This past summer we’ve opened our home to travelers, and our world at home has grown richer for it. Four young backpacking couples and two pairs of friends from France, Spain, Germany and the United States have stayed in our spare room organized via a backpacker networking website called HelpX. In return for accommodation and three meals a day, our guests have worked for four hours each day on our farm, or inside the house. We get to decide who we have staying in our home, and when we want them to stay — there’s no obligation or requirements other than food and a bed.
Memories of this summer are as warm as the days have been. They have sat and enjoyed gorgeous sunsets with us in the evenings and shared tales from their travels, photographs of loved ones back home, stories of what they love about our country and miss about their own, discussions about culture, politics, education, food, lifestyles and their hopes and dreams for the future. They’ve laughed with our children, tested themselves on our daughter’s sight words as she learns to read, played board games and pored over maps together planning the next phase of their journey. Google Translate has been a helpful companion to translate unfamiliar words. They’ve retreated into their rooms early in the evenings to relax, and given us plenty of space too as they’ve gone off and explored the surrounding area. And, we’ve been blessed to have them cook for us once a week too — the children most enjoyed savoring Tarte Tatin.
Before we had HelpXers, I had had a few reservations such as whether I would feel safe and comfortable with strangers in our home, staying in a room next door to my children. My husband has done all the filtering of requests and selecting of the helpers, and so far we have only had wonderful experiences. Perhaps travelers are all a certain kind of person, and we’re drawn to our similarities. People who are open to learning, to change, to adventure, to getting involved, to helping other humans out.
Having others living with us has had other benefits too — we’ve become more organized with our meal planning, cleaning, and chores. At first, I told guests where every item in the kitchen belonged, but then relaxed and noticed where they put things away and have now grown to enjoy the new locations some things have ended up in. I find it fascinating to see how other people do their chores and learn little life tips and tricks from how other people live around the world from the comfort of our own home.
And sure enough it’s soon time for the inevitable goodbyes, the children squeezing in for a photo (with someone usually pulling a face), a few teary eyes, warm embraces, and kind words.
What a way to see the world: homecooked meals with a glass of wine and four kids jostling to blow out the candle at the end of the meal. It’s far from the hostels packed full of your fellow countrymen travelers, and a welcome break from sleeping in station wagons with the backs converted into beds, paying to shower at public swimming pools.
We’ve been inspired too, to see more of our own country after seeing their photos and hearing their adventures of the wild stretches of New Zealand’s landscape, far from our home. I’m looking forward to taking our children on day hikes when they’re older, the ones we once did before having kids.
Traveling without leaving home.