You want to travel. But traveling is so expensive. So you don’t. Instead, you sit on the internet and travel through Google. You look at Facebook photos of others at amazing destinations with jealousy. Nevermind, they have money. They are just lucky. In many ways, a defeatist attitude can be the mortal enemy of an aspiring traveler.
In reality, you don’t have to be lucky or rich to travel the world. I am living proof of that. For the past 15 years I have been living internationally, and of that for the past six years as a nomad trotting around the globe. I don’t have family support, inheritance, crazy savings, 6-figure income, or even incredible luck. You can travel like me too. There are others who live this kind of lifestyle, and while it isn’t necessarily easy all the time, it is worth it in every way. For those dedicated and willing to make some sacrifices, a life of travel is within reach and closer than it may appear.
To travel, you only need wanderlust and the will to make it work. My partner and I traveled around 10 countries for over a year on a total of less than $2,000. This is not incredible or exceptional. The world is full of budget travelers. There are so many opportunities out there and ways to travel for free or nearly free. If you want to travel, you can – even if you don’t have much funds.
While your ability to see the world depends mostly on your own dedication and desire, we have some tricks that can get you started. Here are twelve ways you can see the world and travel for free.
12. Go to the Market and Cook
Just like at home, by not eating out, but shopping and cooking for yourself cuts down the costs. Going to the market will actually provide you with cultural experiences you will never forget, and allow you to try local produce you might never have seen before. Alternatively, eating street food is much cheaper than eating at restaurants. If you want to eat completely free, you can go dumpster diving – picking out edible, but possibly expired or excess food from the garbage exposed by a supermarket or restaurant -, food forging, ask for left-over and overripe produce at the market at the end of the day, or look for free food for the homeless and the hungry.
11. Take Part in Free Walking Tours
Free walking tours are particularly popular in Europe, but also exist in other parts of the world, such as New York City. These walking tours are lead by either locals or young expats living in the city you are visiting. Free walking tours, unlike the boring and expensive guided tours with the yawn-producing tour guide droning around with an umbrella, are super hip and fun. During the few hour walk, they will show you the important touristic spots, and tell you about the history of the area, infused with jokes and creativity. These tours are free, though you are welcome to tip at the end.
10. Look for Scholarships and Sponsorships
Scholarships are an especially great opportunity for college students, grad students and young professionals barely out of school. Look for study abroad, international volunteer and service learning opportunities at your school. Ask about scholarships, and apply for everything in sight. The internet is full of scholarships for short and long-term international (and even national) experiences, just keep your eyes open and keep Google around as your best friend. Think beyond your career field and interests, too. If you have a blog, a YouTube channel or other outlet, even if you have limited amount of followers, it doesn’t hurt to ask for sponsorship from travel-related organizations. You can also ask for a free night at a hostel, a free meal at a local restaurant, or a free entry to a museum in exchange or a review on your own blog, their website, or on TripAdvisor.
9. Meet People, Including Locals
Meeting fellow travelers and locals will not only allow you to learn about other cultures, to have fun, and to make new friends but can also save you money. Locals may invite you into their homes for a meal, include you in events, or take you for an excursion. The more people you meet, the more people you will know. The more people you know, the more likely you will find free accommodation in their or in their friends’ home when visiting their countries. It is better than Couchsurfing.
Hitchhiking doesn’t really need much explanation. It allows travelers to catch free trips to their destinations. It may take longer than the bus, but it’s free. Hitchhiking is not safe in every country. Ask other travelers, search around on the internet, and use your common sense to stay safe. Rideshare programs are an excellent alternative to hitchhiking. They are not free, but splitting gas can be much cheaper than a ticket, and is certainly more economical than driving yourself.
7. Travel Off-season
Traveling off-season is already great for the fact that you will avoid the annoying crowds. You won’t have to use magic to erase random heads from your pictures or push through obnoxious people. An even better benefit is that during low-season or off-seasons, entrance to tourist sites are cheaper or even free. Transportation also tends to be cheaper during this time.
6. Travel at Night
The biggest value of traveling at night is saving on accommodation. Sleeping on buses, trains and airplanes may not be the most comfortable, but you get two for one: accommodation for the night and transportation to your destination. Look for discounts and deals when buying your train or bus ticket: double-check online and at the counter. If there is a group discount, you can recruit fellow travelers at the station. If your trip is not overnight, but early in the morning, you can crash and get a free sleep at the bus or train station or at the airport.
Couchsurfing allows travelers to look for free accommodation in someone’s home for a few nights. It may be on a couch, on an airbed, or on the floor, but in lucky cases it may even be in an awesome guest room. You can register on the Couchsurfing website as a host as well as having ‘surfers’ over at your home. The idea is not creating a free hotel out of people’s homes, but about cultural exchanges: more often than not, meaningful connections and true friendships come out of the Couchsurfing experience.
4. Au-pair or Do Seasonal Work
Au-pairing may be a step up from work exchanges for those that love children. There will likely be more responsibilities, however, au-pairs are provided not only room and board but also a small salary that is plenty enough to travel, to party or to save up. Seasonal work is another excellent opportunity where workers receive accommodation, food and a salary. The options are endless from working at festivals and events, grape harvesting at wine yards, fruit picking, to entertaining guests at resorts.
Housesitting is similar to work exchanges. With housesitting jobs, you will obviously be asked to ‘sit’ for or in other words, take care of a house while the owners are gone for a vacation or for another reason. Sometimes you have to take care of some animals, other times it is mostly about light cleaning and making sure things are in order. Housesitting allows sitters to live in a beautiful new area rent-free, have lots of free time to explore, to travel and to meet locals. There are several websites, like Housecarers and Mindmyhouse that specialize in connecting sitters with hosts.
2. Teach English
This is an especially great opportunity for native English speakers. In Europe, language schools generally ask for a TEFL (Teacher of English as a Foreign Language) Certification, whereas it is not so important in Central- and South-America or Asia. Teaching English is the best way to live in a foreign country for a period of time – anywhere from a few months to a few years – and explore the region. Though most schools do not provide accommodation and meals, you will receive a salary enough to live and travel on.
When international volunteering comes to mind, you may get scared of all the cost it involves. Luckily, there are so many opportunities to volunteer for free and even receive room and board in exchange. These volunteer opportunities are called work-exchanges. There are websites, like Workaway and Helpx that help you find work-exchange travel opportunities. Once you register you can freely browse among volunteer jobs, including farm work, eco-projects, teaching, cleaning, painting, animal care, home-care and more. In exchange of about 5 hours of work per day, you will receive room and board. Some hosts may even take their volunteers on little sightseeing tours or invite them to parties and local events. For those who specifically want to volunteer on organic farms, WWOOFing is the best place to search.