This post may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see my disclaimer here.
Last Updated on 08/05/2021
WWOOF, otherwise known as Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is one of the world’s first ecotourism and voluntourism organisations. Offering travellers authentic cultural and educational experiences in exchange for volunteer labour, it’s a unique, sustainable and alternative way to travel the world. From free food and board to learning a new skill, here’s why you should travel with WWOOF now:
How WWOOF began
WWOOF first came about as the brainchild of Sue Coppard in 1971. Working as a secretary in London, she adored country life and wanted to find a productive way to incorporate it into her city existence. She came up with the brilliant idea to volunteer at local organic farms over the weekend in exchange for free food and board. It was so successful that the idea soon took a life of its own and spread across the UK and overseas, and thus WWOOF was born.
Evolving into a vast global network over the past 45 years, WWOOF first began as Working Weekends on Organic Farms and expanded to accommodate travellers eager to volunteer in countries for longer. The organisation became Willing Workers on Organic Farms, however, it found itself in a spot of trouble with the ambiguity of the term ‘worker’. It’s illegal for tourists to earn money abroad without the correct visa documentation and the name implied a possibility of monetary exchange.
Now, the newly improved Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms promotes unique cultural and educational experiences for tourists looking for a more sustainable and authentic way to travel.
How WWOOF works
WWOOF works as an exchange built on trust. As a WWOOF volunteer, you help your host with tasks around the farm for around 4-6 hours a day and in return, you’re given food, a place to stay and an unparalleled insight into their culture and way of life.
There is no monetary exchange but instead, you get something far richer: the chance to immerse yourself in your destination and become part of a global network of like-minded people. You get to learn new skills, live more sustainably and even save money while travelling. If you’re a broke backpacker like me then it doesn’t get much better than that.
You don’t need to have any prior knowledge, experience or skills to be a WWOOFer but it is recommended that you have a certain level of fitness to help you keep up with the daily tasks.
Just some of the tasks you could be doing include but are not limited to:
The 4 steps to WWOOFing
Step 1. Choose your destination
The first step on your WWOOF adventure is to pick a destination that excites you. To narrow it down for you (or not), WWOOF now operates in over 130 countries and counting so you are quite literally spoilt for choice (see the full list of WWOOF destinations here). To help you choose, think about the type of activity you want to do and identify where in the world specializes in it. Factor in the kind of climate you prefer because you’ll be getting very familiar with it during your stay. Once you’ve got your destination down it’s time to move on to step 2.
Step 2. Join the right WWOOF network for you
Each country that WWOOF operates in has its own local network that runs independently to make it easier to manage on the ground. Each network employs local staff who know the culture, laws and language so they can liaise with the hosts and support volunteers. If you want to do WWOOF in more than one country then you will need to join separate relevant networks. Becoming a member of your WWOOF destination’s network requires you to pay a subscription fee of around £20 per person (it varies depending on the country) which will give you access for a year.
Step 3. Find your host
Membership to your WWOOF destination network gives you access to an abundance of hosts to browse through. It’s up to you to arrange your own WWOOF experience so don’t be afraid to dive in and start introducing yourself to hosts you like the look of. To get the best WWOOF experience for you, it’s a good idea to approach your host at least 4 to 6 months in advance to give them enough time to respond and arrange it.
Step 4. Travel with WWOOF
Once you’ve got your WWOOFing sorted it’s time to get packing and hit the road. You will be getting free food and board but remember to bring extra cash for your personal expenses. Before you dash off to the airport, make sure (and I can’t stress this enough) you have your visa or entry requirements locked down because WWOOF can’t do it for you. The average stay on a farm is 2-3 weeks but you can stay for 2 days or 6 months if you negotiate with your host in advance.
Is WWOOF safe?
It’s the age-old question and quite rightly so. You’re going somewhere far away to stay at a stranger’s house for weeks if not months. Of course, safety checks are carried out on hosts but they vary depending on the destination you’re visiting. Check with the WWOOF network you joined if you have any queries or concerns about safety.
WWOOF recommends that you exercise the same amount of caution on your hosts as when you’re meeting someone new for the first time. Liaise with your host through the network only. If you feel uncomfortable about something or if the host asks you for money then report it to your WWOOF network and they will support you further. The bottom line is WWOOF is safe but be sure to listen to your gut as you would with any other aspect of travel.
Tips on how to have the best WWOOF experience
- Before you decide to do WWOOF, think about your goals and what to want to achieve from your time on the farm. Is there anything, in particular, you want to have a go at? Do you want to develop a skill? Creating a rough picture of what you want to do on your WWOOF experience will help give you a more rewarding time on the farm.
- Be realistic about your time. WWOOF requires you to work a dedicated amount of hours each day which makes it difficult if you want to go on a spontaneous road trip. Factor in some travel time before or after your WWOOF experience.
- Most WWOOF destinations only accept volunteers who are 18 and over, although there are some exceptions if a letter of consent is produced.
- Don’t feel like you have to rush into anything you don’t like the sound of. You want to have the best experience possible so take your time planning your trip. Build a relationship with your host before you go so you get a sense of what you both expect from each other when you arrive.
- It’s not all about your host and their farm. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in the area so consider whether the location has enough to appeal to you. Does it have interesting hiking trails? Is it by the coast or is there access to public transport that can take you to the city?
- Don’t get caught out by the weather! You’re going to be outdoors almost every day so remember to pack the right gear accordingly…oh and insect repellant… you’ll be wanting that too.
- Hosts will always reveal what language they speak on the WWOOF network website so you won’t be in for a surprise. Although you’re not required to speak the language, it’s always nice to have a few basic words in your vocabulary to be polite. If you’re worried, bring a phrasebook and you might just surprise yourself with your communication skills.
- You don’t need to have experience or specialist skills to work on a WWOOF farm but it’s a good idea to know your strengths. Are you good at teamwork? Do you have good stamina? Are you good at communicating? Hosts want volunteers that get on well and show an interest in the farm.
- Give your hosts enough time by planning your WWOOF trip at least 4 months in advance. You might not get a response straight away but remember, they’re farmers first and foremost so it’s unlikely they’re regular email checkers.
- WWOOF provides you with an authentic cultural experience which means that if you have high hopes for luxurious accommodation you can kiss them goodbye. You will most likely be staying in modest but friendly accommodation on your own or in a dorm. Depending on your destination, WiFi and TV might also be limited or unavailable but it won’t matter when you’re busy enjoying great food, great company and the great outdoors.
WWOOF is a fantastic opportunity for those looking for adventure and authenticity on their travels. A handy way to make backpacking more cost-efficient and sustainable, WWOOF has something for everyone be it gardening, cooking or simply enjoying being out in the fresh air.