“You’re quitting your stable job as a teacher and leaving your comfortable three-bedroom house to go live in a hostel and work as a volunteer?”
This question, or a variation of it, was one I heard many times upon telling people about my plans for my year as a worldpacker.
Many people didn’t understand, others thought it was brave, and some even considered it to be inspirational.
But what others think is not what’s most important – I needed to take this step in my life to fulfill a dream of (hopefully) becoming fluent in a language I’d been learning for a few years.
I fell in love with the Portuguese language a while back and knew I had to live in countries where it was spoken in order to master it. That’s why I decided to take a kind of mid-life gap year and spend time in Portugal and Brazil.
I spent hours looking on the Worldpackers website looking for interesting opportunities in Portugal (where I’d be going to first) and Hostel 2300 in Tomar definitely got me really enthusiastic.
First of all, I was attracted to the fact that Tomar is a small town, which would hopefully mean more chances to practice speaking Portuguese with the locals. Secondly, I was really impressed by the positive reviews from other fellow worldpackers who had lived the experience. When I was accepted there was a huge smile on my face.
Months later it was finally time to pack my bags, fly to Lisbon and get on the bus to Tomar. I must admit I was pretty nervous when I stepped out in the station, not knowing where to go and how to get there (I had a really big and heavy suitcase with me and whoever is familiar with Portugal will know that those stony streets are not the easiest to deal with!).
However, my nerves were soon calmed because I could see straight away that my colleagues were lovely and I was made to feel at home by the owner of the hostel, whose main concern was that I enjoy my stay and get to know the town.
The day after I arrived I was shown the ropes by a fellow worldpacker from Brazil who had been there for a few months prior to my arrival. My main tasks were to make sure the breakfast was set up well for the guests and to clean the hostel from top to bottom, which took about 3 to 4 hours.
This meant I was free to do as I wished from around midday onward. Perfect!
With all this time to spare, I could focus on practicing Portuguese, improving my photography skills, going for walks around the beautiful place I got to call home for a month and even start a new hobby of making jewelry.
I was really able to find some peace here as I was able to lead a simpler life from what I was used to back home. Not that things were always peaceful though… I arrived at the start of the academic year, which meant groups of students shouting and singing on the streets until the early hours of the morning a few days per week. Tip: earplugs are a must when volunteering in a hostel!
All in all, Tomar is a magical place and allowed me to enjoy a slower pace of life and Hostel 2300 is a great hostel. I heard so many positive reactions from guests; they particularly liked the way it was decorated, with each room having a typical Portuguese theme, and the fact that it was clean and felt welcoming.
Most of the people staying in the hostel were pilgrims doing the Santiago Camino and they thought it was a great place to rest for a night or two.
The owners and staff here really do a great job making this place what it is. I’d recommend this experience to anybody willing to work hard for just a few hours a day and then relax, socialize and enjoy an interesting town full of history and character.
It’s also a great chance to practice language skills and learn about local culture. For me, it was a perfect start to my Worldpackers adventure.