5 things I have learned during volunteering and travelling in Europe


Let me tell you one thing first: When you tell people you are going to take some time off, travel through Europe, trying to find a new place to live and do volunteering work on the way, most of them just understood “travelling”. And there were quite a few who send me a message like “enjoy your vacation”…because of the ‘vacation photos’ I’ve posted.


So here is what I was ACTUALLY doing in the last couple of months:

3-6 hours a day doing voluntary work (Painting, babysitting, cooking, baking, dish washing, cleaning, tidying up, throwing out stuff from a barn, refurbishing, gardening, checking in guests, housekeeping, administration work – in exchange for accommodation and food),

1 – 2 hours daily writing,

and a few hours per week exploring the area (= doing research for my current book project).


  1. Adaptation and flexibility


Although I’m quite good with dealing with change and new situations, last year was quite challenging for me at times because I had to do all this without cigarettes.

So I learned, again, to be flexible when it came to disturbances in my plans (a dead elk on a train track, missing my next train…) and just be cool and figure out the solution for the occurring problem. Adapting to new environment comes with that as well. While that is not so much of a problem for me, my biggest learning experience was probably when I DO NOT HAVE to adapt and integrate into a new environment all the time.

Example? Portuguese (and that also counts for Spanish and Southern French) have dinner quite later. 8:30/9:00 pm was just too late for me.


  1. Languages


Travelling through Europe can be challenging because of so many different languages. I have to admit I didn’t even try to learn more than stuff like “Hi”, “thank you”, and “goodbye”.


Let me tell you one amazing thing about Scandinavians and Dutch:

They have really great English language skills! Pretty much everyone, even older people in the countryside, are able to speak English.

That makes it quite easy to communicate 😉


I was still lucky to understand a few things because some words in Danish or Norwegian are the same in German and I was also surprised to understand my Belgian host in Denmark quite well when he was talking Flemish with his daughter.

So after a while you get a sense of what people are talking about (of course don’t forget about body language).

Portuguese was, of course, a different story. Not even my poor French language skills would help.

Another language that was very different from the ones before: Finnish! One of my hosts in Portugal was from Finland and I learned about their typical word “Noni” :))

What it means? Watch here


  1. Impressions of countries


In Sweden I got the impression that people are

…very refugee-friendly

…quite liberal

…laid back

Fun fact: The Swedish name of “Michel von Lönneberga” (German) is actually “Emil”


Norwegians seemed to me

…very helpful



Fun fact: They say “ja” (yes) while inhaling, sounds quite funny


I didn’t get much of an impression of the Netherlands because

…I spend my time with an American girl and also a bit with a Belgian guy

…my host was not there much (not physically and when she was physically there she was, let’s say,  distracted and with her thoughts somewhere else)



…can be quite rough because of low wages and high rents (especially in and around Lisbon)

…is cheap when you are there on a vacation

…is always sunny


Switzerland seems to be

…very well organized (almost controlling, I mean even the registration department is called “citizen control”)

…even more structured and sticking to the rules than Germans (I didn’t know that this is actually possible)

…a great country for outdoor activities


In Denmark I noted that

…there are lots of dads pushing a stroller

…they doing very well with wind craft

…the wind is damn cold


  1. Combining voluntary work with own projects


You need some time away?

You need a place with no distractions?

You need some stimulation from the otherness?

You need something else than just working on your own projects?

You don’t have the budget to just travel?


Then voluntary work abroad is the best thing you can do! When you work for 3-6 hours 5 days a week, there is enough time to spend on your own.

For me it was exactly the right thing to do. During doing quite easy jobs I had enough time to think about my projects. And later that day I would write and write, sometimes explore and then write again. I was actually able to write almost 200 pages for my current book project!

Doing voluntary work in different countries means travelling slow. But it’s totally worth it because you get more insights about a country!


You dive into other cultures and traditions, you learn about different languages and cuisines,

and you meet amazing people along the way.


You share knowledge and experience, laugh together, eat together, and help each other out. You should try it if you have never done voluntary work before, it will be amazing 😉


  1. Food


In the last months, I thought it would be great to collect typical recipes from each country. The results?


In Denmark I got a Persian recipe for lamb from my Iranian host in Copenhagen and an Indian spinach-eggplant-chickpea flour dish from a New Zealander near Aarhus.

In Sweden the daughter of my Norwegian host gave me a great Latin American recipes for Guacamole, Ceviche and Salsa.


I also know now how to make typical Norwegian waffles, Swiss Älplermagrone and a Portuguese dish consisting of pork in red wine and with salty, oily rice and kidney beans.


Even if I didn’t get some typical recipes…it showed me how international each country is. We no longer just eat “our own food”. We like to mix it up, we like to try meals from other countries, we like to integrate and include a foreign cuisine into our lives – and that’s just amazing!


So go ahead and try new food and especially new spices!


Apropos spices… I also learned that it is very important to always have some turmeric, ginger and garlic. Not only for cooking but also using it as medicine for boosting your immune system in cold countries 😉



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