We left Ireland in April 2021 on a one way ticket. To be honest this is the only way I’ve ever left for a trip; having a return ticket home means plans had to be made beforehand and even worse, it means you have to leave. We booked our tickets from Dublin to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. This became our destination mostly because it was one of the few countries that actually had their borders open for tourists since the Covid pandemic.
Although Costa Rica may have been one of our only options, we had waited long enough to be too fussy. Plus with Ty’s Visa stay in Ireland having a deadline, we literally had no choice but to book our flights and get on out of there.
Central and South America had always been on our radar and with Covid restrictions in place it was a good excuse to not think about it too much and just go. However with no digital nomad jobs, not the hugest amount in savings and no prospect of a return date, volunteering through Workaway was really the best option for us knowing that we could be travelling for a long time.
I’ve used Workaway before in South East Asia and in Kenya. But now we have a new couple account! (Disclaimer: this isn’t a promotional post for Workaway.) But volunteering truly is a great way to travel, it’s somewhat flexible in that you can browse and choose volunteering options from hostel/lodge work, to family stays and farm work and a 100 other random opportunities in between. You get accommodation and sometimes food, in exchange for 4-5 hours of work a day with a day off or 2 once a week.
We first started to apply for Workaways from Ireland, long story short, got almost no replies, our hope was dwindling until finally our first Workaway host replied and the next thing we knew, we were committed to working on a farm for 5 weeks. Leaving behind the luxuries we had in Ireland, for no electricity it, no running water and no bathroom. But it was an amazing experience. (Read more about our farm life here.)
The farm was incredible, it was a cacao and banana farm, completely sustainable, with an abundance of other fruit trees and edible plants dotted around. I learnt a lot about gardening, (finally) as well how to use a machete which is honestly something that I had never even considered using or being close to before. But machetes are great, Ty is a machete master. Although a weed eater machine would still be 100x more efficient to chop down overgrown areas of jungle, but then all the fun elements of tarantulas and deadly snakes would feel like much less of a threat. It was all part of the experience.
Hard work was the essence of our time at the farm, but it felt so good to feel like you are really making a difference.
The next Workaway we did was also in Costa Rica. We worked at a lodge on the Pacuare River, literally over looking the river from above with jungle all around, it was a beautiful location. Guests were white water rafted into and out of the lodge, which we were also lucky enough to get to do, twice! This was a super different experience coming from the farm. It felt like absolute luxury, we had electricity, a toilet, a shower! We felt spoilt. Especially since all our meals were included, we ate what the paying guests ate and the food was amazing and in abundance so the only struggle we had was to not eat too much.
Although it wasn´t all eating and luxurious bathrooms. There were no local staff at the lodge, the owners didn´t stay there and only dropped in for 10 minutes every morning to bring in food and equipment if there were guests coming that day (which there often wasn´t). So all in all, that meant Ty and I were the only ´staff´ there. We had to clean the bathrooms, kitchen and prepare all of the cabins for the guests. We felt like our own bosses which was brilliant and on days where no guests were arriving it meant we had the entire lodge to ourselves.
I won´t bore you now with too many more details, we have since been to another lodge in Panama. An eco-lodge on the Island of Bocas Del Toro in the North of Panama, we stayed there for 3 weeks and it was a mostly good experience. In reality there is lots to say about all of our Workaway experiences because they are all so different. But I hope from reading this you can get better understanding of what we are doing. Volunteering is important for us on this trip as it allows us to extend our time and budget. But if nothing else we are having a great time doing it, meeting lots of lovely people and getting the opportunity to stay in some beautiful locations. I would highly recommend it.