I remember very clearly the day that I arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana, both nervous and excited about my new position as a worldpacker for Site 61 Hostel.
As I walked up the stairs onto the front porch of the historic boarding house turned backpacker haven, all the negativity that I had received from friends and family rushed into my brain:
- “The streets in New Orleans are rough”
- “Traveling alone is too dangerous for a woman”
- “You’re going to share a room with how many people?!”
- and on and on...
Most of my friends and family hadn’t been happy with my decision to quit my job to travel full time, and they weren’t shy about telling me so.
Of course, I had answered all their concerns with confidence, but suddenly everything was real, and I wasn’t as confident in my plan as I had been from the comfort of my hometown.
I was trained for housekeeping almost as soon as I arrived, so the first four hours of my experience kept me too busy to think of much more than the correct way to fold towels and which cleaners were safe to use on the original hardwood floors.
It wasn’t until that evening, when I had free time, that my anxiety showed up again. Suddenly I was missing my friends, my family, and my dogs, and once again I began to worry that I had made a terrible mistake.
The hostel was slow, my roommates were all out doing their own thing, and I began to feel lonely.
Luckily, my new roommate and coworker, Sara, came home from her day job at just the right time and invited me to join her at a bar two blocks from the hostel, where they served free dinner and had a free comedy show every Monday.
Sara and I walked to the bar, enjoyed a delicious free dinner, had a few drinks while getting to know each other, and bonded over how bad the comedy was. And just like that, I felt at home.
I got to know my other roommates quickly. Although we were an extremely varied group of people, representing three different countries and most every spot on the spectrum between conservative and liberal ideologies, none of that mattered.
I found something to bond with each of my roommates over:
- Alex, a former MMA fighter, taught me self-defense techniques for my solo traveling adventures.
- Jon joined a free Spanish class at a local Hispanic church with me to prepare for my upcoming trip to Mexico.
- Nicky and I took up rock climbing together.
- Sara and I bonded over our travel stories and helped me get to know New Orleans.
As a group, we danced while cooking our shared meals, planned events for the guests, and stayed up until early in the morning, trading stories and laughing until our sides hurt.
I woke up most days feeling as if I was at summer camp. There was always someone to hang out with, someone to tag along with me to museums, someone to bring a fresh perspective to any struggles I may have been experiencing.
Of course, we had disagreements and became frustrated with each other on occasion. But even these occasions were valuable learning experiences in the end, as we had to work together to solve the problems that arose.
The hostel work itself was easy, and sometimes even fun. We shared housekeeping, reception, and guest event responsibilities.
Most often, our guests were friendly and a ton of fun to hang out with. The majority of our guests were from other countries, and I was genuinely sad to see a lot of them leave.
Dinner conversation was never dull, as it often represented several different cultures. I had the privilege of introducing others to my country, my culture, and it was an absolute pleasure.
In return, they told me about their own countries, shared valuable travel tips, and helped broaden my worldview. I made connections with so many people, fellow travelers who offered their homes as free accommodations and themselves as a personal tour guide should I ever be in their home countries.
With the help of my fellow work exchangers, I became a much more confident person. They taught me to ask for what I want, and a surprisingly high percentage of the time I was given what I asked for.
For example, I learned to barter for food when Alex told me about a local restaurant that gave free food to anyone willing to spend a couple of hours cleaning up.
Together, Nicky and I talked ourselves into free memberships at the local rock-climbing gym. And the atmosphere of the hostel itself helped to coax me out of my shell and get used to talking to strangers, which is how I was able to sweet talk the groundskeeper at a local cemetery into showing me around the chapel, which was on my bucket list but closed to the public until after my departure from New Orleans for renovations.
These money-saving and experience enriching tactics will be invaluable when I continue my travels elsewhere.
Overall, I am incredibly thankful that I stumbled across Worldpackers and the concept of work exchange.
It has literally opened up new worlds to me, as I wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford long-term travel. I absolutely can not wait to see what lessons and adventures await me on my next Worldpackers adventure!