“The best things in life are free.”
When you hear this expression, you probably think of the things that money can’t buy: friends, family, happiness. Traveling probably doesn’t even feature because traveling is expensive, right? Or is it? Is it really impossible to travel the world for free?
The answer is quite simple: no, it isn’t impossible. In fact, there are many ways in which you could see a lot of the world for free, and if not free, then for very little money. Here’s a guide on how to travel the world for free – and almost free.
Find free accommodation
There are many, many ways you can cut back costs on accommodation – probably one of the biggest chunks of any travel budget. There are literally loads of options for free accommodation, you just may have to make some compromises along the way.
Couchsurfing is probably the best well-known site for hooking people up with a free bed for the night. It’s a great chance to meet locals who can give you recommendations on what to see, where to go and where to eat and drink. Obviously, if someone is hosting you, it’s a given that you’ll spend time with them during your stay, and doing something for them doesn’t go amiss either. I usually offer to cook for my hosts at least once, but other people I know who couchsurf do things like take them out to dinner or take a couple of small gifts from their country with them. Some couchsurfing communities also hold regular meetings if you’d prefer to meet someone before heading to stay with them or just want some people to hang around with while you’re away.
House sitting is also becoming a popular choice among travelers looking to have a free place to stay. There are a few websites – Trusted House Sitters, Mind My House and Nomador, to name a few – where people advertise for someone to come and look after their home while they’re away. The biggest advantages of house sitting are that you’ll get your own house or apartment while you’re away, be it for a weekend, two weeks or even a few months, giving you full access to facilities such as a kitchen to cook your own food in (great for bringing down spending even further) and somewhere a bit quieter than a hostel dorm. And it’s not just the home you’ll be looking after; most homeowners are looking for someone to take care of animals and/or plants while they’re away, so it’s a great opportunity to spend some time in the company of animals. That being said, you need to consider this carefully before applying for any house sits. Some animals, such as dogs, require a lot of attention so you need to be willing to actually put the animal’s needs before your own.
Similar to house sitting is doing a house exchange. The only catch here is that it only works if you have your own property as well. If you do then this could be a good way to experience a new country for free while the other homeowners stay in your house. HomeExchange is a good website to see what’s on offer.
One more way you can try and find free accommodation is to use your social network. The world is now a much smaller place due to websites and apps like Facebook and Instagram, so putting out a post to see if you know anyone who knows anyone who could put you up while you’re traveling.
Volunteering doesn’t just look good on your CV, it can also provide free accommodation options. There are a number of ways you can volunteer and keep a roof over your head at the same time, and in some cases even include free food and activities.
A lot of backpacker hostels, especially smaller, independent ones, like to hire volunteers to help out. This usually involves cleaning the rooms and communal areas, working on reception, giving guests information about the city and the local area, and sometimes hanging out with guests and taking them on nights out. It’s common to be expected to work around 20 hours per week in exchange for a free bed, sometimes free breakfast depending on the hostel you’re volunteering at and, more occasionally, other meals. Other perks which are dependent on where you’re staying can be free tours, free laundry and free bicycle hire.
If you like to be outside and surrounded by nature, WWOOFing may be a good option for you. The World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF for short) is an organisation that connects farmers and growers from all around the globe with volunteers who want to help out. Although you need to pay to get to wherever it is you’ll be WWOOFing, once you get there everything is sorted, including your place to stay and all your meals.
Get a job overseas
OK, not the best option if you’re only planning on being away for a couple of weeks. But if you’re thinking of traveling long-term, getting a job overseas to cover your costs is a fantastic way of stretching out your finances. Although getting a job in a different country might seem like a daunting task, there’s actually plenty of options open to you. Here are some of the more popular choices:
- Hostel Worker – yes, I know this was mentioned in the volunteering section, but some of the bigger or large chain hostels actually hire people to work rather than relying on volunteers. It’s just worth noting that if you’re a hired worker rather than a volunteer, the job probably won’t come with free accommodation.
- Au pair – great if you enjoy being around children. Au pairs usually live with the family they’re working for, with the job involving spending time and taking care of the children and some basic housekeeping. You’ll also get a small salary and occasionally you’ll get other perks, such as
useof a car.
- Flight attendant – if you fancy working in the airline industry and making a career for yourself traveling the world, consider becoming a flight attendant. You’ll get to spend some time in each of the places you fly to in addition to making a good salary with expenses covering food and drink. You’ll also get company discounts on your own vacations.
- Cruise ship worker – a similar deal that flight attendants have, the difference being that you’ll be on a cruise ship rather than a plane. Another difference is that cruise ships tend to have more jobs on offer; there are usually a number of retail and hospitality vacancies on every cruise liner, meaning a greater chance of getting a job.
- Teaching English as a foreign language – a very popular option, lots of people who end up teaching tend to spend many years abroad. In some countries, you don’t even need a qualification if your native language is English and you have the ability to communicate with people of all ages, including children, but this will depend on the country and the school, so check with them about qualifications before applying. Online teaching and tutoring have also boomed as an industry in recent years, only requiring a good laptop and a steady internet connection, making this a more flexible way of traveling the world.
- Holiday rep – there are literally hundreds of holiday companies which hire seasonal holiday reps, great if you fancy spending three or four months in one particular place. During the summer months you could be sunning yourself in beachside places like Greece and Italy, and then working at a ski resort in winter. There are also lots of tour companies who hire tour guides to take people around different countries, meaning you can get paid for visiting those same countries.
- Casual work – especially in major cities, it’s usually easy enough to pick up some casual work, be that in restaurants, bars, pubs, tour guides, hotels, etc. Just make sure you check if you need a work permit to take on any jobs in the country where you’re traveling; you don’t want to risk being sent home early and receiving a ban.
Cook your own meals
Eating out in restaurants can get pretty expensive, especially if you’re traveling to places which have a strong economy, such as the USA, western Europe and Australia. Cooking your own meals can help reduce the amount of money you spend on on food and drink. If you’re house sitting or couchsitting then you’ll more than likely have access to a kitchen, and most backpacker hostels and AirBnBs also have cooking facilities. If you plan to be out most of the day sightseeing, you can also pick up sandwich bags and Tupperware boxes pretty cheaply so you can make some food and take a packed lunch with you while you’re out and about.
Check out the free attractions and activities
Plenty of cities and towns have some kind of free attractions and activities so you can cut down your spending pretty easily this way. One of the most popular activities when visiting a popular major city are free walking tours. Led by locals or long-term residents, these tours will take you around the major sights and even to the hidden nook and crannies that you might not get to see otherwise. The tours run completely on a tip-only basis, so if you feel that the tour guide deserves a little something then you’re free to give it – but there’s no obligation to do so.
In some countries, museums are free to enter so it’s worth checking these out while you’re traveling. Even if they’re not usually free, some museums have free days in the month. For example, some museums are free on the first Sunday of the month in France, and in Krakow, Poland, a lot of museums are free every Tuesday. Doing a bit of research before you leave on your trip will help you see if any of these free days coincide with your time there, helping you save money.
You can also search other free activities and attractions on the internet before you leave, such as any free festivals that are taking place, churches and other religious buildings, and natural areas like botanical gardens and parks.
Get a discount card
Not suitable for everyone but if you’re eligible, you should get yourself a discount card from the many that are available. The most common ones are student cards, which can save you loads of cash on everything from food and retail to train and bus tickets. However, it’s not just students who can get a discount card. If you’re under 26 years old or are a teacher then you can also take advantage of mega savings.
But not everyone meets the criteria for one of these discount cards. Another option you have available are city tourist cards. These are especially good when you’re traveling to a city and plan to visit a lot of museums and attractions. These cards give you free or discounted entry to a number of attractions as well as free public transport. They can be pretty flexible in terms of days, from a single day to a week; just head to the local tourist information office or on the city’s tourist information website to find out more details on what they offer.
Use your air miles
If you travel frequently with one particular airline, sign up to a frequent flyer program and watch your air miles tot up which you can then “spend” on future flights. As well as this, certain credit cards will also give you points for using them which you can then redeem against a number of travel-related expenses, including flights. Premium credit cards also offer other travel perks, such as free travel insurance and lounge access, meaning you can relax in style at the airport – for free.
And it’s not only airline companies that offer points systems. If you stay at a certain brand of hotel on a regular basis, see if they have a loyalty scheme and watch your points turn into free night stays.
Buy a railcard or bus pass – or hitchhike
A popular method of transportation for many years, there are plenty of passes and railcards which will save you tonnes of money in the long run when traveling around a certain country or area, such as the Interrail pass in Europe and the Japan Rail Pass. There’s also a huge range of bus passes available for pretty much all continents, including Latin America, Asia and Africa.
When traveling in Australia and New Zealand, a great way to save money on transportation is to rent a campervan. Not only does it save you pennies, it’s also a fantastically flexible way of getting around and being able to stop off wherever takes your fancy, as well as giving you somewhere to sleep.
However, some of you probably don’t want to spend money on transport either, and for you, especially if you’re quite an adventurous person and like to leave things to chance, hitchhiking can be fantastic fun. Although it occasionally gets a bad press and there are certainly risks involved that you need to think about, hitchhiking is generally a relatively safe way of getting from A to B; in fact, in some parts of the world, it’s considered a completely normal form of transportation. The downside of hitchhiking is that there’s no guarantee that you’ll manage to thumb a ride when and where you need to. A good and fairly cheap way of getting around this is to use carpooling sites and apps such as Blablacar. Just pop in the dates you’re looking to travel, your departure and arrival points, and see if anyone else is driving that way.
It’s a well-worn myth that travel is an expensive hobby to have. But with some planning and a little bit of imagination, it’s not difficult to get around the world for little money – and even for free.
Thanks for reading!
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