Halla Mountain, 2014

Travelling with WWOOF

If the newest generation of travel agencies is any indication of what young people are looking for in their trips abroad, businesses’ focus on “local” and “unique” experiences shows that people are no longer satisfied looking at cultures from a distance and desire to become a part of the existing cultural fabric — even if for a short while. These agencies often connect travelers with local artists, guides, or even locals who are willing to show foreigners around. Both foreigners and locals benefit greatly from the cultural and language exchange when implemented sincerely. Despite the satisfaction of genuine communication and exchange mediated by many of these services, they often cost exorbitant amounts of money that most young people do not have to spare. The amount of money involved unfortunately also eventually attracts people whose reasoning for taking part in such services is not so heartfelt, reducing what was once an earnest exchange of culture to a simple monetary service.

There have always been cheaper alternatives to costly travel agencies: homestays, couchsurfing, and working holidays are just some of the low-cost ways young people can travel long-term while getting an intimate understanding into a culture. Although not as popular as the aforementioned, WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farming) has become a popular way for active youth to travel cheaply. In exchange for 5–6 hours of work on a farm, which can include anything from taking care of animals, harvesting vegetables, or building houses, volunteers can…

Slovakian volunteer having lunch with her host family in Cheongsong

live and eat with locals,

The main appeal of WWOOFing for many volunteers is not simply farming but the ability to live with local families. Instead of commuting to the farm every day, volunteers live on the farms, usually with the host family and with other WWOOFers. Through this arrangement, volunteers are able to experience the natural flow of life in the countryside and eat local delicacies, such as black chicken soup, which few foreigners may even know about.

Barbecued pork, seafood, kimchi, side dishes, and hand-cut noodles are just some of the foods volunteers have the chance to experience

Hosts also make special efforts to bring volunteers off the farm. During the weekend or downtime, hosts often bring volunteers to see famous sights and to experience the beauty of the countryside. In Korea, WWOOFers have traveled with their hosts to Busan, the beaches of Sokcho, the peaks of Gyeryongsan, and more. Hosts not only want volunteers to experience the ordinary happenings of farm life, they also want to show what makes their country an exceptional place to visit.

Friends met farming in Pyeongchang meeting up again on Jeju Island, 2014

make friends for life,

One aspect of WWOOFing that volunteers do not often realize when they sign up is that WWOOFing is a great way to create lifelong bonds with fellow WWOOFers and hosts. Most volunteers often already have an interest in learning about different cultures and in slow living, and the intersecting passions make creating friendships a natural occurrence. As a result, WWOOFers often travel together during free days and often even keep in touch after parting ways. The intimate arrangement of WWOOFing has also led to at least one marriage between two WWOOF Korea volunteers. This spirit of friendship does not stop at the volunteers.

American and Korean volunteers working together despite a language barrier

Despite the age difference and language barriers, volunteers often become friends with the hosts as well, keeping in touch long after their roads diverge. The situation of sharing a home and eating three meals a day together often creates strong bonds based on mutual trust and interests. Many WWOOFers have reported returning to past hosts or even meeting up to travel together.

Volunteers and families playing, working, and relaxing together

and experience something different (for cheap!),

It is not everyday that travelers are able to see remote parts of Korea and to live with Koreans without having to spend an exorbitant amount of money. WWOOF is perfect for people on a budget who still want to return home having had a unique cultural encounter that is not based on a monetary exchange. Although both hosts and volunteers have to pay a registration fee, the money is put towards providing hosts and volunteers with a safe environment rather than into the pockets of either party. WWOOFing is as close as it gets to a real cultural exchange.

Elderly volunteers from Hong Kong farming together for the first time

because WWOOFing is an inclusive community.

WWOOFing is an activity in which anyone can participate. People of all ages, families, genders, and even people with handicaps can find work best suited for them. Although people may WWOOF in different parts of the world, WWOOFers are the same everywhere. They are compassionate, down-to-earth individuals who want to genuinely understand the world around them.

A British volunteer going home after a long day of work in Nonsan

But WWOOFing is not for everyone!

WWOOFing is very much a working holiday, which means you must work as hard as you play. Volunteers are required to work at least 5–6 hours a day (sometimes more if it is a busy season) but are given most of the afternoon and at least one day out of a week as free time. Some people who are not acquainted with physical labour may find work on farms to be tough, but the hours worked are fairly exchanged for food and housing. Through this trade, volunteers and hosts acquire what they want most and more.

Whether it is for a weekend trip or a long-term arrangement, give WWOOF a try on your next travel adventure!

British and American volunteers with their host and the farm staff

Join Us

There are WWOOF Organizations in over 61 countries. Check out WWOOF International to find the WWOOF Organization in your home country or your next travel destination.

Still not convinced? Listen to tbs eFM Koreascape’s piece on WWOOFing in Korea (WWOOFing Trend in Korea) or watch the episode about WWOOF Korea host KIM Heon-sik (무릉리의 특별한 겨울이야기) on KBS Documentary Empathy (다큐공감) to learn more.