I have something a little different on the blog today, and I hope you will find it as inspiring as I do. I recently had a chat with Shay Gleeson, an Irishman who has taken his lifetime dream of travelling the world and turned it into a business that he hopes will inspire others.
Following in the footsteps of other voluntourism initiatives such as WWOOF, Shay created Help Stay– an organization connecting travelers with hosts around the world. In exchange for volunteering at places such as farms, surf lodges, and hostels, travelers receive room and board, as well as a once in a lifetime experience to live like a local abroad. Shay and I met on Skype to discuss what his organization does, how it differs from what is already out there, and where he sees his dream five years down the road.
Shay, can you tell me a little bit more about yourself, and how you began this journey?
My name is Shay Gleason. I am Irish, have lived in Ireland since I was born. Up until quite recently I was working with various multinational companies here in Dublin. During that period I was thinking of an idea, and how I could get it working. After working in IT for the last 15 years, I began thinking- this is grand but wouldn’t it be nice to just quit and leave it and travel around the world? It got me thinking that a lot of people have that dream, and would like to do that, but it probably isn’t possible for most people. They dont have trust funds or an inheritance and havent won the lottery. It got me thinking, you need a certain amount of funds, but you dont need that much. I thought we all have certain skills and resources, so why couldn’t we exchange them for things like accomodation and food. That is what I started off with and last week I finally launched my site. I am concentrating in Ireland first, then hopefully moving on to another region such as the UK or Canada and then just working my way around the world and keep adding hosts.
Do you plan on going to the different countries?
This is what makes Help Stay different than what is there at the moment. You are probably aware of wwoofing and Workaway and Staydu- I looked at their services and what they are offering and one the things they don’t offer, which we do, is the whole element of trust. It is a big thing to ask somebody to book a ticket to the other side of the world and stay with people they don’t know in a place they don’t know anything about. You need a certain amount of balls to do that, you are taking a big risk. What I am trying to do is go out and meet the folks, interview them, confirm that they are good standing honest people, and that their hearts are in the right place. They want to make an enjoyable stay for the person coming to work with them. I plan on verifying them- which is how we differ from the other organizations out there. I want to build trust.
Jess, if you want to go to a place in France or Ireland down the line, you want to be sure that everything is just as it says on the website. I can pretty much guarantee that. I will have met them, done a background check, and made sure they were trustworthy in person.
That is quite the task to take on, how are you going to keep the personal touch as you grow?
I am taking one step at a time. I can use technology to look into people, and eventually employ more people to go out and meet potential hosts.
Voluntourism isn’t a new concept, a lot of people are already using it right?
I wonder why isn’t everyone using it? It is the cheapest way in the world to travel. You go and stay with somebody for free and in exchange you just give your help. You don’t pay any cash. You know, one big deciding factor in what makes us travel is cost. We check the airline cost, the train cost, the accommodation cost. What I am doing is taking out a big chunk of that cost and then you only have to look at your airfare because with this your food and accommodation is free.
You are probably already familiar with Ryan Air and Easy Jet that do these special offers. In theory you could fly from somewhere in Spain to Ireland for 10 euros and once you get here you only have to make your way to the host. Have a four week holiday for the cost of 70 euros.
Then there is the other aspect, we want to do skill share. Wouldn’t it be great if you could actually go and spend time with a person and share your skills, and learn new skills from that person? Further your career back home or wherever you want to go in life. I plan on looking at the crafting industries in Ireland and further afield and see if they are willing to offer accommodation to people interested in that particular craft and come learn the skills and go back to their home country and do something with them.
So, more or less a pseudo internship?
Yes, but even further. There are a lot of indigenous skills in Ireland for instance like weaving that are dying out because younger generations aren’t taking over. You go to the more remote regions and you find a man in his 80’s who does this special type of weaving, but once he dies there is nobody else who knows the skill. They havent been taken over by the new generations. Wouldn’t it be great if someone in Poland or the United States has an interest in the skills, comes over and learns, and then goes back to their country and does something with it?
How do you think Help Stay would benefit travelers besides budget and the opportunity to learn skills?
If you look at what it is to travel- it is about sharing, learning and growing. If used properly, you would hit those three things. You would learn new skills, share your existing skills, and grow through that process. The other thing is you are staying with locals, you are living with a local host. You are seeing their community, their environment, you are meeting people on the ground. It is a very real experience that you are going to get. This isn’t a five star hotel where your only contact with the community is the reception desk You become a part of the community. Most of the stays are between 1 and 2 months so you spend a lot of time in the community, making friends. People who have used these services say they have made life long friends. Hosts say that people who stayed with them two years ago still come back to visit. It is pure travel, what you should expect from travel.
Where do travelers stay?
If you take a look at the hosts on the site, you can read through the profiles and get an idea about where you will stay. There is one that is a surf lodge and you stay at the lodge itself. They have caravans which you stay in. If it is a hostel, you may stay in a room at the hostel. You can see exactly what you will get before you go. We are working on getting 10-12 actual photographs of each property so you have a very accurate mental picture of what you can expect.
I have a daughter, so this kind of travel gets a little tricky for me.
Well, funny that you say that because we have hosts that will accept families. If you go into the profile, it will tell you whether or not they will accept children. A lot of families do wwoofing, and I would like to replicate that. Hosts with structures that can support families. Kids are so adaptable, they can manage anything. I would say that they would love this, if they had the proper experience.
Where do you see Help Stay five years from now?
I would like to have a few hosts in every country at that stage. I would like somebody to be able to do the journey- actually travel around the world for free. I want somebody to actually navigate the world by starting from one point, staying at different help stays around the world, and sharing their experience through the process.
But that is your dream right?
Yes, that is my dream definitely. It is like that quote that says a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step… I hope to start another thousand journeys this way.