Inspire

Why WWOOFing Is About More Than Just Saving Money

Anyone who has daydreamed about handing in their resignation letter and taking a leisurely year off across continents has 100 percent come across WWOOFing as a way to curb the inevitable overspending. After all, no one is here to complain about free food and board in some of the most beautiful parts of the world in exchange for a little work.

But if you choose wisely, to WWOOF (or Worldwide Work on Organic Farms) is to have much more than just a budgetary win – and more than farm-work. I spent a month in Finland’s Lapland region, working with a husky sled tour company in the depths of winter. Here’s why I know it’ll be the best part of your trip.

Interesting experiences money literally can’t buy

 

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In just a quick scroll through popular WWOOF site Workaway, you’ll see that there is unbelievable variation in the 36,831 (!) jobs listed worldwide. Love food? Head to southern Spain to help out on an olive grove. Prefer your volunteering with a side of fluffy animals? Maybe Sweden’s biggest alpaca farm is up your alley.

You can search by country, type of job or keyword, as well as viewing each place’s rating, but all are guaranteed to teach you something you never would have learned by sticking to the beaten travel track.

Saying goodbye to the concept of a comfort zone

 

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If general travelling is said to take you out of your comfort zone, the right WWOOF experience will push you so far away that you won’t be able to see it from where you’re standing – in my case, ankle-deep in snow surrounded by frozen dog poo.

The minus-30ºC days were a shock after being in 40º and above just days earlier in Australia, but that’s one of the greatest parts of the WWOOFing experience. Whether it’s a 70º temperature change, food your child-self would be horrified by (reindeer, anyone?) or just that you’re surrounded by non-English speakers, new experiences abound.

Genuine global friendships

 

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Hands up who’s travelled to some far-flung place and made friends from the same country? You can’t see my hand, but I promise it’s up. There’s heaps of value in finding like-minded people and those are friendships you might keep for life, but it’s not always as easy to break through different cultural expectations and language barriers, especially if you tend towards introverted.

WWOOFing will obviously throw you in with welcoming locals, but there’s a great chance you’ll meet other volunteers and staff from all over the continent. In my Finnish experience, this was a lot of French, Germans and Swiss people, some of whom are still friends to this day and all ready to welcome me to their cities in the future. There’s nothing like a first day spent shovelling metre-thick snow off a hotel roof to bring people together.

The local way of life

 

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That old adage of “be a traveller, not a tourist”? You can totally one-up it by WWOOFing. Extended travel stints are great for getting a better feel for a place, but it’s when you actually live and work alongside people that you really get to see what life is like.

Different WWOOFing experiences will have different minimum time commitments, but some of the more formalised programs like mine will require a minimum of one month. It sounds like a long time, but it’s just the right amount for feeling like you’re getting a handle on a new way of life.

See the countryside

 

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Travel bucket lists often read like a Wikipedia page of the world’s capital cities. But what about the entire rest of the country?

It’s so easy to give rural and regional areas a miss when you don’t know where to go, but they’re often where you find a more traditional way of life, local secrets, regional delicacies and some of the most stunning scenery. Finland is 75 percent forest, so just think how much you’d miss if you just stuck to the (still very nice and worth visiting) streets of Helsinki.

Most WWOOF experiences are outside of cities, often on unfathomably picturesque properties that are completely up for exploration on your time off. For me, that meant snowshoe hikes up pine-covered mountains or walks along cross-country skiing tracks to find tiny log cabin cafes complete with local accordion players.

Check out Qantas flights to begin your next adventure.

(Lead image: Ohrim / Shutterstock)