In April 2012, I bought a one-way ticket to Rome and began a three-month journey that took me to all regions of Italy. I paid WWOOF Italia’s small yearly membership fee of $25, which provided a list of farms and contacts. Here is how it works: Once you come to an agreement with a host, they offer you daily meals and place to sleep in exchange for help on their farm. You may choose to stay one week or one month, but you have hundreds of farms all over the Italy to choose from. It’s up to you to decide where you want to go, and what type of work you want to do. I had a life-changing experience, and I encourage you to take the risk as well.
5. Economic Way To Travel
Once you arrive at your destination, there is little need to spend money on food or travel. Your host will provide everything that you need. My first experience was on the island of Ischia twenty miles outside Naples, Italy. This was a unique location as I worked in the resort town of Casamicciola Terme, and was always a short walk from a pizzeria or the beach. As a lover of Italian cuisine, I had to spend a few bucks here and there, and after all, I was in Italy! On most days, however, I spent nothing as I ate with my hosts and took in the scenery the rest of the day.
4. Meeting New People
As a resident of California and born and raised in Minnesota, I was thrilled to discover that two of my fellow “WWOOFers” in Ischia were from California and Minnesota. It was a nice welcome to Italy and proves that you never know whom you will meet while traveling around the world. When I left Naples to work on the other coast in Puglia, a couple from Australia let me copy movies from their hard drive to enjoy as I traveled on. Weeks later I would meet a woman from Northern Ireland and discovered that we had mutual family ties outside Naples. After several awkward phone calls, we found her long-lost relatives and made arrangements to visit them in Grottaminarda, just miles away from where my ancestors lived in Solofra. One of my hosts was raised in Hollywood, California and had lived around the corner, literally, from where I had been living at the time. Part of the joy of meeting new people through WWOOF was the excitement of the unknown, and trusting others enough to make the most of the experience.
By living cheap and meeting new people, I learned aspects of Italian culture that were quite different from your typical tourist experience. How do some Italian women prepare orecchiette pasta? They shape it on their nipples. This was something I found out from my host while his wife served her famous dish. Many people like to generalize the people of Naples, however I learned important lessons about the small communities through trial and error. Make sure you are familiar with Neapolitan hand gestures! I could talk forever about my love for Italian history, film, women and the country in general but you get the idea. If you find yourself in Rome, Venice or Florence then certainly see the sights, but remember to discover the “real” Italy as well.
2. Organic Farming
This is what WWOOF is all about. You joined to work on organic farms. Sure, I wasn’t necessarily a great organic mind when I arrived in Italy, but I tell you what, I was buying loads of fruits and vegetables when I returned home after three months! This was an important part of the experience for me as I wanted to learn more about the process. My first farm in Ischia had over 100 lemon trees that I picked daily along with trimming the branches. I picked capers, made a cane hut, worked in a potato patch and helped my host’s family prepare lunch. In Puglia, I worked on an olive farm that was run by a small community. They told me to “work as I please” and were more concerned with me being comfortable and healthy rather than the amount of hours I was working. On another farm I picked cherries and drank the amazing homemade wine of my host. After three months I had learned priceless lessons about organic farming and it has changed my way of life.
My three months in Italy was life changing, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I sailed around the Bay of Naples, stood on the top of Mount Vesuvius, and even spent ten days in Greece. During the day I could work in peace, and had plenty of free time to explore the beauty of Italy. It is sometimes hard to believe that it was even real, but I am always reminded of the experience through friendships with people that I met. My destination was Italy, but WWOOF offers opportunities worldwide. The next time you are stressed about vacation expenses, remember that you can travel cheap through WWOOF, if only for a week or two.