Wwoofing It: Or how I plan to survive on no income for a year

For those of you that already know me or have read my introduction post, you may have noticed that I am not independently wealthy.  So how am I managing to travel for a year with no income?  Even with the money I saved up over the course of my masters degree, there is just no way I would be able to travel for an entire year with just my savings.  Let’s face it, if grad school paid that well I might not have run away screaming.  So I found a different solution: wwoofing.

WWOOF stands for either World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming or Willing Workers on Organic Farms.  It is an amazing organization where you can volunteer on different farms across the world in exchange for food and accommodation.  For a small fee, you get access to the profiles of hundreds of different hosts in the country you’re visiting.  It’s similar to AirBnB in that it is your responsibility to set up a profile and communicate with potential hosts to arrange work.  While the visa I’m traveling on would permit me to work in exchange for pay, I’ve found several advantages to wwoofing it instead.

  1. Wwoofing is meant to be a cultural exchange.  While meeting other travelers in the hostels can be a fantastic experience, it has be equally wonderful to live with the locals.  They can give you great tips about the area that other backpackers might not pick up on.  When you’re traveling so far from home, it can also be really comforting to feel like you are part of a family unit.
  2. Hostel hopping and eating out can add up really quickly.  Even if I were working for pay, here in New Zealand I could be paying somewhere around $30 a night for a hostel.  Trying to keep a roof over my head and food in my stomach tends to be the most expensive aspect of my trip.  To me, working in exchange for food and accommodation felt like the perfect way to come out about even.
  3. The hours are great!   Most of the places I have worked have asked for either 5 hours a day with one day off each week or 4 hours a day with the option of getting a day off by working a longer day.  This means that even after work, I still have plenty of time to go exploring.  For example, today I spent the morning demolishing weeds and then went to downtown Wellington to check out the Te Papa Museum!
  4. Wwoofing is great if you want to be flexible.  So far, the longest I have stayed with one wwoofing host has been 2 weeks.  While some hosts are more than willing to take wwoofers for longer periods of time, keeping my visits short allows me to bounce around this country like a ping pong ball.  One week in Queenstown, the next in Te Anau, all with a roof over my head!  I also get to have variety in my work life since each wwoofing place is different from the next.  So far I’ve worked at a vineyard, a Bed and Breakfast and a native plant nursery.  As someone who gets bored easily, trying out different types of work has been a fantastic experience!
Sometimes you get some really intense supervisors.

So far so good, right?  With only 2 months of wwoofing under my belt I can say it’s been a great experience…90% of the time.  As with any organization this size, if you stick with it long enough, you’re bound to find a couple of bad eggs.  Sometimes your host picks you up from the airport and immediately gives you a hug…either because they are super friendly or because you probably look like you need it after waking up at 4 am.  Other times you get to a host and the wallpaper is peeling off the walls, the windows are held together with duct tape, and you only get instant noodles or cheese toasties for lunch.

Don’t worry, there will be plenty of wwoofing stories in the future.  For now though, I have to say it’s an amazing way to travel.  You’re not getting paid, so worst comes to worst, if you end up with a bad host, you can always leave for greener pastures.  While every experience is different, most hosts do want you to enjoy your time with them and be happy with them.  So with that, I’ve been given most of the day off to enjoy the sunshine before that stack of firewood calls my name!  Back to the adventure *cough* I mean work!


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