As a proud introvert, I had often found myself fretting over new social interactions for weeks before they even happened.
Strangers at a party? No thanks. A hostel room of new faces? I'll pass. Living with strangers for an extended period of time? Nightmare.
Work exchange challenged me to face a lot of those social fears. After all, you've got to get good at connecting with strangers quickly when you're living on a sailboat with them.
I've developed a lot of tools to help me bond and make friends while traveling alone. I have a solid list of insightful questions that I often ask travel buddies. I've been known to share my latest reads or ask for travel advice (even if I don't need it).
I've even learned that a shared language, while helpful, isn't the end-all be-all to connecting with someone. I've shared a coloring book to bond with someone, enjoyed a laugh over a shared silly moment, and of course, used my solid miming skills with great success.
In short, after experiencing work exchange abroad, I'm confident in my ability to connect with just about anyone now. Something changed in me. I even created the introvert's guide to work exchange with Worldpackers — give it a read for my best tips on traveling as an introvert.
Do I still have days that I don't love socializing while traveling? Sure. But even on those days, I'm much less nervous about the people that cross my path.
4. You'll eat like the locals do (well, you'll eat like the locals do more often)
I'm not saying you'll never eat at a touristy restaurant or touch a hamburger again, but you're much more likely to shop at a farmer's market or grocery shop like the locals do after experiencing a work exchange abroad.
Work exchange teaches you that the travel experience matters more than expensive restaurants and fancy meals.
It teaches you that the journey really is the destination. When the destination is a tasty meal, the journey is an enjoyable evening spent cooking up a storm in a cozy kitchen somewhere.
5. You'll never think a week's vacation is enough
Of course, you can find short term work exchange programs if you're looking. But more than likely, you'll spend 2-4 weeks participating in international work exchange.
That means that you've learned the true luxury of time.
My first work exchange was on a sailboat. That meant that the wind and available anchorages dictated our path.
I didn't know where I was going to be the next day, let alone the next week or month. I didn't even have a set date that I was going to leave the work exchange.
It really tested a type-A over-planner like me.
I used to be someone who had carefully planned itineraries and well-researched routes. Then, I started pursuing work exchange opportunities and realized that flexibility was a virtue.
Sometimes, flexibility is even a necessity.
I still like to research the places I travel to, but I keep it simple now.
I create a very simple "bucket list" for each trip. Sometimes it only has one easily attainable thing like "eat a baguette in Paris" and other times, it has one major task like "scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef."
7. You'll actually believe the world is your oyster
This one really goes beyond international work exchange. It might even go beyond travel altogether.
Allyson quit her corporate marketing job in July 2018 and has been traveling the world through work exchange ever since. The highlight reel includes tutoring English while sailing in Greece and becoming a live-in nanny for a traveling family in New Zealand and Australia.