This week please meet Mike McLeish, a blogger from pinch-flat.com. Mike spends his time riding bicycles and working on community bike projects around the world. Recently he’s been in Hoi An, Vietnam and reached out to ask if we would like this guest post about his travels, to which I said heck yes! We think travel by bicycle is amazing and we loved both Hoi An and Vietnam. That is where our friend Bek went on a Pho-a-Thon and tried over a 100 different bowls of Pho and we spent many hours watching the mad skills locals of Vietnam have carrying heavy things on their scooters. We also met a lot of travelers utilizing the program Mike talks about, workaway.info, as a great way to help keep travel costs low and have a chance to interact more with the local culture. Thank you so much Mike for this awesome guest post and I hope you all will enjoy…enter Mike…
Volunteering In Hoi An
If you’re doing a bit of long-term travel, sometimes it’s nice to stop still for a while and get to know the culture of the place you’ve been travelling around on a deeper level. For this reason, volunteering is something I’d highly recommend.
Recently I’ve been able to give a little back through a program called Workaway. Its concept is simple – you can use your skills to connect with people who need different types of help, all over the world.
If you include my latest adventure, I’ve done 7 Workaways.
These range from building a house out of straw and sleeping in one of these to milking goats on a farm and sleeping in a grand, master bedroom!
It’s been a totally different experience each time. And that’s all part of the adventure.
Still, the setup is typically the same between Workaway hosts; I’d work for around 4–5hrs per day in exchange for accommodation and food.
It’s been a great way to save money while I travel but more importantly, it’s enabled me to immerse myself in some of that lovely local culture! Since making the decision to volunteer, it’s added much more adventures to my trip, experiences that I may never have had otherwise.
So how did I get started?
Well, after uni I decided I wanted to go on a long trip…so I saved hard for 8 months and started planning my next move. I had always loved cycling; in fact, one of my Workaway experiences inspired a 2000km bike ride across Europe!
So I was excited when I saw a Workaway project at a bicycle shop in Kuala Lumpur. After a few emails back and forth with my potential host, I asked him if I could volunteer.
Once I got the thumbs up from him, I was off!
While volunteering in KL I was able to play around with the bike shop’s website. In doing so, I came to realize how easy it is to learn skills that allow you to work remotely.
During the time I spent on my Workaway host’s cycling website, I decided to start my own project. This is where Pinch-Flat.com began – a site on which I give tips and tricks about cycling while earning small commissions from guides like these.
After a few months of building up my knowledge, I felt confident enough in my new skills to apply them to Workaway projects. And, after searching around a bit, I stumbled across an opportunity that fitted my skillset perfectly – digital marketing for a travel website in Hoi An, Vietnam!
That’s where I am right now and it’s a really special place – great and cheap food, incredible scenery within cycling distance and really liveable, with anything I could possibly need nearby.
I work for 3hrs a day in exchange for accommodation (but no meals, unfortunately!). Still, the upside of having to find my own food is that I work fewer hours than normal…and when food in the market here is so cheap, it actually works out pretty well!
This situation was clearly stated on my Workaway hosts’ profile so it wasn’t a problem; however, if you’re applying for a Workaway opportunity, make sure that you and your host are on the same page before you arrive. It’ll save any awkwardness down the line.
The site is managed by an Australian couple called Stuart and Sharon, who moved to Vietnam over 6 years ago. Their aim is to get beneath the surface and explore what’s on offer in Hoi An through the people who live here. This means that volunteers are set assignments like ‘finding the best cycle routes’ or ‘visiting the lesser-known street markets’. Pretty fun, really.
These experiences are then written up and shared with tourists and expats in Hoi An. So if you’re a new journalist looking to build up a portfolio, this place is perfect!
Stuart and Sharon have a lot of publishing experience between them and you could stand to learn a lot, from them and from working on the site. They set loose briefs and let the volunteers come up with their own approach so it’s an ideal way to develop your skills in this area.
I do more of the nerdy Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) stuff. But it’s great to see how my knowledge fits into a larger team setting, and more importantly, I’ve made some awesome friends!
Every Workaway varies wildly. But here’s a day in the life of my experience with the Hoi An Now expat website.
8am: Wake up
Some of the farming Workaways start incredibly early because you have to feed animals or do manual labour before it gets too hot. Hoi An Now is pure office work, so there’s none of those crazy wake-up times.
I live in a nice house with 4 other volunteers. One of these guys is a photographer that likes to get out early to take pictures. And another goes out to an early-morning Yoga class…
I keep meaning to make it out with them but it’s been two months now and I’ve still not been able to make it. Whoops.
Hopefully, you’re more motivated than I am…from what I hear, Hoi An is exceptionally pretty at 6am!
9am: Leave the house
Our place is situated about a 20-minute bicycle ride (our host provides the bikes) from the office and cuts through the beautiful Old Town of Hoi An.
I used to commute to work on my bike in England; I’d take the ride in Hoi An over that any day of the week!
9:10am: Pick up breakfast
In Vietnam, it’s impossible to start the day without a Banh Mi! Everyone I know has their favorite stall and mine is just on the outskirts of town. I’ve gone there every day since I started working on the website…and always get two! It costs me 30,000VND (just over $1) for the two, so it’s a cheap (and incredibly tasty) way to start my morning.
9:20 Arrive at the office
My first task is to make a quick cup of tea to go along with my Banh Mi and then it’s time to do some work. Every Tuesday we have a group meeting, where we go round the circle and discuss what we’ve each been up to. During my two months here, the initially small project has grown to include 3 full-time staff and 6 volunteers!
The volunteers include writers, photographers and filmmakers, so it’s always interesting to see their work and learn about the processes involved.
Other than our weekly meeting, we typically spend the morning working on our own projects. My job is to SEO-ify the current site and to build relationships with other websites in the travel sector. There are loads of great travel websites out there, so it isn’t too hard 😉
12:30–1pm: Finish for the day!
Around lunchtime we’ll typically call it a day. Some guys carry on because they want to build up their portfolio as much as possible…and some of us leave to explore the rest of what Hoi An has to offer!
The evenings are totally free for us to explore some more. Usually, we’ll end up at one of the local street stalls, where you can gauge how good the spot is by how tiny their chairs are. If you’re practically sat on the floor, you’ve found a good one!
We wash it all down with a few glasses of ‘bia hoi’ (fresh beer), and that’s it for the day!
Not a bad way of life, right?!
When I reflect on this experience, it makes me realise how lucky I am. Other voluntary projects are heavily focused on the manual labour aspect of work. Now, I’ve always liked being active so they’re quite fun for me.
But to have the opportunity to use my head and develop a skill that will benefit my CV, all while travelling through and exploring the wonders of SE Asia, and getting to be pretty much cost-neutral at the same time…it’s a win on every level!
For instance, at Hoi An Now, one of the volunteers I met was able to use his experience at the website to get freelance writing jobs; now he travels while working remotely.
I don’t think you could ask for much more from a voluntary project, and it’s a place I’d really recommend. If you do fancy giving it a go you can contact them through their Workaway page. I know they’d love to hear from you!
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