It was still dark and that damn rooster was already crowing.
Still trying to remember where I was, I put together the pieces in a half-asleep fog. I was laying on top of six blankets and had six blankets on top of me. The mosquito net added a dreamy feeling to this simple bamboo hut I was sleeping on/in. I had gotten in the habit of lying on my back because lying on my side after many nights on different hard surfaces had made my hips soar.
Ah! I remember.
Happy Healing Home. Northern Thailand.
I really did think it was still night time but as my senses returned, I heard some far off voices and soon learned that the sun would be up shortly.
Truth be told, I really didn’t want to be up this early and when I realized I would have to do physical work soon, I crinkled up my nose at the thought. (After all, I worked like a dog to save up for this trip and I didn’t equate hard work with vacation.) As I followed the sound of the voices belonging to the other dozen or so travelers who were also working on the farm, I discovered they were drinking coffee, always a mood lifter. “Baby steps”, I thought. “I’ll start my day with some coffee”, which had been grown and processed on the farm, “and I’ll worry about the rest later.”
Maybe physical labor wasn’t a variable in the traditional vacation, but the work allowed me to see what real Thai life was for these farmers. It allowed me to extend my travels because I only had to pay about $3 a day for a place to sleep and all the fresh food and coffee I could consume.
Including the cultural immersion and money saving aspects, here are some more reasons you should all consider a farm stay while you’re traveling.
1) Farm stays are easy to find and widely available.
There are many websites that match up volunteers and farmers. I used workaway.net to find the Happy Healing Home but another very common site is WWOOF.net (World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms).
2) You’ll Save Money.
Exchanging farm work for food and a place to sleep is one of the ways economically focused travelers save money and extend their travels.
WWOOF is free but some Farm Stay programs do cost money. In my opinion, they shouldn’t ask for too much, though. I’ve come across a few programs that ask for several hundred dollars for a month of work. That’s definitely more than enough to cover the cost of food and water for a worker.
The least expensive hostel I found in Chiang Mai was about $3USD per night and that didn’t even include food. Since we were far from any town, I literally couldn’t spend money except for the one day each week where we drove down the mountain. My farm stay was the most efficient way I spent my money while traveling.
3) You may meet more people than at a hostel.
There were 20 other volunteers from all over the world at the farm. We ate all our meals together and we usually worked on projects together. Most people speak English to some extent but even if you have no shared words with your work mate you can still build memories.
I met a Dutch girl with the most beautiful dreadlocks I’ve ever seen and a French man who had already spent some time in Mongolia. I loved hearing his stories.
An added benefit is learning about other places in the country you may not have heard of. In talking with the other travelers at a farm (or hostel), you’ll learn about their experience in this country. You might discover a place your internet search failed to highlight, sites you have to see, the best place to get noodles and so on.
4) It forces you to slow down.
Most farms, if not all, are pretty far away from the bustling cities. Life on a farm, no matter where, always seems slower than life in the city. Clocks aren’t used to keep time, just the passing of the sun. It’s hard work but somehow life on a farm is more relaxing.
5) It’s Good Exercise.
Almost every task on a farm requires you to use your body. Milking cows and harvesting yams: arm workout. Clearing a firewall in the brush: full body workout. And if you’re consciously thinking about body mechanics, you can work in some strength training or cardio into everything you do.
6) You get to be outside.
Studies show that significant time outside can help lower blood pressure and if you’re on a farm, you’re probably far away from the pollution of the city.
7) It’s humbling and rewarding.
You’ll realize how much work it takes to get food into your mouth. I always knew that farmers sold to grocery stores where we bought our groceries but after seeing how much work goes into food production, I feel so grateful that I can just drive down to the store and buy whatever I want or crave. It’s such a blessing.
Your reward at the end of the day are the blisters you earned and the dirt you find in mysterious places.
You feel so accomplished because the hard work you contributed is obvious and the fruits of your labor are easy to spot.
8) It’s a great way to extend your travels.
Staying on a farm usually requires you to stay several weeks or more and like I said earlier, you can’t really spend money while on a farm.
Most people would love to travel for a long time but they can’t because of financial restraints. By traveling slowly, you save money and you get to actually experience a place like it’s your home.
9) You learn skills you can use for the rest of your life.
If you really want to take advantage of your farm stay, you can learn how to harvest plants and cook new foods. Whether you have a yard with a small plot or just some window boxes in your apartment, learning the basics of farming is a valuable life skill.
Things to bear in mind when organizing a farm stay
- Every farm is different. Some are free, some require more or less hours of work every day and most offer a range of tasks.
- Give yourself extra time to plan this leg of your trip. Keep in mind when you’re communicating with the owners of the farm that they may not have internet and may not be able to check their messages frequently. In my case, the owners of the farm had to drive to a small village down the mountain to check their email. When you’re coordinating the details, ask as many questions in one message so they can answer in just one or two messages. They might just check their email every week or even less.
I paid about $3 USD per day for a place to sleep, freshly grown coffee and unlimited, delicious food at each meal. Me and my comrades spent about five hours a day doing actual farm work and spent another couple hours just preparing the food for the 20 of us and each night we got together to play music or read.
There was an unlimited supply of fresh mountain spring water to drink and a lovely outdoor shower area that, although simple in mechanics, seemed like the most luxurious place I’d ever bathed.
It was a fabulous use of time.
Any of these stories tickle your fancy?