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05.27.09

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Far and Wide

There is a cure for the summertime blues

By Juliane Poirier


Eddie Cochran was so sure there was no cure for being cash-strapped in summer that he co-wrote a song about it in 1958 and people are still singing, "Sometimes I wonder what I'm a-gonna do, 'cause there ain't no cure for the summertime blues." Back when the song came out, it was merely the plight of teenagers who yearn for fun while "working all summer just to try to earn a dollar." Now, having difficulty financing summer adventure is almost a universal predicament. But cheer up, everyone! Travel can still be sustainable. The best local or international experiences of your life are not for sale anyway; they are for trade. Any person of any age who's long on wanderlust and short on funds can simply barter her way out of the summertime blues.

If there's money enough for a ticket to your dream country but not much more, consider the kind of work you enjoy doing or the kind of skills you'd like to learn. Want to help restore a house or create an organic garden in rural France? Help with a straw bale house on the Spanish coast? An eco-resort in India could use a few hands, and a turtle project in Costa Rica needs workers. These are current project listings at Workaway (www.workaway.info), the networking organization that connects travelers with work-exchange opportunities.

"Helping people to travel around the world without spending a fortune" is the goal of the two European travelers and organizers behind Workaway. Show up in the country you want to visit, and in exchange for "five hours of honest work" each day, you'll receive your meals and a place to stay, plus the opportunity to gain work experience and foreign-language skills. Better yet, you'll forge the kind of relationships that don't present themselves at Club Med.

Want to stay local but still hear a melodious "Bon jour" at the breakfast table? The Workaway site also offers a means to host other travelers. Fortunately for us, Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties are destination spots, so those of us who can't get away at present might invite travelers to come speak with the kids in languages not limited to French, German, Swedish or Japanese. List a childcare or yard-work job or maybe an ethnic cooking job.

Speaking of cuisine, food-growing is another way to help pay for a travel adventure while learning organic farming practices. Certain of these travelers are called "WWOOFers" from the acronym for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (www.wwoof.org). The verb of their coinage, "wwoof," means to volunteer on a farm in exchange for room and board.

Wwoofers can stay close to home and learn food and ranching techniques common to the western United States, or they can choose to farm in an exotic island setting such as Hawaii or the Virgin Islands. From Costa Rica to Africa, organic-farming operations holding membership with this global network offer employment and travel experiences as varied as the people living close to the land. Find your people, from vegans to Buddhists, and select your top farm experience, from seal herding to biodynamic lettuce cultivation.

   

For more money and less risk, there are travel service programs hosted by Habitat for Humanity, Elderhostel, Sierra Club, Global Volunteers and others. But I'm drawn to the experiences without middlemen to step in and save you from a full-on encounter with the locals or their livestock. So, aiming for Scotland, I checked out wwoofing opportunities near the capital city and was delighted that many farms favored musicians. "A wee organic farm and ecology centre nestled in the rolling hills of Fife" claimed views of ocean and loch, broadband internet in a tree house, lobster-catching and day trips to Edinburgh—all with the caveat that "outgoing people who know how to laugh" and who bring "an instrument or some kind of talent to share are more likely to be accepted."

Sounds great. I can easily imagine myself laughing in the gloaming, bagging a few lobsters and breaking out my guitar—not for "The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond," but for a howling, tongue-in-cheek rendition of Cochran's "Summertime Blues."


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