Cheap, fun, and immersive travel. Have I caught your attention yet?
Are you a broke college student who wants to see the world on a budget? Are you interested in seeing a new country as a local, instead of being a tacky tourist? Do you want to experience immersive opportunities while gaining valuable skills?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, read on.
Whether you’re a student, a teacher, an experienced world traveler, or simply somebody who wants to get out of their comfort zone and see the world, I recommend a network called WWOOF.
“WWOOF” stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It’s an organization that connects volunteers with organic farmers all around the world. The biggest draw for most travelers is the exchange of volunteer hours for free room and board. Typically, an estimated work day is 5-6 hours, 5 days a week. Volunteers could be tending to organic gardens, cattle farms, de-weeding, harvesting, or food preparation, just to name a few available tasks. Each WWOOFing experience is different and unique, depending upon the desires of the hosts.
Hosts are available in over 100 countries, including Austria, Costa Rica, South Korea, China, Turkey, New Zealand, and many more! I personally spent a month WWOOFing in Northern Ireland, where I worked on a small, family estate tending to the gardens, serving tour groups, and aiding weddings and special events.
Ready to cultivate your curiosity? Here are some tricks of the trade on how to get involved!
Where do I start?
If you’re interested in WWOOFing, the first step is to visit wwoof.net. There, you can research which countries host WWOOFers to help you narrow down your search. There, you can also find more information about the mission and values of the WWOOFing network.
Is there a fee to join?
There is a small membership fee required to join. WWOOF exists as a network of contacts, so the fee pays for access to that information. For example, I paid a one-time $35 to join WWOOF Ireland. My membership is valid for one year. (In this case, the fee covered the network for both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.)
How do I get my name out there?
The next step is creating a profile. Like any good dating website, you want to find a good match, right? This is your opportunity to present yourself in a way that will connect you well to one of thousands of hosts. This is your opportunity to talk about yourself, your areas of expertise, and why you want to do WWOOF.
Feel free to talk about personal work experience, but also include hobbies or other things you enjoy. Hosts are more likely to connect with you if you seem friendly and personable.
Side note: Your profile set-up will ask you what kind of travel insurance you have. If you haven’t purchased travel insurance yet, you can simply put “TBD.” I didn’t buy mine until a week or two before my trip.
How long do I work for?
The length of your stay is individually worked out with your host. Volunteers can stay from one week to one year at a host’s home. It all depends on the hosts’ availability.
How do I sign up for a specific host?
Once you’ve created a profile, you’ll have a chance to see the profiles of host families all around the country. It’s time to do some research, finding a good “match” according to the places you want to go, people you want to see, and/or tasks you want to do. There are literally thousands of options out there, so take some time to really find a place you want!
Once you find a place you like, contact them. Usually, hosts will post their email addresses and/or phone number. Offer up some information about yourself, your language abilities (if traveling to a place that speaks a different language), and a time frame that you are available to work.
For most WWOOFers I’ve talked to, the process to connect with a host is fairly easy. I emailed around a dozen families before I found one that fit my time frame. But once we connected, all we did was exchange a few emails back and forth until we reached a mutual agreement on my trip. Depending on the host, the interview process may be longer and more in-depth.
If you have any apprehension about working for a certain host, check the reviews. Often, past WWOOFers leave commentary on their personal experiences. This might give you a more well rounded idea as to what you’ll be doing, and how the family interacts with guests.
Pro Tip: The best piece of advice I can give you is to post on the Noticeboard. This is an easy and sure-fire way to gain responses in a short amount of time.
What costs am I responsible for?
Volunteering for a WWOOF host covers the cost of rent and meals. Aside from that, you will need to think about budgeting for the following items:
- Travel insurance
- “Fun money” for days off
How do I get from here to there?
Depending on where you travel to, transportation will vary. The best way to sort out what mode of transportation would be best is through your host family. But in most cases, you can expect some combination of air travel and bus systems. It is important to note again that WWOOFers are responsible for paying their own way to their host location.
What should I bring?
A starter list of items to bring:
- Work clothing (fit for the climate and the job tasks) – choose a few outfits you don’t mind getting dirty!
- Clothing for off-days/travel
- Gift for host family (in some countries, this is more necessary than others)
Make sure you coordinate with your host family about what sort of supplies, if any, you need to bring. Most hosts will outline what you need to bring in their online profile. For example, I worked primarily in the gardens during my WWOOFing experience, so I was asked to bring a pair of gloves and wellies.
Aside from the essentials, it’s always smart to ask your host parents what to bring (at least) a few weeks before your departure. They are your best sources of info.
Do I need a work VISA?
The answer to this question will vary depending on your country and your length of stay. This is information you can usually find on national WWOOFing websites (specific to the country), or a quick Google search.
Based on my own experience, I did not need to get a VISA. My trip to Ireland was around one month, which was a short enough time frame that this documentation was not required.
While You’re Abroad
What if I have no farming experience?
No problem! Some volunteers come in with applicable experience, and some have none. Make sure you communicate with your host family, as some need more experienced workers than others.
Personally, I had never worked on a farm or garden before coming to Northern Ireland. My host family was very patient with teaching me what I needed to know. Communication will be key.
Will I get days off?
Yes. In most circumstances, WWOOFers will be asked to work five days a week, with two days off. It will be dependent on your host as to which days of the week you will work. However, your days off should (and are highly encouraged) to be used to take off, relax, and enjoy your new home away from home!
Will I work with other volunteers?
Some people work alone, some work with others. Depending on the host family, they may have room for multiple volunteers, or they may just have room for one.
Pro Tip: It’s not uncommon to find entire neighborhoods that use WWOOFers for additional help. Check with your host family to see if they are opportunities to meet other WWOOFers in your area – they might turn out to be helpful travel buddies!
Be adaptable! You will probably be asked to do things that you don’t know how to do. Take it in stride, as questions when necessary, and go with the flow. You are better bound to learn while doing than anything else.
Make as little plans as possible! When I planned this trip, I intentionally did as little research as I could manage. I wanted to learn about the history, the culture, and the best places to see and experience based off the knowledge of the locals. I planned weekend trips based on recommendations from family, and said “yes” to most, if not all, invites from friends. Don’t go into a foreign country thinking you have it figured out already.
Want to find friends easily? Make connections from mutuals. Before your trip, ask around to see if any of your friends and family have connections abroad. You never know if there’s a distant relative or a friend of a friend who would be willing to give you a tour or let you crash on their couch. Anthropology is all about getting an authentic look at people and how they live day to day life. Why not gather that information from people who really know the area?
I truly believe that we are all anthropologists at heart. I think there is something innate inside of us that longs to connect with others around the globe. Travel helps us to become more aware of our culture, and more attune to others. Whether you want to get out for a week, or for a year, I believe there is real value in getting yourself involved in an immersive experience like this. If you’re the person who wants to find similarities among the differences, comfort among the change, and beauty in the uncomfortable, check out WWOOF.
If you have questions, comments, or your own personal experiences, feel free to leave those in the comments.