Too expensive to travel the world? Go on working holidays

Over the last 22 months, Frenchman Robert Labrousse and his girlfriend Nadia Parthouneau, travelled to several countries as part of their tour of the world. They earned their keep along the way, where their host families provided them free meals and lodging, in return for several hours of their services a day.

Their recent trip away from France was their longest to date, in which they took in New Caledonia, Vanuatu, New Zealand, Malaysia, Thailand and Nepal.

Labrousse, 29, a carpenter and Parthouneau, 32, an upholsterer, are from south of Charente in southwestern France.

HelpX is a cultural exchange programme for working holidaymakers, where they get to stay with locals and gain practical experiences. A typical exchange would involve them working for four hours a day in exchange for free meals and accommodation.

It is an online listing of farmstays, homestays, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, hostels and even sailing boats, where owners invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term.

“Most of our hosts are friendly and very happy to spend time with us,” Labrousse says.

Early last month, the couple were in Nepal, completing the final leg of their tour before returning home to France on Oct 12. Labrousse and Nadia were in Malaysia for about a month from mid-July for a HelpX experience and were hosted by freelance nature guide Peter Yoong of Puchong, Selangor.

“Peter loves to have guests. We slept in a flat, 4km from his home. We built a bunk bed, painted it and put it in his flat. We also helped to fix some electrical wiring,” Labrousse says.

Other than being a HelpX host, Yoong is also a Warmshowers’ host, where he takes in visiting cyclists from abroad. “A Russian father and his 10-year-old daughter came to share our flat for a night,” says Labrousse. The father and daughter cycled from Thailand to Malaysia!”

In Malaysia, Yoong took the couple to Sg Pisang Waterfall in Gombak and Sri Maha Athi Nageswari Amman Temple in Puchong, both in Selangor. “The couple carried their carpentry tools, even a big and heavy chisel,” says Yoong, who was impressed with their carpentry skills.

The first country the couple visited on their “world” tour from Jan 8 last year was New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific dotted by dozens of islands.

“It’s a very beautiful place with clear water. It’s like paradise!” Labrousse says. They spent nine months there before heading to Vanuatu, a South Pacific Ocean nation of about 80 islands. Labrousse says: “We did our first HelpX in Jayne and Bruce’s place for six weeks. Our hosts, who live in Gore, a town and district in South Island of New Zealand, were very friendly. We lived in an old bus which had a double bed, sofa, TV and a kitchen. It was a luxury.”

The couple also met Bath, a 55-year-old parrot, some sheep and dogs. “In exchange for food and accommodation, we did weeding, built a new cage for the parrot and a double compost box. We also went fishing with Bruce. It was a very good HelpX experience,” he says.

The couple then went to Picton, also in South Island, which they found on Wwoof. The host family went on holiday for 12 days and Labrousse and Nadia did farm work. There were llamas, alpacas, goats, sheep, cows, pigs, rabbits, chickens, cats and dogs.

From the wide-ranging menagerie of animals, Labrousse was particularly amused by Rose, a two-week-old pig. He recalls: “We had to feed her milk five times a day and also feed all the other farm animals twice a day. It was a very nice experience but it wasn’t a holiday.”

Their second HelpX in New Zealand was in “Sam’s home” in the northern region of North Island. Says Labrousse: “We built a roof with two German men and have since become very good friends!”

The couple spent nine months in New Zealand before coming over to Malaysia. After Malaysia, they travelled up to Thailand where they engaged in their fourth HelpX arrangement with a family living close to the Cambodian border.

“There, we tidied up the tool shed and created a natural swimming pool,” he says.

Next, they crossed the border to Cambodia for their fifth HelpX at Olivier’s new organic farm near Siem Reap. He says: “We learnt a lot about growing vegetables, made mud bricks and built walls for a tool shed out of them.”

In France, Labrousse had built three tree houses on his parents’ land in Charente and a “hobbit house”. His mother rents out the tree houses as guesthouses.

Prior to their world trip, Labrousse and Parthouneau bought a small farm together near Bordeaux in France. Now, they want to work their land and be self-sufficient. “We want to plant as many fruit trees as we can in our 1.6ha orchard,” Labrousse says.

The couple have no plans for another excursion just yet following their recent “longest trip”. Instead, they plan to play hosts to travellers.

Labrousse says: “We’re going to be HelpX hosts and hope people will come and visit us instead!”

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