvious the work we were doing was needed. Jahna and Nathan were really busy so being able to support them with the kids or restaurant was important to them. Working hours were more flexible at this Helpx and we probably worked more than 4 hours a day but Jahna recognised this and would give us extra time off if one day was particularly long. As well as learning about taking care of children we also learnt the basics of Mexican cooking which was a top experience. Our accommodation at this Helpx was a private bedroom and the food was great. We were in charge of the weekly shop so within reason we could buy and cook what we wanted! This was awesome.
Swami and Sanjay in Kenthurst, NSW
Our third Helpx was at the Swami Sarasvati Yoga retreat in Kenthurst, NW of Sydney. The retreat is set within acres of bush, miles away from anything! Most of the menial work at the yoga retreat, now run by Swami’s son Sanjay, is done by Helpxers and wwoofers. Jake and I worked independently at this Helpx. I was responsible for housekeeping and cleaning guest rooms while Jake helped with grounds and maintenance and the retreats website. The work I did was directly related to running the retreat so it was important it was done to a high standard. Luckily I had help from three other helpers. Sometimes I found this Helpx a bit stressful because Sanjay was very laid back and I prefer to be organised and know what work needs doing in advance. Learning to adapt is definitely part of the Helpx experience. Taking care of Sanjay’s mum was also on my to do list, although it didn’t feel like work as I bonded with Swami. Sadly Swami has dementia so work involved sharing meals with Swami, giving her medication, tidying her bedroom and socialising with her. I’ve never met someone with dementia so I learnt a lot from this experience. Our accommodation at this Helpx varied a lot. Depending on the number of guests and helpers at the retreat, we either had a private room with bathroom, shared room or slept in a store room. Luckily we were only in the store room for two nights! Food at the retreat was veggie and mainly consisted of dahl and soup. I was ready for a burger by the time we left! At times the accommodation and food didn’t feel like a fair exchange especially when we were sleeping in a store cupboard and eating leftovers but other extras offered by Sanjay sweetened the deal. At this Helpx we could attend yoga and mediation classes and use the pool, hot tub, sauna, steam room and gym.
Heather and Miaow Miaow in Newcastle, NSW
Heather is a beautiful person so she was a pleasure to stay with. She lives in a cool little house about 15 minutes by car from Newcastle CBD with two flat mates and her gorgeous cat, Miaow Miaow. The work Heather needed doing was varied and interesting. We did a real mixture of tasks including helping with Heather’s online business, gardening, cleaning and doing chores at Heather’s other house. Heather always left clear instructions and was really grateful for the work we did. Doing HelpX for someone who is thankful for your time makes it a real pleasure. In exchange for this work we had a private room in Heather’s house and access to anything in the fridge or cupboards. We were never hungry or short of things to eat at Heathers. Heather even took us out for pizza one night which was awesome and above and beyond what is expected of hosts. Heather also surprised us by insuring me on her car and letting us use it to explore greater Newcastle. This gave us a lot of freedom and was so generous of her. Heather has had over 70 helpers but she’s still full of enthusiasm and kindness for new helpers. Heather is taking a break from HelpX at the moment but I’d recommend any hard workers passing through Newcastle to check out her profile and see if she’s accepting helpers.
Our top tips for successful Helpx experience
So far we have completed three HelpX and secured very good references. We also have two more Helpx lined up and are now booked until mid march. Here are our top tips to securing assignments and getting the most from them.
1. Create an interesting profile – Securing an assignment can be competitive, especially for the really good ones. Having a unique and interesting profile will help you stand out from the crowd.
2. Keep your profile up to date and log in regularly – When hosts browse for helpers the list is ordered by last log in date and when the profile was last updated. Logging in regularly and keeping your profile up to date will keep you at the top of the list. It will also improve the quality of offers you are made since hosts will know your travel plans.
3. Approach potential hosts with a personalised message – Hosts can see who you have recently emailed so spamming several hosts with the same message will damage your chances of getting the host you really want. It’s much better to select one or two hosts, and send them a personalised message specific to their hosting. Being selective in your emails will also help you find a host most suited to you.
4. Contact hosts in advance – The best hosts will have helpers organised weeks in advance. If there’s somewhere you really want to stay get in early to reduce being turned down. Even if you can’t be specific with dates, showing your interest and organising a rough time table will probably be enough. We’ve found most hosts are flexible.
5. Keep expectations low and be pleasantly surprised – Expecting to have your own private room with steak for dinner each night is unrealistic and will result in disappointment. Personally we expect a safe and clean room with reasonable breakfast, lunch and dinner. Ideally meals will be fresh and we won’t be hungry. Extras like your host taking you out for the day or buying nice coffee for you are even lovelier when they are unexpected.
6. Be respectful to your host – Helpx is an exchange, it’s not a way to do as little work as possible and eat as much as you can while having lots of time off. I also think it’s respectful to take any essential extras with you. If you can’t live without fresh coffee or unlimited downloads it’s best you organise these for yourself. I’m sure many Helpx have turned sour when helpers take the piss (and vice versa of course!).
7. Say yes to new experiences – This is generally a good life rule that also works well with Helpx. Saying yes will enrich your experience and open you up to new things.
So there you have it. Being Helpxers is how we’ve saved over $5,250 so far. We have two more Helpx lined up and we will continue to Helpx as we make our way around Australia. If you have any questions please get in touch below. I’d be really happy to answer any questions on Helpx.
Thanks for reading,