“You can stay for free at the hostel if you contribute.”
When I knew I was going to Brazil, I first looked into staying at a hostel to lower the cost of my stay, but as it turned out, it was going to cost me $700 for the month — the equivalent of my rent in Canada. Ouch! :(
That’s when I first heard about Worldpackers, from Alice, the manager at Okupe Hostel. She told me I could stay for free (what?!) if I contributed to the hostel operation. She even said she’d be happy to work around my school agenda. The only condition was that we confirmed our deal through the Worldpackers platform.On the website, I was happy to read positive reviews from people who had volunteered there before me, stuff like “I loved the people I met there!” or “we are a family, actually.” I also found a detailed description of what was expected of me and pictures of the place. More importantly, for me at least, our exchange through the platform worked as a moral contract between us. So now I had a guarantee that my host wouldn’t change her mind, rob me or throw me out after a couple weeks.
“This was my first time traveling alone to a country I didn’t even speak the language, so having this sort of peace of mind was very important to me.”
A bit anxious but also very excited, I flew to Brazil at the beginning of July… my luggage never did, though. Can you imagine? It’s 6AM, I’m sleepy and exhausted (I have been traveling for the last 22 hours), I’m in a random airport of a country I am not familiar with, with only my backpack and the clothes I’m wearing. Cherry on top: no one around me speaks English, and my luggage is nowhere to be found. Welcome to Brazil! This was pretty much my mindset when I arrived to the hostel.But the staff welcomed me with open arms and later that day, took me to Brás. Brás is one of these crazy popular districts where streets are crowded at all times with random people, shoppers and camelots chatting and shouting, with scents and smells in the air you won’t recognize, and a very Brazilian touch to it. It’s also the perfect place to get a new wardrobe without having your bank on your conscience (remember, I had NO clothes but the ones on my back). Finally, that’s where my misfortune turned into an incredible experience, which is what Worldpacking really is all about! :D
Brás is not a place frequented by tourists — nor are most of the spots I got the chance to visit, actually. The thing is I didn’t only sleep and go out with the guests there. I actually made friends with the local staff, dived into their routine, hung out with them at night and shared a bit of their lives. They got into my heart (and me in theirs), just as though I were Brazilian all of sudden.
That’s something I had never ever experienced before. That’s what made my trip so life-changing and unforgettable. It felt so good to belong, knowing that if anything happened to me, there would always be people close by to help out. I felt safe.I will always remember that night, for example, when the girls from the team took me to this super alternative party called Trilhos. It was a pop-up club located in a deserted train station, with abandoned rusty wagons here and there. The music was a fusion of Brazilian and International music, there was local street food with amazing flavours all new to me and the ambiance was absolutely unbelievable. How could I have ever found this on my own?
There was also this guy from Rio, also a Worldpacker who had a marketing job in São Paulo until he could find a steady place to live in. We got along very well. It was great to have someone to talk to about careers, the differences between Canada and Brazil, and to hear about what he was really doing at his job. Without even realizing it, this new friend had also become a professional contact for future opportunities.Looking at his crazy schedule made me realize I was capable of handling my own double agenda as a student, too. Despite the fact that I had to undertake new tasks from the university and the hostel simultaneously, my integration with the team was smooth. Two of the Brazilian girls there had traveled to Canada before and we clicked instantaneously. They helped me out a lot and I rapidly got a hold of myself. By the end, I learnt to be more flexible and to naturally handle unexpected situations with calm and confidence. It felt amazing :)
I’d definitely recommend Worldpackers to any traveler, especially students who are on a budget. It makes traveling meaningful and accessible to all, whether you’ve received a grant or have very limited resources. Above anything, it offers a real immersion into the local culture, which I would never have had by simply hanging out at the university with international students. My best advice to you is to make sure your build a proper relationship with your host(s) from scratch, before you even get there, so you can agree upon the rules and expectations. Also, learn the basics of the language if you haven’t already, it will help you a lot! Personally, I wish I had. And lastly, once you get there, don’t try too hard to integrate. Find your own space, you’ll meet people you click with and it will all come naturally. You’ll make life-lasting friends, trust me!Now I’m back in Montreal and at the university, already thinking about my next trip. I’d love to go to Africa and do volunteer work with children… as a teacher, maybe?
From the Worldpacker Anh-Tho Tran