5-star resorts, private shuttles, and business class have conditioned us to think that travel is always going to break the bank. Of course there’s space for budget-minded travelers, but have you ever pondered how to kick it up a notch and really save money — perhaps by spending hardly any? With some creative spirit, there are plenty of ways to travel the world for (nearly) free.
Most of these are for the adventurous soul, so prepare to exit your comfort zone and enter that money-saving mode. From sleeping in airports to crashing on random couches, there’s no shortage of ways to cut costs. Try one of these 10 ways to make it work:
See the world for free by joining a work exchange platform
Can you pick fruit all day? Clean a questionably nasty bathroom? Wash piles of dishes? If the answer is yes and you’re willing to do it, you can find an opportunity for these types of jobs (and a handful more) by joining a work exchange platform. Participating travelers provide their labor in exchange for a free place to stay, with occasional bonuses like food or drinks, depending on your setup. With opportunities all over the world, this is one of the most common methods to get a free place to stay on the road.
Work in a hostel, earn free accommodation
For those who gravitate towards the backpacker lifestyle, working in a hostel gives you a cost-free place to hang your hat, cultivate a community, and have fun while doing it. Many hostel jobs are posted on the aforementioned work exchange platforms, but cold emailing is another useful tactic. Most hostels will ask for several days per week of work in exchange for a free dorm bed — and don’t be surprised when you receive free drinks, either. It almost makes up for the moldy shower that you now call yours.
How: Check out Hostel Jobs to find your new home.
Hack your hotel budget by becoming a house sitter
Enter house sitting: a far more comfortable way to be a total cheapskate. Studies have shown significantly lower volumes of snoring bunkmates and moldy showers by taking this avenue. It’s a bit more competitive — but not impossible. General duties include making sure that no one breaks in, occasional care for pets, garden tending, and any other upkeep that requires a traveler’s touch.
How: Aspiring house sitters can check out House Carers and Mind My House. Word of mouth is fairly popular with this option, but the magic of the Internet can pull through too. Either way, references are a big help. And, if you have a home of your own, check out HomeExchange: a unique, mutually beneficial way to share your home in exchange for a stay in someone else’s.
Save cash for future travel by Couchsurfing
Couchsurfing is a global network of travelers and gracious hosts opening their homes (and often hearts) at zero cost. That’s right—it’s 100% free, and often an awesome social experience.
How: For social butterflies who embrace unpredictability, Couchsurfing is a one-of-a-kind way to make connections across cultures and stay for free all over the world.
Score a free stay while WWOOFing
No, it doesn’t have to do with dogs (sorry). World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms is a database filled with international organic farms that offer once-in-a-lifetime volunteer opportunities for those who wish to explore their green thumb. You can earn a free stay and learn about local life, all while contributing to sustainable practices.
How: Visit wwoof.net to register and find farms in your destination of choice. Membership costs a small fee, but it pays for itself, especially if you plan to travel long term.
Make bank by teaching english abroad
Teaching English abroad can take many forms: TEFL certified teaching positions, online teaching, or a less formal arrangement. The good news is: this option can actually be quite profitable, especially if you’re living somewhere in Southeast Asia where the cost of living is dramatically low.
How: Paid jobs usually require TEFL certification, which can be achieved through a variety of in-person or online classes. The uncertified can still volunteer their knowledge of the English language by participating in a volunteer program in exchange for room and board. Diverbo and Culture Go Go are online resources to jumpstart your experience.
Earn free travel opportunities by living on a boat
Have you ever said screw land and lived on a boat? If you haven’t, it’s time to consider it. Cruise lines and yacht companies are always looking for crewmembers, especially during the high seasons for tourism. Whether you have experience in hospitality, cleaning, kitchens, or entertainment, the available positions vary greatly.
Cut transport costs with ride shares
While there’s no guarantee of safety for this one, there are several countries in the world where hitchhiking is both acceptable and common. HitchWiki breaks it down by country, so you can be the judge of your own chances. Proven fact: hitchhiking builds character, so stick out your thumb and hope for the best.
How: If you prefer a tad bit more of an organized process, try out an arranged rideshare. These long-distance carpool services can be incredibly cheap, despite the lengths traveled. Blablacar is worldwide, and Ridesharing.com is popular in the U.S. and Canada. And hey, it’s good for the environment too!
Travel the world for free by becoming an au pair
Think babysitting, but instead of your childhood suburb, it’s a beautiful coastal town in the south of France. Au pairs are in high demand in several countries, and it’s a formidable way to learn about a different culture, and also live for free. There are both English and non-English speaking opportunities, but knowing a foreign language opens up more doors. France, England, and Australia are three of the more popular destinations for au pairs, but the opportunities are worldwide.
Save money on travel by signing up for airfare alerts
Okay, okay, it’s not completely free, but it can still save tons of money when you play the cards right. There are a few budget airlines worth keeping an eye on. Sales and promotions are common, and if you can hop online when they go live, there’s a great chance at scoring a major deal.
How: A few to keep in mind are Ryan Air, Air Asia, Jetstar, and Virgin Australia. In addition to the airlines themselves, fare finders like Scott’s Cheap Flights can send you alerts based on the latest and greatest deals. There’s no guarantee for legroom, but who needs it anyway? You’ll be on the beach in a few hours.