Travelling Italy was a huge childhood dream come true. Italy was also the first country I ever WWOOFed in. For those who don’t know what WWOOF is, it stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms; it has also been known as Willing Workers on Organic Farms. In short, the organization links travellers/volunteers (aka WWOOFers) with organic farms/growers (aka Hosts) “to promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non-monetary exchange, thereby helping to build a sustainable, global community” (definition citied by WWOOF UK). WWOOFing in Italy enhanced and added to my experience and cultural exchange I was looking for in my travels.
There are 12 lessons I learnt from my first three WWOOFing placements in Italy:
1- Understand what WWOOF ‘actually’ is –
I know I know, this sounds so simple, but I found in my WWOOFing travels that many new WWOOFers had no idea of what WWOOFing was, let alone what it stood for. Some considered WWOOFing as a means of ‘free food and accommodation’ and a means to stay on the road longer. Remember, WWOOFing is an exchange of food, accommodation and learning for you offering your time, energy, and practical help on a farm. You are expected to work and help to earn your keep. But its not just about working on a farm, its all the different opportunities that opens up to you whilst WWOOFing.
2- Know where you want to WWOOF –
WWOOF is world-wide but your membership is only valid for one country/region, ie: WWOOF UK membership is only valid in the UK only, not in other countries. So, think about where you are traveling too and if you have the time or interest to WWOOF in that country. Also, once you’ve decided which country you want to WWOOF in, think about the regions or areas that draws you, you’re interested in or/and you want to stay longer in. Then check out if there are any WWOOFing farms available in that area. You would be amazed where you would find a WWOOFing farm willing to accept WWOOFers.
3- Why do I want to WWOOF? –
Take some time to figure out the ‘why’… Why do you want to WWOOF? Do you want to learn new skills? Do you want to learn/practice the local language? Do you have skills that you think hosts could use? Do you want to meet like-minded people? For me, I wanted to learn more about developing and creating a healthy sustainable lifestyle and to experience first-hand the farming life. This information is going to be useful when you fill out your profile and when you start connecting hosts.
4- Check out the hosts’ profile – in depth –
You can search the WWOOFing website using different categories, keywords and/or regions. So if you an interest in a particular area or are interested in learning or getting involved in a particular activity then you add this information to the search section and find hosts you may be interested in. Read the hosts' profiles (some even have websites you can even check out) and, if available, the is a comment or feedback section where other WWOOFers with leave information/comments– this can give you an idea what to expect if you WWOOF with that host. These profiles are generally completed in great depth and will include activities, duties, and other expectations of WWOOFers. This will also include if the host will accept families (and minors/children), animals, weekend WWOOFers, recommended lengths of stays (short term/long term stays), and if solo or group placements are available. Hosts profiles will have information about when placements are and aren’t available. Another useful piece of information on the hosts' profile is about the best means of communication for the host. Some hosts are available by phone only at certain times, some don’t have emails, some only answer their emails once a week on a certain day, and some will only accept written letters.
5- Fill out your WWOOFing profile (in full) and don’t forget pics -
Be honest in your WWOOFer’s profile. If you are a ‘newbie’ then say you are – there is nothing wrong with that. Highlight what your interests are, why you’re WWOOFing (think… lesson #3), and don’t forget to add some awesome fun pictures. The website gives you all the information you need about what type of pictures to upload. In my profile, I’ve added my interest and studies in social media management and as a result have helped a host with their Facebook page and Instagram during my placement.
6- Open communication all the way –
If you’re unsure about anything, ask - always keep the lines of communication lines open. Ask questions about the work hours, what you will be doing during your stay, the weather, what you need or should bring with you. Have an accurate idea of the host and the environment you’re heading into. You will find that the hosts will ask similar questions too, like your experiences, what you are willing to do or try, and dietary requirements. I’m a firm believer in “there is no such thing as a stupid question except for the one that’s never asked”. Once at the placement, if you find that your experiences aren’t matching your expectations have that conversation with the host. You will find many hosts were WWOOFers themselves and have been in your shoes. Remember, if you don’t say anything then how will your host know something is wrong.. All my hosts were easily approachable and understanding.
7- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket –
Have a plan B, C and D. You could send out of five emails to hosts, you may get one response back and it could be a decline for whatever reason (the placements are full, or they are going away on holidays); this happens. I remember I was interested in wanting to WWOOF in the far north of Italy and emailed five hosts but got no responses back. I was so disappointed but that’s the joys of it. Have a plan and a backup plan. Remember, there are more WWOOFers then hosts.
8- Your temporally home –
When you are WWOOFing, you have been invited into a home, into a family. Respect the rules of your temporally home. Yes, your temporally home might be very different from what you are use too but that’s part of the experience, part of the fun. Go with an open mind and willingness to give new things a try. Your host is inviting you into their world, their activities and lives, embrace this and I promise you, you will have the time of your life. Who knows, you might find a new hobby, a new interest, or at least a new life-friend.
9- Pinkie swear; Keep your promise and your word –
If you agree to a WWOOFing placement and between you and the host come up with details (including your arrival date and times etc) then show up. If something happens such as delays or you need to cancel then let your host know ASAP. Hosts are expecting you and have probability turned other WWOOFers away because they are expecting you. You will find that hosts will have jobs or arranged activities for you and have even brought food for you. At least you can do is keep your hosts up to date regarding changes as soon as the changes occur.
10- ‘Me’ time –
Don’t forget ‘me’ time. You will have spare time so ask your host what they recommend you see, visit or do. Many will have equipment you can use like pushbikes, maps, games and local activities you can get involved in. I suffer with anxiety, so I need time alone to recharge so I love getting recommendations from hosts of places to visit then head out to explore with my camera. One of my hosts loved yoga so I was able to learn the basics of yoga after a day on a farm. Whatever you need to do to relax, unwind and recharge then don’t forget to add it to your daily activities.
11- Thank-yous –
I generally try to give my hosts something to say thank-you. I have made thank-you cards to give to my hosts at the end of my stay. Even just acknowledging them and how thankful you are for the experience is enough and give positive review on the WWOOFing website. I personally love to try to find something for my hosts from my home country (Australia). I once gave one of my hosts a taste of vegemite on toast on my last day – they never had it before.. it’s a cultural exchange after all.. lol
12- Have fun, have the time of your time -
Get involved, have an open mind and enjoy getting out of your comfort zone. Give things a chance, try new things and activities, and you will be amazed of what you will come away with. Get your hands dirty, learn how to make jams and bread, play with the animals, and the joys of the farm life. You will discover that WWOOFing isn’t just about farming and working. It can open the door to a ton of new opportunities and I promise you, you will have a ton of stories to write home about, you will make new friends, and maybe discover more about you as a person.
Go out and enjoy your WWOOFing experience.
If you found this post interesting/useful, then feel free to share, comment and like. I would love to hear about your WWOOFing experiences and the lessons you’ve learnt whilst WWOOFing. Drop me comment in the comments box..