There is a way to experience real, cultural exchange while traveling as a tourist, and it costs less than you might think.
Today, I’m excited to welcome Mackenzie from A Wandering Scribbler & Co. to start off our How To Make Travel Affordable series. Mackenzie is sharing her experience with WWOOFing. Don’t know what WWOOFing is? I’ll pass the mic to Mackenzie to let her tell you all about it.
What is WWOOF?
WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms or Willing Workers on Organic Farms. It is a worldwide movement linking volunteers with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non-monetary exchange, thereby helping to build a sustainable, global community. Volunteers live alongside their host helping with daily tasks in exchange for food and lodging.
I WWOOFed in New Zealand in 2014. I didn’t work on a farm, however. I worked at a Te Nikau Retreat, a hostel on the West Coast near the Paparoa National Park. It is a unique Backpacker and self contained accommodation. Woofing gave me an opportunity to travel, meet, new people, and, for a short time, live in a unique place at no cost to me.
How It Can Help You Afford Travel
WWOOFing is a cultural exchange matching organic farmers who need help in many countries—and people who are willing to offer it in return for food, accommodation, and the opportunity to learn about a different way of life. Many travelers move from WWOOF to WWOOF with a few days of travel and adventure in between. Because of this they can travel for almost free. All they need to do is get to their location. Once there, you should have no expenses.
My Cost Breakdown:
A month spent at Te Nikau cost zero dollars. I didn’t buy food, I didn’t pay for accommodation. And I lived very simply. In a similar area of New Zealand, a hostel room could cost $800- $1,200 with $15- $40 per day for food. That’s a savings between $1250 and $2,400 for the month. Factor in that I wasn’t traveling, shopping, spending frivolous money on lattes or crazy nights out, or expensive New Zealand wifi, I would have spent much more than that during my visit.
What a Typical Day Might Look Like:
Most hosts expect 4-6 hours of work per day in exchange for your stay. Typically, on a farm you might….
- Sow Seed
- Make compost
- Garden or plant
- Cut Wood
- Make fences
- Milk animals
- Feed Livestock
At Te Nikau I would typically wake up early, have breakfast in our communal kitchen and get ready to work. On certain days (rotating among the 4-5 workers) I would get up around six, make the homemade bread so it was cooling in time for the guests to wake up and have some with their breakfast.
After breakfast we would meet with the property manager who would assign us one of the buildings on the property to clean. Depending on the person or group staying in the specific rooms we would either do a light cleaning and tidy, or completely change over the room to get ready for a new guest.
We would often work in teams, picking and choosing what tasks we liked to do and then get to work. I would listen to music on my phone and spend the next few hours cleaning or tidying.
On days where no guests were leaving and their rooms only required a tidy, there was less work for us. We would either get the day off to explore the area or we were given different work.
When not cleaning, I helped dig a trench and create a sewage filtration system that, by now, Te Nikau runs off of. My every day tasks as a writer don’t often include making something physical so this was a fun experience to work with my hands and make something that actually works.
After our workday, we would usually shower and then spend the rest of the day doing what we wanted. I loved going down to the beach, go on a run on the forest trails, or sit and read a book. We didn’t have TVs in our cabin, the wifi was spotty, and we were all interested in hanging out as a group.
Planning your WWOOF
- Think about what YOU want from it
If you’re not sure if WWOOFing is right for you, think about:
- Are you interesting in working with vegetables, fruit, grains, or animals?
- Do you want to learn how to make products from the produce you work with?
- Are you interested in only farming or would you like to stay at a place with related businesses like an inn, restaurant, or shop?
- Would you rather be on a farm alone, with a few other volunteers or a large rotating group?
- Do you have allergies that might be affected by wherever you’re working?
- Are you able to change your diet for your stay (eating vegan or vegetarian)?
- Could you happily live with different amenities (in a tent, with a bathroom not in the building you’re in)?
- Look at what you can offer
Take a look at your skills. Think of anything from building experience, gardening work, to photography, marketing, or IT knowledge. WWOOF farms are looking for a wide range of skills. Even if you think you don’t have any real skills that doesn’t mean you won’t get chosen. Anyone can clean, anyone can plant, and anyone can dig a hole. But putting your skills might make you more attractive to more popular places.
- Get online
Head towwoof.org and start looking through possible locations.
Find your specific country’s site to start looking at their properties.
You’ll have to pay the required fee for each country. This is the only drawback to WWOOFing- You can’t pay one fee (or better yet not pay anything) to browse through multiple countries for properties. If you want to look at many locations you’d have to pay for those subscriptions individually. So definitely do research into typical farms or WWOOF experiences in any country you’re thinking about visiting before paying to browse their site.
Once you have access to properties, browse through their database and create your long list of target farms.
- Get in Contact
Customize an email pitch to each host.
- Details of your inquiry: You are inquiring about the possibility for the farm to host x volunteers for x days, from x date to y date.
- Who you are: A short paragraph on who you are (e.g., backpacker / young couple on honeymoon etc), and why you are interested in WWOOFing at all.
- Why WWOOFing at their farm: A short paragraph on why you are interested in that host’s farm in particular, and what projects / tasks you are particularly keen on getting involved with.
- Your contributions: What relevant skills you can contribute, especially if you can match it to their published list of tasks and projects
- Your Prior Experience: List any farming, gardening or building experience if any, even if they weren’t WWOOFing experiences. After your first WWOOF gig, be sure to list your previous WWOOFing experiences.
- Your additional skills: What additional skills you offer. Stress that you are happy to help out with whatever is needed on the farm.)
Plan to send your emails 2 months before you would hope to start your WWOOF stint. The more lead time you set up for yourself, the better the odds are for your top target host having availability for you. WWOOF organizations suggest contacting WWOOF hosts one at a time, and write to the next one only after you hear back from the previous one.
Because some hosts don’t always answer, a better way would be to rank your list by your level of interest in them. On Day 1 send out emails to the top 3 or 4, then after 3 days (if you don’t hear anything) email the next 3 or 4, and so on. Try to reply as fast as possible to responses. Once you’ve confirmed a place, inform other farms that you won’t be staying with them so they’re not left to wonder.
Choose your farm wisely. Or don’t choose a farm at all.
Make sure you pick a location where you will be comfortable living and doing the work. I knew that I would be uncomfortable in a situation where I was the only worker living with a family so I choose a location that hosts many volunteers at the same time. Not only did I feel more comfortable being in the “crowd” I also got to meet many interesting people from all over the world.
Choose when to go.
Depending on the time of year you go, you will probably be doing different work in a different type of climate. Choose a time where the work and weather suits you the most.
Be clear about your arrangements with your host.
Make sure you know what kind of work you will be doing, how much work you will be expected to do each day, what meals will be included and where you will be sleeping.
Decide what you are expected to bring.
Beyond your normal travel gear, you need to find out if you’re expected to bring work gloves or boots. You’ll obviously want your own work clothes but when I worked in New Zealand they provided any out of the ordinary gear.
If you’re having trouble finding locations that appeal to you, here are some similar options to travel with a low budget:
Mackenzie Jervis is a freelance writer, editor, and travel blogger. She’s been to 65 countries, mostly solo, and now brings along her young son. She writes about their adventures on her site A Wandering Scribbler & Co. She currently lives in Texas with her husband and son.
A big thank-you to Mackenzie for sharing her experience! Although most WWOOFers are single, there are WWOOFing gigs that accept families, too. For more inspiring ways to travel outside-the-box, watch for the next post in our How to Make Travel Affordable series next week.