Volunteer/Help Exchange FAQ

Friday, September 30, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Written by Chris Coulon.

While we have been traveling over the last several months, Danalynn and I have also picked up the side occupation of European migrant labourers.  Quite a bit of our time here in Europe has been spent living and interacting with families in exchange for volunteer hours.  The name of the game is to provide some of your time and skills in return for room, board and cultural immersion.  Anyone can do it; we’ve run into volunteers both younger and much older hailing from many different countries around the world.  There are several organizations that offer their networks to help connect you with hosts, as well as other volunteers.  Some of the more well known organizations include:

-          WWOOF
One of the most well known organizations and definitely boasts an exceptionally large repertoire of hosts; however you need to sign up and pay a fee for each country individually.  In addition, since each country is run as its own organization not all countries have the option to read reviews left for hosts by previous volunteers.  These opportunities are specialized almost exclusively on certified organic farms and you are almost guaranteed to get experience in green agriculture.

-          HelpX
For this trip we have sided with this organization, for several reasons.  Its onetime fee for a yearlong membership covers all countries with participating hosts.  This proved important for us as we have used it in several different places, including the UK, France, Spain, Switzerland and Kenya.  It also provides the opportunity for volunteers to leave reviews of their experiences with hosts, allowing you to read third party reviews but also to email former volunteers directly with any questions.  These opportunities are broader than just organic farming, including anything that a host may need help with from general chores, remodeling, caring for animals etc...

-          Work Away
This organization is similar to Helpx, where the work may vary.  Unfortunately we do not know much about this site as we have not had the opportunity to use it ourselves.

There are more organizations and plenty more to learn about the ones that we have listed.  A healthy dose of research always helps before taking the plunge and signing up.

harvesting hazelnuts for helpx by Danalynn C
Harvesting hazelnuts at a Helpx in France

We have received many specific questions in regard to these volunteer opportunities and as such we organized this post as a Q&A.

What do I need to prepare in advance before choosing a Host?
First things first, where are you going?  Are you going on a trip overseas or hoping to experience something new but a little closer to home?  Deciding where you would like to do your volunteering is an important factor when deciding to which organization you would like to subscribe.  Give yourself a timeline: how long do you want to be away, are you going to try and volunteer with multiple hosts, will you be volunteering in more than one country?

Once you have the foundations of your trip planned out, decide on what kind of work you would like to do.  For example, would you like to spend your time learning about sustainable farming/gardening, learning how to remodel different parts of houses (in Europe this often means buildings that are centuries old), working with horses or other animals or perhaps learning about wine making.  The possibilities go on, look on this experience not just as a sustainable or culturally stimulating way to travel but also as a means to gain valuable firsthand experience in the field of your choosing.

mixing cement for helpx work by Danalynn C
Chris, mixing mortar for a day of working on a wall in a centuries-old house

How do you find a good host?
Once you have decided on an organization and a location it is time to start your search for a host.  More often than not, the organization you have decided upon will provide a list of potential hosts for the region you intend to travel.  While looking at the profiles of perspective hosts there are several key features to take note of:

Each host is allowed to write a description of themselves, their home and the work that they would like help with.  A lot can be learned by these descriptions.  First of all, someone who puts a lot of time and detail into their description is serious about what they are offering and willing to put in energy to making their place a good experience for volunteers.  Specific mentions of a host’s interest in cultural exchanges are always a good sign, as it shows that they are not just searching for free labour but also hoping to share their culture and interact with you.

Reviews left by former volunteers can also be an invaluable resource and are fairly self explanatory.  Also take note that it is sometimes possible to contact former volunteers directly via links attached to their comments.  While it is often nice and reassuring, especially for your first experience, to apply only to opportunities with many positive reviews, I have found that some of our best experiences have been had with new hosts and no reviews but great detailed profiles.  These hosts, being new to the game, often go out of their way to make sure that your experience is something special and that you are getting what you hoped from your time as a volunteer.

A picture is worth a thousand words.  A lot can be gained from pictures, much like how the host chooses to organize and detail their profile.  Did the hosts take the time to put up nice pictures of themselves or possibly the work you might be doing?  If poorly taken photos are displayed, often it means the hosts do not care enough to put in the effort of attracting good volunteers.  And also, it goes without saying, if there are pictures of volunteers working with the glazed-over look of indentured servitude and misery in their eyes, save that profile to be recommended to your friends or siblings who need more discipline in their lives.

Picking Grapes France Helpx by Danalynn C
Picking grapes to make grape jam at a Helpx in France

Do you have to have certain skills to volunteer?
Nope, most volunteers I have run into have had no specialties before traveling.  Most jobs are simple and straightforward, sometimes needing a bit of explanation from your host but easy to get the hang of.  If you do happen to have usable skills you can definitely offer them up.  For example, I have spent some jobs sheet-rocking, painting or cementing simply because I have experience, while Danalynn who has less experience in those fields has done more gardening, caring for animals and she has even been contracted from every host so far to paint them pictures.

How far in advance should you contact a potential host?
There is no required amount of time for these things.  Obviously if you apply to opportunities several weeks in advance you will have much better luck at finding a positive response, simply because it allows both you and you host to plan ahead (we almost always try to send out requests at least 3 weeks in advance when possible, but have also sent out requests as much as two months in advance).  On the other side of the spectrum, if you are in a pinch there is no harm in sending last minute requests; although, be warned, most of these are likely to end up with negative responses.  In Germany we managed to find a volunteer location with only two days notice, after applying to eight possible locations.

small german helpx town by Danalynn C
The small town in Germany where our Helpx was located

How many requests should I send out at one time?
This will depend somewhat on how much time you are giving yourself before you want to actually start volunteering.  If, for instance, you are sending out requests several weeks in advance then it is only necessary to send out one to three requests and wait for their responses.  It is fairly common for hosts to agree for you to come, so don’t send out too many requests!  If you have multiple positive responses, pick the one that most suits you, if all responses are negative then you still have plenty of time to send out more.  On the other side of the spectrum, if you are trying for a last minute request, it pays to send out as many as possible (8-10). 

What should I bring with me?
Unless you hear otherwise from your host, no out of the ordinary items are necessary.  I would definitely recommend a decent pair of work clothes that you don’t care about dirtying and a good pair of work boots never goes awry, but is by no means mandatory. 

What information should you include in your first email to a prospective host?
When you first email a host, it doesn’t have to be a long multi-drafted letter.  Just make sure you include a few key details.  Following a polite introduction of yourself let them know what you are searching for (i.e. an opportunity to work with horses, learn about green agriculture, refurbishing a 19 century home, etc…), how long you are hoping to stay for, and if you have any skills you think might be useful.

Upon receiving a positive response you can ask any other, more specific, questions you might have.  For example, if you need a place with WI-FI this would be a great time to find out or if the host has not included a description of the hours or work you will be doing you now have the opportunity to find out.

hiking in germany by Danalynn C
Hiking through the mountains on a day off from our Helpx in Germany
What is a good length for a volunteer opportunity?
Volunteer opportunities vary in length, often depending on the type of work you will be doing.  Usually a host will want someone that can work for at least two weeks.  Other hosts, especially those who need to put in time to train volunteers, may be looking for people that are willing to work for a couple months.  Whatever length of time you choose to stay, just make sure you inform your host before arriving.

Personally, we have found that three weeks is a good amount of time to get a good experience, really get to know your hosts and have enough time to see surrounding areas.

What is the normal amount of time spent working?
Hours will always vary.  Some hosts will have a set amount of hours they would like you to work, but leave you to decide if you want to do it all in a couple days or spread the hours out over the week.  Other hosts will have varying tasks day by day, some days you may work six hours and others only two.  On average, we plan for roughly 23-28 hours of work per week in addition to helping with preparing meals and cleaning.  However, this time allotment is just a rough guide and will always vary from host to host.  For example, if we have particularly awesome hosts who are obviously putting in extra energy and time to make sure we are getting a great experience I often have little qualms with putting in a few extra hours per week.  Remember that it is an exchange and the amount of work done should reflect the quality of the room and board being provided. 

Leave it up to your own judgment, but remember it is an agreement between both parties.  The host and the volunteer should be happy; it is not simply up to the host to decide everything.

french cornfields by Danalynn C
On a long walk through cornfields in France on an afternoon off from our Helpx work

What do if I do if the volunteer opportunity is not what I expected?
Most of the time these opportunities are everything you hoped for and more, but on rare occasions, much like any other job or activity, you might find yourself at a location and it is not what you were hoping for, or even downright un-enjoyable.  First of all, I believe that you as a volunteer have made a commitment to help out for a certain period of time and it is necessary to give it your best effort.  As part of that effort, if you are feeling cheated, overworked, underfed or any other issue has arisen it is your responsibility to bring it up with your host and inform them that you are not happy with the current arrangements.  More often than not they will be willing to work with you and if they are unwilling to budge, it might be time to end your volunteer experience early.

This brings us to our next point; it is always a good idea to have some sort of backup plan.  If for any reason you decide to depart early you should have a place you can go and the means to get there, whether it be a hotel, friends’, a couchsurfer or even another volunteer opportunity. 

It is important that both you and your host are happy with the exchange agreement.  Even though you are choosing to volunteer, your host should understand that you are not simply free labour and that you do not owe them unlimited working hours.  You should only be required to work as much as is necessary to compensate your host for the room and board that they are providing, but you should also have ample personal time.  You are also (if agreed upon by the organization or prior emails) usually entitle to three full meals a day that should be sufficient enough to sustain you while you work.  Make it clear to your host that you are happy to work the agreed upon hours, but you also expect to have time to explore the local region, read, write or do whatever it is you like to do, you are traveling after all.  Similarly, make sure that you put forth your best effort while working!

Lastly, remember that you are in another country and customs will be different.  Not all cultures take their meals at the same times and it is important to try and adapt to these differences rather than take it to mean your host is trying to short change you.  For example, in France, breakfast is not an important meal and often many French eat very little in the morning.  If this is the case, make sure you are getting something to eat (especially if you are doing lots of physical labour) but don’t expect your host to change their habits to make/provide a big meal every morning.

How much money should I bring?
Obviously since room and board are almost always covered, your experience will be much cheaper than if you were traveling via hotel and kebab stands.  However, it is always good to have spare money.  Remember you will be expected to make your own way to your host (hosts will usually be happy to pick you up at a local train station or town).  It is also nice to have money for the time that you plan to spend exploring the region during your off time; to pay for busses, lunches away from your host, etc…  And finally it is important to have a store of money for your plan B, if you are inclined to leave your host earlier than expected you must have the means to do so.

french iron smith by Danalynn C
One of our French Helpx hosts took us to a museum day, where we even watched demonstrations of a smith making cutlery

Do you have any additional advice?
As always, common courtesies can go a long way to insure that both you and your host enjoy the exchange.  It is always nice to ask if help is needed in preparing meals and cleaning up afterward.  Remember you are a guest in their home and it is important that you act as such (however, while this assistance is often given in addition to your usual hours it should not be taken advantage of.  You should not be spending an overwhelming amount of additional time on chores during what should be your personal time).

Most important of all: time will fly, don’t let it slip away, plan in advance weekend trips by bike, bus or foot to see the surrounding towns.  Make plans before you even set off on your trip and do some research into the local area.  Find out what the region specializes in, what makes it unique.  Are there small towns worth visiting, local festivals or markets that might be going on?  We are particularly fond of just setting off on walks for an hour or two with our camera and a book.  Whatever you decide to do
make sure that you make your trip well worth it.  Remember, you can do manual labour without even leaving home, but you may only get to travel to your destination once.

In conclusion, we would definitely recommend these volunteer experiences to anyone looking to get a first hand glance into living in another culture from your own.  It is an easy way to glimpse into other lifestyles and jobs while simultaneously visiting new places.  Our hosts have often been the first to suggest we take breaks and have been highly energetic, taking us to local events and explaining traditions.  All of our experiences have been overwhelmingly positive; this is perhaps one of the best ways to travel, second only to couchsurfing.  

brown cow france by Danalynn C 
Many of our Helpx locations have been in farmlands

Please send us comments or emails if you have anything else to add or questions we didn't address!
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Kinder Candy Sketch

Thursday, September 29, 2011  at 6:58 AM
sketch of kinder candy by Danalynn C
My favorite kind of Kinder brand candy--with puffed rice!

Nomadic Vignette is a blog about a traveling girl nomad and her travel sketchbook as she and her husband explore the world.
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Exploring an Abandoned French Village

Wednesday, September 28, 2011  at 6:58 AM
The town that we are volunteering in used to be a bustling agricultural center, but is currently a small, forgotten little village.  Over half of the houses stand abandoned and many of the people living here have problems finding work.  There used to be quite a few shops and now everyone must go to a nearby town to buy even the most basic groceries.  As sad as this might seem, it has created a very interesting time-capsule town to explore!  Here are some of the interesting details from this town.

French Barn Heart Cutout by Danalynn C 
Cut-out heart detail on a barn door

French Lace Curtains by Danalynn C
Most of the abandoned houses still have lovely lace curtains

french pear trees by Danalynn C
An overladen pear tree behind an old house

French Old Peeling Paint Wall by Danalynn C
Faded peeling paint on one of the barn doors

French Old Water Pump by Danalynn C
An old water pump, long out of use

 French Old Door Handle by Danalynn C
An old door handle with the key in the lock

french old mairie town hall by Danalynn C
The town hall, boarded up and long out of use

french lace curtains by Danalynn C
The occupied houses have a distinct rustic charm

France Chien Mechant by Danalynn C
The "mean dog" that this sign warns against is long gone

French Rusty Window by Danalynn C
A rusty window shade

French Red Rose by Danalynn C
Abandoned roses have flourished
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Nomadic Packing List in Review

Tuesday, September 27, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Danalynn Pyrenees By Danalynn C
Hiking across the Pyrenees with everything in the pack on my back

I have been traveling for three months now and my gear has switched around a bit.  Here is my original packing list; let's review how it has been holding up after several months of travel.

Items No Longer in My Pack
-Nalgene water bottle: This was lost in my first flight and I never bothered to replace it, as Chris had a Camelback as well as an extra water bottle.
-Most of my makeup: I barely used my makeup at all and finally tossed most of it before Chris and I started hiking the Camino de Santiago.  I kept my eyeliner and blush (both very small and light) and rarely use even those
-One of my short sleeve shirts: This was lost while we were hiking the Camino de Santiago and I was able to replace it with a shirt given to me at our Helpx in Germany
-One pair of socks: These were also lost in Spain (leaving early in the morning led to a variety of items left on a laundry line), and were replaced with a cheap pair bought in Germany

Items Added to My Pack
-Additional art supplies: I have been much more artistically productive than I expected and decided to stock up on some of my art supplies

Items Rarely Used
-Earplugs: I usually sleep soundly and have never used any earplugs
-Eye mask: I used this once when taking a nap on the Camino de Santiago.  Most of the nomadic packing lists recommend earplugs and eye masks for sleeping in hostels, but Chris and I have mainly been camping or volunteering via Helpx, both of which have relatively peaceful sleeping environments

Unexpectedly Useful Items
-Dress: I love having a dress to toss on for slow days, to make me feel less like a perpetual traveler and more like a real person (especially when just touring a city), and to wear when it's very hot out.  The dress I brought also layer really well!
-Slip-on Sandals: I have used these in showers, plus it's nice to have a pair of shoes I can just shove my feet into without worrying about laces or anything

Do you have any unexpected must-have items for your packing lists?

Nomadic Vignette is a blog about a traveling girl nomad and her travel sketchbook as she and her husband explore the world.
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Settling In to a New French Helpx

Monday, September 26, 2011  at 6:58 AM
As Chris and I start to settle in to our third Help Exchange in as many months, we have been reflecting on the wide variety of experiences we've received through these volunteer opportunities.  In the past three months, we've worked at two different farms in France and a hotel in Germany.  We've had the chance to watch baby chickens hatch, go hiking in the Black Forest and peruse a wide variety of antiques at Vide Greniers (French antique markets) and Troddlemarkts (German antique markets).   We've learned how to care for chickens, the proper way to thoroughly clean a room, and many, many new recipes.

French Cows Countryside by Danalynn C
Cow pastures surround the tiny French village where we are currently volunteering

We've also had the chance to see three different approaches to Helpx, each of them unique and offering different experiences.  Sometimes we've had a set daily routine, at others our days and weeks were completely unique.  At some we were given plenty of time to work on our personal pursuits, at others we have been integrated in the family life.

There's always a period of getting used to a new routine but it's worth it to see how so many different people live on a day-to-day basis.  Before traveling, the only daily routines that I could see were those of family or close friends.  More often than not, these people lived in similar ways to Chris and I.  Through Helpx, I've gained a window into a variety of lives completely different than what I am used to.  It's been enlightening, gaining these snippets into different ways of living.

Old French Door Pears by Danalynn C
An abandoned house with a pear tree growing over the front door

Chris and I are currently volunteering at a small farm in the north of France.  The village that we are in is truly a tiny, deserted town in the French countryside.  We have been having fun going for walks in the woods, watching the cows and wandering through the empty town taking photos!

white cow france by Danalynn C
The cows all watch us as we walk past--the area is so quiet, we're probably the most exciting thing they've seen all day!

Nomadic Vignette is a blog about a traveling girl nomad and her travel sketchbook as she and her husband explore the world.
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A Rough Guide to Hitchhiking Part 3

Friday, September 23, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Written by Chris Coulon.

Here is the final installment of our tips for hitchhiking on the open road.  This last article combines two of my most interesting hobbies, the thrill of international travel and the frugality of hitching.  For those of you that missed the last article it can be found at Part 2 and to anyone looking to start the whole thing from scratch here is Part 1.

Outside the European 
We managed to find European Parliament during Strasbourg Round 2 on our way back into France

Hitching in the USA vs. International:

In the United States, we long distance hitchers are blessed.  The US has one of the most extensive road infrastructures in the world.  There is literally a grid of major highways that spans all over the country and through every state.  Even Hawaii has Interstate highways.  This expansive network of vehicular arteries is also complimented by the fact that we as a people share the strong propensity to reach almost every destination via automobile—much to the chagrin of nearly anyone who is in any way environmentally conscious.  In addition to a great set of roads, many highways in the US also have not only free but decent rest stops for anyone to use.  Additionally, in the great state of Washington most of these stops serve free coffee and cookies (although donations are highly encouraged). 

Hitchhiking in Foreign countries is much the same as it is in the United States, with a few slight differences.  The most important of which is, unlike the US, most countries (and this includes all of Europe) do not have straight running highways, but rather their purpose is simply to connect major cities.  As a result of this, it is very advisable to have some sort of map with you and a route planned out.  You should always watch for road-signs and know where you are in case there is a need to jump out at a specific intersection. 

In addition to labyrinthine road systems, many European highways are more commercialized than American counterparts.  This can be observed at their rest stops, which often have fully serviced restaurants and stores.  At these places you might be hassled if you are discovered to be approaching their customers and asking for rides.  It is at these locations that signs can be most useful.  Simply stand by the parking area or by the doors of the building with a sign so that you are clearly seen as someone looking for a ride. 

Do not forget that many countries around the world do not speak the same language as you.  It always pays to have a phrase book with a few basic directional phrases memorized.  However, don’t let this hold you back, often just repeating the name of the destination can be enough to get a good idea of their direction.

Finally make sure that you are following commonly practiced customs in whatever country you are in.  For example, while the thumb out it a fairly internationally recognized symbol for hitchhikers it is not exclusive.  Some countries may have different methods for showing your intent on the side of a road. 

Legalities of Hitchhiking:

Hitchhiking is legal in nearly all countries but certain regulations for it may apply; most common of which are restrictions for pedestrians on major motorways.  This can be circumvented by hitching at on-ramps and/or rest stops.  For country-specific detailed information I usually check-out HitchWiki.   This website provides information, including legalities, customs and statistics, on most countries around the world.  The website even provides great hitching locations and tips for specific cities. 

Arriving in Gavarnie
Danalynn arriving in the small mountain town of Gavarnie after a successful hitch, Pyrenees

We hope that this guide has been helpful, or at least entertaining, and the next time you happen to see travelers on the side of the road think to offer them a ride, at the least you will be guaranteed a more interesting drive. 

To anyone else who may have additional advice, tips, links or questions please shoot us a comment.
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Strasbourg Buildings Sketched

Thursday, September 22, 2011  at 6:58 AM
strasbourg france european city sketch by Danalynn C

When I'm sketching, I completely lose track of time.  I only realized that several hours had passed when my legs turned to pins and needles and my stomach started rumbling...

Nomadic Vignette is a blog about a traveling girl nomad and her travel sketchbook as she and her husband explore the world.
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Revisiting Strasbourg

Wednesday, September 21, 2011  at 6:58 AM
When Chris and I had the chance to spend a few days in Strasbourg while Couchsurfing with a friend, we took it.  We had already been backpacking in Strasbourg a few weeks prior, so for this trip we concerned ourselves less with running around and seeing all of the sights.  Instead, we found ourselves relaxing in several different parks, catching up on some reading and soaking up some welcome summer sun.

Grand total of things done on our first day in Strasbourg:

1. Walked downtown, stocked up on some art supplies and ogled new camping gear at the outdoors store

2. Enjoyed a farmers market in front of the cathedral

Market Strasbourg by Danalynn 

3. Reminded ourselves why the Strasbourg church is so awesome

Side of Strasbourg Church by Danalynn C

4. Relaxed in a park (I sat in front of this statue for about two hours)

Alsace Statue Strasbourg by Danalynn C

5. Got really excited about seeing actual Alsace storks

Strasbourg Stork by Danalynn C

Grand total of things done on our second day in Strasbourg:

 1. Walked to the European Council building, admired the flags

Strasbourg European Council by Danalynn C

2. Sat in a small park downtown and enjoyed the music of this street musician (I sketched while Chris read)

Strasbourg Street Musician by Danalynn C

3. Decided that we needed a change of view, so we went to a different park where we sat for several more hours
Strasbourg Park by Danalynn C

4. Enjoyed a lovely evening with our friend before our early-morning departure the next day!
Strasbourg Sunset Roofs by Danalynn C

Nomadic Vignette is a blog about a traveling girl nomad and her travel sketchbook as she and her husband explore the world.
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Destination: Coolangatta

Tuesday, September 20, 2011  at 6:58 AM
For this Destination:Home article, we are turning to Earl of Dare Me to Travel as he tells us about his home of Coolangatta, Australia!

Coolangatta Australia Beach

Where is home for you? 
 My last and favourite home for me is Coolangatta which is at the southern end of the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia.

What is this place known for? 
It's mainly known for it's beaches, awesome surf and a relaxed atmosphere, your classic beachside Aussie town.

Which popular tourist destinations should I visit?
If you like amusement parks we have Wet and Wild Water Park, Seaworld and Movieworld all within half an hours drive. Springbrook mountains are pretty darn good if you like rainforest and waterfalls and are great to just chill out. If you like clubbing then Sufers Paradise is the place to go, but if you prefer a hippy/alt type set up then Byron Bay is just down the road and will be perfect for you. If you wanna see most of our animals in the one place then you must visit Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. You can check out my post about the Sanctuary here.

What should I do for the best non-traditional tourist experience?
Head down the road 10 minutes to Tweed Coast with a picnic packed and some extra large beach towels and spend the day on the beach, eating, drinking, swimming and, more than likely having the beach to yourself...

Is there one event that I shouldn’t miss?
The Coolangatta festival is pretty cool. It's usually in our autumn so it's not too hot and has plenty of live music, rides for the kids, good food and is just a really social time.

What kitschy souvenirs should I walk away with?
If you like kitschy, we have plenty!!! Mainly of the stuffed variety, you can get Koalas, Wallabies, Kookaburras, Emu's and lots of t-shirts with slogans like "i cuddled a Koala" on them.

If you want to hear more from Earl, check out his Twitter or his Facebook page.

If you want to participate in upcoming Destination:Home articles, please send me an email!

Nomadic Vignette is a blog about a traveling girl nomad and her travel sketchbook as she and her husband explore the world.
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Exploring Frieburg on a Layover

Monday, September 19, 2011  at 6:58 AM
First of all, thank you everyone who responded to my survey!  I gained some great information and will be incorporating your opinions into the future of the blog.  If you are interested in having your opinions known, the survey is still open!
When Chris and I are traveling from one place to another, we love scheduling layovers that are long enough to go out and spend a bit of time exploring a new place.  Beyond being able to visit another location, these layovers help to break up our travel times!  As we were traveling from our Helpx in the Black Forest to Strasbourg, France, we scheduled our train rides so we could stop over in Freiburg, Germany, for several hours. 

Freiburg Sign by Danalynn C

Freiburg is an interesting town because there are small canals running throughout the city which divert water from the Dreisam River.  These canals were used for water to fight fires and feed livestock, but currently serve as a way to cool the air during the summer as well as providing the nice sound of running water throughout the city.

Freiburg Street by Danalynn C

Chris and I enjoyed the architecture in Freiburg--the buildings had traditional Bavarian architecture but many of them used bright colors and ornate touches that helped give the entire town a cheerful atmosphere!  Visiting Freiburg was a great way to end our stay in Germany.

Frieburg Red building by Danalynn C
This red building is one of the iconic buildings in Freiburg 

Freiburg Gargoyle Church by Danalynn C
The cathedral is known for its wide variety of gargoyles around the outer perimeter of the church

Freiburg by Danalynn C
Murals decorated many of the walls 

Freiburg Statue by Danalynn C
We ate our lunch next to this statue in a small park

 Frieburg Book Sale by Danalynn C
Chris explored a book sale that was going on in the main square

Frieburg Square by Danalynn C
Here I am in the main square--the cathedral is on my left, the red building is on my right!

Nomadic Vignette is a blog about a traveling girl nomad and her travel sketchbook as she and her husband explore the world.
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Storks in Strasbourg

Saturday, September 17, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Strasbourg Stork Sketch by Danalynn C

The stork is the symbol of the Alsace region of France.  Strasbourg (capitol of the Alsace region) was home to many of these large birds!  I found them mesmerizing to watch and ended up making many sketches of them...

Nomadic Vignette is a blog about a traveling girl nomad and her travel sketchbook as she and her husband explore the world.
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A Rough Guide to Hitchhiking Part 2

Friday, September 16, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Written by Chris Coulon.

As promised, here is the continuation of our tips and tricks to hitchhiking.  Continued from A Rough Guide to Hitchhiking Part 1.

Places From Which to Hitchhike:
Location, much like well placed real-estate, can be of utmost importance in your attempts to be picked up.  An ideal location will have several key features:

-          You must be clearly visible to oncoming drivers.  75-100m is ideal but this can vary depending upon the speed of passing cars.  For instance, cars moving faster will need more distance so that they have more time to think about stopping.
-          Ideally, choose a location where cars are not traveling more than 25mph, so that it is easy for them to stop.
-          Choose a location with a wide shoulder or turnoff so that cars can easily pull-off just beyond you without impeding traffic.
-          The elements can be of utmost importance in affecting your hitching experience.  It pays to find a good shaded spot on a sunny day or like-wise a covered place on a rainy one.  After all you may very well be there for quite some time.  You may you gain more sympathy from drivers if you are out in the middle of a desert, but remember… you’ll be out in the middle of a desert.  Likewise, drivers don’t tend to welcome soaked hikers into their cars from heavy rains. 
-          Make sure your driver is not just going as far as a high mountain pass or a desolate location with little traffic as you will find it most unpleasant to wait around in these locations for your next ride.

You will not always manage to find a spot with all these luxuries but it never hurts to try and fulfill as many as possible.

Ideal Hitching Location
 A good example of an ideal location for hitching.  Notice the pull-off zone behind me!

How many hitchers does it take to get a ride?
I have heard countless times that you should never hitchhike alone, most often from those who have never done it themselves.  This may well be true for many, but more importantly you should just do what makes you feel most comfortable.  I have met many lone hitchhikers who have never had any problems, on the contrary often you are more likely to be picked up as you take up much less room by yourself--and like traveling solo you will have no choice but to immerse yourself in the company of your host/driver.  However, I will admit that there is a certain fondness that I have with sharing the long periods you might spend on the side of a road, with another hitcher.  Someone you can not only commiserate with on slow days in the heat, but also a person you will be able to reminisce with after the trip has finished.  I believe, while by yourself is the easiest to get picked up, two people is the optimal number for enjoyment.  Three people is beginning to be too many and you are unlikely to find lots of people with that much free space in their car.

Hints and Advice of the Trade:
Now that we have established the traditional means of hitching, it comes to me to mention another, more efficient, method of getting where you need to go while still satiating your vagabonding desires.  This method is best implemented at roadside stops frequented by long distance drivers.  Locations such as rest-stops or gas stations, the more remote the location the more likely the drivers that stop are going a long distance.  Once at these locations simply approach drivers and strike up a conversation, the theme of which should be their direction and destination. 

An average conversation may consist of “Are you by any chance heading North?”  If they reply “yes” then follow-up with an introduction of yourself and where you are going.  “My name is Chris, I am trying to get to Seattle.  Any chance you can help?”

This is a great way to get a ride and also allows you the opportunity to have significant influence over the type of rides that you will be receiving.  Often it helps to converse with the driver for a little bit, tell them who you are, what kind of trip you are taking, how long you have already been traveling and/or what you are hoping to do once you get to your destination.  This gives you the opportunity to build up a rapport before popping the question for a ride.  Much like any other kind of sale, you will be advertising yourself as a friendly person and potentially a great conversation to augment their trip.

Yet another bit of invaluable advice that I can impart upon you is to use license plates as a guide.  For example, if you are in California and heading north, look for Oregon, Washington or even Canadian plates (all of which are almost guaranteed to be heading in your direction and covering a good distance).  This also works very well in Europe, where each country has their own license plates and most of those plates will even signify the exact region in each country that the car belongs to by the numbers on the plate. 

Hitching at Rest-stop
 Danalynn at a rest stop in France waiting to chat with drivers.

Appearances can also be of vital importance.  Imagine what you would think if you were the driver.  If you are dressed very dirty and haggard, your chances of being picked up by, say a soccer mom and her children, is fairly limited.  First impressions are important in every other facet of life, why would hitchhiking be any different?  In my experience, if you present yourself as a traveler, i.e. backpack, not too dirty, traveling apparel, your chances of attracting a ride will be very good.

Using Signs:  I have found that writing my destination, or even just the direction, on a sign for passing drivers to see does little for assisting to get a ride.  However, in many instances it cannot hurt to have one and even in some specific situations it can be helpful.  If you are close to your destination (within 25 miles) it may help to use a sign informing drivers that would otherwise not pick you up because they themselves are not traveling more than several miles.  But if you find that you are getting nowhere with a sign, as I often do, just put it away and try for a bit without.  

Departing France Hitchhiking
Danalynn making use of our sign (we ended up ditching it after 20 minutes and decided to just "thumb it")

Next Friday will the the third and final installment of our guide to hitchhiking and will cover fun topics like hitchhiking internationally and some legal considerations!
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Travel Sketch of a French Park

  at 5:24 AM
park france european sketch by Danalynn C

This was a lovely park in France!  The trees are all balancing on the border between summer and the quick descent into fall colors.

Nomadic Vignette is a blog about a traveling girl nomad and her travel sketchbook as she and her husband explore the world.
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Featured Artist: Jessica Durant

Thursday, September 15, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Jessica Durant is an artist well known for her fashion illustrations, but I am in love with her travel paintings.  She captures the skyline and feel of a city in her watercolor city silhouettes and the rich colors that she uses saturate the page.  I had fun finding out more about her history with art in our interview!

One Night in Rome by Jessica Durant

What is the first piece of artwork you remember making as a child?

For as long as I can remember I have been drawing people. Since I was about three, that’s when I started drawing. That was and is the subject I will always be constantly working on. 

Do you most enjoy sketching from your imagination, from a reference photo, or from life? Which one do you do the most?

 I love using a bunch of reference photos and combining them with my imagination. I try to put my own twist on things, especially when I’m using a photograph.

A Day of Rain in Paris by Jessica Durant 

I know several young aspiring artists. Do you have any advice for a beginning artist? 

Practice makes perfect. So cliché but oh so true.  Always try to be on the lookout for new techniques, mediums and just have fun with it all. Be true to what you want to create. If you love what you’re creating, chances are someone else out there will love it too. 

Do you have a favorite color to paint with?

Cobalt blue.

Do you travel at all? If you do, is there a particular subject that you tend to paint while traveling?

I do! I love to travel. My husband works for Delta, so that means we get to travel for free. I usually take lots of photos during the trip, and when I come home I start thinking about how I can interpret a place I’ve visited into a piece of artwork. It doesn’t always come right away. You can’t rush creativity. It’s either there or not. I always love to illustrate the architecture, that’s what I love most about urban destinations.

London Baby by Jessica Durant

Have you been to all of the locations that you have drawn, or are some of them places that you would like to visit? 

I’ve been to Barcelona, Rome, Venice, Madrid, London and Mexico City. I haven’t been to Paris yet, although I’ve painted it a lot. When I’m painting these places it’s almost as if I’m there. So it can either be reliving an experience of a place I’ve been to. Or it’s about anticipating of going to one of the destinations I’m painting.

What is one place that you would love to paint at, but haven't had the chance yet to do so?

Amsterdam. I need to go there as well. 

Thank you Jessica, for the lovely interview!  You can check out her Etsy shop, Jessica Illustration, for more of her beautiful pieces of art.

Nomadic Vignette is a blog about a traveling girl nomad and her travel sketchbook as she and her husband explore the world.
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