Working abroad is the best way to keep traveling for longer while keeping costs low and having a more authentic experience. You get to live alongside the locals and eat what they eat while learning or improving on a trade. But not everyone qualifies for a work visa overseas like the working holiday programs. Don’t worry, though, as you can still get the full experience without getting a visa and without doing work under-the-table. Have you ever heard of WWOOF-ing? And no, it has nothing to do with dogs!
What is WWOOFing?
WWOOF originally stood for Working Weekends on Organic Farms, created in England in the 1970s, but now also means World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Today it’s the world’s largest resource for work exchanges. That means that you’re not getting paid for your work, but instead are hosted and provided with meals. You’ll find opportunities all over the world, especially in Australia, New Zealand and Europe. In Australia and New Zealand, many farms also serve as a means to earning a second year working holiday visa.
But it’s not just for farming! You may be helping do construction on a farm or serve as a cook. You could help a farm set up their own website. Whatever your skill set, there’s likely a need for it on one of these farms!
- Working on an Olive Farm in Greece with WWOOF, Candice Does the World
Why Do It?
WWOOF-ing cuts down on your travel costs in a major way. Most hosts will offer you at bare minimum a place to stay and daily meals. You might have to cover your own transportation getting around, but that’s only a minor expense.
It also provides you with unique experiences and skill sets, particularly if you have an interest in farming or organic lifestyles. You’ll experience a destination from a local level. Your stay will likely be further out from the major tourist hubs, where you’ll be able to learn more about the people and foods.
Who Is It Best For?
Just like how Couchsurfing isn’t just for a free place to sleep, WWOOFing is about much more than room and board. And just like with the hosts, you should be more than free labor. It’s a community of like-minded individuals working towards a common goal. WWOOF-ers should be prepared for real manual labor, so if you’re looking for a countryside vacation, it’s not for you. Be prepared to roll with the punches, as daily life will be unpredictable.
How to Get Started
Similar to getting started with housesitting, you first have to set up a profile. Your profile should include all your relevant information, most importantly when you’ll be there.
There’s a fee to join WWOOF and you have to purchase a membership for each country you want to volunteer in, which is usually around $30 USD. This can get expensive if you’re going somewhere like Europe, but it’s doable. Just pick where you want to volunteer before paying for multiple memberships.
Look at hosts carefully, just as you would on any online profile. Speak with your potential host beforehand to discuss expectations of daily hours and how many days or weeks you’ll be working. Also ask where you’ll be sleeping, what meals they offer if you have dietary restrictions and for references from past volunteers.
With your membership, you’ll also receive a book of farm listings that will be looking for workers. This is your best resource. I also recommend messaging former volunteers on message boards to see what their experiences were. This will give you an idea of what to expect.
Do your research on the area that they live in as well. My sister was booked to stay on a man’s farm in Montana with one other girl when my mom called the Better Business Bureau to investigate the farm. They’d never heard of it, so she canceled her trip. I’ve also heard stories about farm stays in Australia that are not as advertised. Your safety comes first!
- 10 Tips for Getting Your First WWOOF Gig, Going With My Gut
What to Pack
Pack for your WWOOF stint like you might for any volunteer trip.
- Pack clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and can even throw away after you’re done. Thrift store clothes are ideal for this!
- Sturdy boots or athletic shoes are a must, especially if you’re working outside.
- A hat will protect you from the sun.
- Work gloves may be provided, but are good to bring as well.
- Bring sunscreen and bug spray.
- Linens may be included, but bringing your own sleeping bag will cover your bases.
- A gift for your host is a nice way to start your experience.
- Don’t forget travel insurance, as you never know what will happen!
- The Essential WWOOFing Pack List, Beers and Beans
Have you ever WWOOF-ed? Do you have any tips to share? Leave them in the comments below!