Please join us in welcoming our guest, Carla Bragagnini, a Peruvian-Canadian travel writer, illustrator, and passionate advocate of plant-based cuisine. Currently based in New Zealand, Carla’s vibrant career encompasses writing and illustrating for magazines, specializing in topics such as tourism, culture, tradition, and plant-based food.
Carla’s own transformative journey took her on a remarkable four-year-long odyssey, during which she chronicled her experiences across Peru, Canada, New Zealand, and several other countries. Immersed in diverse cultures and communities, she actively participated in community-based projects, volunteering on animal and organic farms, yoga centres, and learning to cook in farm kitchens. It was during these experiences that she found inspiration to adopt a vegan lifestyle, dedicating herself to helping others embrace this compassionate way of living.
In this episode we discuss:
- Carla’s journey into volunteering and the inspiration behind her decision to embark on long-term travels.
- The importance of volunteering and its benefits, including personal growth and making a positive impact on communities.
- Considerations for individuals interested in volunteering, such as aligning interests and values.
- Insights into volunteering as vegan and practical considerations to keep in mind.
- Differentiating between volunteer platforms like WWOOF, Workaway, and Helpx.
- Safety considerations when volunteering abroad.
- Logistics of organizing volunteer opportunities and the application process.
- Tips for first-time volunteers and how to succeed in a volunteer experience.
- A glimpse into a day in the life of a volunteer and activities outside of volunteering.
- Unique experiences made possible through volunteering.
- Practical considerations like visas and insurance.
Learn more about what we talk about
Other World Vegan Travel content connected with this episode
- Seville Vegan Tours: Flamenco, Tapas, Sunshine – Why you should add Seville to your must-visit list in Spain | Bruno and Marta | Ep 97
- Case for Toronto, the Vegan Capital of Canada | Marc Goldrub | Ep 100
- Reflections on our Incredible Northern Italy Vegan Tour | Northern Italy 2022 Travelers | Ep 80
- Get off the Beaten Track in Nicaragua – The Perfect 10-Day Itinerary | Sasha Williams | Ep 111
- Experiences Couchsurfing Around the World | Mitali Deypurkaystha | Ep 90
- S2 Ep15 | Developing More Empathy Through Long Term Travel | Lucas Spiegel
Connect with Carla
Brighde: Hi Carla. Thank you so much for joining me on the World Vegan Travel podcast.
Carla: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.
Brighde: I want to thank you so much for getting up so early in New Zealand to have a conversation about this interesting topic. But before we get started, why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you are as a Vegan that travels, like what it is that you do, that supports your quite nomadic life?
Carla: Sure. It’s my pleasure. So what I do is, I’m a travel writer and I’m an illustrator, and I write and illustrate on topics related to travel and tourism, culture, traditions, and food.
Carla: And when it comes to food, it’s with a farm-to-table and plant-based focus. And that, I guess, came about after I set off on some long-term travels. I went traveling for what was supposed to be a one-year trip that turned into four years. And probably would’ve kept going had it not been for the pandemic, I think.
Carla: And during that time I volunteered on a lot of organic farms, on a lot of animal farms, and it’s what inspired me to actually go into veganism, and what inspires me now to write about those topics. Yeah, and a lot of the clients that I work with are in the vegan space. So most recently I wrote an article for a Global Vegan Magazine, for example, about “Life in New Zealand as a Vegan”.
Carla: And I designed some t-shirts actually for fundraising for the Vegan Society of New Zealand as well. So those are some of the things that I do in the vegan space, and I’m really passionate about teaching plant-based cooking as well. So I try to sneak that in there whenever I can as one of the things that I do.
Brighde: Gosh, so, so busy. Something I’m really curious about is that transition that you got from your traveling when you were volunteering, I’m guessing on an animal farm. Usually, on this podcast, we don’t talk so much about people’s transformation stories, but considering that related directly to traveling. Would you mind sharing?
Carla: Yeah, sure. This happened in 2016. I just, felt like a kind of nagging that became a knowing, that I had to embark on this trip, and I wanted to volunteer, and I wanted to do something very hands-on because I had been working for tourism, but working in an office. I had traveled before that and I felt a calling to go back to a more nomadic lifestyle.
Carla: And I had never set foot on a farm. I grew up in, well, between Canada and Peru. I was born in Lima, which is a city of 11 million people. I didn’t have a farming background, but I felt very much called to connect, to be in nature, to connect with community projects around the world, to connect with land and food, and learn from people.
Carla: Again, I didn’t have any sort of background, just the very, very strong calling. And so I planned this. It was supposed to be a one-year trip, and I had a kind of bucket list of things that I wanted to do. And it sounds kind of crazy, but one of them is I wanted to milk a cow.
Carla: I wanted to milk a cow because it seemed very idyllic. It seemed like this kind of little house on the prairie kind of thing. And I was like, I wanna connect with this life. And so, again, coming from a space of being an Omni and not having a lot of experience, obviously in the vegan world, my first experience was volunteering on a dairy farm.
Carla: On a dairy farm in Iceland, and I was also making ice cream at the farm. That’s when I was first exposed to this world. And granted it was a very small-scale farm, so it was a little bit different. And I didn’t really have a lot of experience with the milking side of things. What I did feel is whenever I went in there that the cows were very stressed.
Carla: And it was my first time having experience with farm animals really, and I could feel their stress. That was, I think, the first seed that was planted. And then throughout my experiences, I was also on a donkey farm, I was on a goat farm, and I had a very kind of formative experience as well when I worked as a shepherd actually, which is a whole experience on its own.
Carla: It was a beautiful experience. I had one day where the lambs had fleas on them and the farmer was trying to spray them with something. And he loved his animals, I can say this much. It was a hobby farm, and they didn’t want to be sprayed, so they were running away, and he was trying to catch them, and he was a little bit rough with them.
Carla: The next day when I was walking, when I was shepherding them, I noticed that one was kind of falling behind. And something was wrong. And I carried her, and I realized that she was injured. And it was an injury resulting, so the lamb’s ribs had broken because of the rough handling. And the lamb passed away in my arms.
Brighde: Oh dear.
Carla: Yeah. And it was the first time that I had, had this contact with animals, with sheep. And I knew from my weeks working as a shepherd that each sheep had its personality and that these were sentient beings. And I started associating that with farm animals, with all animals. And it was just, I don’t know, at that moment.
Carla: I could feel that there was something there, and I went back to the farm. And it was an Omni farm, so we were served meat for dinner, and I was just like, “My goodness”, like that kind click was made for me. After that I was lucky to volunteer on some vegetarian farms and fall into a vegetarian lifestyle, and how easy and how beautiful it was.
Carla: And at the same time I was also volunteering on vegetable farms. So there was that side of it for appreciating food, where food comes from. So it was like both of those things. And then I eventually leaped over to vegan, and honestly never looked back. And so wish I had done it earlier, as everyone says.
Brighde: So something that we have talked about on this podcast, in the past and not so long ago, was WWOOFing.
Brighde: And I believe that you did use WWOOFing willing workers on organic farms as a way to travel, but the guest that I spoke to, she had done it quite a long time ago. So I think things have probably changed, and maybe even people’s motivation to volunteer might be different. Why would people choose to volunteer?
Brighde: What are the great reasons that they would choose to do it?
Carla: Yeah, definitely. And we can talk about this a little bit later. There are different platforms for volunteering. WWOOFing is definitely a fantastic option. Why you would wanna volunteer, I think, to meet new people, to see new ways of life, to gain new perspectives, to gain a very local experience, and to immerse yourself in someone else’s life, and to learn from that.
Carla: I talked a little bit about the impact that, that had on my life, just living in someone else’s shoes in a little bit, to be welcomed into their family because often when you’re on these farming projects, it is a very tight-knit community. And from day one, you’re immersed your living in their home.
Carla: You’re part of their family. And that is an incredible privilege to be able to be given that level of welcome, and hospitality, and insights as well. I think it really helps you gain a lot of perspective and empathy, in that, being able to meet so many people around the world from different cultures, and be able to gain those experiences, and be able to interact with people from all over the world, basically.
Brighde: Fantastic. Thank you.
Brighde: When you did your first volunteering experience, like what was it about it that made you think, “Yeah, this is right for me. I really love this. I’m gonna keep on doing it.”
Carla: Yeah, so actually one of my very first volunteer experiences was not through any of these platforms, but was something that I looked for individually, which was, I volunteered through a volunteer organization for disaster-stricken areas. I went overseas, and I worked on this project, and it was very hands-on.
Carla: So there was a community aspect of it. All the volunteers, we lived together, we worked together, and we supported each other. Because of this, there was an extra layer of it being a very difficult situation. And so I think that we were there for each other. I guess after that, what I loved about the farming experiences is that they were also very hands-on.
Carla: I felt they were very tangible at the end of the day, to be able to see the work that you’ve done. To be able to see, “Okay, wow, I did all of this weeding”, or, “I planted all of this,” or, “I harvested all of this.” And for me, it was like that tangible, that’s what connected me to the land.
Carla: And so, I think that was it for me. It was like that, that feeling of community, and sense of accomplishment. At the end of the day, like I often say, when you do farming, farmers are very tough people. I have so much respect for farmers after all this work that I’ve done. At some point, I thought I would love to have my own farm.
Carla: And after I did all of this, I was like,” Oh, I don’t know about that.” They’re tough. And in fact, when they were considered essential workers during the pandemic, I was like, “Yeah, that’s the recognition they deserve.” There are no weekends because you work through all weather. You don’t know what could go wrong.
Carla: You have to be available at a moment’s notice for, you know, cows that have run away or a heat wave that’s come through or a hailstorm. There’s that like, farmers are tough, and you have to be willing to get your hands dirty as well, to keep up. And I just loved that.
Carla: I loved it. It taught me a new way of life. So much respect for people that do this work. It’s so much, of that, that I still carry with me, that I still very much enjoy.
Brighde: Amazing. So let’s talk about these different platforms that we can use. I mean, I remember, I joined WWOOF, way back in the year 2000. And it was so funny because, I paid a little money to join, and then I literally got sent in the mail, a little booklet that had been photocopied of all of the potential places that I could go to.
Brighde: And of course you would have to call them there. You know, some of them were in quite remote areas. You certainly couldn’t email, and in some cases, you had to send a letter. So, I think things have probably changed somewhat since then. There’s probably more than just WWOOFing. So tell us about the different platforms, the differences between them, and how you sign up.
Brighde: Let’s start with that.
Carla: So, in the volunteer space there are three main platforms. They’re called WWOOF, Workaway, and HelpX. WWOOF is the oldest running organization. It’s been around since the 1970s. It started off as a weekend project in London for a secretary that wanted to get out into nature and learn about organic farming, which is similar to how I started as well because before I started on my big trip, I started doing weekend trips from my office job.
Carla: I’d go away for a weekend, which is something you can do and it’s great because you can test the waters, and that’s how I realized I really loved it. So WWOOF is a network of national organizations. So each country has their own WWOOF organization that runs its own basic program. So you pay a fee separately for each country that you want to volunteer in.
Carla: So for example, WWOOF Canada is different to WWOOF Italy, and if you sign up with WOOFF Canada, you can only apply to farms in Canada, and to be part of WWOOF the host. Some of the terminology- you have the hosts, which are the people, the farmers that you stay with, and then you have the WWOOFer, which is the volunteer who comes on board.
Carla: For WWOOFing, there’s different fees, and it’s a different fee per country, basically. So if you sign up with WWOOF Canada, I think it’s $55 Canadian for the year. We can also have a joint account with somebody for a little bit more. The hosts on WOOFFING, they have to be certified organic farms.
Carla: It has to be an organic farm. So that’s different to the other platforms because Workaway and HelpX, they’re not just farms. So there are some organic farms on there. It’s kind of a mixed bag. There are some non-organic farms on there. There are some orchards.
Carla: There are also some hotels, there are hostels, there are au pair opportunities. I’ve seen opportunities to work on boats, you name it. So a lot of community-driven projects. And for those two other platforms, it’s a one-time membership fee, and it’s for a year. So Workaway is for a year, and HelpX is for two years.
Carla: Workaway costs $49 US for the year and, for two years HelpX is 20 Euros, and you have access to the entire world. So directory of opportunities all over. It’s not country by country like WWOOF is. But having said that, there are a little bit of differences, which I’ll get into later when it comes to insurance with WWOOF, and I think that’s why it is divided by countries the way that it is.
Brighde: I see. And something I’m curious about, given that it’s a paid platform. I’m sure that filters out like time wasters, for sure. Do the hosts have to pay anything to be on these platforms? Do you happen to know?
Carla: Oh, that’s a good question. I’m not entirely sure. I think they do. I think that they do, and I know that different platforms have different screening processes. For me the main difference between Workaway and HelpX is kind of like the interface of it, how it all looks. And they do have different, I guess, ways or processes to go about safety.
Carla: So for WWOOF, they actually don’t prescreen, and they encourage you to do the screening process. However, if they are on the WWOOF platform, it means that they are a certified organic farm. So there is a certain level of credibility, in my opinion. Every farm usually has a name there. If it’s a working farm, there’s a name associated with that, even if it is a hobby farm.
Carla: Most farms do have some kind of online presence, especially if they’re selling at farmer’s markets and things like that. So it’s always a good idea to Google them to find out if they are who they say they are. In all of my experiences, yes, farmers aren’t usually “time wasters”, but it doesn’t hurt to do your screening process
Carla: yourself. When it comes to Workaway, they have a different kind of system. They offer 24-hour access, so you can email them or contact them at any time. If the situation or, you know, you end up going somewhere, and it doesn’t end up being what you think it is, they can cover you up to three nights at a hostel if you decide you want to leave.
Carla: They do manual entries for each host, and for each Workaway volunteer. So there is a sense of, you know, I guess, certification or verification, and they do both. I think all organizations do a certain kind of spot check where they will show up to certain volunteer experiences, host, and check, and make sure that I can verify them basically.
Brighde: And are you as a WWOOFER or a volunteer, and the experience itself, the host, are there opportunities to like review them, and to give feedback, and that kind of stuff?
Carla: Yeah, absolutely. Again, for WWOOFing, it does vary from country to country because I’ve seen it in some and not in others. But it is incredibly helpful to have that review than somebody that’s been vouched for. So both ways. You can be reviewed as a volunteer or as a host. For Workaway they do have reviews, as well as HelpX, and it’s very useful, especially if it’s your first time volunteering, to make sure that there are past experiences that they have hosted before, and that they have been good experiences as well.
Brighde: And do you find that on, in the examples of Workaway and HelpX, that there are, you know, a decent amount of places to volunteer at in each country? Like, do you feel like when you log on and you pay this money that there’s, you know, a decent amount of opportunities to choose from?
Carla: Yes, absolutely. And one of the benefits is that you can actually browse without paying, which is really nice. So you can kind of get a feel for these things. So once you pay, you do have access to message hosts, and you have access to make a kind of saved list of hosts, which is very useful as well when you’re navigating this vast number of hosts.
Carla: So I think Workaway has something like 50,000 hosts around the world. For WWOOFing, it’s harder to find numbers because they are divided by country, but it’s at least over 10,000, which was a number I saw from a few years ago. And HelpX, I think is more than 13,000. So it’s an incredible number to be able to choose from.
Carla: And you can search by project, which is the way I did things because I was very much, my focus was on learning more than traveling and location. It was more like learning. So I wanted it to be project-based, and I often chose community projects based on what they were doing, and what it is that I wanted to learn.
Carla: You can choose that way, or you can search by location, or you can search also by experiences that are vegan friendly. For example, HelpX has that option specifically, and Workaway, you can search for words. So you can search for vegan, for example. Yeah.
Brighde: So that leads me to my next question, which is, during your journey of traveling the world volunteering you became Vegan. So I’m sure maybe that was a little bit challenging to navigate at first perhaps. Or what are some tools or strategies or things that you could do to, you know, make sure that when you arrive, like it wasn’t a shock for the person, the person that’s hosting you and maybe cooking for you?
Carla: Yeah, absolutely. One of the most amazing things for me doing these volunteer experiences was the food. Especially when you’re on an organic farm when you are cooking dinner, you’re helping your host cook dinner, you can often go into the fields and pick up fresh produce and come back.
Carla: So we would call it, “going for the grocery trips”, and we would go and grab whatever we needed for dinner. It was amazing, and I think that really helped me like connect with food and land as well. There’s usually an abundance of plant foods, vegetables, fresh foods, of organic foods.
Carla: And locally it doesn’t get any more local than that really. And farmers for the most part are very much like to cook from scratch and make delicious food. And it’s such a wonderful opportunity to learn new recipes, new cultural recipes, and new ways of cooking. So that was one of my favorite things, and it’s what really inspired that side of things for me.
Carla: As I was on this trip, I transitioned. So I was two years as a vegetarian, and then I eventually became Vegan. I kind of mentioned, I stayed with a family that was vegetarian for on and off. I came back quite a few times. It was one of my favorite experiences. I went back, I think four times for like a total of probably six months.
Carla: And that really inspired me because the food was so delicious. At that point, I decided to become a vegetarian. And when I was applying for new opportunities I would always mention it in the first message. I feel like being, catered for vegetarianism was fairly easy for people. Vegan was a little bit harder.
Carla: I did have a couple of people that said no to me because farmers don’t have a lot of time, and don’t want complications sometimes. So there are people who are incredibly open-minded and who are willing to try,
Carla: One of my most amazing experiences, actually, was not on a farm, but I was actually on a monastery in Italy. I volunteered with nuns, helping them restore antique furniture. It was such an incredible experience and they were so lovely. They were so willing to learn. They ran a guest house as well, and they were shopping specifically for me.
Carla: They were just the loveliest. And so there are hosts that are really willing to go above and beyond and willing to learn. I did volunteer with a couple of vegans. Actually, it was one other thing that really inspired me, and I always saw the way that they navigated things.
Carla: Sometimes it’s a little bit hard for people to understand what a vegan lifestyle is in the beginning, and so they would say, you know, I’m vegetarian and I don’t eat dairy or eggs. So just ways of simplifying things. But honestly, I was surprised by how open-minded people are. I also did an experience here in New Zealand, which was also a very cool experience.
Carla: I volunteered at an artist studio, helping to make ceramics, and they didn’t know how to cater for vegan food either, but they said they were willing to host me. So they said you can work less hours. There was a grocery store nearby, and they’re like, “If you don’t mind cooking your own food”
Carla: And I was like,” No, that’s fine.” So you can often come up with compromises that way.
Brighde: So that experience in Italy sounds so interesting, which makes me want to ask what other kinds of experiences you had while traveling the world in this way?
Carla: I’ve had so many incredible experiences. I think at the last count, I did something like 20 different experiences. And then I mentioned in the beginning, my first experiences were with this disaster relief organization. I’ve done three experiences with them. One in Haiti, one in the Philippines, and one in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, through Workaway and WWOOFing.
Carla: I’ve done those 20 experiences. A lot of them have been on farms. I have done everything. Harvest grapes, prune grape vines, harvest olives, make olive oil, make soap. So I actually worked on a lavender farm that made its own soap.
Carla: I worked at a microbrewery, that was like a rural microbrewery, so their goal was eventually to grow all the ingredients that would go into the beer. I bottled beer with them, and I also led some like brewery tours. I worked as a shepherd, making ice cream. Outside of farming, I also was at the monastery.
Carla: I was at a couple of hostels as well, preparing the breakfast for the guests, which was really fun. I worked at a farm that had their own lab, so they would make gems and chutney, and preserve them in their own lab to sell.
Carla: I’m missing a bunch, I’m sure, but all sorts of incredible experiences.
Brighde: And which countries did you do these experiences in?
Carla: When I set off on my travels, I had a very ambitious plan for one year, which was, I was going to go by train across Canada to Iceland, Europe, take the trans-Mongolian, Nepal, Southeast Asian end up in New Zealand. That never happened. One year, as I mentioned, turned into four, and I never made it past Europe.
Carla: My great-grandparents are Italian, and I have Italian citizenship. I didn’t speak Italian, and I always wanted to learn, and I wanted to connect to the land in Italy. And one of the wonderful things about doing these experiences is that you’re fully immersed in the language aspect of it.
Carla: So I was able to get by in Italian within four months just because I was on farms where farmers didn’t really speak English. I volunteered in Canada before I started on my travels in Iceland, in France, in Italy, and now in New Zealand. So I eventually made it to New Zealand. I kind of skipped the middle bit of my trip, and then after the pandemic, I finally made it here.
Brighde: Wow, that’s quite a lot of places, and yeah, I was thinking as you were telling me about the nuns and the furniture, and just how communication happened, because I’m sure, not all of them spoke excellent English, so I’m sure that would’ve been a great opportunity to immerse yourself.
Carla: Yeah, absolutely. By the time I was volunteering with the nuns, was probably three years into my trip, so I was pretty fluent in Italian. I was actually the translator for the rest of the volunteers.
Carla: They didn’t speak English. Most of them did have one that was kind of like our contact, who did.
Carla: But yeah, definitely, my first farm in Italy. The farmer was just fully speaking to me in Italian and I had to get by learning Google Translate until eventually I could keep up with dinner conversations.
Brighde: Wow, that’s impressive. Well done.
Brighde: You’ve decided to travel, and you’ve decided that you want to volunteer. Like, how is it that you kind of piece together your volunteering opportunities? What are the logistics for organizing all of this?
Carla: Yeah, so when I first started, I had a job in Vancouver. I was working for a work and travel company and I was receiving people from abroad, so people that were on this youth mobility visa. And my job was to help them get settled in Canada. To find work, find volunteer opportunities, and find a place to live.
Carla: That’s kind of what really inspired my travels. And it was what eventually was so contagious at a point where I was like, I need to do this for myself. And so I kind of, before I left Vancouver, I had started looking. I started scheming for this big trip. I signed up for Workaway because I knew I wanted to go to lots of different countries, and I wanted to have farming experience, but I also wanted to do all sorts of different things.
Carla: I think even before I paid for it, I started browsing. This was a very intimidating thing for me because as I mentioned, I hadn’t really spent much time on farms. This was a very big undertaking. And so I started casually browsing without even committing to paying for it. Then it was a point where I wanted to start saving some of the hosts that I found, so I signed up for it.
Carla: And that made it very official for me. Like, okay, this is happening. I gave notice within a month, and I just started finding, just very intuitively, projects that seemed interesting. So I knew I was going to Iceland, so I would start searching in Iceland. What kinds of opportunities are there,
Carla: what kinds of things could I do, saving those opportunities? And then when it got closer to the trip, started messaging. So I would recommend about a month away to start sending messages. And to message-obviously more than one host. I think a good number is about five because not all will get back to you.
Carla: The nice thing about Workaway is that you have a little “seen” notification so that you know they’ve seen your message, but they won’t let you know. They get a lot of requests. I would also recommend to kind of tailor your messages, to reading about their project to write something specific and to tell them about you.
Carla: And then some would get back to me and they’re like, “Oh, we can’t do these dates, but we can do these dates.” So I would kind of like to start piecing together my calendar. There were some, for example, in Italy that I wanted to do earlier in the year that couldn’t host me until later, and I actually put them in with the nuns at the monastery.
Carla: I actually scheduled it in the year before because I’d wanted to go to them in the fall. So they were closed and they’re like, “Do you wanna come back next year?” And it’s the earliest I’ve ever signed up for anything.
Carla: But I wanted to, it seemed like such an interesting project that I signed up for them a year in advance. So another thing I recommend is to, especially when you’re first starting out to do about two weeks. I think it’s a safe amount of time where you’ll know if it’s working or not.
Carla: And if it doesn’t really work, two weeks is not a lot of time. You can always extend. I’ve had people extend me. So when I first went to Iceland, I loved the project and the family, and I ended up, I was there for two weeks, and I was on another farm for two weeks. I ended up loving the first one so much that I extended that for the full month, and I ended up canceling the other one.
Carla: Leave a little “wiggle” room because you never know until you’re there. For example, that family that I loved staying within North Italy, in the Dolomites, I ended up staying there for big chunks of time. The first time I was there for two weeks and then I came back and I stayed for three months, and then I came back again.
Brighde: I love that. And is it clear in the listing, like how many hours are expected from you per day or per week, and what your time off will be?
Carla: Yeah, so normally it’s about, they say, between four and six hours. Five days a week, so you’re doing on average 25 hours per week. But again, especially with farming, I found when I had, for example, I also volunteered at a yoga centre, and we had a kind of set schedule because we had guests, and you know, same when I was like doing the hostel breakfast, and I also did a hotel breakfast.
Carla: I would be there from seven till noon, but when you’re on a farm, the schedule is all over the place because you really have to roll with the punches, and they might decide, you know, you can have the day off. So it could be a little bit spontaneous like that.
Carla: And the hours as well. So normally what I would do on farms is do a little bit in the morning and then have a break, especially in Italy, have a very long break for lunch.
Brighde: Of course,
Carla: Like I’m talking hours, and then feeling very tired, and food coma kicking in, and then having to do another couple hours after lunch.
Carla: But still, usually, even if you do it that way, you’d still finish pretty early. So we’d have time in the afternoon to go for a walk or to spend time with the family. Because that’s the thing. It’s like, there are a lot of benefits to volunteering. One really big one for me is the exchange.
Carla: So it’s not just what you’re learning, because you’re learning so much, not just about farming, for example, in ways of life, and culture, and cooking, but you are also teaching, so that’s really beautiful. I was able to teach a lot of things and cook a lot of meals. And so a lot of times in the evening it was so wonderful to be able to spend time with the other volunteers, with the family, to spend time with the kids if they had kids, play after dinner.
Carla: It’s kind of like you’re part of their family, so you have to adapt to their way of life. And while you’re only doing, say technically five hours a day, there might be moments where you like, connect so much with a family that you see they need help. Sometimes we would do harvesting in the evening because we didn’t finish, and I didn’t mind doing extra hours because it was like a small family.
Carla: With this small business you want to help. There was once we had a heat wave, and they had to replant, and like water the plants because the heat wave was coming.
Carla: It’s not a nine to five. That’s the biggest thing that I learned. It’s a way of life. So if you can, if you’re happy to pitch in extra hours or go outside of the scheme as well, it’s very much welcome, as you see fit, of cause.
Brighde: Yeah, I mean, this is the thing with farming, like you said earlier, things don’t run on a nine to five schedule, and you know, they’re at the mercy of the elements, and so many different factors that can change everything. So yeah, it feels to me like doing some sort of, you know, agriculture opportunity, would really give you the opportunity to reset in a way and to try something new, connect with nature to connect to the seasons.
Brighde: It just sounds lovely. Another question that I had about, the farming stuff is; are very often, the volunteer opportunities seasonal, or do they kind of think, “Okay, there’s always work to be done.” I’ll find something even in the middle of winter because some machinery is cleaning or something like that.
Carla: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a very good question. Farming is definitely. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of life and it is very seasonal. When I was in Italy, for example, I did most of my volunteering between March and November. A lot of the farms did because again, farmers work so incredibly hard.
Carla: They do often take the winter off. I mean, they’re never really off. Again, it’s their way of life. There are fewer opportunities definitely in the wintertime. I have found some, for example, gathering wood for the winter. For example, when I was on the in that farm slash lab we were making. So a lot of the produce that came in the fall, we were making into, jams and chutneys and things in the colder months.
Carla: So definitely that’s something definitely to look out for. And it’s also very seasonal, so if you want to do a harvest, you may be looking at the fall. If you want to experience an olive harvest, which I did for two years, which is a really beautiful experience in Italy, you’re looking at October.
Carla: The wine grape harvest would be in September. Earlier in the season, so the spring is more like you’re doing prep. Maybe you’re doing different kinds of work, like you’re adapting to the season. So, whereas in the fall I’ve also done some, like I would close greenhouses and that kind of thing.
Carla: There is year-round work. I also stayed at a hostel off-season, so it was winter, and it was very quiet. They needed some general duties and some maintenance help. Of cause, there were no guests to interact with.
Carla: It was a different kind of experience, but there are definitely those opportunities through the winter time as well or you can also go somewhere warm in the winter and kind of like chase the summer, is another option.
Brighde: Love it.
Brighde: I love it. So let’s talk about some practicalities in terms of visas and insurance because you know, some people might not consider this a vacation. Insurance companies might not consider it a vacation. Governments might not consider a volunteer as a tourist because they’re doing work, even if no money has exchanged hands.
Brighde: What are some things that people should be thinking about when they are booking these opportunities, and maybe, where are some resources they can go to figure out? For sure. Because, you know, we don’t want to end up getting into trouble or deported here.
Carla: Yeah. Absolutely. When I was working for this working holiday program, for one year, the visas were really delayed, and a lot of people were coming over and decided to do WWOOFing while they were waiting for their visas to be processed. And we actually had somebody come in from Germany to Canada
Carla: who was waiting on his work visa, but said that he was going to be volunteering on farms, and he was actually denied entry into Canada. So that’s something that can happen and you have to be very mindful. So each country has their own regulations when it comes to WWOOFing and volunteer work.
Carla: The nice thing about the Workaway platform is that when you search for hosts in a certain country, it will tell you what to look out for, and what the visa requirements might be. Always double-check because these things are always changing. It gives you a fairly good idea. So for example, in a country like Peru, you don’t need a specific visa.
Carla: You can volunteer on a tourist visa, but in a country like New Zealand, you need a specific visa to be able to even do WWOOF or Workaway. And the reason is that the New Zealand government considers volunteering or WWOOFing. You’re allowed to volunteer, say if you go to like a shelter for the day.
Carla: They consider that you are doing an exchange for room and board, and they consider that to be a reward. So it’s that exchange that they consider to be kind of in a bit of work. So in that case, they suggest that you have either volunteer or work visa if you’re undertaking WWOOFing or Workaway.
Carla: My biggest recommendation would be to look at it country by country, and in the terms and conditions of Workaway, they do say like, make sure you look into this because each country is different, just in terms of liability. And for WWOOFing, it’s interesting. They actually don’t consider themselves to be volunteers.
Carla: They consider it to be educational. So in that way, they say, okay, it’s educational. So you know, when you do go to a customs, like if you tell them WWOOFing and volunteering and all this, it might confuse them because they don’t really know, or it is like a bit of a grey area. So they consider it to be fine under a tourist visa because it is educational.
Carla: So again, it’s like you’re going to hear different things, but the major thing I would say is to look into it for yourself to know country by country, what their regulations are when it comes to needing a specific visa or not.
Brighde: Great advice. And what about insurance as well? I think about insurance quite a bit, travel insurance specifically, I guess, you know, you would want to make sure that you have your medical as you should whenever you are traveling. Emergency medical at least. Maybe some personal liability in there as well, just in case you did something wrong, at the place where you’re going to.
Brighde: I don’t know, that’s just a bit of a brain dump of some thoughts there. What have you thought about that ,or have you heard any recommendations?
Carla: Definitely. That’s a very good question. I always recommend people to get travel insurance. That comes from my days working for the working holiday company, and I would call them my kids, all the participants. I would always recommend that they have travel insurance. It’s incredibly important.
Carla: So there’s that, I think as a foundation. Additionally, farmers usually have you do very low-risk stuff for the most part, like weeding and harvesting, and just helping with day-to-day things. They won’t really have you using heavy machinery for those reasons.
Carla: Or driving a tractor as much as you might want to. I never got to drive a tractor in all those years because of that liability. What’s interesting is, Workaway and HelpX don’t have any included insurance with their membership. But some chapters of WWOOF do. So for example, Italy, which I used myself, Spain, Portugal, and the US, have built-in insurance that covers personal liability and accidents.
Carla: So what was really interesting is when I was in Italy, I was using Workaway and then when I was on a farm, they actually asked me after they’d accepted me through Workaway to sign up for WWOOFing just so I could have the insurance. And I’m so glad I did because I didn’t know about that.
Carla: And then some countries like Canada, Belgium, and there are a few others, allow you through WWOOFing to pay for additional add-on insurance to cover that liability and accident. So it’s always a good idea if you have the option. I would say, definitely go for that. Yeah, otherwise, as a foundation, always, the travel insurance I think is a must.
Brighde: Yeah. Yeah. So travel insurance usually encompasses many things like your emergency medical, and then, you know, trip cancellation or trip interruption, which for your type of travel probably isn’t a huge deal. But you know, that personal liability, there’s usually like a decent amount of personal liability included in like a general travel insurance package. And yeah. Definitely do not travel unless you have emergency medical for sure.
Brighde: If you are traveling for long, long periods of time, then you might need something different to just, to travel insurance because that only, you know, if something really bad happens, then they’ll just send you back home, which, and you might not even have coverage when you are back home. That’s sometimes a big factor that people don’t consider.
Brighde: For example, in Canada, I think if you are a Canadian resident and you are away for six months or a period of time, and you no longer recovered under Canadian healthcare, and when you get back, you are not covered for three months until you get back three calendar months. So if you had a bad accident in South Africa, for example, in an emergency evacuated back home, you would find yourself in a lot of trouble.
Brighde: These are definitely things that need to be considered for sure.
Carla: Yeah, that’s definitely, that’s a really good point as well. So I would say look into those things that you often don’t consider. You want to look at the fun stuff of paying for a membership and see what kinds of opportunities you can do. And, you might forget the fine print stuff, and I think it’s equally important to make sure that you are covered and that you’re doing things safely and correctly.
Carla: So definitely look into visas country by country, and definitely look into insurance as well.
Brighde: What would you say some of the benefits are of doing this kind of volunteer work overseas, working on farms, specifically? Why do you think that’s of benefit?
Carla: There are honestly so many benefits associated with volunteering. One of the big ones is that you fall into a community straight away. You fall into a project, into a family. And whereas like right now, for example, I’m living in New Zealand, and I came here, and I didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t really have any contacts, and it was so hard to build.
Carla: Whereas it’s so amazing to be able to just fall into an experience and have travelers and locals around you, people to do stuff with, learning from other people. So it’s that the people aspect is huge, I think. Another one is especially on farms. You’re in the countryside and you’re really off the beaten track, so you get to go to places that a lot of people
Carla: haven’t been to. For example, a lot of these farms have a lot of lands, and they’re private lands, so unless you are volunteering, you wouldn’t have access to go there. And they have their own walking paths or they have waterfalls that you can go to, and all these spectacular nature elements that would be really difficult to access.
Carla: Not only that, but you often go to quite remote areas that, you know, if you go to Italy, you’re going to Florence, Venice, Rome, but, you know, are you going to this tiny village? I lived in one village where the number of year-round residents, there were five year-round residents. So I’m talking small scale, and you know, I got to do so many incredible things there.
Carla: The recommendations for really unique places to go, like in Italy, I visited so many hot springs, and I never knew Italy had so many incredible hot springs. It’s not something that you really hear about. So it’s that being able to go off the beaten track. You also save money at the end of the day.
Carla: When you’re on a farm, first of all, there’s not a lot of places you can spend money. So on some projects, I would walk an hour to get to a neighboring town. If the espresso bar was open, I’d buy a one Euro espresso, and you know, that was it. And then walk back, and that was my afternoon. There’s not a lot of spending unless it’s maybe on your days off.
Carla: The family will help you on your days off. The host, they’ll drive you somewhere, take you for a hike, and invite you somewhere. I’ve been to so many village parties and things like that, and so you’re usually not spending that much money also on your days off. Unless, for example, I stayed with a couple who had a wedding to go to in Florence, and they were like, “Do you wanna come to Florence for the weekend?”
Carla: And I was like, “Yeah, sure, why not?” And you know, so, yeah, so bigger cities, obviously you’re going to be spending more on accommodation, and on food and things like that. But if you are doing, say, if you’re an au pair in a bigger city or if you’re in a hostel or a hotel, that kind of thing, but farming experiences, you’re really not spending that much except getting from place to place.
Carla: Often farmers will pick you up because there’s no bus going to where they live. So they’ll pick you up from some point. Another thing is when you’re traveling. Like I did long-term travel, and you get tired at a point of moving, and so it’s really nice to have these periods of time where you can stay in one place for a few weeks or up to a few months. In my experience I think is really nice, especially after a few months into a very long trip.
Carla: And something that we briefly touched on as well as languages. If there’s a language that you want to learn, it’s one of the best ways to learn. Sitting around the dinner table while working on a farm, just hearing conversations, and until at one point you’re part of them,
Carla: that’s a really cool moment. The moment where you realize you understand the language enough to be able to have a conversation. So yeah, I would say that, and just like being part of something. There were farms that I stayed at where I really felt part of the family, where I would pick up the kids from school or drive them to band practice, and things like that. It’s such an enriching experience, and it’s such a privilege to be welcomed into somebody’s life and into somebody’s home.
Carla: So yeah, those are some of the benefits.
Brighde: Thank you for sharing those, Carla. It’s really beautiful, and there are just so many benefits. The first one that you talked about, is when you arrive at the destination. You know, everything’s taken care of in terms of, what you have to do each day.
Brighde: You’ve got this, the host and maybe other volunteers to do something with. I mean, it also seems like a really great thing to do as a solo traveler as well. Of cause, you can volunteer as, you know, a couple or as friends for example, but you know, when you’re traveling alone like this, volunteering sounds like a really great way to, you know, be safe, and meet people, and be included.
Brighde: It just sounds amazing for so many reasons.
Carla: Yeah, definitely. You’re instantly part of something. so that’s really, really amazing. One other thing I didn’t mention as well, another benefit is that you learned so many skills. So for me, I was very project based because there were things, specific things that I did want to learn.
Carla: You end up learning things that you never thought that you would like. I know how to build a chicken fence. I know how to wrangle donkeys. There are so many life skills I’ve learned in inorganic farming as well. And just people skills, and so many life skills that you do learn.
Carla: And if there’s something that you’re interested in getting into, it’s a great way, career-wise, if you want to test the waters with something as well. And for example, working in a hostel or working in a hotel, getting that people experience, customer service experience, I think is a great way to go about it.
Carla: And definitely, yeah, you’re never alone. You’re hardly ever the only volunteer because there’s often a lot of work that needs to be done. I have been the only volunteer a couple of times, which was nice sometimes when, especially after a very intense period of being around a lot of people, to have my own space and my own room.
Carla: You also have to be very okay with communal living. You have to be okay with sharing space and that sort of thing, but there are so many benefits, I think to me, that outweighs everything else.
Brighde: It sounds very character-building.
Carla: Yeah, I would say so because you really learn. You learn to adapt, you learn to adopt. Honestly, for four years, it was kind of weird because I was on someone else’s schedule, almost like I was being told when my days off were, when dinner was when all these things that, when after the pandemic I moved back to Canada. I almost didn’t know what to do without that sense of structure around, me or somebody planning my days.
Carla: I was like, “Oh my goodness!”. I lived on my own, and it was such a shock for me. But definitely, it builds a lot of character. You have to be incredibly flexible, you’re in somebody’s home usually, and so you do have to adapt to them.
Carla: There’s a quote that I really love from the movie, The Beach, which is, “Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience”, and that’s exactly what it is. If you can do that, yeah, if you can do that, I think you can do really well as a volunteer if you know how to communicate. If you’re open and you want to learn, then volunteering could be a good option.
Brighde: I love that. I love that. Alright, that seems like a lovely way to finish up our conversation with Carla. Thank you so much for getting up so early and taking the time to be on the podcast. Before we say goodbye, would you mind sharing, maybe some places online where people can find you?
Carla: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. It’s been great to be able to share my story on your platform, and I hope that this information helps people that are interested in this way of traveling. If you want to follow me, I have my travel writing account, which is also like my life and travel account.
Carla: If you want to see adventures in New Zealand at the moment, you can follow me on Instagram. carla.writes, and then if you want to follow my illustration account, it’s carla.letters. So you can follow that one as well. And my websites are the same.
Carla: It’s carlawrites.ca or carlaletters.com for my illustration work.
Brighde: Fantastic. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today.
Carla: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.