Travelling the World Through WWOOFing
By Tanya Jacobs
A Basic Guide To WWOOF
Most people love to travel around the world. The new cultures, food, scenery, and adventures are incredibly appealing to the vast majority of people, which is why tourism is one of the biggest industries in the globe. But there are some who feel that a few weeks in Hawaii or Bali just isn’t enough – they want to spend enough time in a country to gain much deeper insight into how the people live and work. This is where WWOOF comes in.
WWOOF is the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and it’s the world’s largest long-term work and board network, spanning most countries around the planet. The idea behind the program is to have an organic farm offer safe and comfortable lodging, as well as meals, to anyone that’s willing to spend a few weeks or months working on their farm. It’s designed to be done over several weeks at a time, where the WWOOFER work voluntarily for their host, and in kind the host allows them to stay on the farm.
How Does WWOOF Work?
It’s fairly straightforward: using the online WWOOF portal, volunteers can find hosts in the countries of their choice. Once they’ve found a host that seems to tick all the right boxes, they can then contact that host and make the necessary arrangements. When that’s out of the way, they simply fly over to the country, and spend a few months working on their host’s farm in return for food and a safe place to sleep. It’s simple, fun, and allows the volunteer to experience both the country they’re staying in first-hand, and gets them out in the sun working the crops or with the animals for a few months.
A woman named Sue Coppard first started the program in 1971. While working as a secretary in London, Coppard had the idea to provide a means for city dwellers to experience the outdoor life, while also supporting the local organic market. She realised that it would be an otherwise costly endeavour for whoever wanted to give it a try – which is where the idea of having hosts board the volunteers in return for work came from.
Is It Safe?
Much like the bingo Canada enjoys, the program has come a long way since it was first started, and has become an internationally recognized network that’s supported by thousands of people. Some volunteers over the years have had negative experiences: hosts working them too hard, not feeding them enough, or making them sleep in less-than-safe accommodation. But for the vast majority of volunteers, it’s an exceedingly rewarding experience that lives with them forever.
WWOOF is currently available across the world, with the UK having almost 700 hosts, the United States over 2000 hosts, New Zealand with 2500 hosts, and Australia with 2600 hosts, for some examples. For those that find themselves boarding with bad hosts, they can simply leave whenever they see fit – there are no legal obligations to remain with a host for the entire period. Furthermore, volunteers are able to rate and review the hosts they’ve spent time with, allowing future volunteers to gain an idea of whether the host is worth visiting or not.
Tips for First Time WWOOFERS
- Always Be Honest
Most hosts that accommodate volunteers value honesty and clear communication above all else. While there may be some cultural and linguistic difficulties along the way, hosts are required by WWOOF standards to be able to talk and understand English, meaning that there shouldn’t be too many problems. It’s important that the hosts know of any dietary requirements that volunteers may have, as well as any allergies.
- Plan in Advance
The plane tickets and transport to the host’s farms are not covered by either WWOOF or the hosts, meaning that volunteers will need to make sure that they have all their expenses covered, and that they have safe passage to their host’s property. It’s important to plan in advance, as you would with any travel destinations.
- Make Use of The Forum
WWOOF is host to international forums that are constantly updated by both volunteers and hosts. If you find that you’re having difficulties locating a host in your desired country, turn to the forum as you will quickly find scores of other people willing to offer you assistance.
- Honour Your Agreements
If you make an agreement with a host, it’s important to try and see it through to the end, even if it may seem difficult to start with. Remember, WWOOF has a review system, but it does work both ways, and if you don’t pull your weight with your hosts, they can warn other hosts not accommodate you.
- Enjoy Yourself
WWOOF is a chance to get away from the buzz of smart phones and televisions and to escape to the great outdoors and meet new and interesting people. It may be hard at times, but it’s the perfect way to connect with nature and with new cultures.