Staying with a local family in a foreign country, learning agricultural techniques, and discovering a rural region: these are just 3 of the many advantages that WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) offers, all at once. The global movement founded in the 1970s links visitors (WWOOFers) with farmers. This alternative mode of stay is ideal for solo travelers who spend a long time abroad to live a local experience.
I traveled solo for one month in Israel and spent two weeks WWOOFing in a rural area. Here’s how I planned my stay and some of the discoveries, learning, and encounters I experienced.
Table of Contents
Why WWOOFing for Solo Travelers?
I had long wanted to visit Israel. The country attracted me for its historical and natural heritage, the diversity of its population, and the complexity of its society. When I scheduled this long-awaited trip, my goal was to make the most of it and get a deep understanding of the culture. Given that Israel is one of the most expensive countries in the world, I wanted to achieve that without spending a huge amount of money. WWOOFers participate in the daily life of their host and help on the farm. You don’t receive any salary but you get free food and accommodation. It seemed to me that WWOOFing would be a good option for solo travelers.
I also like to spend time in nature. Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were on my travel itinerary but I also wanted to discover a rural area. I thought that staying in a less touristic and maybe more authentic region would give me a different perspective on the country. Plus, I had studied Hebrew for a few months. What better way to improve my language skills than living with Jewish Israeli people?
Planning Requires Patience
To find a farmer, I had to visit the website of the WWOOF Israel association, since the movement is organized nationally. When I landed on the home page, whose design seemed to date from the early 2000s, I wondered if it was really the official one. I couldn’t find any others, so I carried on. The membership to WWOOF Israel cost me 160 shekels, which is about 45 USD. It gave me access to the list of farms that are part of the network and the right to contact the hosts.
Then, my search for a farm in the Negev Desert, the region that attracted me the most, started. The wildness and beauty of this remote area attracted me. I imagined myself going hiking there at the end of my work days. I found a farm raising goats which seemed ideal. The detailed description gave me a good idea of what I could expect there. I got information about my hosts, such as their food preference and their religious beliefs, as well as details about the work and accommodation. I read testimonials of previous volunteers. I contacted the farm several times without receiving any answer, which disappointed me. One month later, I contacted another farm in the Negev Desert. Still no answer.
Solo travelers interested in WWOOFing: patience will be required.
Finding a host became urgent as there was only one month left before my departure. I began looking at other regions and wasn’t picky about the type of farm and the living conditions. To me, the most important thing was to stay in a rural area with welcoming hosts. I contacted several hosts across the country. An olive grower replied to me, but unfortunately, he didn’t have any work for me since my travel period didn’t match the harvest season.
As I was reading the testimonials left by other volunteers on different farms, I noticed that most of them were from a few years ago. It led me to guess that only a few listed hosts were still actually part of the network.
One month before my departure, I received a positive answer from beekeepers in Galilee, in the north of Israel. The couple also owns and manages a camping and retreat center which reconstructs ancient agriculture that took place in the days of the Bible. This place triggered my curiosity because I didn’t know anything about beekeeping. Plus, the mountain region of Galilee seemed to offer beautiful views and great hiking opportunities. A piece of information struck me: it said in the description, “traditional Jewish”. I wondered what that meant. Before giving them a final answer, I read all the testimonials. All previous WWOOFers had a wonderful time and described the hosts as welcoming and open-minded. After many outreaches to other hosts without any answer, I felt relieved to have found a “farm”.
WWOOFing for Solo Travelers: My Personal Experience
I was ready to WWOOF and looking forward to discovering the place. Even though the hosts seemed welcoming, I only exchanged emails with them.
From Modernity to Rurality
I leave Tel Aviv on a Monday morning after spending one week there and 5 days in Jerusalem. On the train that heads north along the Mediterranean coast, I admire the turquoise blue sea that becomes dark blue further away.
On the sidewalk in front of the Karmiel station where I’m waiting for the bus that will lead me to my destination, the village of Michmanim, I notice the calm. I don’t hear horns and don’t see the bustle, unlike in the two large cities. On my way up to the village, I pronounce the name of the stops in Hebrew that are displayed in the bus. I admire the bushes and the dusty ground on the roadside, and the mountains in the background.
At my hosts’ address, there is a house hidden behind a large and green garden. Nobody opens the door after I ring the bell. I call my host Roni who tells me that she and her husband Roki are away until tonight. Clearly, WWOOFing for solo travelers requires an ability to go with the flow. Suddenly, a young man opens the door. He welcomes me in Hebrew, as he doesn’t speak English. When I tell him that I speak a bit of Hebrew, he’s relieved. However, I think that communication with him will be complicated. He works and stays here. Then, he shows me my bedroom and the kitchen, where there is a large and full refrigerator. I can take as much food as I want there.
I go to the back of the house. As I sit on a wooden bench in front of a swing hung on an olive tree, I admire the vegetation in the garden and, far away, the mountains. This green and dry setting amazes me.
A man in front of the garden gate catches my eye. As Raz, the employee, had gone for a rest, I go and meet the stranger. He speaks Hebrew and, after I tell him that I don’t speak much of the language, he answers that he also doesn’t speak English. I understand that he’s looking for my hosts and explain to him that they’re absent. I find it great to be in a rural region after staying in Tel Aviv where almost everybody speaks English.
Meeting the Bees
The following morning, I meet my hosts during breakfast. I immediately feel part of their family. The working days start at 8:30 am and end at around 3:30 pm. Therefore, after eating, I join Roki and Raz who are going to work with the bees. We go by truck to Roki’s hives that are scattered through Galilea. On the way, I look at the olive fields and the green mountains. I hear Israeli songs that must be famous as both Roki and Raz hum along with them.
My host has kept bees for more than 40 years. While driving, he shares with me his knowledge about his field and about Israel. He says that importing honey is less expensive than producing it in Israel, which explains why 50% of the honey consumed in the country is imported. At the same time, the government needs beekeepers whose bees pollinate the fruit trees that are crucial to Israel’s agriculture and economy. Thus, politics tries to find a balance between the protection of local beekeepers and the cheap import of honey. There is so much to be learned through WWOOFing for solo travelers.
We arrive at a field where Raz and I will mow the vegetation surrounding the hives to avoid forest fires destroying them. Even though it’s morning, the heat is high. I remove plants with a spade and quickly start to sweat under my well-named “sweatshirt” which protects me against bee stings on the arms. I enjoy the beautiful rural landscape.
We go back to the truck. Roki opens a box full of raw paprikas, tomatoes, and celery, and then starts driving. The three of us eat the vegetables. I enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and admire my surroundings.
As we enter the mountain area, we arrive where other hives are located. Roki hopes that they contain enough honey so that we can take them back home. While wearing a hat with a net that protects me from the bees, I see Roki spray smoke on the hives to relax the bees. I then open the hives that the beekeeper inspects with bare arms and no protection. Many noisy bees fly around us. His relaxation impresses me. He then shares his disappointment since the bees have produced less honey than expected. Suddenly, he says that the queen has disappeared in one of the hives. I ask myself how he’s going to find it among thousands of bees. He manages it, though. He shows me the queen before putting it back in the right drawer. It’s true that its big size makes it recognizable.
As I load a hive on the truck, I feel a strong but short pain on my hand. I look at it and notice a black sting on my skin. A few minutes later, another bee stings me on the hand. My head is spinning but I’m not allergic. While opening and closing the hives, I’m asking myself when the third one will happen. Being surrounded by bees, waiting to get stung, is an unpleasant feeling. How does Roki avoid stings? He tells me that he doesn’t even notice them.
“Yallah!” (“Let’s go!” in Arabic.) On the way back, Roki tells me about a Jewish saying which advises not to be too enthusiastic when good news happens, and not to lament in the face of bad news. He follows the adage and isn’t saddened by the fact that the hives don’t have as much honey as expected. I like spending time with him, and I find it great that he and Roni are often outside and still work – very physical work – even though they’re in their sixties.
Diverse Encounters: One of the Best Parts of WWOOFing for Solo Travelers
The next day, a 5-minute walk from the house, I discover the retreat center, called the shetach. Its timeless atmosphere and beautiful vegetation amaze me. The place reminds me of the Garden of Eden. With two young female employees who come from the surrounding city, I clean the parking lot and empty the trash. I easily get to know them as they both speak perfect English.
At lunchtime, I go back to the house and see my hosts seated at the kitchen table. They invite me to join them and eat falafels and hummus. The conviviality, especially around a good meal, must be important in Israeli culture. With my belly full, I go back to the shetach where I clean and tidy up. The heat is tiring but, as I’m working outside, I enjoy being surrounded by olive and fig trees, and able to admire the view of the mountain.
One day at 7:00 am, I set out on a morning walk with Roki. The rocky path veers away from the village and through the middle of small bushes and olive trees. This landscape reminds me of Provence and Andalusia. I admire the ocher soil and the green vegetation. I smell the spicy scents coming from the plants. While walking, Roki talks about his country and asks me questions about France. That’s how I learn that Israel doesn’t rely on rainwater. They desalinate water from the Mediterranean Sea and retrieve sewage from all houses to irrigate crops. Moreover, Roki says that a large part of the land belongs to the Israeli state. Many people and farmers pay rent on the long term to the state. This way, the state can retain control of its land.
I admire the mounts of Lower Galilee that look like a pleated carpet. Roki also explains to me that the small towns out there are Muslim. No Jewish people live there. As I listen to him, I think to myself that the main reason Roki and Roni receive volunteers is to meet people from around the world, rather than to access cheap labour. It’s a way for them to travel abroad while staying at home. At the same time, valuable benefit of WWOOFing for solo travelers is the opportunity it presents for these casual conversations that reveal so much about a destination.
I then go to the shetach. Today’s task is cleaning a large tent, which actually looks like a small house. When I go inside, I notice that the floor looks like carpets and I feel like I’m at a Bedouin’s place. The heat is hard to bear. I turn on a fan and start sweeping. I force myself to regularly drink. After that, I clean tables and benches outside. I appreciate the cool breeze on my skin.
In the afternoon, a young employee asks me to help her carry equipment and empty the trash. She enjoys living in the countryside and prefers it to the city. Everybody I have met so far told me that they wouldn’t live in Tel Aviv. She tells me that she did civilian service between the ages of 18 and 21. I didn’t know it was possible to avoid military service.
On a Friday morning, when I arrive at the center, I see a dozen Jewish men praying near the entrance. Without any noise, I call Roni to find out about today’s tasks. My host asks me to wait for an employee. The latter arrives and shows me what needs to be done. I clean the place where the group ate last night. I see them again while they’re cooking in the kitchen, so I go and talk to them. They’re Israelis from Ukraine and Russia. Most of them have lived in the country for only a few months, after the war started. The group studies in Haifa and is currently on vacation. They’re in a good mood and communicative. They were thinking that I lived here after my Aliyah – the immigration of Jews to Israel!
As I clean tables and chairs, one of them invites me to eat with them. The men seated around a long table welcome me warmly. While tasting Israeli dishes, I listen to the person next to me talk about his immigration. He’s from Kiev and moved to Israel 8 months ago. He has wanted to do the Aliyah for a long time.
“Do you like living in Israel?” I ask him.
To answer, he just shows me the beautiful Galilee mountains and smiles.
I’m looking forward to my first Sabbath dinner. The preparation of the meal starts in the middle of the afternoon. I join Roni to help her. Vegetables are slowly cooking in multiple full pans. Once the meal is ready, I watch the ceremony. Roki reads a prayer from a small book with a finely decorated front cover. He then takes a sip of wine and a bit of bread with salt. Roni and I then do the same. “Sabbath Shalom!” We start eating. I understand that many non-observant Jews celebrate the Sabbath, as it’s a tradition.
They invite me to join them the next day at a family reunion, a few hours away. Their invitation pleases me and interests me as it’s the perfect occasion to meet local people and to discover another region of the country. However, I decline because I have to work remotely during my rest day. I kept a freelance mission during my stay in Israel, which is difficult to manage as there are many fascinating places to visit and great encounters to make. On the other hand, I appreciate having the possibility to travel for several weeks and keep receiving income.
To me, meeting people is often the best aspect of solo travel. In Michmanim, unlike many ephemeral encounters I had in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the exchanges with my hosts lasted. As I stayed with them for several days, I could take my time to get to know them and exchange about many subjects.
I meet Roki and Roni’s daughter who spends a few days at home together with her boyfriend. I like meeting people who are approximately my age as there are no other WWOOFers during the time I am there. Plus, talking to Israelis is interesting.
WWOOFing Gives Solo Travelers a Chance to Learn About the Country
During a long trip by truck to the hives located near Haifa, I admire the dry and rocky landscape. I also notice large green areas: plantations. Everything grows here: peaches, lychees, apricots, mangos. When we pass by avocado trees, Roki explains to me that the cultivation of this fruit has developed in the last few years in Israel. Therefore, they need more bees to pollinate the plantation and so, local beekeepers receive more and more money to put their hives there.
I see for the first time the thick green foliage of the trees when we arrive at a plantation to pick Roki’s hives. He is looking for avocados to eat, but the little fruits in the trees are not ripe yet. I must put ropes around the hives before the beekeeper hauls them onto the truck. As soon as I tie the ropes on the first hive block, I see bees coming out of their house. They sting me on my hands and legs. I didn’t wait for the smoke! Now, I know why it’s important.
Later on, we pass by peach trees. This time, the fruits are ripe. Roki takes one from the tree and gives it to me. It’s one of the best peaches I have ever eaten! I like doing manual activity in nature, especially when the setting is gorgeous and the tasks are not exhausting. Roki drives to the mountain. There, we unload the hives in a field.
On the way back home, I suddenly see tires on the roadside. Roki says that the Druze recently blocked the road to protest. This community living in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan has its own religion. My host explains that the Druze are faithful and loyal to the state they live in. They thus do the military service in the Israeli army. As I listen to him, I think to myself that this country is more complicated than I realized. I find that, in Galilee, there is little tension between communities, even though they live separated from each other.
At the end of the day, I travel alone to Akko by train. It takes me only 30 minutes. I enjoy the freedom to visit the historic city on the coast because, since my arrival, my schedule has depended on the tasks and on the meals. Plus, after 3 weeks, I start feeling the fatigue of traveling alone in a foreign country. It’s demanding to constantly meet new people, process interesting discoveries, and visit places. On one hand, WWOOFing for solo travelers requires fewer trips than classic travel, as I stay at the same place almost the whole time. However, exchanging with people and receiving a lot of information from them requires focus.
In Karmiel, the buses don’t run anymore as it’s too late. To go back to the village, I hitchhike, as Roki suggested. After about 20 minutes making gestures to the cars that pass by, I’m resigned. I thus contact Roni, who says that her stepson can come and pick me up. That’s when a car stops. The friendly driver offers to take me back. My first hitchhiking experience was successful!
A Surprising Ending to My Stay
One morning, as I prepare honey orders with an employee, she suggests that I taste it. I eat a bit of honey from each jar and try to taste the different flavors. Then, we go to the shetach to fix the carpets in the big tent, together with another employee. As I listen to them speak Hebrew, I notice that it’s easier to understand some words than it was when I first arrived in Michmanim.
On my last day, after arriving at the center, I notice that the place looks different. There is new decoration on the tables and the trees. I go to the kitchen, where people are cooking large quantities of food. Others are setting up a barbecue outside. The place is going to host an event for an American company. All of a sudden, modernity and wealth arrived at the shetach. This bustle amazes me. Moreover, the place seems popular and appreciated thanks to its great location and well-thought-out furnishing. It’s more than a retreat center. I admire the perseverance and dynamism of my hosts who founded it by themselves decades ago.
Their open-mindedness, generosity, and warm welcome made my stay memorable. Before I leave, they invite me to stay with them if I come back to Israel. Next time, my visit would be to spend time with them, not work. For my first time experiencing WWOOFing for solo travelers, I couldn’t imagine a better outcome.
Interested in finding out more? Start with the Federation of WWOOF Organizations. Whichever country you choose, don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Here’s what to look for in a policy for solo travelers.
Last updated: 8th August, 2023