Editor’s Note: Another great way to travel the world for free is to win a travel contest! We recently held a contest to “Win Your Dream Travel Job” where we selected 4 finalists to travel the world shooting video. Paired into teams of 2, these 4 travelers competed against each other for the grand prize of $10,000! These teams traveled and filmed in some of the world’s top destinations, documenting their experiences along the way. Go here to watch their unforgettable journey!
Travel doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, there are times it doesn’t have to cost a thing (or close to it). From volunteering opportunities, free places to stay and even free airline tickets, you can travel without forking over your savings.
So, scratch “too expensive” off of your list of why you can’t travel and check out some ways you can travel for free.
1. The Credit Card Sign-Up
Credit card companies want your business, and some of them will go to great lengths to get you to become their customer. Often times, credit card companies throw in perks, like free miles, hotel rooms and more, when you use their card. If you have a favorite airline, sign up for their credit card so you can get miles for money. Once you have a card, start using it to garner frequent flyer miles or rewards points. These little gems can be redeemed for airline discounts, free nights at hotels and more.
A card like Delta Skymiles from American Express can give users two air miles with each dollar spent at grocery stores, gas stations, drug stores, home improvement stores and the post office, and Capital One (which generally offers no fees on foreign transactions) often runs “double miles” promotions for its venture card – so do your homework to see which card is right for you.
Don’t skimp on the research. If you just want to get the initial perk of an offer, check out what the annual fee for the card is, and the interest. Sometimes, these cards can have pricey annual fees or hefty interest if you don’t pay off the balance in full each month.
WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, gives travelers looking for a cool, new experience in another country a chance to earn their keep. All of the farms grow everything organically or use ecologically sound methods, giving volunteers a chance to learn about organic growing and more. With participating farms in more than 50 countries around the world, perspective workers can look into organic farms in the places they want to visit for a small membership fee, check out the jobs being offered, then apply. In exchange for work, the traveler gets food and board, plus a totally unique look at life in another country.
From week-long stints teaching English in Spain, to more long-term work with organizations, volunteering is a fulfilling and free way to see the world while also making it a better place. This isn’t a free travel option that should be taken lightly as these groups rely on their volunteers to be participants interested in what they are doing, not just scoring free travel.
Organizations like the Peace Corps are a wonderful way to give back. Volunteers can specialize in education, youth and community development, health, business and IT, agriculture and the environment and are placed where they are needed, although the organization does try to take into account country requests. The Peace Corps requires a two-year commitment and its application process is long.
If you’re looking for a shorter commitment, check out UN Volunteers, run by the United Nations. This program connects volunteers with organizations dedicated to sustainable human development.
Put away your pre-conceived notions about sleeping at a stranger’s house. Couchsurfing provides a safe and fun option to spending the night in a city. Sign up on the website and create a profile, and then start searching for prospective hosts. The idea behind Couchsurfing isn’t just to give travelers a free place to rest their heads; it’s to unite travelers with locals who want to share their world and culture and for travelers who want a special, non-tourist experience.
To find a place to surf, simply do a search on the site to find locals who have a couch or room, then read their profile and send them a message. Be sure to tell them something about you. If you are heading to a popular city, they get a lot of requests. It is important for yours to stand out and to explain to them why you would want to stay with them.
While hosts don’t charge for accommodation, it is always nice to bring a gift from home to give to the host, or to prepare a meal, bring a bottle of wine and other little gestures of thanks. It is important to plan ahead with Couchsurfing. If you get to a city and send someone a message expecting to have a place to sleep that night, chances are it won’t happen. Also, be mindful of profiles. If you feel that your personalities wouldn’t mesh, don’t ask for a place to stay. And, always err on the side of caution. While the site is considered to be safe, employing good judgement is important.
5. Housesit or Home Exchange
House-sitting is becoming a viable way of traveling for free. Numerous sites exist online to match homeowners with people who want to stay at their home while traveling. For a small fee, sign up to receive alerts on potential houses needing occupants. This option isn’t always simply a free ride though. Often times, owners leave their pets behind or need to have their homes maintained while they are gone. In addition, some ask that utilities be covered. However, you can pick and choose which homes you apply to watch and find one to fit your travel needs.
Other sites allow you to list your home as well and temporarily swap housing with another person. You get a free place to stay, plus the assurance that someone will be caring for your home while you are away.
6. Get a Job that Requires Travel
There are plenty of job tracks people can embark upon that incorporate travel into them, even if they aren’t travel-related positions. Photographers, videographers, and news reporters frequently travel the world in their line of work, as do sales people or marketing staff who travel to attend trade shows and make sales around the globe. Doctors, nurses and teachers are often needed abroad, and plenty of other positions – from personal assistant to CEO – require travel as well.
You could work for a health food company and spend time sourcing ingredients around South America, or you could work as an animal research scientist and find yourself following migrations throughout Africa. The industries are broad, so find a company which interests you and see if it is a fit, or target your job search in your chosen field to those positions which require travel.
7. Get a Job in the Travel Industry
This isn’t as easy as it sounds, but is definitely possible, depending on your skill set and interests. From the travel agent position, which can net some trips, particularly on tours, to work as an international courier, there are thousands of positions in the travel industry. Cruise ship workers, tour guides, guidebook researchers, public relations professionals, and flight attendants are among those for whom travel is a part nearly every day on the job. Some positions require more training or longer hours and may pay less or offer fewer travel perks, so do your research before you set off on a new career path.
- Diana Edelman
Planning a trip? Read more of our travel tips!