If the recessionary mindset has taught us anything, it’s that delivering suspicious packages is not the only way to travel cheaply. Enter the working vacation, where callous-palmed travelers don the sun hat and gloves of the temporary laborer, and pay for their camp grub, modest accommodations and instructional lessons on trail maintenance by picking heirloom tomatoes or keeping leaf-eating beetles at bay. Below are two ingenious ways to take a vacation for next to nothing.
(If you already have a full-time job upkeeping trails or cultivating organic crops, we don’t recommend the following options.)
Harvest 22 varieties of figs in Malibu. Help build an off-the-grid dwelling situated at 10,000 feet in Colorado Springs. Rake wild blueberries and make wine in Phillips, Maine. What is this strange bourgeois migrant labor, you ask? There are some 1,200 farms associated with WWOOF U.S.A., the American chapter of World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. (There are thousands more across the planet, but costly flights make extreme penny pinching more of a challenge.) The exchange: You work for a half day, and the farm owners, which you’ve hopefully vetted (and they you, crazy eyes), provide food and shelter. No previous experience extolling the virtue of the soil is needed, but you do have to be at least 18 years old to work on your own. (Those younger than 18 must be accompanied by an adult.)
The length of a farmstay is determined by you and your host, and can vary from a few days to a season. Gaining access to WWOOF’s online database of farms costs $30.
Appalachian Trail Work Crew
Working as part of a volunteer crew to build and protect the Appalachian National Scenic Trail is a decidedly couch-free affair. Trail crews tackle large-scale projects such as trail relocations and rehabilitation, and bridge and shelter construction. The work is rigorous and there are no “vacation days” if you’re working for the minimum week-long stint. But what you do get, if you’re so disposed, is the chance to pass on the 75-plus-year legacy of a 1,166-mile trail that runs from West Virginia through Maine, the pursuit of which has given men, women and children the freedom to grow wizard-like beards without recoiling in society’s mirror. As part of the bargain, you also get food, transportation to the work site, the chance to share a group tent, work tools and equipment, and crew leadership. Volunteers are responsible for providing their own camping gear.
Apparently, there are quite a few hardy noble souls ready to take on the task — there’s often a waitlist for the first-come, first-served positions, which are filled in equal parts by men and women, with ages ranging from 18 to 80.