If you’re in a hostel in Tuscany and hear the guy in the bunk below you say he is ‘going to woof’, don’t get alarmed. He is not a budget traveler driven half-crazed with the effort of skimping to stick to his budget. He’s actually taking about WWOOFing – a great way to budget travel that has been around for some time.
What is WWOOFing?
With WWOOFing, you can explore the countryside of more than sixty countries across the world. It started in England in the 80s with some people who wanted to experience country lifestyles. A host farm will take you in and give you lodging and food for two days or even months. In return, you work on the farm.
The term became an acronym for many things, including Willing Workers on Organic Farms and Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It was a way to create a sustainable way of living and bring together organic farmers and those who were willing to offer their services in return for a country lifestyle.
Who is WWOOFing for?
Yes, to some people this may seem like work. WWOOFing is not for them. It is for people who want to experience other lifestyles and landscapes. And if you also want to stretch your travel budget, then the fact that you pay only a pittance for membership to WWOOF chapters is a bonus. WWOOFing is for you if you can see yourself tumbling out of bed at dawn, putting on your work gloves, and heading to work for a few hours a day on a cheese-making mill in Cumbria, or a vegetable and herb garden 100 km north of the Arctic Circle in Sweden.
You can WWOOF with your children tagging along, and even pets, though you should ask your host if you can, first. You can also bring your partners and work together with them (in which case you will get special membership discounts). You will usually need to bring with you a sleeping bag, flashlight, clothes you can work in and work gloves.
How to Go About It
If you’re interested, the first thing to do is to visit www.wwoof.org. Once there, you can head to the homepage for the WWOOF chapter of a country you want to visit. There are many countries that don’t have chapters, but instead have individual hosts who have signed up. You can get connected to these as well.
You will have to pay a membership fee usually between $20 and $50 for an annual membership with the chapter of your choice. This means that for a membership fee that is equivalent to hostel tariff and food for around two days, you will have access to all hosts within that chapter for a year.
What Kind of Work Can I Do?
Besides working in organic farms, you can also work in some hostels, restaurants and even yoga centers which are registered WWOOF hosts. The kind of work you can expect to do in hostels will include paperwork and front desk work or even construction.
There are also several kinds of farms. Vegetable farms in Hong Kong will need weeding, as will flower farms in Shenzhen. But silkworm farms in Guangzhou, bee farms in Australia or lavender farms and goat husbandry farms won’t need any. Instead, you will get to learn about alternative farm lifestyles. Your WWOOFing experience will take you way beyond the usual backpacker trail.
If you want to work in cities, you can also get a job with minding children, maintaining backyard gardens and even home maintenance. There are all kinds of alternative and even unusual listings on host lists. A unique listing that I came across for Australia’s coast is that of a man who lives onboard a sailing vessel; he is looking for an on-board companion to help with writing and computer work.
But before you land up on your host’s doorstep…
Remember to contact the host whose listing you find interesting. Find out if there is a vacancy, don’t just show up there. If the listing looks attractive to you, chances are that other WWOOFers find it appealing as well. Also, it’s possible that you find yourself in an unplanned location and need a host ASAP. If it’s an out of the way place, chances are that a local host will have space for you.
Always do your researches before you go WWOOFing. Host listings are not very comprehensive, so contact your host in advance and enquire about the details. Find out how many hours you may need to work, what you can do after work, will there be other WWOOFers to socialize with?
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