In a world of 5-star resorts, private shuttles, and business class, we’ve been conditioned to think that travel is always going to break the bank. There’s a space for budget travelers (folks who like to travel on the cheap), but have you ever pondered how to kick it up a notch and really save money, perhaps by not spending any?
If you get creative enough, there are plenty of ways to achieve (almost) free travel. 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. Here are 10 of our faves:
Join a Work Exchange Platform
Can you pick fruit? Clean a bathroom? Wash 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
If you gravitate towards the backpacker lifestyle, working in a hostel is a great way to live for free, cultivate a community, and have fun doing it. Many hostel jobs are posted on the aforementioned work exchange platforms, but cold emailing doesn’t hurt either. Most hostels will ask for several days per week of work in exchange for a free dorm bed. Don’t be surprised when you receive free drinks, either. Who could complain about that? It almost makes up for the moldy shower that you now call yours.
How: Check out Hostel Jobs to find your new home.
Become a House Sitter
For those who prefer a slightly more comfortable way to be a cheapskate, house sitting is the method for you! Studies have shown significantly lower volumes of snoring bunkmates and moldy showers by taking this avenue. Having said that, 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.
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.
Get Your Hands Dirty with WWOOFing
No, it doesn’t have to do with dogs. 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 stay for free and learn about local practices, 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.
Teach 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.
Live On A Boat
Have you ever 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.
Ride Share or Hitchhike
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!
Become 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.
Sign Up for Airfare Sale 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.