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Coliving in Tenerife

I have been eager to share my summer experiences for quite some time now, but I kept getting distracted by other tasks. Finally, I have found a moment to sit down and reconnect with the joy of writing. Let's get started.

While 2023 was predicted to be the year of hope according to the Chinese horoscope, the first few months painted a dark shade due to my struggles with finances and a longing for a sense of belonging. However, things took a positive turn when I returned to Tenerife and became a volunteer in a coliving community.

For those unfamiliar, coliving is a modern form of communal living where residents have private bedrooms in a furnished home but share common areas. It has gained popularity in major cities as an affordable living option for students, workers, digital nomads, and individuals relocating.

This style of living is reminiscent of what we used to call flatsharing or housesharing, which has been my lifestyle since leaving the family nest. The distinction lies in its appeal to travelers and digital nomads, who often lead socially isolated lives due to their solitary work in front of computer screens. During the pandemic, many people shifted to remote work, leading to feelings of loneliness and human disconnection. Colivings emerged as a new form of holiday accommodation, catering to those seeking social interaction and change. This trend reflects a global desire for a healthier, more conscious, and connected lifestyle, driven not only by the pandemic's effects but also by the disconnection, which I believe is largely fostered by social media, especially among the younger generation.

► For a deeper exploration of the modern epidemic of loneliness, I suggest checking out the following YouTube videos:

Feeling lonely and disconnected myself, for multiple other reasons than being an avid user of social media, I decided to join a coliving community in the south of Tenerife to experience firsthand what the buzz was about. I wanted to meet other travellers and like-minded people a.k.a 'the wanderers' and explore my newfound passion for cooking, particularly vegan baking, as a means to connect with others through food. Tenerife, known as the heart chakra island, seemed like the perfect place for this journey. Despite challenges and setbacks in the past year, including financial struggles and emotional exhaustion from adverse experiences and encounters, I was determined to find solace and growth. Returning to Tenerife felt like a natural choice, given its unexplored allure for me. I had got to know the other islands very well during my previous travels but not so much Tenerife. My summer plans included hiking Teide, the world's third-largest oceanic volcano, and revisiting a healing retreat where I had profound experiences with Ayahuasca and Kambo alongside my soul family. The result? A fulfilling and memorable summer that rejuvenated my spirit and reignited my passion for life. I had a blast summer!

As a volunteer, I committed to working 25 hours per week without pay in exchange for complimentary accommodation (a bed in a dormitory) and some food. The terms of my agreement also included participation in the activities organized by the host and fellow colivers, such as hiking, kayaking, beach volleyball, yoga, game and movie nights, wine tasting, and more. Our team comprised four volunteers responsible for managing a house that could host up to 23 people. Our duties involved maintaining the cleanliness and orderliness of the premises, assisting with cooking and breakfast preparations, and coordinating activities for the colivers, who were primarily a delightful mix of individuals from various parts of the world.

I spent four months in the coliving community before relocating to the northern region to pursue a language teaching position and nurture a relationship. Stay tuned for more details in a future post.

Are coliving accommodations better than hostels?

This question often arises among travellers seeking communal living experiences.

Coliving spaces can be seen as a middle ground between hostels and traditional houseshare setups. They offer unique opportunities for human connections and shared experiences. However, it's worth noting that these connections in coliving communities can be short-lived due to the constant turnover of residents, similar to the transient nature of interactions in hostels.

The primary distinction between colivings and hostels lies in their duration policies. While hostels typically accommodate short-term stays, colivings welcome guests for more extended periods, sometimes months at a time. This longer stay duration allows for deeper immersion in the community and a chance to form more lasting relationships.

If you enjoy meeting new people, sharing experiences, and immersing yourself in different cultures, whether traveling solo or with a partner, coliving can offer a fulfilling experience. However, it's essential to consider that coliving accommodations may come with a higher price tag compared to hostels, given their popularity and the added amenities they often provide. Like many travel trends, the convenience and unique experiences of colivings may be worth the extra cost for those seeking a more immersive and socially connected travel experience.

The other side of volunteering: My reflections

Volunteering experiences like the one I had can be incredibly rewarding and enriching, provided you approach them with an open mind and a willingness to fully engage. I believe it's important to view volunteering as a mutually beneficial exchange where both parties—the volunteer and the host—derive value and growth. In an ideal scenario, volunteers contribute their time and effort to support and enhance a cause or organization that operates on non-profit principles. However, not all hosts prioritize the well-being and growth of volunteers. Some may simply seek free labor without considering the holistic experience for the volunteer.

It's crucial to establish and maintain personal boundaries while volunteering and to assess whether the experience aligns with your values and goals. Consider whether the host values your contributions beyond the work itself and fosters an environment conducive to personal and professional development. Remember, the experiences we attract into our lives, including volunteering opportunities, are often reflections of our inner growth journey. Even amid challenges or less-than-ideal situations, there are valuable lessons and insights to be gained. Trust your instincts and discernment to choose experiences that nurture your growth and contribute positively to YOUR journey.

I have encountered many fellow volunteers during my travels, and collectively, we have observed and agreed upon several key points based on our experiences:

  1. Lack of respect and value for volunteers' contributions: Unfortunately, in many instances, volunteers are not adequately respected or valued for the significant amount of work and time they provide without compensation. Merely offering a bed in a dormitory or a tent and minimal meals (or even no meals) is often seen as insufficient compensation, especially when the organization or private host is profiting significantly from the volunteers' unpaid labor. This dynamic can lead to a situation where the host becomes richer while the volunteer's resources dwindle.

  2. Potential for mutual exploitation: Both volunteers and hosts can fall prey to taking advantage of each other, depending largely on their respective mindsets and motivations. Personally, I seek out opportunities where I can contribute meaningfully, learn new skills or knowledge, or engage in activities related to my interests and hobbies. This approach emphasizes a reciprocal exchange where both parties benefit and grow.

  3. Importance of respecting volunteers' non-working hours: It is crucial for hosts to respect the designated non-working hours of volunteers. Just as paid employees have set work hours and off-duty time, volunteers should also have the freedom to rest, pursue personal interests, and explore the local environment outside of their volunteer responsibilities.

Modern slavery with a charm?

A local man shared with me an interesting perspective on the Canaries: there tends to be a general lack of appreciation for unpaid work. The sentiment often leans towards the belief that if something is offered for free, it must not be of value. This raises the question: why then do people seek out free labor? It seems to boil down to the desire to have tasks completed without the cost typically associated with labour, creating a dynamic that can resemble a form of modern slavery, albeit with a more appealing façade.

This insight sheds light on a broader societal issue where the value of work, especially unpaid work such as volunteering, is not always fully recognized or respected. It underscores the importance of acknowledging and valuing the contributions of individuals who offer their time and skills voluntarily, regardless of monetary compensation. It also prompts a critical examination of labor practices and ethical considerations surrounding the concept of unpaid work, highlighting the need for fair and equitable treatment in all forms of employment and engagement.

Working 25 hours a week as a volunteer indeed represents a significant commitment of time and effort, especially when considering the cumulative hours contributed by multiple volunteers. It's understandable to question the fairness of such arrangements, especially when the host reaps noteworthy financial benefits from the unpaid labour of volunteers and making significant investments in their businesses. When considering the hours contributed by multiple volunteers, in this case, 4 volunteers working 25 hours each per week, it amounts to 100 hours of free labor weekly. While it's true that volunteers consume resources like electricity, water and use cooking facilities, these expenses are minimal compared to the potential savings for the host, which can add up to thousands of euros per month. It's advisable to recognize the economic imbalance inherent in such arrangements.

While acknowledging the challenges and inequalities in some volunteering setups, it's also important to recognize the potential rewards and opportunities that volunteering can offer. For individuals with limited financial resources, volunteering can provide a means to travel and explore the world on a budget. It can also be a stepping stone for those hesitant about solo travel, offering a structured and supportive environment to gain confidence and experience.

For volunteers embarking on travel adventures, here are some recommendations based on my experiences and observations:

1. Start with short trips: If you're new to volunteering or traveling alone, consider starting with shorter trips of 2 or 3 weeks in your own country or nearby locations. This allows you to gain experience, build confidence, and assess your comfort level before venturing further.

2. Research and choose wisely: Take the time to research and choose volunteer opportunities and hosts carefully. Look for organizations or hosts that align with your values, provide clear expectations and responsibilities, and offer reasonable benefits or compensations for your contributions.

3. Financial preparedness: Always have enough money set aside to cover emergencies or unexpected situations, including the means to return home if needed. Having savings provides a safety net and contributes to a more secure and enjoyable travel experience.

4. Cultivate practical skills: Consider acquiring practical skills such as a driving license, language proficiency, or specific certifications relevant to your travel destinations. These skills can enhance your mobility, safety, and opportunities while abroad.

5. Seek feedback and share experiences: Connect with fellow volunteers and travellers to exchange insights, recommendations, and stories. Learning from others' experiences can enrich your journey and help you make informed decisions.

If you have experience as a volunteer or host, sharing your story and insights can greatly benefit others embarking on similar adventures. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments. Whether you've been a volunteer or a host, I would love to hear your story.


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