By Amy Heritage
Have you heard of WWOOF'ing? It's a phenomenon rapidly growing in popularity amongst travelers, who see it as an opportunity to travel economically, without being a 'tourist'. Want to hear more? We have the low-down on what it is, and what it's all about…
What is WWOOF? The ‘World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms’ organisation is a global membership charity that links organic farmers with volunteers. In other words, it’s a type of exchange programme – volunteers work for 5 to 6 hours a day (usually for a minimum of a week), doing anything from milking cows to weeding gardens, in return for free food and accommodation, provided by their ‘hosts’.
What does that have to do with travel? You can WOOF almost anywhere in the world – the organisation currently runs operations in 50 countries. So it offers a really unique travelling experience weather you’re visiting Europe, flying half way across the world to New Zealand, or taking a year out in India. It’s a great way to meet people, especially locals, and get under the skin of a country.
How does it work? Volunteers pay for a one year membership to the programme, valid only for one particular country. Upon receiving membership you will be given a membership number – which will confirm your identity to hosts, and give you access to the members’ area of the website and a WWOOF book. The book and the website contain details and descriptions of various hosts. This allows you to choose who you would like to work for. The responsibility of contacting a host to arrange a placement is up to you, and it’s up to your host to decide if they want to, or are available to, accept you.
Great, but I don’t want to be a farmer... WWOOF’ing isn’t just an amazing experience for avid gardeners and eco-warriors. In fact, you don’t have to be interested in organic farming at all. You just have to be very open-minded, up for a challenge and prepared to work hard for your keep. Placements range from Yoga retreats and Buddhist temples, to huge dairy farms, and nudist hotels. The rewards can be immense – WWOOF’ers have been known to enjoy pizza and beer parties with their hosts, and experience things in a way they couldn’t if they were just travelling from hostel to hostel.
What are the other benefits of WWOOF’ing? Membership is fairly inexpensive (Australian membership & insurance is AUS$65) so WWOOF’ing can be a very affordable way to travel. Free accommodation and food can make a huge difference to your traveller budget.
What are the down-sides? The WWOOF system is one built very much on trust. Hosts can vary immensely and therefore your experience, and enjoyment, can too. One day you could be on a massive farm, doing back-breaking physical work, eating only baked beans, and the next you could be mowing someone’s lawn, eating home-made cupcakes and enjoying regular trips to the local pub. As long as you know it won’t always be perfect, it should be fine – if it’s terrible, you can always leave.
If you want to try a test run on home soil, England and Ireland both offer membership.