How to Travel the World for (Almost) Free

Budget Travel
by Heart of a Vagabond Jun 23, 2015

I work while I travel

As you might know from previous posts, I’ve been an au-pair and this is how I started traveling long term. I was 18, just finished senior high and had absolutely no money. I didn’t even have a bank account.

So I worked my way around and moved to London, one of the most expensive European cities. I got paid to live there and I worked part time doing childcare. When things went sour with my horrible host family, I signed in for another au-pair gig in the USA, where I lived for a whole year and earned around 6.000 dollars, back in the year 2000. That money lasted for years.

This year, I decided to spend the winter somewhere new, so I headed to Switzerland.

I was an au-pair in Switzerland and managed to live at one of the world’s most expensive cities and get fully paid to do so. I earned 400€ a month, absolutely all expenses covered, including my airplane ticket.

Although my time as an au-pair is over, I strongly advise you to give it a try. You won’t just travel for free, but you’re going to get paid for it! For me personally, this is the best trick to travel long term on a budget.

You can teach English as a foreign language

The most profitable way to travel long term, is by teaching English as a foreign language. If you speak perfect English or you’re a native speaker (lucky you!) you can easily find jobs and make seriously good money. For all the info you need, check out my friends Nick and Dariece’s amazing guide to teach English as a foreign language.

You can work exchange while traveling

Another strategy I’ve used to keep my long term travel adventures, was doing work-exchange. This however, is not my favorite way of traveling because of how time consuming it is, in most times for very little in return.

I was a volunteer in Thailand for 17 days. I didn’t do it for the money, but as a cultural experience. What I found out is that most hosts are actually making a business out of it, charging for money (which is 100% against the rules) or refusing to offer food. Do I really want to work for free and have nothing in exchange other than a bunk bed? Hmmmm, not me, unless the experience would be absolutely out of this world.

Volunteers have to value their time and work. By accepting anything, they’re lowering the value of our work, making it impossible to find a good deal.

There is a free new website called Volunteer Base where you can find hosts and projects around the world. In case things go wrong with your hosts, as it went with mine, you have nothing to lose.

But I have to be really honest, I prefer not working and have lots of free time when I’m traveling, so after seeing a couple of friends living for free around the world, I’m now becoming a house & petsitter too and Travel the world with no accommodation costs. But more about that in detail later on…

Sharing travel costs is the best way to cut travel expenses

Many people I know hitchhike in order to save money, have a great adventure and meet new people. I did a bit of hitchhiking back in the day, but I confess waiting for rides is not my cup of tea! Carpooling or ride-share can be a great option, specially for solo female travelers and for people who hate flying. If you have a car, just post an add searching for people to share the expenses with. If you need a ride, scoop through the ads and write whoever is doing your route.

Team up with travel buddies

Another option is to check out the Couchsurfing webpage and see if someone wants to team up as a travel buddy. Although traveling alone is (in my opinion) the most empowering experience in the world, traveling with a buddy or a group it’s generally cheaper, since you can share both transportation and accommodation expenses. If you pay for a hotel room (not per person) it gets 50% cheaper.

Travel off-season — the best budget vacations trick

A good old one and always high on my list. I only travel off season – you can check my 6 month trip to India where I spent 600€ only – that’s it!Prices for accommodation and flights can drop as much as 50%. In most cases you’ll be avoiding the crowds and you can have the beach for yourself! I search for a cool destination within my budget limits off season only.
If you are a long term traveler who likes to settle in one place for a long period of time, you can negotiate hotel rates and drop them even lower.

Best places to travel on a budget

What is your budget limit? What are you searching for — exotic, relaxing, or adventure?

Make sure you know what you want to experience first and then start searching for your destination, be flexible! South East Asia, as well as India and Nepal are some of the cheapest place in the world for long term traveling. If you want to explore Europe, head to Eastern Europe and if you’re after something exotic but not too far from Europe, go to Morocco. Once you’re there, your money will last forever!
If you can’t fly there, then be really adventurous and check out all flying companies in search for the best deals, no matter what the destination is. Choose the cheapest destination and go for the adventure of unpredictability!

Avoid direct flights!

This is one of my favorite tricks! I rarely fly directly to my destination. Usually, direct flights are more expensive and you might be missing the chance to visit another country for free on the way there.

Yes, that’s what I did when flying to Thailand, I had a 24 hour layover in Istanbul on my way there and a 48 hour on the way back. I never even thought about visiting Turkey, but the cheapest flight had a layover there, so I extended my stay for free! I payed nothing to fly to Turkey, a perk that saved me a few hundred $$ if I would have decided to visit it another time.
In a couple of months, I’m flying to Greece with a three-day layover in Rome — Italy!

Use public transportation only

Buses, trains, trams and other forms of public transportation, will always be cheaper than renting a car or taking a taxi. It’s also a great way to experience the culture and meet people.

Travel the world with no accommodation costs

The very best option to travel the world without having to pay for hostels or hotels is to become a housesitter or petsitter. I love animals and have been a foster family for many years, so being a pettsitter is actually a pleasure for me. There are houses and apartments worldwide waiting for a sitter: from the most expensive European cities, to the most exotic places like the Caribbean Islands. Since I don’t like to spend money while traveling, I just signed up with Trusted Housesitters, the biggest housesitting and petssitting website. It cost me €65.88 for a year membership (the price of a hotel night) and I can sign as many housesitting gigs as I want, wherever I want.

Couchsurfing is also a wonderful option, with the down side that you can usually stay with a host for 3 days only. So CS is great for very short stays whereas Trusted Housesitters have longer term opportunities.

How to get free food

There are several ways in which you can get free food. Trust me, it’s not hard, I spent years without buying much food.

  • Visit the local markets before they close and ask the vendors for fruits and veggies they’re about to throw away. They’re usually very generous and will give you lots, of free food!
  • Most bakeries, pizzerias will throw away everything they couldn’t sell that day Ask them for the left overs. This strategy won’t work with big food chains, but with small family business.
  • Exchange favors! I had a neighbor in Spain who owned a takeaway business. One day she approached me and asked if I’d like free food in exchange for window cleaning once in a while. This was a wonderful deal! She saved lots of fresh food for me on a daily basis and I cleaned her window once every 15 days or so. It took me about 15 minutes to do the windows and it was a great way to live without paying for food.

When I travel I only eat local foods.

And I’m vegan which means, my food will always be cheaper than if I’d eat meat dishes. Maybe you should consider trying to go vegan!

Explore free attractions first

Why spend tons of money on museums or certain monuments right away? First try to explore everything there is on offer for free. You might be surprised! Also, many European countries offer free museum visits for free on Sunday morning, so make a good google search before paying for tickets.

Budget travel Europe

In Europe, I basically only travel by van. Ok, you might say: but I don’t have a van like you do!

Well, I also didn’t have my van before I bought it!

Now seriously, this was the BEST financial investment I’ve ever done throughout my traveling life. It was not easy, I worked 12 hour shifts, 2 jobs simultaneously, from Sunday to Sunday, no day off for 4 months. I lived at a friend’s living room, so I didn’t pay rent and cut seriously on food expenses. It was a bit crazy, but I managed to buy my second hand van really fast and later transformed into a mobile home. I’ve lived in my van for extended periods of time and loved it.

I can tell you I never paid for a hotel or a restaurant in Europe. I can cook in my van, sleep in the van and wake up wherever I want at my own pace. I can share fuel expenses and gather free food from the bakeries and stores along the way. How much money have I been saving so far? Thousands of $$$! Seriously, thousands of $$!

Are SQUATTS free hotels?

Please, don’t go around searching for squatts, like some ignorant people advise on travel forums. Squatts are HOMES, NOT free hotels! It’s not only disrespectful but seriously annoying. Be mindful that squatts are NOT free accommodation and people living in Squatts don’t usually live for free. Most people pay for the bills in order to gain rights, spend hundreds of Euros in Lawyers to protect them and don’t want to be disturbed by strangers passing by or find their addresses in Travel forums.
If you don’t go around knocking on random people’s doors asking for a free bed, why the heck should you do that on squatts?

This article originally appeared on Heart of a Vagabond and is republished here with permission.

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