Want a different vacation? Volunteer for a free meal and stay

While thinking about a new way to spend vacation, why not stay in another city for free by volunterring? WNOL spoke to Lyn, a 22-year-old student, about her experience, which seems to be an inspiration for people having difficulties making a decision.

In the past winter, as millions of people suffered from smog in northern China, Lyn, a student in Tsinghua University made her “vacation escape” from Beijing to Yunnan, a province lies in the southwest of the country, bordering with Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar.

In an accidental opportunity, she joined a project, which provides chances for participants to do volunteer work in order to change for free stays and meals. Describing it as “ the most meaningful journey so far”, Lyn believes this is a must for everyone, especially young people at her age.


Yunnan province, where Lyn has been to.

Why do you decide to do volunteer in return of meal and stay?

My motivation was easy: I thought the smog in my city was so bad. I did not want to wear dust masks for several months. More than that, my ideal winter has always been like this: go to roll in the snow if you get bored with the equator or fly to sunny places wearing the cotta. So I applied for the programme and luckily got the chance.

How does the project work?

Basically you need to use your strengths to work for free meals and stays. But daily work is easy, such as cleaning rooms and chatting with guests. And you only work for no more than five hours per day. During the rest of time you can take a walk around with friends.

Where have you been? 

In a month, I stayed in Lijiang city for the first three weeks and finally went to Napa Lake near Shangri-La [near Sichuan province]. Both are in Yunnan Province and it took me about three to four hours to drive from Lijiang to Shangri-La.

Is there any difference between two places?

Lijiang is a small city, a great attraction. Lots of ancient buildings. Also bars are very lively in the night. Napa Lake [about five miles from Shangri-La city] comes from Tibetan language. It means the lake behind forest. It links with Ira grassland. An amazing wonderland, although a bit lonely. The air on the plateau is cool and fresh. I have the whole the limitless blue above in daytime and full sky of stars in night.


View of Lijiang taken by Lyn.


The starry sky above Pana Lake taken by Lyn last summer.

What about the living standard during the process?

In Lijiang I shared a room with five other girls; men often have to live in a bit more crowded one. But the inn was very clean. We were very conscious of our living environment. People all tried to act quietly as possible as they can for not disturbing others. For daily meals, we had local Tibetan food. Special buttered tea as breakfast; some stir-fried dishes for lunch. Dinner is freer. We could take a walk in the town to find some nice places or just buy material in the vicinity to cook for ourselves.


The inn they stayed in Lijiang.

We lived with a local family in Shangri-La. Tibetan Mr. Ma is the owner of the Ira grassland. He is also the coordinator of the project. There were some developers wanted to buy the prairie but the man rejected them all. He thinks those plans will possibly destroy local ecology.


Mr. Ma on a Jeep taken by Lyn.

What impressed you the most?

One day while following local people to the grassland, we met the black-necked cranes. This is an internationally recognised endangered animal, known as “birds’ panda”. For thousands of years, they have been well cared by the local, however, both human and natural factors are forcing their living situation to face real challenges. Ideally, we hope the grassland can develop for public education and scientific research. But the fact is, domestic waste is causing serious consequence. We followed the track of those birds’ move and reduce water pollution as possible as we can by picking up trash near the lake.

For me, this is also a great chance to deeply know about Tibetan family because I did the protective action of migratory birds with local kids. I followed them together to create the sign and do the wall painting for the protection zone.


Horses on Ira grassland taken by Lyn.

How will you value your experience?

Before I left, I had no idea what I would go through; during the process, I asked myself why I found such interesting things so lately. I met the landlord couple with rich life experience and many like-minded friends. It also let me really fall in love with the place. Although later some friends said I seem to have a sequel: I always pay attention on finding a good angle to take a picture or spending much time clipping video…but it is easy for me to accept these great habits.

Is there any mandatory requirement to apply?

No. There is no limit on age, gender or location. They do have some preferences for applicants: somebody who likes to go on a trip and share their stories with others. Those with interests of writing or taking pictures and videos might be more competitive. But there is no reason to be nervous. I was worried for my bad shooting skill but the result proves that they just want to know about you for real.


Lyn on her way to local Tibetan community.

“New city, new friends, new skills-new world. I mean how many vocations do I still have left in my life? There is nothing cooler than this.” Lyn is now researching on her next destination in this coming summer.

How can you apply similar programmes in UK?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s