Tony quit his job in Finance and began traveling around the world with his wife, Meg, in January of 2012. Some might say they are obsessed with food, but they cannot get enough of all the tasty things the world has to offer. Please enjoy this week-in-the-life of Tony and Meg WWOOFing on a Tuscan Farm!
Last January we decided to spend a year traveling around the world. We wanted to experience everything the world had to offer: different cuisines, fascinating conversations with locals, adventure sports, romantic scenery, and everything else.
But we also wanted to experience as many different ways to travel as possible. One of these ways was WWOOFing, which I chronicle below in my account of our first week working on a Tuscan farm.
Day 1: Monday
4 AM: We have been up for a half hour in our Istanbul airport hotel. With only 32 liter backpacks, very little time is needed to make sure everything is ready to go. With a final check of the room, we’re out the door and headed to the airport.
6 AM: We’re wheels up on our Turkish Air flight, headed to Bologna after spending the past week touring around Turkey with my folks.
10:30 AM: The train from the Bologna airport just left the station and we are on our way to Florence. We will need to switch trains again in order to get out into the Tuscan countryside. A taxi to the airport, two train rides, and a car pick-up from the final train stop might seem like a lot, but this will actually be one of our easier days of travel.
1:00 PM: Ivano, the main caretaker of the farm and our friend, Allie, pick us up in the farm’s Panda. A classic Italian farm car, this one has definitely seen its share of potholes. Incredibly hungry from only eating the popcorn we bought at the airport terminal, they drive us to the farm’s little grocery store where we finally have the first real meal we have had since the night before.
2:00 PM: Allie and I are catching up on each other’s lives, since we had last seen each other when we studied abroad in Florence 7 years before. Meg and Allie are finding much in common between their shared love of Italian wine and food, while Allie’s boyfriend, Jim, leads us around the farm’s Truffle trails. Clearing these trails will be one of our responsibilities over our two-week stay.
7:00 PM: Exhausted from the long day of travel and walking around the farm, we enjoy a nice bottle of wine with Allie and Jim as we watch the sun set behind the Tuscan hills.
Day 2: Tuesday
8:00 AM: We had woken up an hour earlier to the farm’s roosters doing their thing, but we are now out the door walking to reception. Not quite sure what we have gotten ourselves into with WOOFing, but excited to see what kind of work they will have in store for us.
9:00 AM: Jim, Ivano, and I drive the farm’s Panda 2 kilometers out into the property’s woods to find one of the trails to clear. Meg, being the daughter of a forester and a lover of the outdoors, is none too pleased about this obviously sexist division of labor.
1:00 PM: Swinging a machete for the past 4 hours has left my arms exhausted and the thorny vines have left them bloody. Despite the unrelenting mosquitos, the ripped pants, and my wounded arms, I feel a deep sense of accomplishment as Jim, Ivano, and I have tamed a large amount of wild trail. Upon seeing my ruined clothes and bloody arms once I’m back at reception, Meg is much less upset about not going into the woods.
2:00 PM: Lunch has taken an hour to prepare, but boy is it worth it. Fresh pasta with a pesto sauce made from the herbs in the garden behind our villa. A very large glass (or two) of Italian red wine chases the pasta down.
3:00 PM: More work to be done? Good thing I didn’t drink too much wine at lunch… whoops! As it turns out, Allie and Jim are also worried about us wielding machetes after the wine, so they take us to mark the trails by painting the trees with orange dots. The four of us also stop by the wild cherry trees to spend an hour in the late afternoon sun gorging on the tiny fruit.
8:00 PM: In bed, totally spent from the day’s work but perfectly content; we watch the embarrassingly addictive TV show, The Vampire Diaries, on my laptop and are asleep by 9PM
Day 3: Wednesday
8:00 AM: The work day starts once again at the farm’s reception area where we learn that we can take a break from the trails today. The owner of the farm has told Ivano that he wants the fenced in area behind the garage cleared and made to look nice.
11:00 AM: Meg and I are spent. Nearly three hours of lifting water-soaked firewood and battling hornets nests has gotten the better of us. Seeing our poor body language during a water break, Allie gives us a little nod and says she’ll cover for us if we sneak back early for lunch. We quickly take her up on the offer.
1:00 PM: The power of a homemade meal never ceases to amaze. That, combined with the rejuvenating effects of a glass of wine, has Meg and I back at reception ready to start phase two of the clean-up project. With the clutter cleared from the ground, we are asked to sand by hand the rusted metal fence so that we can later paint it.
4:00 PM: Shoulders sore and only half a fence sanded, we are done with our chores for the day. Having spent nearly three days doing no work on our own site, we resolve ourselves to getting some pending articles posted to our website.
7:00 PM: Meg is in the second hour of trying to load just one picture into WordPress so that her article can be published. I have long since given up trying to do anything purposeful online for the day and am writing a future article in Word, hoping that tomorrow’s internet connection will be better. We both take refuge in a big box of red wine that quickly makes our internet concerns dissolve as we look out over another beautiful sunset.
9:00 PM: Farm life is proving harder (and more beautiful) than expected and we are once again turning off the lights to go to bed before 10 PM.
Day 4: Thursday
7:00 PM: The roosters once again wake me up and this time I go out to greet them. I have been asked to take care of them this morning which means letting them out of their chicken coop in the morning, giving them feed, and putting them back in the coop at night.
11:30 AM: Just as we finish sanding the remainder of the fence, Allie and Jim call us over. Today is the “big lunch.” Once a week, the Agriturismo holds a big lunch for all of the guests who are staying in the property’s villas. We head up to the big kitchen where the meal is being prepared so that we can set up tables. We also happily get the party started by pouring ourselves some wine and tasting the food.
1:00 PM: Helping out at the “big lunch” has proven better than expected. Beyond setting up a few tables, chairs, and helping clear dishes, our main responsibilities are ensuring the guests have a good time. This means eating and drinking with them, sharing stories, and answering any questions. All of a sudden the previous few days of hard work seem incredibly worth it.
3:00 PM: The lunch is over and we have just finished cleaning. Meg and I are staring at each other over our laptops as we both realize the same thing. All of the food and all of the wine has ruined any chance we had of being productive online. We shut our laptops and take a blissful two-hour nap in the fading Tuscan light.
10:00 PM: We’re around a nice warm fire that Jim has made behind our villa. The four of us are swapping stories and sharing wine as we marvel at what an experience working on the farm has been.
10:30 PM: We notice movement in the giant tree behind our villa. With flashlights in hand, we investigate to find that the chickens I forgot to put back in their coop (I was napping) have flown/climbed 40 feet up into this tree. The rest of the night’s discussion involves us four city slickers being shocked that chickens had the ability to climb and fly that high into a tree.
Day 5: Friday
8:00 AM: We are wide awake, but not for work. We have been given two days off per week on the farm and today is one of those days. The reason we are awake is Ivano is busy in our villa’s kitchen making sure his pizza dough is rising and getting the fire in the brick oven lit. We are apparently having homemade Italian pizzas today.
12:30 PM: Pizza time. Ivano, his wife, and their children join us for a laid back and delicious feast. As you might expect, more wine is drunk.
3:00 PM: Despite the copious amount of wine at lunch, we are again in front of computers determined to work.
8:00 PM: Meg finally has loaded four pictures into WordPress and published her article. I am having less luck and still cannot get an article to load. We are traveling to have genuinely memorable experiences, not just record those experiences, so we at least have a decent perspective on the lack of internet. But it still blows.
Day 6&7: The Weekend
This consists of one full day off from work where we lose the entire day enjoying the Tuscan sun, eating, and drinking. The remaining day of work for the farm is fairly easy and is spent walking the woods with Allie and Jim helping place trail markers on the truffle trails. While it is not truffle season, I cannot help but try to take a closer look at a few mushrooms in the lame hope that I find my own truffle.
Little personal work is accomplished over the weekend as the slow internet is still a problem. We resolve to work doubly hard when we get to Berlin in a week and publish all of our backlogged articles. Until then, we also resolve to fully enjoy our time sweating, bleeding, eating, drinking, and laughing while WWOOFing on our Tuscan farm.
Tony and Meg are currently in Hawaii, and planning their next house-sitting adventure. In the meantime, Tony is busy writing about their year-long trip around the world at LandingStanding.com and working on ways to make their adventures never-ending.
(Editor’s Note: If you want to make your own full-time travels financially sustainable, be sure to sign up for access to the free 5-part series How to Travel Full-Time in a Financially Sustainable Way!)