Whilst in Santorini, I met an American who had been on and off travelling for a few years, using ‘volunteering’ placements as a way to pay for her extended stays in places. It was from her, that I learnt about Workaway, and the solution to my more time than money problem.
Workaway, is essentially a job directory, however the listings tend to be couples or families looking for an extra hand around the house/property or hostels need extra workers. The difference is that you work for board/accommodation and in my case a bit of food. Technically volunteering, this option is in the grey area between legal and illegal (mostly depending on the country), however it is a much safer and easier choice than trying the ‘work under the table’ way.
The jobs can range from 6 month stint child care or languish tutoring for children, agricultural and farm work (mostly it is helping out on eco farm projects, animals care) or housekeeping and hostel working. And I was fortunate enough to get the latter at Milingona Hostel, Tirana, Albania. Thankfully, only 13 hour on a bus from Athens.
I was there from the 30th November to the 4th January, having my first Christmas away from home there, as well as New Years. The hostel is owned and operated by three sisters, with the husband of one, and a local guy also working there, all of whom were super nice and quite fun. I was basically the relief for them, after what I heard to be a very hectic summer. I would work the morning shift from 8ish (a little earlier if there were early rise guest, and later for guests the mostly slept in) til around 3pm, and I would prepare the breakfast, clean the lounge, kitchen and bathrooms, then if people were leaving I would check them out, change the sheets, clean up after breakfast, doing any extra work around the hostel if it needed it, and then by 1ish I would relax a little bit and just hang out in case some people were to turn up. For the most part I was the only one in the hostel, working and running it.
Luckily I had the Joga to keep me company!
Tirana itself I quite a nice city; very local, with nice people, a massive amount of cafes, really interesting pieces of architecture and design, remnants of is communist past and great weather. And as not technically in the EU, but part of the Balkans, it has a very Eastern European feel to it.
The city isn’t jam packed with sights, although there are a few gems, and it is an interesting city to walkabout. Bunk Art, which is the old 5 storey war bunk for all the government officials, aristocrats and bureaucrats, in now an intriguing war museum, although I was more fascinated by the fact that it doesn’t feel like you are in a bunker. There are the basic history and art museums, a now disused pyramid thing, an artificial lake, and several interesting gypsy markets. My only problem was that once I finished working, there was only about two hours of usable daylight left.
When you travelled so unplanned like I do, you can end up being in places when there a festivals, holidays and strange coincidences. I simply happened to be in Tirana, when Jessie J performed for free during their Independence Day (from Ottomans) and Liberation Day (from Nazi Germany) celebrations, which was pretty amazing, and I also met a Polish guy was the same birthday as me (for the past 19 years I had never met anyone with the same birthday, everyone was either a day or two each side).
Working in a hostel, you obviously meet plenty of people from around the world. Amusingly, for the first week I was there, 4 Australians (3 from Sydney, 1 from Melbourne) were staying; it was nice to hear a familiar accent and to get newly addicted to the app 2 Cars (my high score is 223. And then on my last few days, I had the pleasure of hosting a dozen or so rowdy Polish, who were fun but slightly on the annoying side when you are also working in the hostel.
Christmas and new years were alright. I had to work through it and it was also hard when you can only understand English, yet you are surround by a group of Polish and Albanians. I also missed family and friends back home, and did wish that I was back home spending that time with them. A highlight through, was being able to Skype a few of my close friends back home, a few days before; it was really great to see and catch up with you guys!
But the time came when I had to say goodbye to my new Albanian family and home and Joga, catch an afternoon bus out to Durres (the port city about 40minutes away from Tirana) and get on the 11:30pm ferry to Bari, Italy. What was actually even worse, was the fact that that day I got a cold; I had been in Albania over a month, and the day I leave I get sick! So the 9 hour ferry journey was pretty horrible, and made worse by a dodgy ferry.