Before Donald and I left Portland, June 29th 2016, our original goal was to travel for a couple months and eventually settle in the country Donald found a teaching job. We were thinking we would have made it to Cambodia or Vietnam, where we were looking to live, by September or October. Even though this was the intentional plan, the only thing that was absolutely concrete were our one way tickets out of the United States. There was no flying back once we reached our first stop, Tokyo, Japan. After saving up for over a penny pinched year in advance, we imagined zipping through top destination cities and most popular places with bright bulky nylon backpacks. Following the flock of foreigner flash packers, bouncing from hostel to hostel in search of the best banana pancake breakfast (apparently there’s a path in Southeast Asia called the Banana Pancake Trail). We’ve met many people who enjoy this way of traveling and thought it would be a great way to see breathtaking views of places we were dreaming about. Yet after arriving in Tokyo, we started to notice how one dimensional our experiences were becoming.
After spending five days venturing from one iconic place to the next, we were starting to realize that we were only jumping from place to place, not being able to fully entrench ourselves in the place we were visiting. We were looking for a multiple dimensional experience, one that made us feel beyond our five senses and gave us a broader outlook. We were also realizing that we didn’t want to just travel to large, crowded, busy cities. We were hoping for better adventures that told us more about the culture, the landscape, and the language of the countries we were visiting. After our third day in Tokyo, we decided to reach out to the organic fruit farm, Nakaogomi Orchard, through HelpX to see if they needed more volunteers. HelpX is a volunteer exchange site that allows people from around the world to volunteer with various hosts, business owners, farmers, and cultural organizations. In return for volunteering, you are often given free accommodation, food, and other perks depending on the place and what they offer. The most important goal is to give service and learn from one another’s country and culture. Some people consider this to be “voluntourism,” which can leave negative impacts in a community. It’s best to research what places you should avoid volunteering at in each country and if the organization is helping or hindering the country’s growth. We saw excellent reviews from past volunteers who worked at the organic farm and saw no harm in helping with their busy harvest and fruit picking season.
Once we left Tokyo, the forested hills and mountains of the Yamanashi state mesmerized our eyes. It was one of the only times we couldn’t wait to be in the middle of nowhere. Not only did we receive free accommodation, we were fed breakfast, lunch, and dinner and fed delicious snacks in between (from organic peaches, plums, and matcha ice cream!) We got to learn from the family and their farming techniques and had multiple exchanges, especially when the Japanese students from the university would come to volunteer on the weekends with us. One time our host took us to a random store and when we walked upstairs we saw a girl in traditional clothes singing traditional Japanese songs. He ordered us beers and lots of food, then after 10 minutes he told us to grab everything because we were leaving. These are funny moments I will always remember and know would have never happened if we decided to just travel. We had a purpose to wake up at 6AM, not just to eat Yoko San’s yummy traditional Japanese breakfast, but to help grow organic fruits that people would come from all over to pick. We did lots of mowing and I learned how to use a weed whacker. On one of our days off, Donald, Kvetina (another volunteer), and I hiked Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest peak and active volcano.
Yet the fun experiences didn’t end there. We helped clean and renovate a hotel building to turn it into a hostel in South Korea and Donald help improve the English conversational skills with the bed and breakfast staff of Bamboo BackPackers in the Philippines. Now we’re in Sulawesi, Indonesia and it’s been almost 5 months since we left Portland. After spending a month in Japan, we headed to South Korea for another 4 weeks, then the Philippines for another month. We decided to stay in Indonesia for 2 months since we found more English teaching volunteer opportunities. Spending a month in each country rather than a week gave us a chance to experience more of the culture, language, food, and the ability to build relationships with the locals. We’re still unsure when we’re going to pick a place to live, but it’ll only be temporary so we can continue adventuring.
We encourage anyone looking to venture around parts of the world to look into signing up for HelpX, WorkAway, or HomeStay. They’re not only excellent ways to learn more about the culture you’re visiting, but they’re also a great way to help a community and learn more about the world. I’m excited to continue writing about our current work for stays and what we’ve learned along out trip. Stay tuned!