How to Travel and Work Around the World with WWOOF

By Nomadic Matt | Published September 27th, 2012

View of a wolfing farm in ItalyThe subject of WWOOFing around the world isn’t one I’ve dealt with, yet readers often ask about it. In order to find out more about this unique way to see the world, I turned to frequent WWOOFer and freelance writer Sophie McGovern to tell us all about it.

A storm was brewing in northern Italy, moody clouds rolling over the valley. Inside a farmhouse, my friend and I were dusting shelves of antique books and ornaments. Not something we expected to be doing on our WWOOF stay, but neither had we expected to find a papier-mâché chicken suit in our bedroom.

When it comes to WWOOFing, you just have to roll with it.

Our host, Silvia, was a tough middle-aged woman who ran a small-holding complete with vegetable garden, fruit orchard, goats, and chickens. Her English was basic, but she particularly liked to use the term “strong woman” whenever mothers, independent women, and high-achieving ladies in general were mentioned.

As we dusted, lightning illuminated the valley. Silvia was in the kitchen preparing a dinner of goat meat, potatoes, and salad, all organic produce from the farm. We had taken no part in sacrificing the goat to the gods of gastronomy, but we had harvested the potatoes and salad that morning, which made them taste especially good.

The builders who were renovating the barn next door joined us for dinner along with the third volunteer on the farm. Italian conversation flowed, accompanied by a generous helping of laughter. My friend and I understood little (our vocabulary extended only to soft fruits, garden equipment, and motivational lady talk), but hand gestures and facial expressions sufficed. The other volunteer, an American girl who was WWOOFing primarily to improve her Italian, was soaking up the organic language lesson.

Red wine and rustic bread accompanied the meal, both made at nearby farms and exchanged for Silvia’s homemade goat’s cheese. Out there, produce was currency. We had been introduced to this and many other principles of sustainable living during our stay. Never again would I underestimate the value of a good wheel of cheese.

At the end of the night, Silvia informed us of the next day’s tasks: weeding the asparagus beds, picking fruit, and making hay in the afternoon, should the sun be shining.

Our inexperience in all things farm-related had not been a problem since we arrived. There had been a few crossed wires, like when I threw leftovers into the trash instead of adding them to the compost and got told off, but on the whole we found that if you’re willing to learn and don’t have an aversion to dirt, bugs, or early mornings, you’ll get by just fine.

Round the World with WWOOF

Two females working in a farm in Italy with WWOOF
WWOOFing stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOFing is a service that matches people looking for work on farms with farmers who are looking for labor. It’s more a loose affiliation of like-minded groups using the same name than one large international organization. In order to become a WWOOFer, you need to sign up for the national organization in the country you want. There is no international WWOOF membership, so you’ll have to buy a membership from each WWOOFing country’s organization. Annual membership usually costs around $30 USD per country. You don’t need any previous experience in farming to do this, just a desire to work.

As you can imagine, WWOOF opens endless opportunities on an extended travel trip. If you make your way around the world visiting a selection of the 99 countries that participate in WWOOF, you can save tens of thousands of dollars over the course of a year. You can also learn skills, absorb languages, and make friends.

Over our two-month stay, we spent zero on food and accommodation in a region of Italy where it otherwise costs backpackers at least 18 euros a night for a hostel and 15 euros a day for food. Over our two-month stay, that meant a total savings of at least two thousand euros.

Joining Up

Sophie McGovern biking around with WWOOF
We had joined WWOOF Italia for a modest fee of 25 euros from a computer in our English dorm room. This is the way it works: visit the WWOOF website, click through to your destination country of choice, and go through their membership application. WWOOF is made up of almost a hundred organisations so there is no international membership. See here for a list of participating countries.

Once you’ve filled out the online membership form and paid the fee, you’ll be sent a list of participating farms in your country of choice and can decide which ones to contact.

Be sure to check out the WWOOF Independents section of the site, too, for farms in countries without a central WWOOF body. Join this, and you can visit any of the farms in the 50 WWOOF Independent countries.

Choosing a Farm

Sophie McGovern taking a break farming while she WWOOFed
“Farm” is a fairly lose term. Eco communities, commercial farms, vineyards, and back garden vegetable plots are all found on the WWOOF Italia list, and this is also true of most other host countries.

Shortly after joining WWOOF Italia, we were sent a list of over a hundred farms. Deciding to spend two months in Italy as part of our gap year inter-rail, we contacted a couple of farms that sounded appealing, one on the northern region of Piedmonte and one in Tuscany, with the intention of staying one month at each.

I always check the travel routes and ticket prices when I’m choosing a farm to ensure that getting there won’t be too expensive. Volunteers must pay their own transport costs, so if you’re traveling on a budget, ticket prices can have a huge impact on which farms you apply to.

In the case of Silvia’s farm, we found that we could get a flight to Milan with a low-cost airline and then take the train to Asti. Silvia met us there in her beat-up old car. Altogether the journey cost less than 50 euros.

Overcoming Problems

A person with dirt and compost on a farm
Granted, Silvia was a bit of a legend, and I have encountered WWOOF hosts on my travels that I haven’t got on with as well. On the second farm in Italy we were asked to move a huge pile of firewood that was full of scorpions and had to refuse, then later felt that we were spending too much time weeding flower beds. In this case, you can speak openly to your host and try to find a solution.

If you really don’t like a place and want to leave, you have every right to do so, but volunteers are
expected to be respectful of their hosts and give them sufficient notice unless it’s an emergency.
In the end, we left the Tuscan farm a week early because the situation didn’t improve, but out of the more than 30 farms I’ve visited across the world, this has never happened again.

On a farm in the Ecuadorian cloud forest, there were an incredible amount of fun activities that we could get involved with. Making chocolate, coffee, pasta, and yogurt from scratch were fantastic learning experiences, as was making a cob bench with several of the other volunteers (cob is a natural building material, and feet are the best tools for mixing it!). Because the farm was also an eco community and nature reserve, the tasks changed every day and were immensely varied, from studying the native trees to helping install a wind turbine.

Each farm description will tell you something about the host, their farm, and their expectations. Read it carefully and ask for accommodation details, examples of work, weekly routine, and food arrangements before you commit. You can also ask whether they have specific house rules and if they’re fluent in English. If they’re not, don’t be put off; this could be a great opportunity to learn a new language!

All in all, WWOOF is a cheap way to travel, a great way to learn, and a sure-fire way to have a whole load of adventures.

Sophie McGovern is a travel writer, yarn spinner, and full-time nomad currently living on the beautiful island of Koh Samui, Thailand. She is a regular contributor to HeadingThere and has written for a number of popular travel blogs. Her first novel, House of Mirrors, is almost finished.

Want more? Here are some other great articles on volunteering and working overseas:

comments 73 Comments

Manuel

great article, include some useful tips I had not though about. I will try to do some woofing in my first long-term trip around europe =)

Do you have any recommendation of which time of the year is better for woofing in France? and which places?

thanks!

Hi Manuel! Glad it is of help to you. In my experience France is great to visit between April and October, plus this is when farms generally need the most help. In terms of where to visit, my advice is to pay membership and get the host list. You can then have a browse and find out more about the farms that sound appealing. Also, an online search will often bring up testimonials from people who’ve visited before. Good luck!

Leah

I spent 2 months WWOOFing in southern France in the spring/early summer, and one thing I would add to your list is that you should choose farms located in interesting or beautiful or otherwise appealing areas. I spent plenty of time working, but I had a lot of time on my own just hiking around and exploring the surrounding areas (caves, forests, beaches, castles, so much to see!).

Samantha

Hi Leah :)

Would you mind sharing the names of any particularly great farms you WWOOFed at in Southern France? I’m going in the fall and would love any recommendations! :)

Merci beaucoup,

Samantha

Awesome post! I also love traveling with volunteering jobs such as this and it not only saves money but is so rewarding too. nice pics :-)

Great article! Just out of curiosity is it harder to find certain placements, i.e. finding a job at a vineyard? I would totally look into doing this!

Hey Ashley! There are loads organic vineyards that participate in WWOOF for sure, even a really nice one in England (Sedelscombe). Volunteer placements at some farms are more competitive simply because they get so many applications. If you contact them in plenty of time, though, it shouldn’t be a problem. Grape harvesting can be hard work, but I had so much fun doing this in England, despite lots of finger cuts. Bread cheese and wine for lunch with a lovely bunch of people in a vineyard- memorable days!

I’ve thought about WWOOFing before, but this article makes it seem more appealing than ever. Thank you.

Hey Lauren! Thanks for reading, glad you enjoyed it :)

bradon

WWOOFING changed my travels tremendously and Im forever sold, thanks Matt!!

I love WWOOFing! I spent a few weeks down in the South Island in NZ planting trees in a town literally called Paradise. Small wooden cabins we got to ourselves, views of snow-capped mountains and dozens of hiking trails within walking distance. Plus, I didn’t spent a penny for 3 whole weeks! If you can find a good host the experience can be incredible.

Marian, your experience in NZ sounds amazing. I have never WWOOFed there but have heard great things. Visiting paradise is definitely on my bucket list :)

Been thinking about doing this Matt! Thanks so much for this detailed and informative post! Definitely going to look into this for my long-term travels to South America, in Argentina preferably!

I’d never heard of this until now. Its an interesting way to save costs. Do you find that you spend too much time working though? I have some friends that want to do this when they travel.

Hey Jimayel and Sacha! You can expect to work around five or six hours a day, four or five days a week. This is different at each farm, and you should get all the details from your host before you commit. Personally I enjoy having the structure of working within my travels, but if you want to be completely free then WWOOF might not be for you. I would recommend visiting a farm close to where you live for a few days and seeing how you get on, that way you won’t commit to a long stay only to find that you don’t enjoy it. Good luck!

Will Rob Tuck

This will definitely help me get through a few months in Europe. Sometimes you just need to relax and take in the experience. Sophie were the farms close to anything else? Did you go anywhere while you were staying there?

Hey Will! The first farm was close to several villages where we spent afternoons out relaxing and eating ice cream. It was also a short train ride to the Alps so we spent the weekend hiking and took the cable car up to get a good view of Mont Blanc. As for the Tuscan farm, we had day trips to the beach and surrounding towns, outdoor theatre. Because we were on a tight budget we chose to stay mainly in the local areas and enjoy the countryside. Where in Europe are you headed?

Samantha

Hey Sophie,

Would you mind sharing the name of the 1st farm you stayed at??

Will be WWOOFing in France starting this September and am looking for recommendations of great places to stay and WWOOF.

Thanks ! :)
Samantha

Zoe

We’re using Help Exchange (similar to WWOOF) to travel around the US, Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand. Just finished a few months in Oregon and California, and we’re leaving for our next place in Hawaii in two days! I wrote a blog post about our experiences and why we choose to travel this way – and also give some more info about Help Exchange, since a lot of people still don’t know about it yet. Check it out if you’re interested!

Hey Zoe. Thanks, I will take a look. Help Ex is pretty cool and I was recently part of a project in Thailand where volunteers were applying through the site. Hope you have a great time in Hawaii! I hear they have a pretty cool WWOOF farm there too :)

Bumo

Hi… Such a great website thank you for the advice. I will be going to Thailand and would love more info on the volunteer experience u mentioned there

This sounds like a fantastic adventure and way to travel. Not to mention get you hands dirty,pickup fragments of a new language and learn some gardening skills.

The scorpion thing …… that’s downright scary.

Thanks Jeff, it was :) Have you considered WWOOFing yourself?

I’ve always wondered about WWOOFing. I like the free room and board part but not really the hard labor…or the scorpions. Love your writing style!

Thanks Ava! The scorpions were a one off, and all the other farms I’ve been to have been great. It can be hard work though. Have you considered Help Ex or Work Away? There you can find work in exchange for food and board that doesn’t involve farming :)

There’s also a site called workaway.info which is the same idea but covers anything and everything, not just farm work. Hundreds of hosts to choose from on there too.

Yes, that’s a really good point, as I know a lot of people don’t like the idea of farm work. Have you had some good experiences with Work Away?

I had never heard of WWOOFing before. This is such a great idea! Thanks for all of the great info.

Hi Candice, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Do you think you might try WWOOFing in the future?

This is the first I have read about WWOOFing, sounds like a great way to explore a new country. Having already visited 50+ countries, your article provides inspiration for someday reaching the 100 mark. Definitely seems like the organization helps to make traveling as stress free as possible.

It’s a great way to travel if you want to learn some new skills and save some money. Good luck with reaching your 100 goal! Where are you headed next?

Amanda

Can’t believe I’ve never heard of this before! The actual farmwork seems like something I would be interested in doing and learning about, not to mention a great and relatively inexpensive way to see the world. It also gives me hope that you have done this so many times and only had a handful of bad experiences. Thanks for sharing, I will definitely be looking into this program in the future.

Hey Amanda! Yes, most farms are really cool and I would completely recommend it. I would love to hear how you get on if you do give it a try :)

G.L.K.Ranasinghe

HI , I really happy to say I am more prefer to join this type of program in future If some one who likes to join please let me know , thanking you . good luck .

Mary

Hi. Do you WWOOF your entire year or is this just for a few months. Is this a entire way of life to do it for year upon year and save $. I’m feeling extremely stuck in the American life grind of work and paying bills, I’m in mid fifties with little savings, crummy job, no boyfriend, pets or home – yep, rent. Tired of going to the office grind and sitting in the cubicle without any stimulation or great conversations. I’m friendly and don’t mind hardwork, I’ve traveled within the US mainly on business – wondering if this would be something to do and just throw caution to the wind. I am a worrier though.

B

Wish someone answered you! I’m married, but both I and my spouse are feeling the same way about the US grind, especially since it isn’t turning out to be as rewarding financially and spiritually/emotionally than we grew up believing our future would hold. I’m missing the simpler life, and the farm animals and agriculture of my childhood in the 1960s. I’m also sick of “stuff.” Restlessly looking for a new direction, and longing to travel too now that the kids are adults, I’m interested in the answers to your questions, too. Too bad younger people don’t take the time to respond to such concerns. They forget we’re here too I guess. (<:

WWOOFing sounds like fun, because I love to see the world, but not sure if I could handle working on a farm…

Lisa

Great article Matt/Sophie! I highly recommend WWOOFing and agree with you that while its a great way to learn new skills, experience the culture etc, its also really hard work and not just a free holiday. In 2010 I volunteered on 4 farms in Canada, and ended up staying at one farm for 6 months I loved it so much. I’m looking to do it again in Italy, France and Spain next year, so your article was perfect timing – thanks!

Margaret

Hi Mary, only today I open this site, my name is Margaret living in Canada, plus 50s also, I want to travel as many countries is possible, also I would like to found a lady friend, to travel with, I never went any were along in my life, and as a strong person I’m I
I don’t see myself along from place to place.
I’m well educated, classy, love music, the arts, easygoing, hard worker, no dramas, no drinking or smoking, fun to be with, Spanish background; at this point of my life …no body wait for me any more.
If you think and want ,you can send me an Email,[email protected]
Thank you for your time, to read my note.
Regards

Margaret.

Have heard of this before but had forgotten about it so thanks for reminding me! Great article!

I’ve just started to learn Spanish and have been thinking of ways to help with the learning and WWOOFing would be a fantastic way to combine my love of food (and where it comes from), sustainable and organic farming, travel and desire to learn Spanish!

Thanks for writing this!

geoff

Is this Woofing program one where a Work visa is not needed ie voluntary work.

I am Australian and after spending 1300 australian dollars on work visa aplication I cannot get a work visa for the UK>

Great article. Actually, believe me or not, but I have not heard a lot about WWOOFing! I planted some trees with my students in China and that’s it but I wish I could have some more experience with it. Maybe in the future :)

Though I had read about WWOOF soon after starting research for our RTW trip, I somehow didn’t consider it seriously, partly because of apprehension, I guess.
Thanks for your “first hand experience” article, I am now going to look into it more seriously.
Do you think it would be okay to do this in one place for a shorter period of time, like a week and not a year ?
Thanks !

Awesome post, I’ve been looking at WWOOFing this year and this post will definitely come in handy. Thanks much!

Hassan

I have learnt about wwoof a few days ago and i just fell in love with the idea.
Im from lebanon and at university so I won’t be able to go anywhere before next year’s summer :( but i have decided to go to italy since i speak the language.
I have no experience whatsoever. but i am really willing to do anything it takes to be helpful for the farm and make my stay as pleasurable for the family as it is gonna be for me :)
if im going in july, when do i need to start contacting the families? and do u think it would be wise to go for a three month stay considering it is my first time?
Thanks in advance, and best regards and wishes for your next wwoofing experiences :)

Excellent post. I’ve woofed many a time and never signed up with the actual wwoof organization. That’s mostly because I’ve got lots of experience working on farms though.

I really appreciate your description of what Wwoofing actually is. You’re right on the money with the variety of tasks and the attitudes of farmers.

I think this is an excellent guide to anyone interested in wwoofing. Also I can’t recommend it enough. Some of my best travel moments where on farms.

Thanks for the tips – I’m in isn’t of my first wwoof experience now in the French alps and love it. I am too, blogging about the experience of it. Check me out. :)

Thanks again.

Samantha

Thanks for your post, Candice! Will definitely check out your blog! :D

vcisjb

I wwoofed on a farm near prague and a farm in northern Scotland (near absolutely nothing). Being on a farm in an isolated area will be a memorable experience!!! Maybe more so than weekends in prague

Emma

Wwoofing sounds like an amazing opportunity which I hope to engage in soon! I just got a list of farms for Chile and my only problem is figuring out how to actually pick a farm when all of them sound so wonderful. I am curious though, how far in advance should a Wwoofer make arrangements to stay at a farm?

Thanks!

Erica

Hey Sophie!

Do you know the name of the farm in the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest? It sounds amazing, and I’d love to check it out as a potential WWOOFing farm.

Any other recommendations for great places to WWOOF in Europe or South America during the July-August time? I’m traveling with a friend, and we are looking for a farm where we can do fruit/veggie picking, look after animals, or do the wine/cheese production thing. Basically anything that doesn’t involve too much construction. Being on a farm with several other WWOOFers would be great too, we aren’t looking to just be by ourselves with our hosts on the farm.

Any suggestions would be awesome!

Cheers,
Erica

madeleine

Hi,
Would it be possible to get the name of the farm in Ecuador? I’m heading down through South America and would love to try some WWOOFing, but am finding it hard to find reviews etc about farms outside US/Europe.
Thanks :)

Ayesha

Did anyone ever get the name of that Cloud Forest farm in Ecuador? I will be there in June and would love to get in touch with the host!

katy

Would love to know the name and details of how to contact the farm in Ecuador, this sounds awesome and something id love to do. Please let me know how I can contact them directly if possible!? Thanks, Katy

Hi Sophie,

Great post I have been aiming to WWOOF for months now. I studied abroad for a year and ever since I have wanted to go back to Europe. I just graduated from University and have been working and saving since so that I can go. I know WWOOFing is low cost but I was just wondering in an average of 5 months on farms how much would you say you spent? Also is it absolutely ridiculous to start in November/December?

Thanks so much!
Anayza

Sam

was it ridiculous to start then? I’m thinking of doing the same in Europe

Anna Lena

Very helpful article! I’m interested in WWOOFing in Spain or Italy. Could you give me names of recommendable hosts in these countries?

Abby

Awesome advice! I hope it’s alright that I use some of your words of wisdom in a speech I’m giving about WWOOFing. I am going to be traveling to Italy to WWOOF in April. I have concerns about it though because I will be WWOOFing alone. I’m a 20 year old woman…what are your thoughts about doing this by yourself? Is it smart, and if so could you suggest some farms you went to that would be a good accommodation for my situation?

This article is excatly what im looking for thanks for sharing your experience

matt

Thanks so much for this inspiring article, totally reaffirms my choices for the near future!

mo

Hi,
I’d love to spend some time WWOOFing next year (2014). My main apprehension at the moment though is I only speak English, bar a tiny bit of french. Do you have any recommendations of places that my lack of language skills would suit? I’m interested in working on an eco farm/community either somewhere in Europe or Central/South America. Any tips welcomed!
Cheers

Dan

Sophie,
Thank you for your logical and honest summary of WWOOFing! I am currently TEFLing in China and looking to get into Travel Writing soon, as well. WWOOFing is definitely on the list of things-to-do, so thanks for your input!

Elizabeth

Hi Sophie,

I’m really interested in traveling this way, I’ve traveled a lot in the past but always with a group of friends or boyfriend, but I’m nervous about wwoofing alone. I’ve never wwoofed before and I’m not sure what it is like in regards to safety. I haven’t read any blogs concerning safety wwoofing as a single female, but it’s really the only thing holding me back. Do you have any horror stories about other wwoofers, hosts, or whomever? I’ve been advised to ask about sleeping arrangements before hand as I would not be comfortable in a mixed gender communal sleeping room, but I’ve heard that arrangement like that can just be bs to get you there. Please let me know what tips you have for avoiding danger and uncomfortable situations while wwoofing.

Thanks so much!

B

Very good question. In fact, this would have been a good issue to address in the article.

I have the same question as sister11. I’d love to visit the Ecuadorian farm. My husbands family is Ecuadorian and we need to visit that beautiful country:)

Thank you so much,

tom

this is a 100% free alternative to helpx, workaway and wwoof – a small not-for-profit project made by volunteers for volunteers http://www.volunteersbase.com :)

Alice

Great article, thanks! So far, I haven’t seen any comments such as I am concerned about. My husband and I are young seniors (65-66) and love to travel in order to meet other people and learn about other cultures. We consider ourselves fit & healthy, but certainly not compared to 30-40 year olds. Are we too old to volunteer, any suggestions?

rajiv

is there a WWOOF in India?

Ellen

Your Ecuadorian experience sounds amazing! Can you tell me more detaisl about this place please!? I’m heading there next year….Thanks! x

I guess the only problem with WWOOFing is that you cannot stay in one location for a very long time. Even if you like it a lot :)

Carly M

Hi! I am WWOOFing in Europe this fall! I am wondering if anyone has any advice on whether I need a visa. I am planning on staying fewer than 90 days and only going to countries on the Schengen area. This blog has been very helpful, thanks so much!

I’m curious if it’s possible to do other paid work while you’re working at the farm? For instance do they usually have internet, or are they in the remote countryside? I like to teach online classes to make extra money when possible in my free time.

Thanks.

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