Travelling while being a full-time student with part-time jobs, friends, family, and other social commitments all whilst surviving on a student budget certainly isn’t always the easiest of tasks. But it’s also not impossible.
I’m by no means a seasoned traveller, but I prefer to cultivate meaningful, cultural experiences when I do travel rather than opt for the all-inclusive resort scene. I do this through work-trade programs, such as WWOOF and Workaway.
WWOOF stands for WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and after registering for whichever country you’d like to visit, connects you directly to hosts of farms who take in travelers from all over the world. The general premise is that in exchange for your labour (typically no more than 5-6 hours a day with 1-2 days a week off, although this varies from host to host), you receive free accommodation and meals (some locations may ask you to contribute to food purchasing, but none of the locations I’ve volunteered on have). Workaway follows a similar suit, however, you’re able to browse through hosts from all countries before being required to purchase a membership and is not limited to just organic farms – it includes organizations, schools, building projects, child care, elderly care etc, and is in my opinion, the superior platform of the two.
Both platforms allow you to filter through potential hosts by keywords, availability dates, types of help, how many people can be accommodated there etc to help the user find the best match for them. Most hosts have a detailed profile containing what they expect from the traveler in terms of type and amount of work, relevant photos and reviews from previous people who have stayed there. Reading the reviews can be a critical step in choosing where you’d like to volunteer, as not every host treats their workers well. Once you find hosts who spark your interest, you can send them a message through the platform you’re using to see if you meet each other’s expectations. If all works out, all that’s left to do is co-ordinate travel dates and arrival information!
The place ticket tends to be the most expensive part of trips like these. I typically use flight-comparing websites (like Kayak) and monitor the flight I’m looking for over a period of time (on incognito or with a clear-browser history so the prices don’t go up) until it (ideally) drops. By doing this, I made it round trip Toronto to Dublin for about $600CAD and round trip Toronto to Hawaii for just over $500CAD.
If you find good hosts, the only real costs aside from plane tickets is any internal travel you wish to do during your time off and personal purchases. If you do some internal travel, perhaps venture somewhere for a weekend, I’ve found it to be the most cost-efficient to stay use AirBnB, Homestay, Couchsurfing, VRBO, or sometimes a good deal on a hostel.
So far, I’ve WWOOF’ed on a farm in Portugal, two farms in Ireland, and used Workaway for a farm in Molokai, HI, and have had only positive experiences. The opportunities received from choosing this method of travel are like no other you’d receive from a hotel or resort. Instead of only seeing what’s available to any tourist, you get the inside scoop from the locals. You get access to the hidden treasures, you receive a real cultural exchange, you meet amazing people and you have the opportunity to leave a real positive impact. While the work I’ve done on the four farms I’ve visited so far hasn’t always been easy, it’s always been worth it.
There’s also a lot of very accommodating hosts out there, so it’s been easy for me to travel as a vegan, which is often a concern. While I’ve always offered to provide or pay for my own meals/ingredients, the hosts I’ve had have been quick to give me everything I need (and some!). There are a fair number of farms and hosts out there that are also exclusively vegan, and I hope to attend one in the future.
Although my trips are few in number (for now), they are incredibly rich in experience. From rounding up herds of goats, to making homemade pizzas in a stone oven, to building towers, to planting and harvesting a variety of fruits and vegetables, to meeting other travelers from around the world, to getting lost in different cities, to bottle-feeding baby lambs, to building walkways, to planting banana trees, to sleeping in a hammock under the stars, to attending local festivals, to snorkeling in the ocean, to hiking through jungles, to sitting by a fire, to stargazing, to taking outdoor showers, to having no hot water, to being terrified of local insects, to sleeping in a treehouse, to starting mornings with the sunrise, I truly wouldn’t trade any of my experiences, even the unpleasant bits or times I was pushed out of my comfort zone, for the world. With each experience I’ve learned so much about the surrounding culture, community, relevant skills to the farm, and myself.
I urge anyone and everyone planning to travel in the future to try out a work-trade program like WWOOF or Workaway.