Hi, we’re Andrej and Karen Brummer. We’ve traveled to most parts of the world having incredible, authentic experiences on the way. We’re currently living in a remote part of Laos in South East Asia (our closest supermarket is 8 hours away!), on projects that help local tribes.
But life wasn’t always like this.
For years, we alternated “Working for the Man” (Andrej as a Research Scientist, Karen as a Bank Manager), with exciting bouts of travel. Two months in Canada in early 2009. A month in Fiji at a private beach over Christmas.A few months in Europe. A Caribbean holiday…
And at the end of each trip we had to return home to get a job and replenish the bank account, so we could do it all again.
Eventually we decided that we’d had enough of the rat race and we wanted out. We wanted to travel, yes, but we also wanted to be free.
We needed to find a way to travel indefinitely!
So on 28 May 2010, we worked our last day of work.
We had a plan, and it was time to test it and see if it would work…
We quit our jobs and headed to South East Asia. We travelled to many countries, and ended up falling in love with a small town in northern Laos: LuangNamtha.
We visited, and then revisited LuangNamtha. On our second trip there we were asked to help a local businessman, Bounmee, write his shop-front sign in English.
So we did – out front of the shop. It wasn’t long before we had a crowd of local people watching. And each in turn asked us if we would write their shop sign in English.
Over the course of a month, we worked our way around the town writing everyone’s signs in English. Walking down the main street was kind of surreal for a while; every sign was in Karen’s handwriting!
From this we formed a real friendship with Thong, a local who owned a struggling Eco-Tourism business.
We became inseparable for a while, working with Thong every day to translate his marketing materials into English, and build him a website and a Facebook page. We also helped him sell his tours to the Western tourists who came through town.
We found that working for Thong was so much more rewarding than working in our old jobs as a Research Scientist and a Bank Manager – even though we weren’t being paid! We were excited and motivated about working in Thong’s business, because we knew that we were really making a difference.
In just a few months we helped take Thong’s business from struggling, to Number One on Trip Advisor, Top Pick in the Lonely Planet Guide, and Preferred Choice in TravelFish. After that Thong invited us to create a company with him, and so “Bamboo Lounge” was born.
This is a training restaurant where we teach local ethnic minority people English, and how to prepare Western food and drinks. We cater to Western tourists coming through town, selling amazing pizzas, great coffee, and providing free WiFi.
We’re so proud of our staff and what they’ve achieved!
When they first join the restaurant, our staff speak no English. They’ve never seen Western food before. And they have almost no concept of what a restaurant is or does.
We begin by teaching them the names of the ingredients and names of the dishes. They then progress to talking to customers and taking orders. From here they can branch into other areas of the business such as accounting, social media, and staff management.
We’re proud to say that Bamboo Lounge Training Restaurant now runs without us. One of the local women Koly, is the restaurant manager. She is now in charge of running the restaurant, as well as recruiting and training new staff.
All up we’ve trained 27 locals in hospitality skills. The money they make goes back into their villages, where it helps provide housing, running water and basic sanitation.
Bamboo Lounge is so profitable that it even donates funds to local schools in LuangNamtha. Through the ‘Books in Schools’ program we are increasing the number of books in local schools from the current level of 1 textbook per 3 students. Over time our goal is to provide enough text books for all of the children in LuangNamtha province.
And the really exciting thing?
We couldn’t have done any of this without the help of our Western volunteers.
Over the last 12 months, we’ve had 28 Swappers come and help out. They’ve come from all over the globe – Italy, Spain, England, Australia, Canada, United States, New Zealand, and Netherlands. They’ve done a wide range of jobs, like:
- Write press releases
- Re-wire the restaurant’s electrical system
- We’ve had a chef come and teach cooking skills to our kitchen staff
- Rewrite the menu
- Design an accounting system specifically for our business
- Draw a stunning mural on one wall of the restaurant
- Design a marketing brochure for Bamboo Lounge, to go into the local hotels and tourism agencies
- Blog about the business and the local area to attract more tourists
- Travel to the supermarket (which is 8 hours away) to buy groceries for the restaurant
Yes, we’ve come a long way from Research Scientist and Bank Manager.
We’ve had the most incredible, life-changing experiences. Now our goal is to help as many other people as we can, to do what we’ve done.
We’re here to tell you – you don’t have to “Work for the Man”. You don’t have to follow the beaten path. You CAN have an incredible life, travel the world, and really make a difference.
And if you’re a business owner in search of some skilled, motivated, English-speaking staff who are prepared to work for free, then we know exactly where you can find them!
We would be delighted to help.
We give Swappers and Swaphosts the ability to find each other, and share what they have with each other.
Swappers can search for a location they want to visit or skills needed and apply their abilities in exchange for free food and accommodation.
Swaphosts can search for skilled workers or people visiting their area, and share their home in exchange for free help.
Swap Work for Travel brings these people together via our matching service.