WOOFing: a Great Way to Save Money While Traveling
Many of us dream of seeing the world one day, but, sadly, a large majority of us don’t get to. Sometimes we just don’t have the time, but more often the thing holding people back from travel is money. A plane ticket alone (especially if you’re crossing the ocean) is pretty pricey these days. Add in the costs of additional travel, hotels or hostels, food, and sightseeing, and you’re looking at a pretty large sum of cash. There are a lot of small ways you can try to save money if you’re planning on traveling abroad—or even within the country—but one tactic that many people overlook (and that can save you a whole lot more) is WWOOFing.
What is “WWOOFing,” you ask? WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and it’s a fantastic way not only to cut your expenses while traveling but also to learn about and experience the local culture wherever you stay. WWOOF is a network of organizations that spans throughout the world and that offers a system of exchange for travelers and organic farmers. Owners of organic farms offer room and board to travelers for a number of days, weeks, or months, and in exchange travelers offer up their services as temporary, volunteer workers. In other words, by working a certain number of hours a week for an organic farm, you get free meals and a place to stay wherever you’re planning to travel. Pretty good deal, right?
WWOOFing has many benefits aside from saving money. For one thing, you’ll learn a great deal about sustainable living and organic farming. In addition, staying with locals will deeply enhance your experience as a traveler. They’ll be able to direct you to the best places to visit, introduce you to new people, and teach you about their language, culture, food, and so much else. It’s a lot like studying abroad with a host family—only without the additional cost.
So, what does it take to be a WWOOFer? Not a lot, but there are a few criteria you should meet:
1. An interest in organic and/or sustainable farming and living
2. A willingness to devote some of your time as a tourist to helping out on a farm
3. Strong/capable enough to perform at least a mild level of manual labor
If you match this description, then perhaps WWOOFing is for you. If you’re interested, read through the details below to learn a little more and to make sure it’s a good fit:
1. In order to participate in the WWOOF program, you need a membership and may be charged a small fee to join. Be sure to join the WWOOF organization specific to the country or region in which you plan to travel.
2. WWOOFing is best suited to people who plan to stay in one location for a few weeks or longer. Most farms won’t get much out of someone who’s only around for a day or two, so if you plan on hopping around a lot in a short span of time, this might not be for you.
3. Plan ahead. WWOOFing is popular and farms only have a certain amount of space for volunteers, so it’s best to get in touch with possible hosts several months in advance if you can.
4. Make sure you are clear about both your own and your host’s expectations before you agree to stay with them. This includes how long you’re staying, how many hours you will work per day/week, what kind of work you will be performing, any special dietary requirements, the details of your accommodation (private or shared room, Internet access, etc.), and anything else you feel is important to know before you arrive. Also, remember that your hosts will not pay you for your work, nor should they expect payment from you. If a potential host asks for payment, they are violating the policies of the organization and are best avoided.
5. If for any reason you feel uncomfortable accepting a host’s offer, it’s best to go with your gut and look for something more suitable to your personal needs. It might help to travel with a friend, if you would feel safer.
You can check out WWOOF’s website for more details: http://www.wwoof.org/. This website will give you a good run-down of the basics of WWOOFing and provide links to the WWOOF organizations of specific regions and countries. Take your time exploring the website and potential hosts, reading reviews, and feel free to contact hosts or the organization directly with questions. Generally, they are all very friendly and happy to help.