How we spent three weeks in Italy for free (or close to it)

italy for free through helpx

Our one and only HelpX experience is done and dusted, and we’ve lived to tell the tale.

Adjusting to life on the farmstead was way more difficult than I could have imagined, and not in the way I would have thought. It was a whole lot of land, with a big veggie garden, tons of fruit trees, chickens, dogs, and horses, run by a musician. The stereotype of flaky creatives exists for a reason.

The hardest part? The lack of routine when it came to meals.

Lunch could be at 1pm or 2pm, or as late as 4pm. Dinner was always late, sometimes 9pm, and sometimes closer to midnight. The long gaps were only worsened by the fact that while we ate amazingly well – in terms of quality and flavour – we didn’t eat much. Our hosts ate like birds, and I have no idea how they functioned, especially on hard labour days. T and I both have fast metabolisms and healthy appetites – and we were burning through food practically within minutes. On top of all that, we largely ate vegetarian (with few starches/carbs). Again, that was great, but not in terms of keeping us fuelled.


The heart of the house

In week one, we were helping get the place ready for a small concert to be held on the grounds at the end of the week.

The hired handyman/groundskeeper came about every other day, and wound up beating us to a ton of the things on our to-do list, not to mention doing them a million times better. It was like we were just in his way most of the time. Getting used to doing physical labour took a few days. I was so exhausted, I started taking siestas in the middle of the day (though I later adjusted and no longer needed to nap).

In week two, things were a little more settled.

We went along on a supermarket trip and got some extra food items. T got increasingly frustrated by some of our host’s personality quirks/management style, and by a few of the long days we put in. I got frustrated by his attitude. Personally, I take cues from those around me, and I’m not comfortable relaxing while my host is busy doing stuff, even if I’ve already racked up my hours for the day. I believe in putting in what it takes to get stuff done rather than simply doing the bare minimum of hours – and of always going the extra mile, giving before you get, giving more than you get. (Obviously within reason; I see no reason to bust your butt for years for a corporate without ever seeing any rewards for it, for example.) I really do wonder if his outlook would have been different if we had been getting paid, and then paying for board, for example, rather than it being a straight exchange of work for board. Getting used to working again after such a long break was also probably a challenge.

In week three, T came across a viper in the house while going into the toilet.

We took a day trip to nearby Viterbo, where we stuffed ourselves silly with gelato, pasta, and burgers (him). It was a full house, with a couple renting the next door cottage, and a family of four crashing in the main house as well. (The young boys were undisciplined terrors, though they had their moments.)


Corn we picked and strung up

For our first and only HelpX experience, I don’t think we could have done better!

There were trips to the nearby beach and lake, a free concert, a night out with our host’s son (SO many underage Italian kids partying up at the local yacht club/bar), and dinner parties. A lot of them. We had no idea what was going on conversation-wise a lot of the time, but it was good fun, with interesting and lively characters. Everyone was so friendly, and those who did speak English engaged us in conversation, wanting to know how we liked Europe, what New Zealand is like, and offering travel tips. Almost everyone was a musician (I never thought I’d meet an opera singer, let alone this many), and we were treated to plenty of performances. Plus, we looked forward to dinner party nights, as there was usually ample food for a change.

etruscan tomb cave

Old Etruscan tombs/caves on the farm

In a nutshell: an unforgettable three weeks; a frugal three weeks (one day trip, a couple of extra supermarket stops, a couple of nights out and a small contribution to the house kitty); a unique way to farewell Italy.

13 thoughts on “How we spent three weeks in Italy for free (or close to it)

  • Reply Jules September 16, 2013 at 10:23

    O wow – never heard of HelpX before but have bookmarked it now. Sounds pretty tough, but a worthwhile experience! p.s. did you need to get a particular visa to participate?

  • Reply Michelle September 16, 2013 at 10:27

    I would totally love doing something like this…except for the viper. I am wondering if they would have felt comfortable with you setting aside some snacks/drinks?

    • Reply eemusings September 17, 2013 at 00:52

      We picked up a few extras to augment on our supermarket stops, but honestly, we needed A LOT more than we could possibly have bought and brought back without offending, I think. Even things like bread (made fresh almost every day), well, there just wasn’t quite enough. Basically we operated on half empty the whole time – you can bet we’ve been making up for lost time since.

  • Reply Budget and the Beach September 17, 2013 at 05:47

    That’s still so strange to me about the eating. You’d think in Italy they would be all about the meals. I would have a hard time with it. Sounds like quite the experience!

  • Reply Mo' Money Mo' Houses September 17, 2013 at 08:19

    Oh wow, this sounds so cool! I so want to go to Italy.

  • Reply SavvyFinancialLatina September 17, 2013 at 09:40

    Sounds really cool! One of my friends has done this in Italy, Ireland, and Canada. She’s had a lot of fun every single time.

  • Reply Megan September 19, 2013 at 10:17

    I really need to do something like HelpX! I can usually function without a full stomach (but never on a shortage of sleep! i can begrudgingly live without a ton of food but not sleep.) But, my fiancé would absolutely die if he couldn’t get enough food. I’ve seen him get hangry many times. It’s not pleasant.

    • Reply eemusings September 19, 2013 at 10:26

      Funnily enough, I am the queen of hangry back home. On the road, it’s reversed and HE is the king of hangry. It’s the routine thing, I think – when I’m out of my usual routine I can adapt (somewhat).

  • Reply Pauline September 20, 2013 at 17:49

    Sounds like a superb experience. I am surprised at the lack of food, most meals in Italy are a pasta dish AND a meat or fish dish, I’ve always been so full when leaving the table I could barely walk. Surely they were an exception.

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