I Learned to WWOOF the Hard Way

If you’ve never heard of WWOOFing, check it out here. WWOOF is a program that allows travelers to trade farmwork for food and a place to stay on organic farms all over the world. I’ve had some great WWOOFing experiences (as have many others), but a few have been horrible.

I WWOOFed on a farm in Ireland which worked us to the bone – 13 hour days, 7 days a week. I stayed somewhere else where the farmers had their own kitchen and a separate “WWOOFer kitchen”. Their kitchen was filled with honey, freshly roasted coffee beans, a variety of fancy smelly cheeses, and all sorts of culinary delights. Our kitchen was filled with moldy beets, carrots, and potatoes from last year’s harvest (this was June). The woman who ran this farm, by the way, spoke frequently of her own bowel movements and purported that Rome fell because the Romans “practiced homosexuality”. It was an awkward experience all around.

Hide, a bunny!

At one farm I had to feed and care for a room full of a bunnies. Did I mention that I am terrified of bunnies? Just looking at this photo gives me the willies.

At yet another place, our host accused me or my companion of peeing on her floor (for the record, neither of us did – though afterwards I won’t deny that I was a bit tempted, because what is the fun of being accused of something when you’re innocent?) She tempered her accusation by informing us that she didn’t actually check, and it may have been water (note to future hosts: it’s probably good to be sure before bringing something like that up). This woman also fed us half an artichoke for dinner once (yes, she was French, since I know you were all wondering). It gets worse, though. A friend had a terrible WWOOFing experience in which he was made to do hard labor from sunup to sundown with no days off, no food, and no lines of transportation or communication to the outside world. It was a monumental effort for him to escape. His story is exceptional (he was the first person to WWOOF at that farm and he later found out that his farm had dropped out of WWOOF just after he arrived, so there was no oversight), and most WWOOFers will never face a situation this bad. But the truth is that a few bad apples will have no qualms about abusing WWOOFers in a way that they would never dream of abusing paid workers.

I’ve also had many fantastic WWOOFing experiences, but won’t share those stories because they aren’t funny, though if you’re interested in farm recommendations, feel free to drop me a line. I will, however, share my learnings from these experiences, so that you can be better prepared than I was.

Goats survey their domain

Sometimes you get to work in a place this beautiful with animals this cute.

1. Set clear expectations. This can’t be stressed enough. Before you arrive at the farm, find out how many hours they intend for you to work, when you will have days off, where you will be living, and what you will be fed. Some people will try to squeeze out every bit of energy and life you have in you, so don’t let them.

2. Get references. Ask for contact info for previous WWOOFers. If they’ve been doing this for a while, that shouldn’t be hard to come by. Previous WWOOFers will be your best source for candid information and recommendations. Some travelers have even published regional guides to WWOOF farms.

Bad piggy puns!

Once I had a host who was a huge boar and a total pig. It was ok, though, because he was pretty cute.

3. Have a backup plan. I emphasize this a lot because it can’t be emphasized enough. Sometimes, no matter how prepared you think you are, things can fall through. Keep a list of other options or possibilities (or even just couches to surf on) in case you need to get out. When I escaped from a WWOOFing-in-hell experience in Ghana, I spent the following days just sleeping in my friend’s home in Accra while I puked my guts out from the pills I was given to cure my malaria. I don’t know where I would have been had I not had a good backup plan, but it isn’t fun to think about.

4. Expect to work hard. Farming can be tough, and it can be tedious. Depending on when you go and how long you’re there, you likely will never see the fruits of your labor. If you’re not used to manual labor or working outside, it can be really difficult. Don’t come into this expecting to laze around all day and enjoy a peaceful, cheap vacation.

Sleepy goats

Hey, you! No lazing!

5. Know that it might not be legal for you. WWOOF isn’t great about mentioning this, because they’re in the business of selling memberships, but some countries prohibit foreigners from WWOOFing without a work visa. WWOOF explicitly tells volunteers to remain silent about their plans if interrogated by border agents, which might seem more than a little sketchy. You can read a story here about a WWOOFer who was denied entry to the United States. Try to research the laws where you want to WWOOF to see whether or not it’s legal on a tourist visa.

79 Comments

  1. Sacha Song says:

    I’m reading your blog now and found it really funny and very educational!

    I’ve done some wwoofing about 10 times only in Australia and might do it again in New Zealand next year.
    I also met some hard asses on the way but mine can’t rival with you according to the description about them. :)

    • Raphaela says:

      Thanks Sacha! It’s awesome to know that people who aren’t my mom are enjoying these articles ;) (love you mom). I’m hoping to get out to Australia soon!

    • Erica says:

      Any suggestions on where to WWOOF in Australia or New Zealand?

    • dirtyv6 says:

      Yeah, we’d love to hear them too! That area is next on our list of places to visit.

  2. Jessica says:

    I totally agree with what you write! although i did not travel for as long as you (probably) have, i had a wide range of experiences over 6 months and 7 farms…and it can be so fun, and so horrible!!
    lovelovelove from germany

  3. Claire Bowman says:

    Hey Raphaela!

    I’m hoping to WWOOF in Central America in the coming months and I was wondering if you have any experience there! I would love some advice on how to plan/choose a farm, what to expect, etc.. If you have the time, shoot me an email so I don’t write a novel on these comment boards :)

    Best

  4. dirtyv6 says:

    Hi Claire! I’ve never WWOOFed in Central America, but I sent you an email. Thank you! -Raphaela

  5. Phil R says:

    Hi Lehua,
    I think you missed a “not” out of your first sentence!
    Thanks for posting though, interesting blog. I’m a HelpX and Workaway host and my first Workaway volunteer had a similar slave driver story. He was at a place where they took him each day by minibus to a remote field somewhere and dumped him then picked him up about 10 hours later.

    • Betzy says:

      Hello! My bf and I are planning to go to central america and wooffing as well! He is really exited while I’m afraid because Im from Panama and I know how it can be.. He has never been in central america before… Please give me all the advice you have! I have never wooffed before….

  6. Lehua says:

    Sorry, not sure what you mean about the missing “not.” That sounds terrible about your workaway volunteer. I’m surprised that he decided to keep at it, I would have been discouraged after such a terrible experience.

  7. Blaire says:

    Hey,
    This is a great post, especially for me who’s planning on wwoofing for a year with no experience so far. I’m at my first farm now and it’s been amazing but I’m a little worried how it’s going to go long term. Have you wwoofed through Europe at all? Any recommendations?
    Thanks heaps :)

    • dirtyv6 says:

      I’ve WWOOFed all over Europe! If you give me your email, I’d be happy to send you reviews and cautions. :)

      -Raphaela

    • Blaire says:

      Here’s my email, thanks for this, it’ll be great for some advice :)
      [email protected]

    • ryan says:

      hello! im an american currently living in colombia, and am looking to wwoof in spain this winter. would LOVE any recommendations or connections to people you might know that host/have wwoofed there! this will be my first experience. my email is xxx [removed by admin]. thanks!

    • dirtyv6 says:

      Hi everyone who wants recommendation about farms! I just wanted to let you know that, although we don’t know any WWOOF farms in your particular countries (and if we did, our contacts are long expired and our experiences are too out of date for you to rely on), we do have some great advice for you. Make sure, when you talk to your prospective farm, that you ask for the contact info of past WWOOFers who stayed at that farm. We have stayed at farms that wouldn’t give us contact info, and there was almost something really dodgy about them. If they don’t want you to talk to anyone who has worked there in the past, you have to ask yourself “why?” If they do give you contact info, follow up on it, because sometimes the farm owners have a much more rosy idea of what working on their farm looks like than someone who has actually worked there. Maybe the housing is really really cold at night, or maybe the owners eat way better food while they expect you to eat moldy beets but don’t realize how crazy that is (hey, it has happened to us).

  8. frances says:

    Hey! I was reading up on your blog and found it so informative! Have you ever WWOOFed in Thailand? My sister and I would really like to farm there, but we have no idea where to start once we acquire a membership. Any suggestions? Thanks!

  9. Emily Turner says:

    Great post! I’m looking to WWOOF in the near future and this was super helpful. Have you ever WWOOFed in Iceland? It’s my #1 goal, I’d love some recommendations if you have ‘em :)

    • dirtyv6 says:

      Alas, we’ve never wwoofed in iceland, although we have worked at a hotel. Good luck! You’ll probably be working with lots of animals because there aren’t many veggies that grow in such cold climes (unless you find a greenhouse).

  10. Kat says:

    Great post! Would be mega appreciative of any South American farm recommendations (particularly Argentina). Please shoot me an email if you find the time! :D

  11. Robin says:

    Have you ever woofed in Finland?

    • dirtyv6 says:

      Nope, just traveled there. Finland is incredibly beautiful, though – I’d love to go back there! If you follow the tips above you should be fine though – just make sure to set clear boundaries and ask to speak with past WWOOFers. Good luck!

  12. Nora says:

    Hey,
    I would like to do wwoofing in France from this March (preferably South of France). Do you have any tips for good farms? I couldn’t find a direct link to contact you, that’s why I am posting my comment here.
    Thanks for any help!
    Nora

  13. Eleanor says:

    Do you know anything about the farm at Sátormapuszta in the Balaton Uplands National Park in Hungary?

  14. eline says:

    Haha I should probably feel bad about laughing but let’s blame it on your funny writing style instead of me being a bad person :D

  15. Julian says:

    Hey, I’m just wondering if you guys have any suggestions for places to WWOOF at for the first time. Thanks!

  16. Amy says:

    Hi Raphaela
    Haha brilliant post! I spent 3 months wwoofing in the UK I can relate only too well! For good or bad I’ve got the bug again and plan to set off to Europe in early August. I’m feeling particularly drawn to Spain and Portugal via Netherlands, Austria and Italy although no concrete plans yet, just very itchy feet!
    I’d hugely appreciate your European reviews and cautions if you have time to send.
    Best wishes
    Amy
    x

  17. Claire says:

    Hey There!

    I realize you wrote this awhile ago, I’m hoping you’ll still check-in. I have worked on farms for a few years now and I’ve traveled quite a bit but now I am looking to WOOF for the first time ever, combining the two. I am headed to Ireland and would love some recommendations. Let me know, if you can!

    • dirtyv6 says:

      Hi Claire! Sorry, I’ve never WWOOFed in Ireland. I know someone else who worked on a farm in Ireland, and she had a great time! I’d give you the name of her farm, but her trip was not through WWOOF but instead through a history society. Good luck, I’m sure you’ll have a great time!

    • Marcela says:

      Hi Claire,

      Did you make it out to Ireland? I am thinking of WWOOF’ing come September and am looking for recommendations.

      Thanks!
      M

  18. In your story about the woman who fed you with half an artichoke what do you exactly mean by ” yes, she was French, since I know you were all wondering”?

    • dirtyv6 says:

      There is something of a stereotype that the French don’t eat as large portions as Americans eat (except when it comes to cheese). I wouldn’t really call it a negative stereotype, since Americans eat way to much, but the discrepancy sometimes leave us feeling underfed when we visit.

  19. Natarats says:

    Hey! I’ve never wwoofed before and I plan on wwoofing around England, Ireland, Scottland, Sweden, Iceland, Italy, New Zealand, and China for about 9 months or so. I’m so excited! But it’s near impossible for me to find reviews and recommendations of different farms! Could you possibley email me? :3 [email removed by moderator]

    • dirtyv6 says:

      Good luck Natara! I wish I could give you some good recommendations, but those are all countries I’ve never WWOOFed in. I’m sure you’ll have a great time, though.

  20. Aviv says:

    great reviews, allot of help to people who wants to start, like me, thank you very much!
    i saw here in one of the comments you sent several recommendations to farms in france
    i plan on taking my first wwoof experience there in the south of france and am really hoping you could send me some spots, im already registered to the french website but allot of reliable information about specific places you cant really get there…

    thank you very much!

  21. Rylie Wolff says:

    I would love to hear some recommendations for farms, I am a first time WWOOFer!

  22. amy says:

    Can I have your email!? I’d love to hear about your experiences and expert advice about wwoofing. I plan to wwoof later this year and it would be so helpful

  23. felicity says:

    Hello!
    Thank you for writing this!
    can you recommend anywhere to wwoof in Japan?

    • dirtyv6 says:

      Sorry, our visit to japan was coordinated through an education program, not a word-exchange (eg WWOOF)

  24. Andrea says:

    Hi there!
    I am looking to WWOOF around Ireland. I know you mentioned above that you had a negative experience in Ireland, but do you know of any farms or particular regions that are best to WWOOF in? And what other countries in Europe do you recommend? What country was the picture of the goats on the mountain taken in?
    Thank you! Your post is very helpful.

    • dirtyv6 says:

      Hi Andrea! This is the third time I’ve typed this reply, so lets hope it actually gets saved this time.
      The goat picture was taken in Norway, which is a fantastically beautiful country but has very few WWOOF farms because of the short growing season. There are some work-exchange programs there picking cloudberries though. Picking cloudberries is back-breaking work, because they grow right on the ground like strawberries, but the area they grow is probably one of the most beautiful places in the world. They grow in the high mountain rages above the arctic circle, and ripen during the sunny summer. Also, they pay is pretty good compared to a lot of farm labor, since Norway has a great economy (and good thing, too, because the cost of living is outrageous!)

      As far as region/country recommendations, it’s impossible! Every farm is so different, even from the farm right next door. To pick a country for WWOOFing, I would recommend going to whichever area most appeals to you culturally/scenically. My favorites are Norway and Iceland (most of the farms there are animal based because of the climate).

  25. Erica says:

    You must have amazing experiences! Could you give me some recommended farms in Europe that would be a good experience? After reading this I am kind a little scared to pick any old farm. Lol.

  26. Claude says:

    Based on a woofing experience in South Finland :
    If you are a vegetarian and if your are used to this diet and that it fuels you even when you do hard work, go for it.
    If you are NOT a vegetarian, just forget it !
    Your metabolism cannot just adapt in a snatch to a brutal change of diet.
    No way you can do 6 hours solid of digging burning over 3000 Cal per day on birds seeds and horse food.

  27. Mia says:

    Hi! I am a first time WWOOFer, do you have any farm recommendations in France?

  28. Katherine says:

    Hi! I am so keen to go WWOOFing in France later this year and would absolutely LOVE to hear of any great farms you stayed at. I don’t speak much French so if they speak a little English that’d be great! Thanks so much!

  29. Jason says:

    Howdy, I came across your article while doing research for a guide I am writing. Really great article and entertaining to boot! I spend a lot of time in Norway (3 months every six…damn visa laws)

    Anyway, I have never WWOOFED but am interested in interviewing somebody who has for my podcast and also would love to include some of your words of wisdom in this guide.

    No worries either way, but if you are interested in connecting shoot me an email and we’ll have a chat. I;m writing from Vietnam but will be back in Norway by the weekend.

    best of luck,
    Jason

  30. Lupe says:

    Hello! I am considering WWOOFING this fall. I will have to find sometime relatively short notice as its already mid august and I was hoping to start by october. The countries I was considering WWOOFING in are Portugal, Spain, Greece (this is a big maybe) and Ireland. I would also be open to Italy but am less inclined to stay in italy because I have already spent the last 4 months here and would prefer to travel. Could you recommend some farms in any of these places? I would prefer a vegetarian farm, dairy is fine, but I would like not to take part in any slaughtering. Thanks so much!

  31. Chanel Borg says:

    Hi !
    I’ve been thinking of WWOOF next June in Iceland, Norway or Sweden – any ideas of good hosts there? This article scared me just a little bit :P Also if you have any advice on how to go about it? Thanks, would really appreciate it :)

  32. aisya says:

    hey there.
    i came across this article while searching for a good place to wwoof. this is my first time ever to do some wwoofing,, n i really hope that u can suggest some great place to go ( preffarably not animal related farm)i’ve heard lots of weird experiences from the previous wwoofer,, haha to be honest im kinda worried,, but o well,, ^^

  33. Nina Jenson says:

    Hi, I am thinking about taking a semester off of college and woofing for the spring and summer. Do you have any host recommendations in french speaking countries? Any advice you have in general is greatly appreciated.

  34. Dedina says:

    I was wondering if you’ve WWOOF’d in Italy and if so, would like some recommendations. I know you said something about emailing you for recommendations but for some reason can’t seem to find it. I was wondering if I should leave you my email or would it be better for you to write yours? I’m sorry, I never leave comments on blogs so I’m not sure how to go about this, haha. I’ve never WWOOF’d before, (I’ve been to Italy before though) and I’m excited to try it! I’ve been doing a lot of research on what to expect, what to pack, and thanks to your blog, how to get out of a bad spot. Thanks in advance for any recommendations/advice you can provide!

  35. Arisukj says:

    Hi!
    i’m thinking about wwoofing in Spain. Can you give me some advice and reccomandations?
    My email is [email protected]
    Thanks! And thanks for this post, too!

  36. dakotavaren says:

    Hey, i was wondering if you did much wwoofing in south/central america? Panama, Belize, Guatemala that sort of stuff and if so if you have some farms to recommend. I have a wwoofing account but really am not having much luck with replies. Ive wwoofed all over canada , the states and Australia , so im not super new to the game this time around its just really not working out for me. Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated!

    Dax

  37. Victoria Duggan says:

    Hi I’m wondering your experiences in Europe? Have you done any in Italy?

  38. Phebe says:

    Hi, will you care to share some of the recommended farm you had experienced thru WOOF? wil like to hear and potentially woof sometime this July :)

    Thanks in advance,
    Phebe
    Spore

  39. Erin says:

    Hi I am looking into this for January of 2015. I’m 25 y/o female and want to travel and work while I do that. Have any suggestions for me? I was thinking Ireland, Italy, france, fiji, switzerland, australia, argentina, belgium, brazil, …i don’t even know actually… where was your favorite place? (I have never been outside of the U.S.)

  40. anna says:

    I am trying to find places in Ireland that will take on a worker for an extended period, 8-10 weeks and was wondering if you had any recommendations? I am excited but also want to follow your good advice to ensure that these things don’t occur. Thanks!

  41. Molly Anne says:

    hello! I am VERY new to WWOOFing as in i have just started contacting hosts for the first time! I am looking at farms in the UK. I was wondering if we could exchange emails? I would really appreciate any advice and cautions you have for me, and I am looking to ask an experienced WWOOFer some simple questions to ease my anxieties! If you’re willing to have a bit of a conversation, I’d adore that! My email is [email protected]

  42. Mike says:

    Hello there, I just read this post, a couple years late, but I’d love to get some recommendations for countries and farms in Europe…
    My e-mail is [email protected]..

    Thanks!

  43. Sabrina Shuman says:

    Hello,

    I plan on Wwoofing in Peru in June and July this summer and was wondering if anyone had a personal experience/recommendations they could share with me. If you could shoot me an email I would be so appreciative!

    Thanks,
    Sabrina

  44. Hey! I’m trying to WWOOF this summer for the first time! I’m studying abroad right now so somewhere in Europe… I’d love any tips and suggestions if you could email me! I definitely want to avoid the slave experience… My email is [email protected]

  45. Emily says:

    I’m looking at wwoofing for 2-4 weeks this September in Spain, Portugal, Italy — or really anywhere en route to Morocco. If anyone has good wwoofing experiences or reccomendations, please let me know!

  46. I’m starting to plan a WWOOFing trip this summer and hoping for the quickest turn around I can manage ie. research, contact, 1-2 week stay within the next 2 weeks. Looking in the USA (CA) so if it flops I have places to crash. Do you have any advice??

  47. Shreya Sood says:

    Hi, I’m trying to plan my first wwoofing experience in south america and am feeling a bit overwhelmed. Could you please pass along any farm recommendations you may have along with any advice? I would so appreciate it. My email is [email protected]. Thanks very much!

  48. Olivia says:

    Hello,
    There are a few comments here with recommendations for France but no replies. I’m leaving for France in one month and would love some recommendations if you have any!

  49. Jamie says:

    Hi Raphaela,

    Thank you for the informative post!

    I am new to wwoofing and looking to wwoof for the first time in Iceland, Denmark and Norway. I am wondering if you have any farm recommendations for these countries?

    I have contacted one of two hosts who have images and more information about their farm twice but haven’t heard back. Any advice on how to get started as a first-timer?

    I hope this message gets to you!

    Thank you.
    Jamie

  50. Giulia says:

    Hi! I’d like to WOOFING this summer for the first time, and Im thinking about Africa. I read about your experience in Ghana and I woud like to know if you had other bad experiences in Africa and if you can give me some suggestions! :)

  51. Sarah Hoffman says:

    hello,
    A friend and I are thinking about WWOOFing this summer. if you have any suggestions or advice please e-mail me at [email protected]

  52. Cristina says:

    Really helpful post about woofing. Really appreciate it as a newbie woofer. Thanks!

  53. Jonathan says:

    Hi,
    I know this is a bit of a resurrection, but I wanted to ask for some reccomendations for farms in France, if you’ve chanced to wwoof there.
    My email is [email protected].
    Thanks!

  54. julia says:

    It seems like we all had some weird wooffing stories… well i only wooffed twice but the second one was a disaster. Me and the rest of wooffers finally got jealous of the farm owner’s dogs! lol! In a few words we passed 10 painful days digging the forest so as to create a new (huge) camping side for the next coming wooffers ( i mean i was happy doing that but the 3 of us could start it and the next wooffers i guess could continue it, no? we didn’t need to pass 7 h per day digging and digging and digging…) the rest of the time we passed it by cleaning the land of the weeds. The food was always cold, the wooffers ”place” didn’t exit (the wooffers were not allowed in the house). the owners NEVER joined us, stayed with us,made a conversation with us… Most of the times we were working (and eating!!) outside in the rain (that’s when we got jealous of the dogs that were actually allowed to get inside.
    the caravans we were staying were unbelievably dirty…
    humf i guess i feel much better now sharing my story with you guys! SO BE CAREFULL WHEN WOOFFING! It can be amazingly GOOD or really really BAD.

  55. dirtyv6 says:

    Yikes! That sounds horrible. But yay for solidarity! We’re happy to provide you with a place for release ;)

  56. Howie Story says:

    why so long for a MODERATION?

  57. dirtyv6 says:

    Sorry, Howie, we won’t approve a comment that is a blatant ad for your site. At least pretend to relate it to the content, and don’t get so indignant about it. It is our site, you aren’t entitled to an approval.

Trackbacks for this post

  1. [...] and I know people who have done it (and heartily recommend it). Just beware of making the same mistakes I’ve made and please, make sure what you’re doing is legal (or, if it’s not legal, make sure you at least [...]

  2. [...] Work. No, not like WWOOFing or volunteering at a hostel in exchange for a free room (we’ve done both), because you’ll still [...]

  3. [...] However others do have some bad experiences since WWOOF isn’t connected to any governments and some countries don’t have the manpower to do good background checks on the hosts. That shouldn’t deter you though because many experiences will be great; you just need to do your research and learn from other people’s mistakes. [...]

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