Are you sitting in your cubicle pretending to work while searching the Internet for ideas on what to do with your life? That was me, not long ago, and many other friends and co-workers that I’ve known over the years. The years were starting to fly by, and still I continually had a sense of dissatisfaction in working 8-5 in a little cubicle – watching the clock, and waiting for the end of the day Friday to squeeze in some kind of fun for the weekend. If I could afford a vacation, it meant saving every penny and then, maybe, getting approved for a full two weeks off. Then I came across the Wwoof.org site (www.wwoof.org), as well as Help Exchange (www.helpx.net). I had always thought volunteering and world travel was something for the very young, such as college students, not parents of grown children, single moms or families. These sites opened my eyes. There are so many opportunities to travel, especially if you are not the type to like cookie cutter vacations at resorts, with little or no interaction with the local people.
By browsing these sites, I discovered numerous opportunities to learn new skills and meet many types of people from all over the world. Each host offers a different type of experience. There are hosts who have full organic farms in Ireland, to a small family farm in Spain, to a vineyard in Tuscany, Italy and even a Husky farm that trains puppies for dog sledding in Finland. There is a listing for a camel and llama farm in France (they train them for trekking and shows), and even a retreat center that has workshops for tantra and sacred sexuality in England. I even found a place on the Isle of Skye in Scotland (the most beautiful, as well as the friendliest place I’ve ever been to) that is looking for people to ride horses (oh, what hard “work” that would be!). There are listings in New Zealand, Australia, Belize, Bali, Nairobi and many more locations all over the world, as well as closer to home.
In exchange for working anywhere from a couple of hours a day, a few days a week to six hours a day, six days a week, hosts offer free accommodation and meals. Accommodation varies greatly, from a private room in a remodeled castle to a caravan to a space in their yard for a tent! You choose what fits best for you. Some offer space for just a single person, some for couples and some have room for families. The length of stay varies greatly as well. Most hosts request a minimum of a week or two weeks on up to several months or more.
For our first experience, I signed up for a membership on www.helpx.net. The fee is 20 Euros (about 28 USD) for 2 years and includes all countries. Wwoof has a larger host/membership listing but there is a fee for each country. After reading hundreds of listings, we narrowed it down to ten or so, and emailed the hosts. We finally chose a family in Spain who has decided to make sustainable living their way of life. It also turns out they have many interests in common with us, which we really liked. They make their own yogurt, cheese, bread, olive oil, wine, as well as having a full fruit and vegetable garden. We will help harvest olives and grapes, tend the garden, help take care of the animals (3-4 hours of work 5 days a week) and they will teach us their way of life as well as providing our meals and putting us up in a nice private room in their home. The family has mountain bikes that we can borrow, and there is a good transportation system so we won’t need to rent a car. All we have to do is pay for our airline ticket to Europe plus a little pocket money. By the way, if you fly to Ireland from the East Coast you can get a round trip ticket for as little as $300 (with just a little research). Once you are in Ireland, Ryan Air has round trip flights to Spain for only 8 Euros (11 USD). This isn’t unusual – you can fly almost anywhere in Europe this cheap on Ryan Air (I have flown with them before, it is bare bones but well worth the savings). On weekends and afternoons we’ll visit Costa Del Sol (beautiful area of the Mediterranean coast), medieval villages, museums, a Roman theater in Merida dating to 15 BC, 11th century Arab baths and we might even take a day trip on a ferry to Morocco.
Are you worried about spending time in the home of strangers? Most hosts have references from people who have stayed there before – and describe their experience in detail so you have an idea of what to expect. You can also contact their references if you feel more comfortable that way.
We will spend 3 weeks in Spain on this trip; however, we may decide to spend the next several months at various locations (Italy, France or Greece?) or return home and plan for a longer trip next year. We hope to learn new skills- possibly something we really enjoy doing and maybe even start our own business. Perhaps one day we will be hosts ourselves! The opportunities are endless if you just take that first step.