Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hopefully they won't be like Maggie's farm.

I have always wanted to see what farm life is all about and we hope to keep the Canada leg of our trip on the less expensive side, so World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF for short) seemed like the logical choice.  Best case scenario?  Free lodging and meals in exchange for a half day of mending fences, planting crops, weeding, learning the ins and outs of organic farming, hanging out with baby cows, and having the rest of our time to explore.  Worst case scenario?  We don't get along with the hosts, pack up our stuff and move along.  Not such a worst case.   Friends had spoken highly of their experiences WWOOFing which helped to put our minds at ease.

Friends also recommended lots of research before committing.  As somewhat cautious and fairly introverted people, we were definitely interested in making sure we didn't end up like Bart, and we didn't want to lose sleep every night at a party farm (if those exist?).  I haven't seen much advice out there about choosing a WWOOF spot so I thought I'd narrate our introduction to this process.  In short - ever job hunted?  Yeah, it's like that.

As we started our search we had a few key things in mind:
  • Location
  • Duration (no more than 2 weeks given our schedule)
  • Hours per day (no more than 6 hours/day, no more than 5 days/week)
  • Types of farms (dairy, garden, etc)
  • Tasks (not just painting fences)
  • Lodging (preferably separate accommodations to ensure down time - see introvert comment above)
  • Availability of hiking and/or water activities (ideally)
  • Working with farm animals (ideally)

Location didn't take long - Patrick was interested in checking out the Gulf Islands of Vancouver, that sounded good to me, so we focused there.  Easy.

However.  Narrowing down the WWOOF opportunities using our other criteria was quite the ordeal.  So many wonderful farms!  Such beautiful pictures of gardens and surrounding scenery!  "OMG does their description really say garden piglets - how can we possibly say no to that??"  The list of criteria grew to include the size of the farm, last login to the WWOOF site, whether they had kayaks available...  Five hours and one ranked spreadsheet (with columns like "cheese?" "sheep?", and "recreational activities in the area?") later, we had our top choices. 

We sent our first introductory email, toasted our accomplishment... and checked email every five minutes for the next week anxiously waiting for a reply. 


Slightly disappointed, we sent off a few additional emails to our remaining top choices.  The first host to reply was no longer hosting.  We set up a Skype call with the second host who replied; she was very nice but we weren't sure about personality fit and the timing wasn't going to work out anyway. 

We were mentally preparing for another weekend of spreadsheet mania when the third host replied, offered an alternate proposal to our dates but also hooked us up with a nearby farm to round out our originally proposed timeframe, and confirmed - all within a few days. This act of generosity touched me and I'm excited to meet these folks, they seem like really good people.

Time will tell how these first couple of opportunities pan out but we think the selection process worked pretty well overall.  Here are a few things I'd like to do differently for the Nova Scotia leg of Canada:
  • Cater intro emails better.  Much like a job cover letter, really emphasize that you've read up on their farm and highlight opportunities of particular interest.
  • Don't wait a week to hear back.  Farmers are busy people, but we're on a bit of a schedule too.
  • Include whether they have reviews in our weighting.  Some farms looked amazing but I had to wonder why they'd been WWOOF hosts for 5 years and no one had posted a review.
  • When in doubt, Skype.  This helped us quickly eliminate one option that probably would've been tolerable for 2 weeks, but would definitely not have been our ideal situation.

And now, off to do some core work to make sure our backs can withstand manual labor after years of sitting in cubes...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The general idea.

including, but not limited to...

Not listed: starting this journey with a road trip across Canada. More to come on that...

But the general plan is to head east, find a cheap flight to London along the way, maybe stay for a bit in Ireland or Portugal before heading to Eastern Europe.  There's a pesky 90-day restriction in Europe that we are contending with, so we'll see what happens.

Then down to Turkey (and Morocco?) and then over to Southeast Asia.  Possibly the Australia area, although that starts to get pretty pricey.  And then back to South America to wander our way north.

Overwhelming?  A bit.

Ambitious?  You bet.

Excited?  ... Totally!

Friday, February 15, 2013

And so it begins.

In today's mail we received the first tangible evidence of our impending RTW trip.  Until this point it’s been fairly theoretical and almost entirely virtual in nature. You know, lots of “what if” conversations, spreadsheets of budgets and to-do lists, daydreaming while watching Long Way Down or Full Circle.

Sure, we purchased the Canadian WWOOF membership a while ago just to start browsing.  We've invested in warm layers but those could be useful just for camping trips.  We got a new waterproof camera but that could just come in handy over the Portland winter. This little piece of paper (which appears to have been hand-typed by a little old lady in some small Canadian province) is the first thing we can solidly hold in our hands that says “WE ARE DOING THIS”.

To that end, we thought we’d offer some of the most common questions we anticipate, and our answers to those questions.

Why do you want to do this?
P: Growing up in a small city in Oregon with easy access to the mountains and ocean, I developed an early appreciation of nature. Numerous weekends I'd find myself in the back of a wandering car, meandering down a quiet logging road or foothill fire lane; sometimes to dead end beaches or deserted dunes. It didn't matter to my parents what the destination of our journeys would be. Only that the journey was happening past rhododendron filled forests, or a rocky coastline, or along a ice cold stream. Nature was where they wanted to be most of the time, when time permitted.

Now I'm older. And, I've carried that local wanderlust with me. Enjoying what this beautiful state offers to it’s native child. Only, recent conversations brought to my attention the many local places I have not seen within my birthplace paradise. Which got me to thinking... I've got the rest of my life to explore Oregon and all it's wonders, I'm ready to take my wanderlust global. There are too many beautiful places to visit on this planet. I want to learn from other native children what makes their “Oregon” special to them, and peek inside their natural world to see what makes them feel awed. My close compadre and I are off to see, do, and listen about the places that make others feel the way I feel about my great state of Oregon.

J: I’ve tried to write an answer to this question numerous times, but I keep coming back to what she said. Unlike her, I wasn’t a headstrong child, I’m not married or mortgage-riddled, and while I love sharing my experiences with whoever runs across them, I have no expectations of turning this into a travel writing career. (Don’t get me wrong - that would be awesome - it’s just not what is driving me.)

But like her, I keep thinking that there must be more to life than this. And that sentiment is reinforced by every person who hears our story and says, “I wish I could do that.”

So why don't they?  As I get older I find that I need to learn every day to stay engaged. Traveling teaches me how other cultures treat life, and in my limited experience we Americans have a lot to learn. But it's not just that - from traveling I also learn patience. I learn humility. I learn gratitude.

There is a line in my favorite Barbara Kingsolver book, Animal Dreams: “What keeps you going isn't some fine destination but just the road you're on, and the fact that you know how to drive.” It’s time to start driving. I understand that not everyone has the luxury of taking this much time off to travel. I feel incredibly fortunate that I do, and I hope to give back in each place we visit as a way of thanking the universe.

Aren’t you scared?
J: Yes... but not in the way you probably mean.  I’m scared of waking up in 15 years only to get ready for my cube job while I wait out retirement.

And in the way that you probably mean, well... anything that could happen to me outside of Portland could just as easily happen to me inside of Portland - probably easier, in fact, since my guard is rarely up here. I kept my wits about me in South America (and crazy taxi drivers aside, that worked out well), I’ll do the same on this trip, and whatever happens will happen.

P: Well, yes.  Who wouldn’t be scared of walking away from an income, the security of a roof over your head every night, a pantry full of food, and all the comforts you expect in our fortunate society.  But I’m discovering this false sense of security and comfort is lulling me into idleness; the day to day routines dulling my senses.  I crave change!!  And what better way to force change upon yourself than shedding all your possessions and venturing off into the world.  Yes, I am afraid of what is to come.  I also feel more alive each day closer to our departure date, leaving all this behind to hit the road.

How do you even plan something like this?
J & P:  Excellent question that we ask ourselves almost every day.  Let us know when you find a good answer...!

But seriously.  So far our approach has been to scrimp and save as much as possible, slowly start to purge our possessions, immerse ourselves in RTW blog research, and map out a general route which includes must-see places, potential volunteer spots, and considerations about visa requirements, budget, weather, and general safety and security.

 a typical weekend lately

a typical evening lately

The best advice we’ve seen is to not plan. (That’s about the hardest thing for a project manager to hear... but Jen is coping with it rather nicely.)

So... what IS your plan?
J: Thanks for asking!  Read on...