In this post sponsored by Zappos, I share the experience of volunteering my time in Europe to help others. I only endorse products that have values aligned to my own and a brand image I respect!
People regularly ask me how many countries I’ve visited. As a frequent traveler, the odd thing is the number of places I’ve gone doesn’t matter to me as much as creating a positive impact in each place I go. Before departing for a trip, I research and plan ways that I can contribute once I arrive. That way I can ready my bags with the things I’ll need like my Keen Targhee Exp Mid WP boots.
“Better takes Action” – Keen
On a recent journey around Europe, I decided to give voluntary work exchange a go. Beyond the non-profit sector, there are many everyday people who need a helping hand whether that be farm work or contributing at a spiritual center. As I learned, doing a work exchange is a great way to get outdoors, learn new skills, and care for others in ways that people need.
It’s Harvest Season in Austria
Autumn in Europe is incredible not just because the leaves are changing colors but also because it’s harvest season.
In Austria, the trees sagged under the weight of heavy fruit. Locals said this year climate change really impacted the land. The trees produced far more fruit than anticipated because of the heat and rain storms. So, a lot of help was needed to collect and make use of the yield especially pears, apples, and plums. That way none of the food would go to waste.
As a volunteer, I felt really good about helping with the harvest at Gomde Buddhist Center in the Austrian Alps. The fruit we picked fed people who came to the center to further their emotional well being, which ultimately is better for everyone on the planet. The kind people at Gomde were also very focused on treating people with compassion, giving with pure intentions, and finding the best in others. It was a very positive environment.
Working outside is a lot more physical than I expected. You need supportive shoes to help yourself do things like climb trees and ladders to pick apples, wade through stinging nettle without getting stung, and push a wheelbarrow full of old pears to a compost bin. When we support ourselves better we’re able to give more. So, the better I take care of my feet and knees, the more hours I can contribute. That’s to say some solid kicks are important. My Keen boots are lightweight, breathable, and supportive. The metatomical footbed is anatomically engineered to provide excellent arch support and cradle the natural contours of the foot.
After picking fruit, I got to see the experience come full circle. Afterward, we turned the harvest into organic juice, chutneys, jams, and baked goods. Physical labor is really rewarding. After a day out in the sun filling crates, it was magical to retreat to the kitchen and employ my grandma’s apple crumble recipe to make dessert for everyone. Their expressions of enjoyment were priceless.
Farm Work in France
From harvest season in Austria, I switched gears and traveled to the province of Auvergne in central France to assist a cattle farmer on his ranch. Just a year ago, the farmer injured his knee, which has made tasks like shoveling hay and harvesting chestnuts more difficult for him. Cattle and dairy farming here are among the most common industries meanwhile chestnut trees are plentiful. So the experience I knew would be very different from the work I did in Austria. It would also be very different from life in Paris, the only part of France I’d seen before this trip.
Growing up in a suburb, I always wanted to experience the agrarian lifestyle. In cities, we live so much of our lives detached from the source of our food: I just drive to the grocery store, pick what I need from a shelf, and voila. While heading to France, I not only felt inspired to help the farmer but also experience a greater sense of connection to what I eat and the work that goes into producing it.
Cows can consume around 24 pounds of hay each per day. I don’t know if you’ve ever handled a pitch fork and shoveled hay for yourself before, but it’s heavy! I definitely returned home from the work day dirty and sweaty after tending to the cattle. In the early, dew-covered mornings I loved having waterproof high top boots that kept me dry and comfortable while I handled said pitchfork.
After many hours out in the field, the farmer and I would exchange high fives. While my contribution was only part of the hard work that goes into his ranch on a daily basis, it felt good to help alleviate him of some of the manual tasks.
On Helping Others
I think we live in a society where we’ve put the word “purpose” on such a high pedestal that we forget sometimes that making a meaningful contribution can be as simple as helping a farmer shovel hay while he is injured, or picking fruit at a Buddhist Center to feed people seeking inner peace. Doing good for others while traveling changes your experience because it gives a sense of meaning to what you do and leaves the place you visited better than when you first arrived.
Finding some type of work exchange is great, I think, because it also breeds tolerance. When you step outside your usual life and comfort zone and enter someone else’s world with the intention of understanding, you learn how to respect people of all walks of life.
When you spend the day in someone else’s shoes — and in your own — you create a lot of hope for humanity.
The Traveling Do-Gooders Packing List
Leather working gloves
Handkerchief (to cover your neck in the sun)
Keen Targhee Exp Mid WP