How I Had the Trip of a Lifetime for Free (And You Can Too!)

I know, it sounds too good to be true—but this well-kept secret can help you travel the world on a broke college student budget. 

This summer I spent two weeks in the south of France. I drank wine, improved my language skills, cooked authentic and organic French meals, hiked mountains, visited castles, and swam in the Mediterranean all without paying for housing or food. The incredible program that allowed me to do this is called World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or WWOOF for short. This program exists in almost every country and works pretty much the same way. You, the WWOOFer, work on a host farm in exchange for food and housing. Every farm may have  slightly different expectations for their WWOOFers, but you agree upon them beforehand. I worked four hours in the morning, six days a week on the farm I went to and helped out around meal times.

On the farm, I loosely had a daily routine. At 7:45, we (9 other WWOOFers and I) would wake up, get dressed, and eat fresh bread from the boulangerie for breakfast. We’d then head out to work for the morning. We usually picked strawberries or green beans, but we’d often weed and plant as well. Work was the best time to get to know everyone. There were WWOOFers from France, Belgium, the US, and England on the farm. We all spoke in a mixture of languages and helped each other to improve in each other’s languages, French being the most common one between us. Despite a language barrier, I became close with most of the WWOOFers and grew to deeply respect everyone on the farm. They came from all walks of life. Everyone had their own personal reasons for being there, be it language immersion, travel, wanting to try something new, or taking a time for personal reflection and growth.

After work, we’d sit around outside and chat while chopping vegetables from the farm for lunch. We’d all eat lunch together, family style, and then usually part ways for a nap. Around 3:00 or 4:00 the afternoon adventure began. Usually we’d carpool, bike, or hitchhike down to one of the stunning local beaches where we’d relax. Sometimes we’d hike up to the castle by the farm for a view of the ocean then hike through the gorge below. Other times we’d take a bus to one of the charming local towns, paint in the gardens, or just read in the shade. At night, we’d help cook again and then sit around together laughing, drinking, and playing cards and darts.

If you’re interested in WWOOFing and looking for a place to start, I highly recommend the farm I stayed at, Le Potager de Gaïa in Évenos, France. Or, if that’s too big of a step, try a farm in your own home state! Every farm will bring a truly unique experience. Some can be better than others, but if you do your research as I did and come with an open mind and open heart, you may just have the trip of a lifetime.

Here are a few pictures from my stay: