Too expensive to travel the world? Go on working holidays

Robert Labrousse with his girlfriend Nadia Parthouneau joined two online websites to see the world in a cheaper manner.
PHOTO: Robert Labrousse

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.

They signed up with two websites ( and to volunteer their services to their hosts.

"HelpX, Wwoof or Workaway are very good ways to travel. We saved a lot of money and travelling is very safe," says Labrousse via e-mail, revealing that they learnt about HelpX while they were holidaying in New Zealand.

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.

The hut where Robert and Nadia stayed while on a HelpX programme in Cambodia. Photo: Robert Labrousse

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."

Top 10 travel destinations in Asia

  • 1. Hokkaido, Japan. The island at Japan's northern extremity is famous for volcano skiing and hot springs, but most of all, its year-round beauty. Lonely Planet recently released its annual list of top destinations to visit around the world, including the top 10 destinations in Asia. Hokkaido, Japan, topped the list for its "year-round charms" and China's "Shanghai" was second to Hokkaido as "the centre of the universe". Take a look at the destinations and plan your next adventure.
  • 2. Shanghai, China. Shanghai is a conjunction of fashion, culture and beautiful architecture. Lonely Planet said: "Looking for the centre of the universe right now? It's surely Shanghai."
  • 3. Jeonju, South Korea. Jeonju, capital of North Jeolla Province, is the birthplace of Korea's most famous dish, bibimbap. Lonely Planet said that Jeonju is "one of Korea's best-preserved traditional villages with hundreds of wooden villas with gracefully upturned roofs housing an intriguing assortment of museums, teahouses and artisans' workshops."
  • 4. Con Dao Islands, Vietnam. Isolated from the mainland, the Con Dao Islands can be hard to get to. But once you are there, you will find the Con Dao Islands to be a hidden gem in Vietnam.
  • 5. Hong Kong, China. Hong Kong is a paradise for food and shopping. Lonely Planet also recognized Hong Kong for its focus on its natural heritage, specifically, the UNESCO-designated Geopark.
  • 6. Ipoh, Malaysia. Ipoh is the capital city of the Malaysian state of Perak, and a gateway to the Cameron Highlands. Lonely Planet said: "Malaysia's lesser-known food capital has new flair thanks to a crop of boutique cafes that have sprung up in its historic quarter."
  • 7. Pemuteran, Indonesia. Pemuteran is a laid-back beach destination for lovers of natural beauty. Lonely Planet said: "A double bay of beaches near Menjangan… don't wait until everybody arrives though."
  • 8. Trang Islands, Thailand. Trang Islands offer some of Thailand's best tropical weather, white beaches, great coral reefs and amazing marine life, which you could spend months exploring.
  • 9. Meghalaya, India. Meghalaya, which means 'the abode of clouds', is a beautiful state in the northeast of India. Lonely Planet said: "Opportunities for hiking, climbing, caving and rafting abound."
  • 10. Taitung, Taiwan, China. Taitung is a city that lies on the southeast coast of Taiwan and home to seven aboriginal ethnicities. Lonely Planet said: "Taitung is Taiwan's secret wild card."

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!"