I'm reminded often of how different this kind of traveling that I'm doing is compared to regular sightseeing travel. There's a time and place for each kind of travel, and I can't say one is better than the other. It definitely takes a certain frame of mind to do it either way.
Seeing New Zealand as a WWOOFer, I'm getting a view that travelers AND residents alike probably wouldn't get unless they were farmers or gardeners. Interestingly, many Kiwis know about WWOOFing (unlike in the U.S.) because I guess it's common enough. Though cityfolk don't seem to know it.
It's like a homestay or a travel exchange. I eat with the family, get to know family members, including pets, and get to see another way of life at a very home-based level. I hear what people talk about at the dinner table. I see what people eat for their meals. And most interestingly, I get to pick up on country-specific idioms and ways of speaking. There are a few choice phrases that I've picked up that I just love because they're a bit country-ish and totally endearing:
- “heaps” as in “We just have heaps of veggies during the summer.” or “We have heaps of weeding to do today!” It's obvious what “heaps” means, and I love hearing it.
- “good on ya” as in “Oh, you can feed the animals tomorrow? Good on ya.” or “You did the dishes again? Good on ya!” You're seeing what I mean by country-fied speak here in New Zealand?
- “I reckon” as in “It's going to rain tomorrow, I reckon.” or “We've got a southerly wind coming in tomorrow; it'll be cold, I reckon.” or “Americans are quite materialistic, I reckon.” Seriously, both country-fied people and city people use this phrase ALL THE TIME. It's awesome!!
- “wee” as in “We put a wee lamp in your room.” or “I'll have a wee piece of cheese to go with this.” Men, women, children use this adjective all over the place. Totally cute. A bit of the British in the language, I daresay.
The list could go on, but those are some of my favorites.
WWOOFing also allows me to get my hands dirty, learning about gardening, farming, living off the land in various degrees (off the grid, plugged in, from garden to table, using a supermarket to supplement…). How cool is this? Getting to get free room and board (and usually the board includes great food, use of a washing machine, a great hot water bottle or electric blanket, and even a bike to borrow on days off!) with nothing to give in exchange except 5-6 hours of honest physical labor.
More before and afters of weeding. Can you tell the difference? Some of the statues and furniture were moved around.
So I'm getting fresh air, exercise, education, and lots in return! I'm also feeling the benefits and joys from things like weeding before and afters or a good collection of chicken eggs in a morning round or seeing the shoots or seeds planted growing bit by bit each day. Or getting to harvest my own greens for a good salad or stir fry or soup. I've had some kind of fresh produce everyday since coming to New Zealand (except for my day in Auckland), directly from a garden that I saw and had contact with.
Eggs I collected yesterday on my daily horse-chicken feeding round. So exciting! Free range, warm chicken eggs straight from the roost! I even have to physically move some chickens off the eggs to get at these eggs.
You have a lot more freedom with this method of travel. Go, stay, see the sights, hang out, stop for coffee, eat at a restaurant, cook in a kitchen at a hostel or apartment rental. I've definitely enjoyed this type of travel when I've done it. My trip to Paris last March was a great four and a half days (so short, I know!) of museum-hopping, cafe-stopping, and just walking-walking-walking around the beautiful city. I must've done like at least 10 miles a day!!
My favorite sculptor, Auguste Rodin, at his museum, which was, sadly, closed for renovation. But the sculpture garden was open... I love that museum in Paris!
Basilica of the Sacred Heart on a beautiful early spring day in March. Buskers doing their thing, couples, tourist groups, lots of Parisians and tourists alike.
With touristing, you don't often get to meet “the natives” and get a feel for how people live in that city. You remain “other” to the city or country. You are an outsider, and things are fine as is.
So far in New Zealand, I've only had a few days as a tourist– one day in Auckland when I arrived (at 6am from LAX!) and two-half days in New Plymouth on my days off from my first WWOOF host. Starting this weekend, I'll be a tourist again for almost two weeks, traveling the West Coast of the South Island– supposedly the most beautiful parts of New Zealand. I'll be staying at hostels, eating cheaply (probably bread, yogurt, muesli, and other easy meals I can whip up in hostel kitchens).
One thing about WWOOFing versus tourist-ing is that there's a HUGE different in how much money you spend (for obvious reasons). I've calculated that I've spent a little more than $200 in the last month I've been in NZ (not including my bus pass which was $415 or my plane ticket which was a little over $600). Wow, that's about $8/ day. And $70 of that was gift vouchers that I gave to my first host family to thank them for an amazing stay. Other than that, I've only spent money on some food here and there and city bus tokens. And I've estimated that my next two weeks of travel will cost me about $500 or so with hostel and food costs and maybe some excursion costs. Yikes! Definitely puts costs into perspective when you're WWOOFing.
But don't WWOOF if you're not ready for and interested in farm work, I'd say. Otherwise, you just feel like free labor for something you won't really enjoy. And all that for a day off here and there, you might think? Like today, I weeded a garden bed, picked up sticks across a stretch of grass so the owner could mow, and snipped off low hanging leaves on a flax tree. And that took up about 6 hours of work. Not recommended for those of you who don't want to get some dirt under your fingernails, cobwebs in your hair, and be squatting for hours on end.
I'm even thinking of where else I could WWOOF so I could get a similar experience in another country– like Provence or Tuscany or Hawaii or farmland of Korea or Japan… Anyone want to join me? 🙂
One drawback of WWOOFing is that you need a good chunk of time to travel like this. Staying just for a week or a few days just doesn't cut it.