WWOOFing adventures in the UK and the empowerment of independent travel for women
By Katie Doherty
I’ve always enjoyed doing things on my own. From going to the movies alone for a Monday matinee to sitting in a café with a book and people-watching, I find peace and space for reflection in solitude. And traveling on my own is no exception. Over the past 15 years, I’ve gone on dozens of solo trips around the US and abroad, from Vietnam to Mexico to Germany.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy the company of others. But when an idea pops into my head (spoiler alert: this time, it had something to do with living and working on a farm in England), and no one else is able to go, well…I can’t let that stop me. In addition to the freedom to build your preferred itinerary that solo travel allows, there are several other benefits to traveling alone. It fosters a sense of self-reliance and independence and helps you gain confidence as you move through challenges that you may have been nervous about navigating on your own. Solo travel also develops your problem-solving skills and adaptability in new situations.
For instance, I’m not particularly confident with directions and getting around in unfamiliar places. Buses and trains are a bit nerve-wracking, as I’m always wondering if I’m heading in the right direction, partially convinced that I will accidentally end up in some far away land nowhere close to my destination. Before heading to my first WWOOF assignment, I was in London. It came time to figure out how to get from London to the Cotswolds and then onto the Yorkshire Dales. First of all, Google Maps is a game changer. It provides every possible route from buses to trains to taxis. I always start there. Secondly, I’ve learned to ask for help. For some reason, asking for help is hard for me. My default mode is to figure things out on my own. But solo travel will push you to step outside your comfort zone. So if ever I felt unsure of where I was going, I would ask. Maybe a local, maybe a staff member, or maybe by messaging my Airbnb or WWOOF host. When you start stepping outside your comfort zone, you gain confidence in areas where you were previously uncertain.
As a solo female traveler, I am often asked “How do you know it’s safe?” It’s a fair question. I’ve come up with 4 Solo Safety S’s that help me feel safe wherever I go:
Study the situation: Research your destination ahead of time. Check travel advisories (like travel.state.gov) which provide rankings for every country from ‘1 = Exercise Normal Precautions’ up to ‘4 = Do Not Travel.’
Stay sharp: Exercise the same safety precautions abroad as you would at home—limit alcohol intake and refrain from walking at night in unfamiliar neighborhoods.
See the good: Trust that most humans are good. I know it’s easy to focus on the bad stuff, but in all my years of traveling, I’ve never been in danger. Instead, I’ve been met with overwhelming kindness.
Embracing the Solo Safety S’s has not only allowed me to explore the world confidently but has also opened up unique opportunities for immersive experiences. In 2018, I was dreaming of a trip to Europe. At the time, I didn’t have a big budget. One of my truest beliefs is, “If there’s a will, there’s a way.” Pardon the cliché, but it’s true. I wanted to come up with a creative solution where I could visit a new place without spending hundreds of dollars on accommodations. I heard about WWOOF on a podcast and started looking into possible locations. England is one of my favorite countries, and though I had been to London before, I wanted to experience a different side of the UK.
After a bit of research, I decided on two different farm stays in England. The first was a 5-day stay on a small farm in the Cotswolds. My duties included clearing weeds, pruning the garden, and making fresh apple cider (that was my favorite!). In my free time, my host drove us to Hidcote Manor, a botanical paradise with gorgeous manicured gardens. We also went for walks on nearby trails.
My second WWOOFing experience was in the Yorkshire Dales. My host picked me up from the train station and drove us toward Markington Hall, where I stayed for nine days. The estate grounds were wrapped in the colors of fall—a palette of earthy browns, gray skies, and hints of red in the ivy on the walls. I helped with a medley of tasks, including feeding the chickens each morning, pruning pear trees, and giving the onsite cabin a fresh coat of hunter-green paint.
During my stay at Markington Hall, I was able to participate in some unique and authentic travel experiences that I likely would have missed if I hadn’t signed up for WWOOF. One chilly day, I was asked if I had an interest in herding Scottish sheep to bring them from one farm to another. I said yes, of course. I’m a city girl, and I’d never seen anything like it. Those sheep were crazy–jumping all over the place! On another evening, my hosts invited me to a neighbor’s house to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. As an American, I had never heard of such a tradition and felt immersed in a cultural experience as the bonfire continued to grow and blaze brightly against the dark sky.
If you’ve been considering being a WWOOFer but are hesitant to go alone, here’s your sign to not let that hold you back. Here’s your permission slip. Take the leap! Don’t let fear stop you from discovering a side of yourself that you won’t experience unless you push yourself to the edges of your comfort zone.
I recently released a book if you’d like to learn more about traveling solo. Guide for Worldly Women: Confidently Plan the Perfect Trip & Travel Independently covers shifting your mindset so that you can view traveling alone as an opportunity to explore what you’re capable of and create lasting memories. I discuss the benefits of traveling alone and why going solo doesn’t mean you’ll be lonely. There are personal stories of all my solo travels over the past 16 years–plus a curated selection of my favorite hotels, restaurants, and activities around the world to make traveling alone less overwhelming and more exciting.
The photos in this article are all taken by Katie and you can see them in their full glory plus more from time spent WWOOFing at Markington Hall here.
You can follow Katie’s travel on instagram where you can see an impressive array of images plus there’s the Solo Trip Quiz!
We’d like to say a big thank you to Katie for gifting us with this article and wish her the best of luck on her future solo travels and with all of her creative projects.