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Interview about my 2-year nomadic journey "Hilde worked abroad in exchange for room and board"

Updated: Jan 31

Last summer (2023), shortly after my return from a 2-year nomadic journey, I had a really fun interview with Pauline from OutdoorInspiratie. For her series of 'interviews with adventurers', we spoke about my lifestyle the past 2 years, my drives, the highs and lows, and also my reasons to return to the Netherlands. You can read it in Dutch here. She allowed me to put an English translation up on my site 😊. Translation made possible with ChatGPT.

Hilde worked abroad in exchange for room and board

There are many ways to live abroad for an extended period, even on a tight budget, as adventurer Hilde (37) demonstrates in this interview. We discuss her travel background, leaving the 9-to-5 routine behind, and working in exchange for room and board abroad. What I find particularly interesting about this conversation: Hilde is not afraid to mention the less pleasant aspects of this lifestyle.

How did your journey into traveling begin?

'I've lived abroad for over 16 years of my life. Being the child of expats, a nomadic lifestyle was ingrained in me from an early age. When I was eight months old, I moved to the Dominican Republic. Between the ages of eight and twelve, I lived in Thailand. As I grew older, I opted for a master's program in European studies that I could pursue in various locations abroad (Bath, Siena, and Berlin). I ended up sticking around in Berlin for a total of five years.

After Berlin, I thought, "Let's try working for the government." Although it seemed a bit too much of a serious "gray suit" environment for me, I found the idea of contributing to society, and the attractive employment conditions, appealing. I found a job at a foundation that offered a management development program in the public sector. It was a foundation where young like-minded individuals worked, there was ample room for personal development, and through short-term assignments, I gained broad exposure to the government. I found an apartment in The Hague and was often found at the beach, discovering surfing.

Although this life was very comfortable, I soon felt confined. Knowing a year in advance what your life will look like: Monday to Friday in the office, five weeks of vacation per year (with boss approval), a bit of exercise, and occasionally seeing friends. It also bothered me more and more that when I looked outside, all I saw was concrete. And that health and exercise became a kind of obligation amidst the stressful work week. I desired to lead a healthy, adventurous life with plenty of peace and space in nature!'

That sounds familiar. What adjustments did you make in your life then?

'I decided to quit everything and pursue a freer lifestyle without a predefined plan. Before making this difficult decision (after all, I was in a golden cage), I needed a sabbatical of 2,5 months in Portugal. Three days before I was supposed to return (I was already called for a new assignment at the Tax Office – yay! ;)), I said, "No, I don't want this anymore." The same day, I also called my landlord to terminate my apartment contract. I had to go back for a month to sort my things and make a plan for a first destination, and off I went.

Just before Christmas, I had the opportunity to work in a hotel in a ski resort an hour from Zürich. Living in the mountains for a while, experiencing real winters, and learning to ski well, was something I had dreamed of for a long time. So, there I went, and what an adventure it was! I ended up in a kind of The Shining hotel, completely empty, without heating, and with flickering lights in the hallway. The power also went out the first night.'

Oh, that sounds thrilling. Did you stay?

'Yes. Eventually, I got nice flatmates, and the electricity was improved. After a tough start, it was fantastic. Walking through snowstorms to the hotel in the village every morning. Here, I ran a buffet and navigated my way in Swiss German. In the afternoons, I hit the slopes or went hiking. The view from my cozy wooden room overlooking the slopes was truly a dream.'

What came after that winter in Switzerland?

'For me, choosing a life different from the 9-5 was also a journey back to my heart and my own truth. Away from all the conditioning, from finding a job first and building a life around it, to feeling where my needs and curiosity lie, and then figuring out how I can afford that.

After Switzerland, I lived in various places in Europe for a total of two years. I travelled mostly in exchange for room and board. Sometimes I was a pet sitter, and sometimes I got paid. I ran a chalet in Austria and worked on a farm in Switzerland. I helped in the kitchen at a spiritual center in Switzerland and worked for six weeks in a surf lodge in South Portugal. I took care of animals in Switzerland and Norway, and worked in a permaculture garden in Italy. Oh, and I was also a volunteer coordinator for the ITGWO festival on Vlieland. In between, I regularly visited the Netherlands to see friends and family, switch out my bag's contents, and make new plans.'

How did you find your work-in-exchange-for-room-and-board opportunities?

I found some places through Workaway. The rest I found through Facebook groups or by reaching out to organizations myself.

What does this lifestyle cost you on average per month?

Rent: 0 euros (working in exchange for room and board)

Transport: around 150-250 euros per month, sometimes more, sometimes less (I often stayed somewhere for a month, so at least the round trip to the location, and costs for trips at the location).

Groceries: 75 euros in Portugal and certainly triple that in Switzerland or Norway. Often, I worked in exchange for room and board, but I'm quite a food enthusiast, so I often visited cafes and ate out regularly.

Ongoing travel insurance: 45 euros per year

Liability insurance: 28 euros per year

Health insurance: 120 euros per month

Phone: 15 euros per month

Excursions (typical for the area and that are less easy to do alone, such as dog sledding in Norway or cross-country skiing in Switzerland): 15 to 200 euros per month (but it can, of course, be much crazier)

'I paid for all of this with my savings and partly from the earnings from the work at various locations.'

What advice would you give to people who also want to travel like this?

'The first thing that comes to mind: if you want to change the course in your life, go for it. It's often very scary in your head, but you'll discover all the possibilities along the way once you've made the choice. There are so many examples and information available on how to approach this. Having some savings on hand, I'd recommend, too. My idea is: I want to have at least three to six months of living expenses saved. That gives me a relaxed feeling. And another tip: use your network and have the guts to ask people for tips and work opportunities. Don't stick to the beaten paths and familiar job sites. I found many of my accommodations through connections or by sending an email to organizations in an area where I wanted to stay.'

You told me in an earlier conversation that you're now going to be in the Netherlands for a longer period. Can you tell us more about that?

'After two years of living and traveling like this, the drawbacks slowly became more significant. The constant adjustment to a new place and rarely finding real depth in your encounters and activities (although I did find it in my connection with nature). I missed deep friendships on a daily basis, and this lifestyle took a toll on my health. I'm not an easy sleeper and am sensitive to food, and I found it difficult to make the right choices in that regard with my lifestyle. Also, my savings started to deplete, so I thought: maybe it's better for my overall well-being to settle in one place for a while. I honestly do this more from my rational mind than my heart. And although I would prefer to settle in the mountains, my need for friends and a safety net is currently greater than starting again somewhere alone, building a life from scratch. The time for adventures will come again. Now, the priority is stability, rhythm and creation.

Also, since the beginning of 2023, I offer (online) events with elements of yoga and mindful living. I noticed that it was difficult to get it off the ground because I lose a lot of energy in the lifestyle itself (finding and adapting to a new place, exploring the surroundings, etc.). I want to further develop this from the tranquility in the Netherlands, so that I can more easily take it with me on my next adventures.'

Do you already have an idea of what those next adventures will look like?

'I can see myself living and traveling through Scandinavia for a while and living on a farm in Switzerland. For me, the lack of wild, vast natural areas, tranquility and spaciousness is an essential reason not to permanently live in the Netherlands. In my youth, I mainly knew the tropics and returned there often as a young adult during my travels.

But when I went skiing for the first time at the age of thirty, I was hooked! That white landscape, the grandeur of the mountains, the breathtaking beauty, and the total sense of unity I experienced there, I had never felt so deeply in my veins.

In terms of activities, I would like to connect people with nature. I want to do this through active outdoor activities and mindfulness training. It would also be great if I can inspire people with my lifestyle and show that you can and may live life on your own terms. There is so much more possible outside the nine-to-five framework.'

I'm very curious! Thanks for sharing your inspiring and honest story. Where can we follow your adventures?

'You can follow my adventures on Instagram @hildesunset and on my blog. I also have a podcast called 'Life beyond 9-5.'



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