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Will work for travel

Cap and gown off, backpack on: Europe awaits. But with limited finances, there'll be furniture to mend, farming to learn and teens to tend at boarding school. And fun to have in between, from London to the Czech Republic.

Published June 11, 2006

[Times photo illustration: Bob Croslin]

[Times photo: Bob Croslin]
Kate Wilson and Jason Merritt will be traveling through Europe this summer.


Recent college graduate Kate Wilson, 24, of St. Petersburg is taking the grand tour of Europe before she figures out what to do in life. Plenty of people have gone before, and plenty more wished they had. She's leaving with a bundle of energetic ideas, but little money, and plans to work in schools and on farms abroad to fund the trip. Over the next few months, she'll share her adventures with St. Petersburg Times readers.

*   *   *

I hadn't even removed my shiny green graduation cap and gown before people were slinging the Question at me.

"What are you going to do now?"

I'd wondered the same thing for weeks before my December graduation from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. The anxiety of having no plan had been growing, as did my crazy half-dreams.

The possibilities, none of which involved my journalism degree, were wide-ranging. I thought of cross-country journeys in a school bus transformed to run on vegetable oil. I considered moving to Auburn, Ala., where I have some great friends. I even pondered plunging into a 9-to-5, white-picket-fence lifestyle, but that made my palms sweat.

Then I was struck with an idea that stuck. It was as if a stork had swooped in with my new baby, and I did as any proud parent would. I obsessed. Then I never stopped talking about the Plan.

I would go to Europe. Not just for a vacation, but to do some hard-core traveling and living for nearly half a year. My adventure would buy me time before I had to face reality and come up with an acceptable answer to the Question.

Now or never, I thought. I'm 24 and unattached to bills, mortgages

or babies. My boyfriend, Jason, also a recent USF grad, agreed to come along. The pieces of our plan have fallen into place; with a few thousand dollars in our pockets, we leave Thursday.

The first of our arrangements was quickly decided. We would have to work our way across Europe given my nonexistent savings account and the amount of time I want to travel.

Those older and wiser tell me this journey will be life-changing, and that I should go now while I am still young. They've smiled and lost themselves in memories of when they backpacked through Europe. They want to come too.

Moments like those soothe my nerves and restore my enthusiasm. They make me look forward to working on farms, working to survive, and working on who I am. These moments make clear the worth in travel, for which I will gladly work.

To help us find employment, we turned to British Universities North America Club USA, which finds temporary jobs for college students and recent graduates in Britain, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. There are volunteer opportunities in South Africa and Peru.

BUNAC ( helped us get our visas, allowing us to work for up to six months in Britain. It cost $290, the paperwork was fairly simple and the representatives we talked to were friendly and helpful.

My sister, who married an Englishman Saturday, has had successful experiences with BUNAC, but warns to save photocopies of any paperwork.

Bracketed by my sister's wedding and my cousin's wedding in November, we leave Thursday and return Nov. 14. Five months.

Jason and I have secured spots leading activities at a boarding school just south of London. We'll work for five to six weeks, and take off with a decent chunk of money to start the walk-about portion of our travels.

We'll eat and sleep for free while we're at the school, which makes up for any shenanigans we'll face dealing with non-English speaking teenagers who are away from home and surging with hormones.

After our time at the boarding school, Europe is ours to devour.

I found a Web site on which folks across the world who own organic and nonorganic farms, bed and breakfasts, hostels and other types of accommodations list the type of help they need, for which they are willing to exchange meals and a place to sleep.

Jobs found through Help Exchange ( include gardening, farm-type work, cleaning, simple maintenance and repairs. Many require a two-week minimum stay, and rooms are not always much more than a caravan parked in the garden.

I felt like I had hit gold the day I found the site. Some of the places are incredibly scenic, as they cater to tourists looking for an escape. And college kids too.

While trying to balance work exchange arrangements and free time, we've come up with an itinerary that will unfold something like this: After a BUNAC orientation and a few days in London, we take off for Poland, where we'll travel with a friend of mine who is visiting family. Soon after that we settle in Egham, just outside of London, where we'll work in the boarding school for about six weeks.

In early August, we're free to spend a couple weeks sniffing around Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

After a short visit with friends in Belgium, we'll make a circle through the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and Switzerland. In Germany, we'll work in a restored mill house to accommodate guests who come for international dance and music workshops.

In France we'll work on an organic farm for a couple who make their own wine with seven cats ambling around. Then it's on to southern Spain, for two weeks of oiling garden furniture and helping out with vacationers at a seaside villa.

In our final weeks we'll drift through Greece, work on another organic farm, this time in Italy, and then back to London. On Nov. 14 we fly back to Florida.

In the weeks leading up to our departure, we've been making lists of what we need to buy and loose ends that need to be tied up. I've got to find a safe place to store my car and I still need to pack a box of my most precious things, in case my family has to evacuate for a hurricane.

I worry about what will happen if a hurricane does hit while we're gone. I worry about missing my family and my cat. I'm nervous about traveling with my bad back and my high maintenance tendencies. I'm downright scared about what my highlighted hair is going to look like after five months without my beloved hair stylist.

But I can't resist this chance of a lifetime; at least that's what plenty of people have told me.

I'll keep you posted.


[Last modified June 9, 2006, 11:42:10]

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