How to Travel the World for FreeBy Brenna Swanston; Updated September 26, 2017
Eliminating the best excuse to stay home
Not enough time, not enough money – those are the most common excuses people give for staying put rather than traveling the world. But at least one of those excuses doesn't have to be true. It's very possible to travel the world on a skimpy budget, or even for free. Here's how to do it right.
Savvy travelers can score free or extremely discounted flights just by signing up for (and using) the right credit cards. Find a credit card that accrues points that can be converted into frequent flyer miles, and use it for everything from bills to groceries. This can quickly rack up a couple free flights, and as long as the card's balance is paid off in full each month to avoid accumulating interest, it can be well worth it.
Travel experts largely agree that the Chase Sapphire Preferred and American Express cards have the best travel offers, since the flyer points can transfer to several airlines.
Once the flights are booked, score cheap travel within the destination city via bus or a carpooling app. Uber and Lyft now offer carpooling options that run cheaper than their usual rideshare services, and BlaBlaCar offers cheap carpooling options for longer trips in dozens of countries. City buses are usually very low-cost as well, and for longer rides, it's often possible to find overnight trips that save on hotel or hostel costs.
Otherwise, walk! Most urban destinations in Europe, for example, are very walkable, and it's possible to avoid paying for transportation within the city at all.
Seeing the sights
One of the best ways to experience new places without shelling out extra cash is via free walking tours, which serve to introduce travelers to each other and provide some guidance to a new city. City Free Tour is one of dozens of companies worldwide offering this type of guide, with programs in Paris, Amsterdam, London, Stockholm, Lisbon and Barcelona.
Tour guides usually accept tips at the end of each tour, which is, of course, a kind gesture and still costs less than some of other guided walking tours out there.
Working in a hostel or with a volunteer program is one way to score free accommodation (keep reading to learn more about that), but for travelers who aren't interested in finding a job on their trip, couch surfing is always an option.
Couchsurfing.com provides a space for travelers and hosts to connect and arrange free lodging. Hosts are reviewed and ranked by previous guests, which helps give travelers an idea of what the experience would be like and warn the online community of less-than-ideal couch surfing situations. It also makes for a great way to meet fellow travelers and stumble upon some unexpected adventures, all while saving cash.
Eating for free often hinges on a traveler's lodging situation. For someone staying in a hostel, most hostel kitchens have a designated corner with free food for their occupants. It's usually very simple – cereal or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or leftover food from past guests – but it gets the job done and doesn't cost a dime.
For travelers volunteering or couch surfing on their trip, food might be included, depending on their agreement with their hosts.
Working on the road
There are tons of ways to earn free lodging and food while traveling the world – in exchange for some services, of course. The following organizations offer travel exchange programs that trade some daily work for accommodation and meals:
- WWOOF: World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms connects laborers with farmers all over the world, and farm owners pay for their workers' stay in exchange for a few hours of labor during the day.
- 'Voluntourism': Travelers can volunteer as they go to give back to the communities they're visiting and to score some free accommodation. Voluntourism,org, ProjectsAbroad.org and GlobeAware.org offer opportunities like this.
- Workaway: This one offers a huge array of work opportunities for travelers, with jobs ranging from working in hostels to helping out on educative farms to teaching English. Like voluntourism and WWOOF, Workaway employers usually host and feed their workers for free.
- Hostel jobs: It's exactly what it sounds like: Get hosted in a hostel in exchange for your services there. Hosteljobs.net connects hiring hostels with interested travelers. In addition to some food and a living space, hostel workers are usually paid a stipend as well.