December 2, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Special guests

By |2018-03-21T20:01:03+01:00June 7th, 2016|Lifestyle Archive|
The pool's a treat. Now, we need to fix the B&B.

recently took on a big project. A friend of mine relocated to balmy Turin and left me in possession of both his house and B&B apartments near my family’s farm in Le Marche. The idea suited my farm family, especially the children. The warm weather is finally letting them enjoy the swimming pool experience

But my Turin-bound friend wasn’t a great fan of home improvement. When I looked at the online photos he’d posted and then saw the place itself, I was hit with a wave of panic.

I was still teaching. I was also still ferrying my children back and forth to school. Finding time to completely redecorate three rooms and tidy up half a hectare of garden was a daunting prospect — until, that is, a friend of mine introduced me to the Workaway scheme.

This is a wonderful if not lifesaving website that links travelers who need a place to stay with people who need household or farm help. In essence, the site helps give low-budget adventurers the chance to work their way around the world while also promoting cultural exchanges (“We believe in travel with meaning,” says the website).

Travelers eager to globe trot but unable to pay for hotels, hostels or even B&Bs can stop at a Workaway location where they get food and lodging in exchange for the work they put in. No money changes hands, though you do pay to join the site. Best of all, the whole thing is flexible, so hosts and guests can work out the details.

The site’s British founder came up with the idea while traveling in Hawaii in the 1990s. He wanted to extend his stay so he offered to work. The Internet age had dawned and he was eventually able channel his experience into a business project. The site is now a global clearinghouse for potential hosts and volunteers.

To be honest, I was a little worried about scheme to start with. After all, you’re opening your home to complete strangers. It also seemed a bit wet on my part that I couldn’t manage on my own. But my friend egged me on. So I joined, described our situation and needs, and emailed an interested couple. We agreed to a two-week stay.

For a while, I worried not just about all the B&B work I faced but also about our impending newcomers. That changed when Alexander and Marianna arrived at our farm. A delightful Brazilian couple on a world tour, they turned out to be unfailingly helpful, cheerful, fun, interesting and motivating.

All of us were a little shy to begin with. Part of that was the language barrier. My children giggled or moodily lingered in their bedrooms. I’d find them in the kitchen waiting to help me out — unheard off in our house. Helping me out was apparently preferable to sitting round the table trying to make conversation the strangers.

But all that gradually changed. Both sides relaxed and got to know each other.

Since then, we’ve learned about a new country, tried new food, and listened to new music. Alexander and Marianna have gotten a mixed bag of cultural delights,, learning to live with an English family in rural Italy while eating Indian food. But it’s all worked out. Together we’ve done a lot of the work I worried we couldn’t handle.

Everyone has been on their best behavior to impress our guests. Our youngest daughter has even given up swearing like a navvy.

I don’t want to sound like a promotional brochure, but if you need a hand with something, consider the idea. It’s really worthwhile. I only hope we can all keep it up.

About the Author:

Lucy Brignall's "The Farm" column appeared between 2012 and 2016.