Travel for Free
Free Room and Board in Some of the World’s Most Exotic Locations
If you like spending time in the garden… love to eat healthy, organic food… and enjoy traveling, there’s a way to combine these passions—and do it all for free.
WWOOF—an acronym for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms—offers you a way to travel the world for next to nothing. (Normally, you pay only to get there.) At the organization’s website, Wwoof.org, you can search the database of organic farms around the world to see who’s looking for someone to help out.
You can volunteer at an organic farm next to the Podacarpus National Park in Vilcabamba, Ecuador, or on an apple orchard and organic bakery in Mendoza, Argentina. Help make goat cheese on an Irish farm near Ballyvaughan, County Clare, learn about wine-making on a vineyard in Italy’s Piemonte district while staying in a village house with a view of the Alps….
How about joining a team running a surfing school at Curio Bay in Southland, New Zealand? Or renovating a 100-year-old timber house with a view of the Pacific on the Fiji island of Ovalau?
You don’t need any serious experience, just a willingness to take on agreed-upon tasks. You won’t be paid by your WWOOF hosts, but as a volunteer, or Wwoofer, you’ll get free meals and accommodation, which can range from rustic to luxurious.
Besides planting, tending, or harvesting organic gardens, Wwoofers may be asked to milk goats, build chicken coops, or, in the case of small hotels, help with cooking, cleaning, or with guests.
Bordering Belize’s lush Spanish Creek Rainforest Reserve, for instance, a family farm grows a variety of fruit tree crops and has a large organic garden and subsistence food plantation. They also raise chickens and horses and need help building additional guest palapas from jungle materials and thatch. Wwoofers will stay in an onsite guesthouse with free WiFi Internet and all meals included.
WWOOF requires that hosts and volunteers agree in advance on the details: time commitment, type of work to be done, accommodation, etc. You pay a minimal fee to join one of the 50 WWOOF independent country organizations and gain access to databases. For example, a Costa Rica membership costs just $16 per year. A joint membership that gives you access to opportunities in Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Belize costs just $33 per year.
According to Emily Navar, owner of boutique Hotel Macan ché in Izamal, Mexico, WWOOFing is a “win-win situation.”
“Our locale is a bit unique in that we’re a hotel with a small organic garden rather than a farm,” she says. “We’ve had couples and singles—mostly women on their own, although a single guy arrives this week. They have mostly been from the U.S. and Europe but also from as far away as New Zealand. The last couple traveled by bus all the way from Denver. They’ve all been hard workers, respectful, and low maintenance. Most are looking for a way to be in Mexico and not spend much money.”
As Emily explains, some Wwoofers have experience in farming and others don’t… and it takes a bit of a proactive spirit on both sides. “We give them tasks and let them work out how to accomplish those on their own.
“They agree to work five hours a day, and we provide free room with private bathroom and hot shower and two meals a day… breakfast and dinner. They eat really well here.”Emily’s husband, Alfred Rordame, is a world-class chef. And Hotel Macan ché—an hour from Mérida, the capital of Mexico’s Yucatán state—is an oasis in the jungle. With lush, green foliage and brilliant tropical flowers everywhere and a cenote-style swimming pool in which to take refreshing dips, it’s not tough duty at all. (Izamal itself is a charming village, with mystical Mayan ruins adjacent to historic colonial buildings.)
A quick search of the Wwoof.org database turns up similar volunteer opportunities in North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia Pacific— more than 95 countries in all.
Reading the overall positive feedback on individual WWOOF country websites, it seems that the biggest benefit of Wwoofing—for both hosts and volunteers—isn’t the opportunity to help out and learn from one another. It’s more about creating lifelong friendships. Not a traditional travel experience, Wwoofing is a true immersion in local customs and daily life—victories and challenges alike. A priceless experience at any cost, but even better when it’s free.
Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. To get full access to all past and future articles and to receive the magazine in the mail or online each month, simply click on the below button to subscribe to International Living magazine at the special introductory price of $49. You will get instant access to the current issue of the magazine as well 10 years of back issues. As an added bonus, we will also send you a FREE report – How to Retire in Paradise on $30 a Day. (You can cancel your subscription at any time.)