Things you learn when volunteering on the road, or, I cleaned up puke today but I’m still insanely happy

I’ve been off the grid for a little while in terms of writing, mostly because I’ve been bopping around Spain doing very exciting music projects. More on that story later. I’m also preparing to make my first return to the UK since before Christmas, so stay tuned for a very grumpy British post complaining about the weather and general hooliganism of my native country (have you heard by the way? It’s coming home…apparently).

For the past few weeks I’ve been living and working in Barcelona, the city that started this whole escapade. I visited for the first time two years ago and they’ve been trying desperately to get rid of me ever since. It’s truly a unique city, equal parts beautiful and completely batshit. For me there’s nowhere like it, it’s the place I found myself (HORRIBLE Millennial cliche but it’s true).

In 2016 I was a horribly drunk, recently single human nightmare bopping around the bars and occasionally taking in some of the culture. In 2017 I was based here for three months, volunteering in a hostel which enabled me not only to meet lots of extremely attractive people, but also to learn about the city and Catalan culture. It’s 2018 and I’m back bitches. I’m spending July volunteering in a hostel in the Poble Sec neighbourhood, part of an amazing group of hostels dotted around Europe which really enhance the traveller experience, sometimes by helping people get super drunk.

Even though I’m going to be extremely poor for a few weeks, I cannot recommend this way of life enough to travellers. Whether it’s for a couple of weeks during a short trip or for a few months in the middle of your gap yah, it’s a fantastic experience. Here are a few things I’ve learned during my time volunteering in Barca:

People are super interesting

I love people. Probably a bit too much if my dating history is anything to go by. Volunteering in a hostel, you see people come and go all the time from all corners of the globe (disclaimer: I know the earth is round, Columbus fucked this saying up for us years ago but I’m still gonna use it).  You make friends almost instantly and meet all kinds of people doing amazing and interesting things in all sorts of places and there’s something really cool about all these people coming together to be drunk and ridiculous.

On average people stay here for three days, so there’s a lot of turnover which means lots of new friends. In my current place of work, people tend to have so much fun that they extend their stays, which also means you get to know them better. Free crashing space WORLDWIDE.

‘Age is just a number to keep the authorities happy’-my grandad, 2004

When I dropped out of the rat race at age 26, I was convinced I’d be too old to bop around the globe. Imagine my SURPRISE when I checked into this very hostel and found out I was one of the younger guests at that time. As a perpetual child, this made me extremely happy. You really can up and leave at any time, travelling the world is not just for the pre-university backpack set. Hostels are not just for vodka-blind 18 year olds on their first jaunt away from home. We’ve got guests here who aren’t yet 20 and guests in their 40s, and sometimes beyond. It’s not about age, it’s about the experience of exploring a new city and sharing insight, wisdom, and probably gin. Age really ain’t nothing but a number (Aaliyah said that one, not my grandad).

Who needs cash anyway?

Volunteering typically means you get accommodation, food, and often other perks in return for work which is more fun than probably any job I’ve ever done, aside from DJing. If you’re travelling for a long time, it’s an ideal way for you to get to know a new place while saving money. Even in a more pricey city, you can reduce your outgoings significantly, enabling many more months of travelling and loving life in general.

Don’t screw the crew (unless you’re prepared to deal with the consequences)

I get it, everyone’s super good looking and not a pasty English person. I’ve already broken this rule about 506393 times, so this is less of a rule and more a musing/observation. If you’re young, free and single, get on it by all means, but be aware that if you’re getting jiggy with another volunteer, you’re going to be in close proximity to this person A LOT. So if you get bored of each other, make sure you have an exit strategy so you don’t accidentally walk in on them boinking the cute new volunteer from Sweden. CURTAINS PEOPLE.

It’s a lot like babysitting at times

Adults really are just large drunk children. The part of hostel life which facilitates partying and a good time will always be an integral part of your experience – my current hostel gets the balance between culture and cocktails just right – but be aware that while this is everyday life for you, it’s vacation for people staying here. People are going to get WASTED. I can’t count the number of times I’ve cleaned up puke, half-carried people to their beds, warded off comical unwanted advances using only a broom. It’s part and parcel of the gig and it’s very entertaining – well, until someone poops their pants (as one of my colleagues found recently).

We’re pretty much all the same (take note Mr Trump with your racist ginger ass)

The beauty of this lifestyle is the diversity – every day you meet people from different parts of the world, with different backgrounds, languages, cultures, outlooks on life. But one thing you realise is that we’re all basically the same, we all want to be happy and experience all the good things life has to offer. And sometimes boink the cute volunteer from Sweden.

So if you’re considering taking a break from sleeping on train floors to settle for a month or two and volunteer in a hostel, DO IT. I promise you won’t regret it, even during your worst hangover.

 

 

How to create an international entourage, even when you’re a bit of a dick

You know the feeling you get when you meet someone for the first time and instantly you know you’re going to be friends? The feeling that you’ve known this person for ages, the excitement when you think about all the awful decisions you’re going to make together?  When you’re a child, this happens pretty regularly, especially if you’re an over-friendly loudmouthed little lunatic like I was. Your standards are much lower, granted, but you’re not a grumpy old bastard yet and therefore you’re more open to conversing with anything that stands still for long enough.

The older you get, the more difficult it becomes, however. They say that most adults can count the people they consider true friends on the fingers of one hand. These guys sound like losers to me to be fair, but you get what I’m saying. When you leave school and start doing grown up things like paying taxes and eating ice cream out of bowls instead of the container (or the floor, sorry mum), creating a new circle can become more difficult.

This is especially true if you’re someone who travels or moves around a lot. I tend to accumulate friends easily (Lord knows why) that doesn’t mean it’s not difficult for anyone travelling or moving to a new city. So here are some not remotely expert tips for creating an international entourage of friends if you’re the travelling type, because free accommodation on your future trips is more precious than gold:

If you’re travelling for an extended period, get on the volunteer hype

I did this when I first moved to Spain, mainly because I didn’t want to leave the awesome hostel I was staying in. I cannot recommend this enough; it’s fun, it’s great for travelling on a budget and you meet literally hundreds of wonderful interesting people from all over the world. The best thing is that most of them only stick around for a few days, long enough to create a friendship but not long enough for them to notice how weird you are, so they’ll always think you’re cool

Say yes to everything

Except incest and folk dancing. Go to everything you’re invited to, even if you’re exhausted. My first month in Salamanca I played ultimate frisbee (which incidentally, I was shit at), went out for so many dinners I lost the ability to walk, went to endless language exchange events and played horrible drinking games at various botellons. I aged about ten years in those weeks but it was worth it.

Don’t just hang with other people from your respective homeland(s)

The phrase ‘going to a brothel for a hug’ springs to mind. What’s the point in travelling or living elsewhere if you’re going to spend all your time with Brits abroad and roll around in large groups asking for ketchup at every eating establishment? NOPE. Diversity is key, not just for the aforementioned free accommodation. Broaden your horizons, people.

Talk to anyone and everyone

Break through the shyness barrier and introduce yourself to anyone who looks vaguely normal. Doing this in Barcelona introduced me to some wonderful people from all over the world, many of whom who I’m still in contact with today. Doing it drunk in Croatia gained me a very cool American friend who I’m still mates with two years later. I did it on a bus in Salamanca with carrot sticks (during my first week of attempted veganism) and met a group of excellent Irish people without whom my experience here wouldn’t have been half as good. Trust me, as stupid as you might feel approaching complete strangers, you’ll feel more stupid if you miss out on meeting some amazing people.

Get jiggy with someone local (OPTIONAL)

About a week after I split up with my most recent boyfriend, one of my housemates suggested I get myself what roughly translates to a ‘bed dictionary’. I’m not here to give y’all relationship advice but, you know, it might help you pick up more of the language wherever you are.

Be a good friend once you have established international entourage

Always do what you say you’re going to do. Show up to things you’ve committed to, be a good friend and keep feeding these friendships. Again, FREE ACCOMMODATION. But also yay, friendship.

Don’t change yourself (NOT OPTIONAL)

DON’T BE A TERRIBLE GAP YAH PERSON. Just be yourself and someone will probably be cool with you, even if you’re a bit of a dick.