What’s it like to WWOOF?

I like today’s guest post, by Lindsay Nicholls, not only because it is hilarious but because WWOOFing is something I’ve heard about but never had the guts to try. Never heard of it? Read on…

As Ned and I washed the goat shit off in a cold mountain stream, I wondered what all the 18-35ers on that Contiki tour were up to. I bet they weren’t heading to sleep in a mouse-infested caravan using a valance as a bed sheet. They weren’t WWOOFing.


Even at the start of planning our quarter-life-crisis solution (Round the World trip) my boyfriend and I were keen to spend some decent chunks of time in each country we chose to visit. Both of us have done that kind of trip before i.e. rush to Europe, rush around Europe, and ending up feeling like we did nothing but take silly photos in front of [insert icon here]. “But it looks pretty small on the map” said the Australian, meekly.

This time around we have time and wanted to a) see how people really live outside of a ticket-seller’s booth and b) pick up a different kind of story or two. I had been working a desk job and wanted to get out from under the computer and air conditioning. Imagine having decisions that are no more taxing than whether to have a beer or a shandy over lunch?! Plus we (I) don’t have much (any) money and we (I) suck at budgeting. With these points in mind, a chat with travel-y friends and a clickity-click of the mouse led us to www.wwoof.org. Why, hello there Willing Workers On Organic Farms! You want us to work for 5-6 hours a day, 6 days a week in exchange for food and accommodation? To put the savings account on hold and providing a cracking story to tell at the next youth hostel? No worries, so where’s the dotted line?

WTF is WWOOF?


WWOOF has been exchanging sustainable living ideas since 1971. They started in the UK, but now there are hosts in something like 99 countries. Basically, it’s a web forum where farmers needing help can connect with volunteers who want to travel, spread the love or simply learn a new skill. From scraping up chook poo, to making wine, to selling fruit at a local farmer’s market to shearing alpacas; I’m sure your agricultural (or just cultural?) dream can be fulfilled through WWOOF!

For Ned and I, the process went like this: we paid 20 euro to join WWOOF Portugal and wrote ourselves a profile. We then gained access to the list of potential hosts and emailed any that sounded good with questions like: can we can stay, for how long, how much do we have to work, etc. Work and living conditions vary greatly from farm to farm, as one can imagine. You may be asked to work back-breakingly hard for a couple of hours a day, or it might be fairly cruisy. Some hosts say that they prefer longer stays, but most are up for negotiation. In retrospect, we felt that between 2-3 weeks was a good amount of time for us, but whatever floats your boat. On our last place, there was a guy from the Netherlands who had been there for five months after spending three years on a farm in Greece!

Fun Acronyms: “O” is for Organic


Now, I like to think of myself as pretty green – I sort my rubbish into appropriate bins, I take my reusable shopping bags wherever I go, I use that scratchy-yet-satisfying loo paper. What I’m not keen on that side of green that whispers “I’m macrobiotic, you evil meat-eater” and “I preach at you while you try not to gag on the smell of my dirty hair”. I actually like steak and believe my backpack’s “luxury item” of Moroccan Hair Oil is the best 100mls I’ve ever pinched off Mum.

Thankfully, you can find a WWOOFing host to suit you, whatever you’re up for. So don’t panic about fitting some stereotype of hippy or hardcore farmer! Whilst cruising the WWOOF forum, and knowing what we’re like, Ned and I tended to shy away from any properties with names such as “Riverdance Moonsong Farm” or mentioned ukuleles and group trust activities. The program is about getting in and having a go, and if you choose your hosts wisely as well as keeping an open mind, your experience should be a positive one.

Lindsey and Ned Get Dirty


First up we spent four weeks on a banana/mango/other tropical goodies farm and eco-tourism business on the island of Madeira, Portugal. All the superficial things were there – the property was stunning; a narrow stretch of land bordered by the sea and 300m high cliffs, only accessible by an elevator. Our private accommodation was lush, with cable t.v. and all the blogging time one could wish for. We had lunch, coffee, beer at the onsite restaurant and food bought for us to cook of an evening. We even got a lend of the car for an explore around the island. But our “hosts” earn themselves speech marks as they were only on the property on Saturday afternoons. We spent most of our time with the hired workers. They didn’t ask to babysit a couple of seemingly dim WWOOFers and seemed to think that SHOUTING was the only way to encourage our Portuguese-learning. We could put two and two together to work things out like there being hundreds of bananas yet to weed around. But there was still that glimmer of insecurity when Salete, our main overseer/language coach, took us up to the back paddock with nothing but a grunt and a machete.

Our second farm, in central (a.k.a. nowhere) Portugal was a completely different farmstay. Our aforementioned caravan was a bit scummy and there was no electricity, but our British/Dutch combo family were so warm and welcoming and the work so varied and considered, that our overall experience was completely fulfilling. We sowed corn, planted trees, milked goats and made cheese from their milk. We ate with the family, balancing our plates on our laps while pushing the dog’s noses away. Every question was answered with gusto, all suggestions taken on board. We discovered what the WWOOF carry-on is about and now I’m hooked!

I recommend WWOOF to anyone looking for a personal challenge and a travel tale with a difference. Now put the “24 Countries in 30 Days” bus tour brochure down and back slowly away…

P.S. Check out the short film,“Because There are Goats” for a taste of a WWOOFing in Europe.


Lindsey Nicholls, former advertising Art Director, has quit her job to travel the world for a year with her long-suffering boyfriend (in his opinion). Her blog, lindseysmostcompelling, is a record of their adventures and a place to take the piss out of poor old Ned. The two recently completely six weeks of WWOOFing in Portugal and plan to do some more volunteer farming in Canada and South America.

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Ju
Ju

Any clue what the name of the eco- turism place you went in Madeira?

Felicia Gartz Levin
Felicia Gartz Levin

“But there was still that glimmer of insecurity when Salete, our main overseer/language coach, took us up to the back paddock with nothing but a grunt and a machete.” Haha, Hilarious!! I smiled and giggled a lot reading this text. I’m about to go on a wwoofing-journey in a few weeks, and I find it helpful to read about what to expect and to not just go with anything. Thanks 4 this one!

Giselle
Giselle

I would like to know any wwoof that I can go with my daughter ..

Rose
Rose

My boyfriend and I are highly considering packing all we own into storage and traveling in the wake of WWOOF. We have a bit of student debt and had planned to work another year to pay it off before joining WWOOF. There is no way you make the money to still be making payments back home, do you?

Burton
Burton

Wwoofing can also be a very lousy experience. We quit the program as hosts when we ran into just too many problems with wwoofs who were looking for cheap vacations. As a farm, we just cannot afford to spend $60/day (what we spent) feeding 2 guys who arrived with sandals, sunglasses and slack rope, and then told us they, “didn’t know they’d have to work” while on our farm. After they had wolfed down 2 loaves of my Artisan bread (I’m a professional baker outside the farm), 22 free range meatballs, and 6 bananas (in 2 days) and not done… Read more »

Liz
Liz

Just looking at WWOOF Ireland, trying to choose a host, when I checked my twitter feed and saw this article. Nice timing.

Makeez
Makeez

Hi there! Well, I’m traveling as well and wanted to do it for 2 weeks(wwoofing). Portugal sounds amazing. I like the description of the first place you stayed at. May I have their contact info. I’ve registered with WWOOFing Italia and France. I haven’t done Portugal yet. I’m going alone. I’m a young female and EVERYONE I know is trying to scare me into NOT going. I’m nervous and at times a bit scared, but mostly, I’m tired of being scared like everyone makes me think I ought to be. So I’m going! I just want as much info as… Read more »

Steph
Steph

Hi Makeez, you might want to try going directly to Lindsay’s site and contacting her. I think WWOOFing in portugal would be a great solo experience!

Verity
Verity

I’ve been considering WWOOFing but had not idea what it was actually like. It was great to hear some insight from someone who’d actually done it! The pictures were stunning too… love the colours and of course the goats are super cute 🙂

Kirsten Alana
Kirsten Alana

Adding this to the ever expanding list of ways I intend to SEE THE WORLD!! Thank you for this post!

Unbravegirl
Unbravegirl

Great article! I just finished up 2 months of WWOOFing on an organic rice farm in Malaysia and it was definitely a great way to have a very different travel experience… and meet a lot of locals (as well as a great way to have the locals stare at you and wonder what the heck you’re doing hanging out in a rice paddy!).

Steph
Steph

you always do the most interesting things!

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