Many people come home from a holiday with souvenirs, photos, and hefty credit card bills. Emma Hoffacker returned from a six-week jaunt through Europe last fall with newfound wool-spinning skills and no financial guilt. Hoffacker lived on farms in the Netherlands and Switzerland as part of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, more commonly known as WWOOF. In exchange for helping out with the chores on each farm, she got room and board, as well as a wealth of new experiences and friends. "It's a fantastic way to travel cheaply," says Hoffacker, a 23-year-old teacher's aide in Philadelphia. "It's great if you're interested in learning how to do anything specific -- like making cheese or olive oil -- or just to grow as a person in general."

WWOOF is a network of independent organizations on every continent except Antarctica. These groups connect potential volunteers, known as "WWOOFers," with host farms. You can go online to http://www.wwoof.org/ to join a particular country's national WWOOF organization. After paying a small membership fee (usually $25 to $50), participants receive descriptions of individual farms and the necessary contact information. They can then directly negotiate the details of their stays with hosts.

Ian Baird, coordinator of WWOOF Independents, directs the program in 57 countries that lack national organizations. He says the initial contacts are key to ensuring an enjoyable experience. "Make sure that you understand the hosts' situation and environment," he advises. "You're both sounding each other out."

Baird notes that volunteers can tailor a vacation to meet their particular interests, since farm work can vary greatly from gardening to tending livestock. Time commitments are also flexible; most farmers ask WWOOFers to commit to a minimum of two weeks, but stays can extend for months or even years. And volunteers with the itch to travel more widely can string together stays at several farms. As WWOOFers have to cover only their travel expenses, Hoffacker says, you can make your experience as cheap or as expensive as you want.

WWOOFers who want to harvest apples or herd goats a bit closer to home can contact WWOOF-USA . The group lists over 1,100 hosts in every state except Rhode Island, as well as in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, making it easy to experience farm life without a passport.


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