Originally we decided to volunteer during our travels as a means of saving money. There was no way our budget was going to stretch to one year if we had to pay for accommodation and food for the 4 of us every day.
It has certainly saved us a lot of money so far, so much so that we’ve managed to add another two months onto our travels, but it has also turned out to be much more than a money saver; some of the most interesting and enjoyable memories have been made while we were working through WWOOF or workaway.
We have been so lucky so far to have found really great hosts, who have welcomed all four of us and looked after us really well.
Our first few WWOOF placements, in Europe, we booked while we were still at home in London, as we knew more or less where we were going to be and when.
Our very first placement was at Benico Bio, an organic fruit and vegetable farm, run by two young cousins, in Mimizan, on the west coast of France. They put us up in one of their caravans, and had a great camp setup, with a hot shower, basketball net, slack line, and big kitchen and eating area. It couldn’t have been better for our first volunteering experience, the hosts were so laid back and friendly, and really accommodating to the kids. We learnt a lot about eating more organically, and about growing vegetables, and were inspired to try and grow our own when we return home (in our tiny garden!) During our stay there were about twenty other WWOOF’ers there, mostly French, or from elsewhere in Europe, it was great for the kids to be around so many other people. The work was really interesting, and pretty easy going, we harvested, sowed and planted, the boys really enjoyed helping too. In our free time we visited the beach and lakes, swam and surfed. We spent two weeks here, had a great time, met some awesome people, and ate really well.
Our second placement was just a few weeks later and was in a remote village of just 20 people, Usún, in Navarra, Northern Spain. It was completely different from the first, but equally enjoyable. We stayed for two weeks with a couple and their 10 month old daughter. They were really friendly, and we got on so well. They had been converting their 1,000 year old house for the last four years, it was almost finished, they had done an amazing job. They needed our help to build dry stone walls for the fruit trees in their garden, and also with maintaining the plants in their garden. They taught us a lot about living in a more eco friendly and sustainable way and being more self sufficient. We got to explore the beautiful surroundings in our time off, which included swimming in the local river, climbing La Foz de Arbayún to see the biggest colony of vultures in Europe, and riding horses in the local riding school.
A few weeks later we returned to France for our third placement, in Mailhac, near Narbonne, staying with a family of seven, who had gone back to basics and were living in a field, in a yurt and trailers, with no running water, and a little electricity provided by a solar panel. Their set up was only a few years old, so they didn’t have any trees in the field yet, which made camping there pretty hot! We learnt a lot from them about how to live more simply and more economically. We helped them to prepare an enclosure for the arrival of their new goats, and to build an outdoor eco shower and staircase. Our kids loved being there, they had other children for them to play with, and they also loved getting involved with feeding the horses and the chickens. They were very relaxed about when we should help, and how much, which was great, because it was so hot there in the middle of the day, we had to retreat to the shade. Luckily the family had access to a swimming pool nearby, and there was a beautiful lake a short drive away where we spent lots of time, the beach was also not too far away.
We decided to take a break from working for the summer, we’d been so hot at the last place that we thought working outside in Southern Europe in July and August would be too hard! So we looked for our next placement in Austria at the end of August, this time we used workaway.info which had been recommended to us by someone along the way. We found a couple that needed help with house and garden maintenance, some electrics and plumbing, beekeeping, and house cleaning. Jess was really interested to learn about beekeeping, and we both picked up some great cooking tips, as they were both great cooks. They live on a big estate with two huge houses, a swimming pool, and a huge garden. We had our own very large bedroom and bathroom. When we weren’t working, we had a great time enjoying their swimming pool, and exploring the beautiful surrounding mountains.
We thought we should fit in one more before leaving Europe for India, so we did a very last minute search for a place and found a weeks work in The Netherlands, with a semi-retired couple who owned a meadow that they needed help maintaining, they specifically asked for people who had experience driving a tractor and using a chainsaw, so were very pleased to hear that Jess could use both. The couple were so nice and made us feel right at home, they loved having the kids there, and were so pleased and grateful for the work that Jess did. We had a great time riding our hosts electric bikes around, and enjoyed spending chilled out time outside and finding all the local kids playgrounds. It was great to experience living and working with people who were older than we’d stayed with before, and we loved hearing all their stories.
We didn’t even look into WWOOF or workaway in India, we thought India for 8 weeks with kids would be hard enough, so didn’t want to make it harder. But by the time we got to Sri Lanka we were up for another challenge, and we found one in Anuradhapura, teaching English to young children. Originally it was meant to be just Georgie teaching the kids, but once we realised there would be around 20 of them, that they were all different ages, some hardly knew any English, and that there would be no one else to help, plus no kind of lesson plan, Georgie roped in Jess and the boys too! And it turned out to be great, we held the lessons at the house of our host family, and we managed to teach the kids for 2 hours every afternoon, and they seemed to really enjoy it, and learn a lot from it. Their parents were also all really pleased, in fact the whole village was happy to have us there, we really underestimated the impact that our visit would have on this small community, most of whom had never seen or spoken to a westerner before, they were all so friendly and welcoming and seemed genuinely sad when we left, as were we. It was very humbling to see how generous the people here are.
We’ve just booked in our next workaway, for January, it will be a new experience for all of us, helping out in a guest house in Penang, Malaysia.
About WWOOF and Workaway
WWOOF (WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms). A worldwide movement linking volunteers with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences.
WWOOF is a worldwide organisation, it has individual websites for each country, meaning that you have to register for each individual country where you wish to work, so it can work out expensive if you are on a world trip, but is a great organisation, with really great hosts and opportunities, so is well worth it.
Workaway the world’s leading community for volunteering, working and cultural exchange.
Workaway, on the other hand, has just one website for the whole world, so you have to register only once, which makes it a lot cheaper if you’re travelling to a lot of countries. The kind of hosts and placements you find on workaway can be a lot more varied, WWOOF is restricted to organic farming, but workaway can be pretty much anything, from teaching, working in a guest house/hostel, house renovation, to childcare, and anything in between.
Would we recommend volunteering/working while travelling with young kids?
Absolutely! It opens you up to a completely different type of travel, it allows you to really live like a local, and get completely immersed in the local culture. You get to see places and things that you wouldn’t easily come across as a tourist. You get to meet wonderful people, eat amazing food. AND you get to save money, which may allow you to travel a little longer.
Tips for finding great hosts and having a great experience
- Create a good profile on each site, including photos, and all relevant experience
- When searching for hosts, check the box that says, families welcome/can host families
- Be completely honest with your host in advance to manage their expectations, if you have very young children tell them that you won’t both be able to work at the same time, as one of you will have to look after the kids (most places that advertise as being family friendly will be understanding)
- We found that two weeks was the maximum time to stay in one place, after that we were all keen to move on to the next place, and to spend some time alone as a family
- Be prepared to spend lots of time with your hosts, you are only required to work 4-5 hours per day, which is great as it gives you time to explore and experience the area that you’re staying in, but we found that it was always best to spend the afternoons with our hosts, rather than go off on our own, as there is so much they can show you that you might not find on your own, and so much you can learn from them.