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Travel: Work Exchange in Sweden

When I was approaching the end of my time at the University of Florida, I began dreaming of what I would do next. Yes, a job would eventually happen, but it was nowhere near the top of my "things to do after I graduate from college" list. I had no money, no job, and soon wouldn't have a place to live. I was ecstatic!

So I began looking at work exchange websites. I was seriously considering working at a hostel in South America for a few months until my best friend convinced me to scratch those plans and hitchhike through Europe for nearly four months with her and our other friend. Both of my friends were experienced with couchsurfing, and so we did that for most of the trip. Couchsurfing was amazing because it's FREE and you get to know locals, though some locals were great and some were...not.

But for our time in Sweden, we decided to do a work exchange program through HelpX. There are lots of companies/programs who offer work exchange, and in 2012, HelpX seemed like the best fit. We chose to work at a bed and breakfast in a very small town near the border of Sweden and Norway called Charlottenberg.

The ride into Charlottenberg was truly one of the most magical experiences I've ever had in my life. We were hitching from Copenhagen and had made it most of the way to our HelpX location, but we were still a few hundred kilometers away. The sun was beginning to fall and we started thinking about where we would set up our tent in the event that nobody else was traveling our way that day. But then I saw a long line of about six vintage American cars round the corner and, to my amazement, they all pulled off the road by us. A group of young Swedish guys hopped out, offered us a ride, and placed our backpacks into the back of their 1920 Ford Model T. We got to ride in a 1947 Buick Roadmaster, complete with no seatbelts and the largest steering wheel I've ever laid eyes upon. I will always remember driving through the woods of Sweden in this vintage car, with the windows rolled down and sun streaming through the trees, Johnny Cash blaring from the speakers, and thinking to myself, "I cannot believe I'm getting to do this."

Valerie and 1947 Buick car
22-year-old me and the 1947 Buick I rode in through Sweden

We finally made it to the bed and breakfast in Charlottenberg and met the couple who owned it, Hans and Birgitta. My two travel companions and I were each given our own room and shown around this large building that was once a nursing home. We had hot showers, rows of books to read in our free time, and were offered clothes to wear when we worked. These may seem like insignifacnt details, but we had been traveling non-stop for a few months and to us, this place was a welcomed retreat.

Before beginning our "work" on the weekdays, we all met downstairs for a delicious breakfast with lots of coffee refills. Over our breakfasts each morning, we got to know Hans and Birgitta pretty well. They were very easy to talk to and we learned so much about life in Sweden. It was not uncommon for breakfast to last well over an hour. We then spent our days picking wild raspberries, foraging for chanterelle mushrooms, creating art for the garden, chopping firewood, and helping to renovate a section of the house. Hans constantly encouraged us to take breaks and were fed delicious, homemade food every day.

Picking raspberries
Picking raspberries in exchange for food and lodging

In my free time, which we had a lot of, I borrowed Birgitta's bike and rode up and down the hills nearby, singing loudly and thinking about my life a lot. I also painted, and I still have one of those paintings in my apartment today. When Hans and Birgitta had to leave for a few days to attend a wedding, they had no problem with us staying and relaxing in their home. We had originally planned to only stay in Charlottenberg for a week, but we chose to skip Stockholm and stay at the bed and breakfast for three weeks instead. A lot of my memories from my trip through Europe in 2012 are beginning to fade, but I can remember my time doing work exchange in Sweden so vividly. It was truly one of the most wonderful times of my life and I highly recommend trying a work exchange program to anyone.


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