How to travel the world on a budget and learn about sustainability by becoming a ‘WWOOFer’
What the WWOOF?
I recently spent two months volunteering on sustainable farms in Portugal as a member of what’s called the ‘ WWOOFing’ community, making me a ‘WWOOFer’, which because of my extreme fondness for daft and ridiculous words made the whole experience even more rewarding; I’m a flaming WWOOFer for Spiderman’s sake, I mean what could be better than that? Nothing, that’s what.
WWOOF stands for ‘worldwide opportunities on organic farms’, and it’s an international movement that links curious volunteers such as myself with organic farmers and growers around the world. WWOOFing gives people with an interest in sustainability, green business, and self-sufficient living a chance to learn about and experience these things hands-on, while also providing organic farmers with a cost-effective way of finding enthusiastic ‘helping hands’ to work on their farms. (Believe me, there’s always plenty of work to be done.) So how does WWOOFing work? Well if you’re brave enough to move on to the next paragraph, I’m about to explain the whole process! (Don’t worry, it’s not too scary. Actually, it’s not scary at all. It’s like, the opposite of scary. It’s yracs? Time to move on.)
‘WWOOF’ is an international movement that links curious volunteers with organic farmers and growers around the world.
How does WWOOFing work?
So how does WWOOFing work? It’s actually incredibly simple to become a WWOOFer (hahaha, it gets me every time, WWOOFer!), and if you decide it’s something you want to do, you could be off around the world WWOOFing within weeks. First I’ll give you some of the main things you need to know about WWOOFing, and then I’ll give you a step-by-step run-through of how to set up your WWOOFing adventure. And yes, I am trying to type WWOOF as many times as possible in this post, because why the WWOOF not? Hehe, here’s some of the main things you need to know about WWOOFing.
Things you should know
- You don’t get paid.
You won’t earn a wage as a WWOOFer, but you will receive free room and board (accommodation and food) in exchange for your effort on the farm. I WWOOF’d in two different places and the food and accommodation in both was tremendous.
- It’s (basically) free to sign up.
It’s 15 euro for a years membership on the Portuguese WWOOFing site, which allows you to apply to as many farms as you want within the year. I mean 15 euro for a year? That’s organically grown, sustainably produced beans if you ask me!
- It’s incredibly affordable.
Once you’ve arranged transport to your farm of choice, you can actually survive without any money. All meals are provided, as well as a place to sleep, so if you’re not flush with cash all the basics are there. There’s no reason you couldn’t WWOOF for a year on 500 euro or so (transport between farms and a little spending money), but if you’re like me, when I WWOOF’d in the Algarve, a little extra cash came in handy. (Wine wine wine.)
- You can WWOOF nearly anywhere.
Seriously, you can find WWOOFer friendly farms in most countries in the world, so set sail, we’re going on a WWOOFventure! (couldn’t resist.)
- You will live on the farm.
Maybe this one was obvious, but just in case it wasn’t, as a WWOOFer, you will be living on the farm with the people who run it, so get ready to meet your new farming family!
- It’s easy to organise, and incredibly fun and educational.
How to sign up
It’s as simple as sausages
So how do you sign up? It’s flipping simple. Here’s a step-by-step guide.
1. Choose your location.
Because WWOOFing basically spans the entirety of the globe, each country organises it’s own community, and has it’s own website, so you need to choose your location and sign up to the WWOOFing community in your country of choice before you can start applying to farms. You can choose your location here.
2. Register with your chosen community.
Whichever country you choose to WWOOF in, you will have to sign up to that particular website before you can start applying. Just sign up, pay the very minimal yearly fee, and then you’re ready to move on to step 3!
3. Create your personal bio.
You will then have to create a bio with some information about you. What you’re all about, why you want to be a WWOOFer, previous farming experience, dietary requirements, all that kind of stuff. Don’t worry, it’s very light-hearted, and pretty much all the farms are happy taking people on who have no farming experience whatsoever. (Like me.)
4. Find a farm you like.
There are loads of different farms, and it’s important that you find one that suits you. I for example wanted to work on my writing while I was WWOOFing, so I needed somewhere with WIFI, and a room to myself so I had a quiet place to work. I also wanted a farm where I was the only WWOOFer there in order to limit distractions. This was easy to organise. Each farm has to set up their own WWOOF profile, where they detail things like accommodation type, cooking arrangements, number of other WWOOFers staying, work schedule etc, so it’s easy to find a farm that’s suited to your needs.
5. Reach out to the farm.
Once you’ve found a farm you fancy, send them a message through the WWOOF platform explaining your motivations for choosing them and boom, you’re nearly done. It doesn’t usually take long to receive an answer.
6. Get accepted.
Not all farms will accept you, as they may be booked up or not accepting WWOOFers at that particular time. (you can check their calendar before you apply.) Just wait for your ‘visit request’ to be confirmed, and hey presto! You’re ready for your adventure. (My goodness I haven’t said ‘hey presto’ in a while. I wonder how presto’s doing these days? Hey Presto, how’s it going? Aaaaah good man Presto, good to see you. Nice hat Presto, I’m pretty impressed yo, did you buy it in Tesco? Okay, let’s go. (To number 7.)
7. Sort your transport.
Once your visit request has been accepted all you have to do is book your transport, pack your bags, and gooooooooooooooo farming. Woooo, see, told you it was flipping simple!
This may involve getting on a bus, or a plane, or a combination of the two, maybe even a train, but basically, put one foot in front of the other, repeat for an unspecified number of steps, and voila, you’re a WWOOFer.
So that’s pretty much everything you need to know about setting up your WWOOFing adventure, it’s as simple as sausages, but what are the main benefits of becoming a WWOOFer? And what can you expect to learn from your WWOOFing experience? Well now, you’ll just have to wait and see won’t you? Just kidding, all shall be revealed in the next section.
Why go WWOOFing?
The main benefits
I’ve gone bullet point crazy in this post, but it’s that kind of post isn’t it? Is it? Who knows. But anyways, here are the main benefits of going WWOOFing. (In bullet points!)
From my experience, WWOOFing is incredibly educational. From running a farm using only natural methods, to processing, bottling, and marketing organic wine, to living a self-sufficient, planet-friendly lifestyle, I really did learn so much. If you choose a farm that’s aligned with your interests and learning goals, and you approach your WWOOFing experience with an open mind and a willingness to soak up information, you will learn a tremendous amount.
- Travelling (on the cheap)
WWOOFing presents the opportunity to travel the world on the smallest of budgets. After paying for my flight to Portugal (about 50 euro one-way), and my bus from Lisbon to the farm (about 20 euro), I’m pretty sure I only spent about 20 euro in the first month I was there, and that was on a beer, an ice cream, and a flowery cork hat (which I ended up losing at the beach, don’t ask me how!). The point is, WWOOFing allows you to pretty much travel the world for nothing more than the cost of the transport.
- Experiencing the local culture (for real)
This isn’t just a regular holiday where you barely scratch the surface of the place you’re staying. You will be living with the people/family who run the farm, and they are likely to be connected and immersed in the local community. One of my favourite things about my WWOOFing experience was meeting the locals and experiencing their way of life. At one point I found myself in a neighbours house with their family drinking homemade wine, cracking fresh walnuts straight from the farm, and cooking chorizo sausage over a tray filled with burning alcohol. Apparently this is a post-work tradition in the area of rural Portugal I was staying. I was there with my WWOOFing family and the neighbours family, and I could really feel that I was having a genuine experience of rural Portuguese family life. Now you certainly won’t get that on your all expenses paid three-star package holiday to tourismville. WWOOFing is the way to go if you’re looking for an authentic insight into local life, wherever you may choose to WWOOF.
- Meeting wonderful people
I met so many fascinating characters and lovely people while WWOOFing. Not just the people who hosted me, but their friends and neighbours as well, and the locals I met while adventuring around on my bicycle. I really did make some friends for life, and I couldn’t say a better word about any of my hosts. I think something like WWOOFing tends to attract kind, wholesome, insightful, knowledgeable people who share a passion for helping the planet and sharing their experiences. I would imagine that wherever you decide to WWOOF, you would be surrounding yourself with top-notch humans.
- Staying healthy
Working on the farm, any farm, inevitably involves being outdoors and constantly exercising, and it’s likely this will be coupled with eating mainly fresh, healthy, organic food. Not a bad combination for staying healthy. The peace of the farm and working with the land is also great for nourishing the mind and spirit, and I would highly recommend it.
So those are the main WWOOF shaped benefits I can think of, and there really are no downsides. Also, if you’re a host, you get enthusiastic people to help you on your farm for the very reasonable price of a bed and a bit of food; not a bad deal all in all I would say.
What did I learn?
Everyone is different, every farm is different, and every WWOOFing experience is different, so I’m not going to go into detail about the specific work I was doing on each farm or anything like that. You can read about the kind of work you can expect to be doing on each farm’s WWOOFing profile, so instead, here are some of the main insights I picked up while working on the farm and learning from my hosts.
- Nature is beautiful. (And can surprise you)
Okay so I didn’t learn this for the first time on the farm, but I was certainly reminded of it. Nature is beautiful, and I’m not just talking about big wondrous landscapes and brightly coloured flowers; one of the loveliest things I saw on the farm was ants. I was in the middle of placing bio-degradable sheeting around wine trees in the vineyard to control weed growth and direct as much energy to the wine trees as possible when I noticed three particular ants. (There were a whole lot of ants.) One of the ants was injured, and the two other ants were carrying the injured ant back to the nest. This really reminded me that things like intelligence, awareness, love, and compassion are very much present all around us. Humans are not ‘the be all and end all’, and we’re not the only ones who care for our neighbours and friends. I think it’s important to remember that.
- Everything we do has consequences. (The butterfly effect)
On the farm you quickly realise that every little action has consequences, and this is a lesson that applies to everyday life as well. If I use too much water while watering the plants in the orchard there may not be enough water for the neighbour to water her plants, and if she can’t water her plants they may wither and die, meaning the bees and insects will lose their home, meaning the birds will lose their source of food, meaning bigger plants and trees may have trouble dispersing their seeds, meaning plant life and wildlife in the local and wider area may begin to disappear etc etc etc. This of course is an extreme example, but you get the point. What seem like insignificant actions in life, can have significant ‘knock-on’ effects. Everything is connected, and this becomes much more obvious on the farm.
- Change is the only thing that’s constant. (Nothing lasts, and that’s okay)
When dealing with crops and plants that give fruits and flowers and then shrivel up and die it becomes crystal clear that everything has it’s day in the sun, however long that may be, and then it dies and decomposes, so that other things can grow. (And that includes us!) There was one particular plant I saw that only flowers for one night in the year. You could actually see the flower appear over the space of 12 hours, open up gradually, bloom, and then close and fall off by the following day. I think there are lessons to be learned here for everyday life as well. We tend to worry so much about change while trying to cling on to what’s familiar, we forget that change is inevitable and natural. Whether it’s a failed relationship, an old job or house, whatever it is, old ways will die, and new ways will bloom, and the more openly and willingly we embrace this constant change, the more enjoyable our lives will be. Think like the flowers maaaaaaaaaaaaan; and you will bloom.
- People can make a difference
The first farm I volunteered on had been neglected before my hosts moved in. The land was basically barren and the trees were so diseased they weren’t giving fruit. The previous owner had left the land idle for over three years. But within a year, my hosts had transformed the place. The trees were giving more fruit than they could handle, there was veg growing everywhere, and there were newly planted trees growing all over the place. The insects and birds had moved in, and the place was a wildlife paradise! This really underlined for me the incredible effect people have on nature, either positive or negative. If we work with nature as a species, everyone, we can absolutely save this planet and turn it into a haven for humans, plants and animals alike.
- There are brilliant people out there in the world. (And they want to save the planet!)
It brought me great hope and comfort to witness first hand the passion and commitment people can have for making the world a better place. All my hosts and their friends and neighbours are incredibly dedicated to doing things as naturally and organically as possible. Not using chemicals, treating the land and nature with respect, minimising waste and plastic use, only buying ethically sourced goods. All of these things and much much more. These people are more than willing to put in the extra time, effort, and finances to make a real difference for the planet, and it’s inspirational to witness. I will try my best to do the same myself.
So that’s it really, it’s been an absolute WWOOF of a time writing this post, and I hope you found it WWOOFfull (that works as useful doesn’t it?) Haha, anyways, if you’re interested in sustainability or self-sufficiency or green business or even if you just wanna travel on the cheap, I would absolutely recommend WWOOFing as an option to consider. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and intend to WWOOF again in the near future.
Cheerio dudes, take it easy.
WWOOF WWOOF WWOOF.
About the Author
Adam Millett is a freelance writer for hire with an affinity for dressing up as Spiderman and writing about saving the planet. He likes to climb trees and stare at the stars in his spare time and likes to help businesses tell their sustainability stories while he’s working. Visit his website at wordchameleon.com if you want to tell the world yours.