15 Ways to Travel for Free (Or At Least Cheap)

By  June 17, 2009

Travel around the world on an empty wallet? Yes, it is possible.

"To travel cheap, you need to be looking for opportunities and be willing to take them. You have to be somewhat proactive and not be afraid to ask for advice, help, guidance. Ask for what you want—it's amazing what people are willing to give. I discovered that most people are very willing and are looking to give to the right person. You miss 100 per cent of the opportunities you don't take..."

Jim Lawrence, 34, travelled around the world for nearly free. . .for eight years.

We’ve all heard the old adage that the best things in life come free. But most people assume this rule only applies to life’s little pleasures, like smelling flowers or laughing with friends. And sure, those are nice, but what about those bigger pleasures… like jetting off across the world? Can you do that for free, too?

The fact of the matter is that, yes, there are ways to travel for free, or at least very inexpensively. If you’re looking for an international experience, but don’t have the cash to splurge on it, this article is for you. You don’t need a king's ransom to get yourself on the road, all you need is a sense of adventure, some enthusiasm, and a couple ideas to get you started.

Don’t let an empty wallet stop you from taking the trip of a lifetime. Just remember: with the right attitude, the best things in life—yup, even travelling—can come pretty cheap.

1. Housesit (or petsit)

In a nutshell: If you're kipping in your parents' spare room, sleeping in a college dorm, or surfing on your friends' sofas, chances are you're also longingly imagining having your own space. A housesitting or petsitting gig may be a great travel option for you. There are many online boards where you can advertise your housesitting services—for example, TrustedHousesitters.com, MindMyHouse.com and HouseCarers.com. (There is often for a small registration fee). If you're planning to stay longer-term in a region, or you're not finding the results you want, it can also be helpful to search for regional or country-specific sites like www.aussiehousitters.com.au, housesittingireland.com or KiwiHouseSitters.co.nz.

Also, be sure to check out the Verge article How to Become a Housesitter Abroad for more housesitting tips and advice.

What advocates say: Finding a gig like this is golden—in fact, Verge Mag’s Contributing Editor Jessica travelled in New Zealand for an entire year rent-free by housesitting. Free accommodation in some pretty sweet digs is an easy exchange for watering plants and walking a dog.

Something to consider: Housesitting is a commitment. The homeowners are trusting you, so you’ll have to be all in on this one.

2. Relocating vehicles

In a nutshell: Offering your services to move vehicles from one place to another can save you a bundle on transportation costs and set you up for a relatively cheap road trip. Car rental companies often have to move cars from one region to another and a good place to start is by inquiring directly with rental agencies in the area you're travelling to see if they're in need of relocation drivers. You can also check with vehicle transfer companies like imoova.com or TransferCar that offer relocation services to rental companies. Keep in mind that many car relocation companies require you to be at least 21 years of age, and some vehicles will require a damage deposit, which is returned to you if the car is transferred unscathed.

Another option is offering to relocate vehicles for people who are moving and need to have their car delivered to a new location. Checking for ads or advertising your services locally may bring you in contact with a car owner in need of a driver; try looking in both the city where you are and in the city that you want to travel to.

What advocates say: As long as you have some flexibility, this is a simple and cheap solution to get yourself from point A to point B. (Writer's note: I recently scored a campervan relocation from Melbourne to Sydney and had three nights to camp along the beautiful coastline—and all it cost me was the price of fuel.)

Something to consider: Be sure to verify whether insurance coverage is included before committing to a relocation. Often, rental relocations are subject to standard fees for damage or accidents (even if you’re not at fault!), so it’s always worth spending a bit to ‘opt-in’ for available coverage when necessary.

3. Volunteer and fundraise

In a nutshell: Ever considered volunteering abroad? There are myriad organizations around the world looking for volunteer help on projects ranging from wildlife conservation initiatives, to business support programs. Check out Verge Mag's volunteer program directory and you'll get the picture. Very few organizations are able fund volunteers and many will require volunteers make a financial contribution to support the project—particularly for short-term placements. But one of the great things about devoting your time to a worthy cause overseas is that you can to plug into your networks and fundraise to support your work. Get creative and have fun with it—there are plenty of ways to fundraise.

There are some organizations that may help you out with accommodation, flights and sometimes even a stipend. However, these kinds of volunteer placements typically require a significant time commitment (often a year or longer), as well as specialized skills and experience. If this sounds like it may be for you, check out organizations like CUSO International, CECI, WUSC, VSO or Peace Corps.

What advocates say: Many volunteers successfully raise funds to cover their expenses and a donation toward the project they are joining. Not only will you be contributing to a worthy cause, but volunteering can also be one of the most rewarding ways to see and learn about another part of the world.

Something to consider: It can be uncomfortable asking friends and family for donations; be gracious and always try to keep your sponsors updated on your progress. They’ll appreciate seeing your vision come to life.

4. Carpool or hitchhike

In a nutshell: Catching a ride with someone who's driving in the direction you're heading is a cheap travel option that's probably been around since people drove chariots. Documentary film-maker and veteran hitchhiker, Thomas Francine has thumbed more than 42,000 km and says, "It’s very cheap, obviously. I’m sure I would’ve travelled regardless, but not to the extent that hitchhiking has allowed me to do; certainly never with the wonderful people I encountered." You can check out a few of his top tips here.

And if you happen to have a car of your own, finding people to join your journey can be a great way to offset your costs.Carpooling usually requires some advance planning, as drivers will aim to recruit passengers ahead of their departure. Travellers sometimes advertise in online travel forums like Lonely Planet's Thorntree (temporarily paused due to COVID-related travel restrictions), or the Fodor's Travel Travel Talk forum (they have a "road trips" forum). You can also check on dedicated ride sharing sites such as erideshare.com and ridesharing.com. Rides are also often advertised at hostels and other venues where travellers congregate, as well as on larger ‘backpacker’ Facebook groups, for example UK Travel Community, Peru Backpackers or Australia Backpackers.

If you're catching (or offering) a carpool ride, it's a good idea to meet your travel companion in advance, preferably in a public place, as well as check their references, photo ID and phone numbers ahead of time.

What advocates say: Carpooling and hitching rides are great ways to meet local characters, and they’re also eco-friendly and cheaper than riding alone. In some parts of the world, such as Cuba, hitchhiking is just part of the way of life.

Something to consider: While it requires slightly more planning than hitchhiking, carpooling is likely a safer option. Be sure to give a friend or family member details of any important safety information, such as license plate, route details and car make/model.

5. Crew a yacht or a cruise ship

In a nutshell: You don't need to know your port from your starboard in order to help crew a boat. Knowledge of seamanship might make you a shoo-in, and culinary, mechanical or navigational abilities could score you a paid position on board—but often, an extra set of hands is enough to earn you a working passage where you exchange labour for a berth and board on a yacht. For those with no seafaring experience, the Verge article, How to Find a Yacht Job is a great place to start learning the ropes…er…lines.

There are many online job boards like Crew Board, YA Crew and YotSpot advertising positions but if you are up for a bit of adventure—or happen to find yourself in a port town—just get yourself down to the marina and start asking questions. Check nearby bars, restaurants and bulletin boards for ads, or consider posting your own—if you happen to be in the right place at the right time (with the right attitude) you might just find a vessel to take you on.

A cruise ship may seem like a much less adventurous way to travel at sea, but on the plus side there’s usually about a zillion different kinds of jobs available on cruise ships. The best way to nab a cruise ship gig is to have skills you can use to either educate or entertain passengers, or to have experience in hospitality. Most cruise companies will post job openings on the "careers" or "jobs" pages of their respective websites.

What advocates say: Haven’t you always dreamed of an adventure on the high seas? Imagine the snorkeling!

Something to consider: Crew jobs aren't necessarily glamorous: staff often work long hours, may spend a lot of time below deck, and may only be able to disembark occasionally and for short periods of time.

6. Commit to a work exchange

In a nutshell: Did you know you can barter your time in exchange for a free place to live in almost any country in the world? There are many work exchange websites—HelpX, WorkAway or Worldpackers for example—that advertise work exchanges in a wide range of sectors. No previous experience is necessary, but if you do have a specific skill-set, you'll have your pick of many of the placements. All you need to do is register on the sites, set up a profile and start connecting with prospective "hosts". There is normally a modest registration or membership fee to use these sites.

If you fancy spending some time in a rural setting, WWOOF (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), is an international network of organic farms that offer volunteers accommodation, and sometimes even meals, in exchange for help on the farm. (Other work exchange sites may also advertise farm placements.) The Verge article "Volunteer Worldwide on Organic Farms" will give you a walk-through of how it all works and veteran WOOFer Joe Aultman-Moore, shares great advice for decoding WOOF job listings.

What advocates say: A tried-and-true way to travel on the cheap. Accommodation is a pretty standard inclusion, and if you do your research you can probably find an exchange that includes some or all of your daily meals as well! As a bonus, you’re likely to get pretty fit doing a farm work exchange.

Something to consider: Be sure to read reviews carefully and make sure the placement is going to suit you. A placement in a remote, rural setting may only be idyllic if you're the sort of person who can deal with some social isolation.

7. Get a travel scholarship

In a nutshell: "Internationalization" is the buzzword on campuses these days, and there’s funding available for students who want to study abroad if you know where to look. For a sample of the kinds of funds available, check out scholarships.gc.ca, which lists awards for Canadians wanting to study internationally, as well as for international students wanting to study in Canada. For graduate study and fieldwork in international development, check out the International Development Research Centre (idrc.ca), and for a listing of higher-education study opportunities and scholarships in almost every country you could think of, see UNESCO-backed World Higher Education Database. Also, check out the funding section of Verge Magazine's online program directory for sources of funding that may fit your situation.

What advocates say: If you can get one of these grants, you’re not only set for your travels, but it will look great on your resume.

Something to consider: If you’re currently a student, be sure to inquire about scholarships or grants at your school's study abroad office.

8. Organize a group tour

In a nutshell: Most travel companies will offer a discount—or free travel—to people who organize a tour for groups of people. Don't worry, even though travel companies commonly refer to the organizer as the "group leader", it does not mean that you are responsible for guiding your group of friends around Rome. But it will be your job to take the lead on the administrative aspects of who will be going, where they will be going, and when. This one might be a no-brainer for teachers and professors (ever wondered why your teacher in high school was happy to accompany 20 teenagers on a trip to Paris?), but it can work for other people too. Check out WeTravel or Pure Adventures for examples, or enquire with any travel company of interest to you.

Advocates would say: Great idea! Not only will you get to travel for free, but you can encourage your friends to go with you.

Something to consider: Hopefully you’re well organized, as this can be an admin-heavy responsibility. Be sure you’ve got time to invest in organizing a tour before committing.

9. House-swap or rent out your home

In a nutshell: Made famous by the movie The Holiday, this option, of course, requires you to have a house. If you do have a house to offer up, there are various websites that provide online classifieds for owners to advertise such as homeexchange.com, homebase-hols.com and www.lovehomeswap.com. Most require a registration fee, but then you can advertise your property for extended periods of time, depending on the needs of the two parties swapping houses. Another alternative for travellers lucky enough to be property owners is to rent out your home, which is also a great source of cash; monthly rent from a property in a major city can go a long way towards covering your costs in countries where the cost of living is relatively low.

What advocates say: Accommodation with no cash down? This is a no-brainer. Staying in a home rather than a hotel also usually has perks that include an equipped kitchen and wi-fi.

Something to consider: House swapping works best for people who live in an attractive location, but you don't necessarily need to live in a vacation hot-spot for it to work out.

10. Trade labour for accommodation at a hostel

In a nutshell: Many hostels depend on backpacker labour. Consider approaching a hostel manager and negotiating a deal to exchange some work for your room—if they have gaps in their staff roster, you can often barter labour for a free place to stay. (Brownie points if you speak multiple languages!) An alternative is to apply for a hostel job before you leave home, especially if you’ve had experience in the hospitality industry. Hostel work is varied, and may include leading tours, cleaning, or working at the hostel reception desk or restaurant. A number of websites list hostel jobs, such as hosteljobs.net. You can also go straight to the source, checking at individual hostels. Larger hostel chains such as Mad Monkey or St Christopher’s Inns, advertise job openings on their websites.

What advocates say: As long as no money is exchanged, trading labour for room and board can be a good way to get around the visa issue of working in other countries.

Something to consider: Many hostels will request that you commit a minimum amount of time to them, so pick an interesting location (and bring some earplugs)!

11. Get a Job

In a nutshell: Many countries issue youth working holiday visas, where you can travel and pick up casual work legally, but if you’re short on cash there are ways to land a job before even touching down.

Au pairing is one way to immerse yourself in a new culture, as au pairs live within a family home and become a part of the community. Positions usually cover meals and accommodation and a stipend. There are many au pair agencies—aupairworld.com, aupaircare.com or www.aupaireurope.com, for example—where you can browse the sorts of placements available. Also, check out the Verge article, advice for first time au pairs before hopping on the plane.

Another job well-suited for worldwide wanderers is seasonal resort work. Whether you’re looking to hit the slopes or the beach, resort work can take you around the world and through the seasons. Some resorts—commonly those in more secluded locations—provide staff with food and accommodation. Working on a resort is a work-hard-play-hard way to get your travel fix. You can start by browsing the seasonal and working holiday section of the Verge online directory. Or, if there are particular resorts you are interested in working for, try contacting them directly.

What advocates say: Tried and true, turns out working gets you a paycheck! It helps when it also lands you a free place to stay in a new part of the word.

Something to consider: You’re not on vacation anymore, and positions abroad may leave you with little time to sightsee.

12. Take a hard-core challenge

In a nutshell: If you are the sort of person who would welcome the challenge of climbing to Everest Base Camp or trekking across the Sahara to raise money for a charity, this one could be for you. Over the past few years, many companies have sprung up—Global Adventure Challenges, Charity Challenge, Huma Challenge or Charity Treks, for example— to help travellers organize the challenge of their choice, or join an existing expedition, all in the name of charity. Your job is to raise the sponsorship funds and do the climb, trek, cycle, or other big adventure, and they take care of the rest. The Verge article, Adventurers for Good, has some great tips and inspiration.

Advocates say: A win-win! Grab your gear and start training, there are challenges out there for every skill and fitness level.

Something to consider: Be sure to do your research when working with charity fundraising; you’ll want to ensure your friends and family that their money is going directly to the charitable cause you’re planning to support.

13. Fly smart

In a nutshell: Budget airlines are virtually a religion in regions such as Europe and Asia, where few people pay full price for airline tickets. In fact, some airlines offer international fares for little more than the taxes. You’ll be blown away by some of the sales on offer from low-cost carriers such as ryanair.com or airasia.com. Similarly, cheap domestic fares within countries are worth checking out; for example, virginaustralia.com offers happy hour rates for an hour a day. Most countries have a preferred low-budget airline, so a little dedicated research can go a long way on saving airfare!

What advocates say: A $30 ticket to get across Europe can make the train seem pricey!

Something to consider: You’ll likely have to be flexible with your plans to land these cheap deals, but with such affordable flight fees… it might just be worth it.

14. Crash on someone's couch

In a nutshell: CouchSurfing is the largest site to find a couch to crash on, but it’s not the only one. The Solo Female Traveler Network, for example, manages a Facebook group where members post free accommodation, including spare couches. Warmshowers.org offers accommodation exclusively for cyclists. Then there’s BeWelcome.org, a volunteer-run site that offers “hospitality exchanges,” including guided tours and meals. These networks allow users to open their homes, couches, and sometimes even spare rooms to travellers—or, as Couchsurfing puts it—friends you haven’t met yet. If you're new to the idea and wary of crashing at a stranger's place, consider reaching out to members of a network who are based in your own city to ask about their experiences.

Advocates say: You could be on your way to a free stay and maybe even a new best friend!

Something to consider: As always, it’s important to be vigilant when on the road; check out this Verge article about Safe Couchsurfing.

15. Enter contests

In a nutshell: Okay, this may sound like a long shot, but if you're short on cash and long on time you'll be absolutely amazed at how many travel contests are there for the winning. Just type "travel contests" into your Internet browser and you'll get hundreds of pages of results. Travel writing or photography could win you cash or a trip. Airlines, cruise lines, resorts, tourism boards and adventure travel companies all offer prize trips every so often. If you're not picky about where you go, a little time and energy invested might get you out of here sooner than you think!

Advocates say: Seems like an alright way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

Something to consider: Keep your BS detector on high alert and be careful about which websites you give your personal information to. Remember that you should never have to pay fees to receive a contest prize and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

 

Check out Verge's Budget Travel section for more cheap and free deals.

The information in this article was last updated May 2020. Have a correction or an addition of a way to travel for free or cheap? Please add your comment below and we'll review your suggestion. 

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Published in Budget Traveller
Andrea Gourgy

Originally from Montreal, Andrea has a hard time staying in one place. After gaining a BA from Western and a Masters in Journalism from the University of Southern California, Andrea hit the road and never looked back. She has worked professionally as a journalist in six different countries, and earned several travel writing awards in the process. Andrea joined the Verge team in 2006.

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