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The Help Exchange benefits travelers and hosts

Everyone has dreams, and for those who think being able to travel the world would be the ultimate experience, there is a way to live the dream and do it inexpensively.

The economic downturn has kept a lot of folks at home when they would rather be exploring other cultures, but if you are willing to commit to a few hours work per day, all you have to do is get to your desired destination and let someone else take care of the other necessities.

What sounds too good to be a reality actually is true at Helpx.net, a website formed in 2001 by an English gentleman who wanted to travel and see how other people were living. After an accident left developer Rob Prince with limited mobility, he channeled his energy into making Helpx.net a well-integrated website, which matches those wanting to travel and donate working hours to the hosts who need their help.

Pahrump, being one of the gateways to Death Valley and located in such close proximity to Las Vegas, can offer workers a reason to come here. And they do.

There is only one active host located in Pahrump. Donna and Rodger Cooper have opened their farm and home for the first time this year and so far, Donna is in awe of how well the program is working for her. “It is just unbelievable. The people who come here are so nice and so willing to help out.”

Cooper said her first experience was in January with one young man from Ireland who stayed with her for a couple of weeks. “I didn’t really know what to do. I didn’t have a work schedule set for Cameron. I just told him to look around and see what needed doing.”

She said he stayed busy fixing little things, repairing fences and working in her yard.

Right now, Cooper has a couple and their son from Canada who plan to stay with her through February. “Gabriel (Poulin) and Jessica (Sophie Lessard) are just fantastic. They feed the livestock every day, clean pens, trim the trees — Gabriel even fixed my roof, repaired the back stairs and handrail and repaired the door. Charlie (son) helps, too.” She said Gabriel’s next project is finishing the sheetrock in her kitchen.

The couple has also weeded her garden, prepared her raised beds for planting and repaired her garden gate.

Although in her guidelines, Cooper’s requirements state the work exchange is for three hours a day, Gabriel is always working. Cooper said, “I keep telling him, ‘you don’t have to do that,’ but he just smiles and keeps on working. I finally gave up.” She said workers can compile hours and take time off from the work exchange to sightsee while they are in the area.

Jessica found Cooper making bread in the kitchen one day and was invited to learn the art from Cooper, who has been doing it for 50 years. Cooper said her effort was successful. “Her bread looked better than mine.”

Not everyone seeking work exchanges asks for so few hours. A lot of hosts are asking for between 24 and 35 hours per week in exchange for room and board.

Gabriel said this is his first help exchange experience. The couple is traveling in a bus conversion. Gabriel said, “We sold our house in Canada and everything we own. We wanted to get out into the world and see what other people are doing. We wanted to live off the grid.”

“Doing this is not about liberty, it’s about freedom and choice. We choose to do this. Life is a choice and it’s our responsibility to see that our children learn about the choices they can make.”

Cooper said since the couple is traveling in their own accommodations, she is providing them with electricity, water and two meals per day for their help. She said the cost to her per person, per day is nominal. It depends on how they live,” she said. “I have another worker here as well who is staying in my home. Irene (Migeot) works inside and does cleaning of things like my floor-to-ceiling bookcases, regular dusting and sweeping and she’s organizing my pantry.”

Irene is from Pennsylvania and said this is her fourth work exchange experience. “I’ve never had a bad experience,” she said. “The key is to do your research. The website allows you to read references and decide if you want to contact the host. It takes communication with them to decide if you will be compatible with what the host is doing. Donna and I emailed each other several times.”

Cooper said, “I’d say on average, with hot water, the water pump from the well, added electricity and food, it’s costing me about $3 per day, per person to do this. It’s not much considering what I’m getting in return.” When figuring the expenses, she isn’t taking her fully-stocked pantry and two freezers into account.

The way HelpX works is through membership and/or registration. You can either join as a worker, which does have an access to contact information fee attached to it, or you can join as a host and access is free with a paid upgrade offered. It’s only $30 for two years.

Cooper said you don’t need to worry about security. “There is space for hosts to comment on the workers and for the workers to rate their host. Once those comments are made, they cannot be removed. What you say about someone travels with them and it can keep a host from getting help and keep a traveler from finding a place to stay. People are nice and they are honest and you can check references either way before you commit.

“I’m also a member of couchsurfing.org and warmshowers.org, which both work on the same principal. I traveled for four months with a place to stay every single night last year and the strangest experience I had was with a host who had been called out of town.

“I arrived at her home to find no one there. About that time my cell phone battery died and I had to go find a public phone to call her cell. She had left the garage door opener under a furniture cushion and told me to go in, where my room was and to ‘help yourself to whatever you need. I’ll be gone for a few days but we’ll chat if you’re still there when I get home.’”

“That’s trust.”

Cooper plans to stay home this year and get as much from her small farm as possible. She is booked with Helpx workers through November. Her next arrival is a woman from China who plans to stay the entire month of May. “She’s never traveled outside of China before, so this will be her first international experience.”

Cooper has live-in student Jenny Lueng, who is from China, under her roof, so the transition for the new worker should be smooth.

“We’re so excited about her coming. We can’t wait,” Cooper said.

Anyone who finds themselves overwhelmed with the responsibility of running a farm, hostel, other work environment such as those who accept paying guests or just want someone to work around your home, this might be for you. The site even offers opportunities for resort help and other categories, including working on private boats and large yachts.

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