Free travel or ways to get what you need without money while traveling There are plenty of tactics which the traveler can employ to get the services, amenities, and goods that they need to continue wandering for free, or without the exchange of money. From trading work, to pulling grafts, to working jobs that provide [...]
Free travel or ways to get what you need without money while traveling
There are plenty of tactics which the traveler can employ to get the services, amenities, and goods that they need to continue wandering for free, or without the exchange of money. From trading work, to pulling grafts, to working jobs that provide free housing and food, to running scams, to utilizing public services, this is a page that will document the strategies and tactics that I have found to get things for free on the open road.
For the traveler, not spending money is just as essential as earning money. Finding ways to get accommodation, food, transportation, and entertainment for free is the hallmark of successful world travel. Always remember, a dollar that is saved today is a dollar to travel on another day.
One of the prime ways to land free accommodation in hotels and hostels is to work for it. Mostly, you trade the time of your life by working for a free bed. In point, during most of the year many hotels have more rooms than guests to fill them, so they do not loose much by taking you on as a trading guest. The main way to get a free bed in a hotel or hostel is to trade work: you offer to take a non paying job for a certain duration, and then you can live for free. When employing this tactic, I would highly recommend setting formal working hours with the owner in advance, least you find yourself being pressured into working all day long (it happens, believe me – often not worth a $10 dorm bed).
This method can also be used on farms, where you agree to work a certain number of hours per day for a place to stay. Food is often included in this deal as well. These arrangements can often be set up by going from farm house to farm house offering your services or through organizations such as WWOOF (linked below).
Another way to get free accommodation is to trade for it. For a stretch of my travels I was trading webpages for dorm beds and hotel rooms. I would often get a free place to stay for two weeks to a month while I worked on the site maybe an hour or two a day. This is also a good way to become established at a hostel enough to be offered a work/ bed arrangement like outlined above. I have often used the Hobohideout.com Traveling Webmasters program to set up such website for accommodation trades, and there is another similar program for South America at The South America Tourist.
Often times organizations which take volunteers provide free accommodation. This works for long term volunteering as well as short term. Even for two or three day music festivals and other similar events volunteers can procure a place to sleep for free, or at least a secure place to camp.
This may sound strange, but hostels in many places of the world rely nearly 100% on clients from websites such as hostelworld.com and hostelbookers.com. Both of these systems rank hostels in accordance to feedback derived from their guests, which often puts the hostel into a very precarious position: if a guest does not get what they want they can do the hostel great economic harm by bashing them on these sites with poor ratings. Therefore, many hostels are now bent (sometimes obsessively) on making sure there guests have a good time. This is often to the point that they will offer certain “fun” guests a place to stay for free if they take responsibility for showing other guests a good time.
The duties of a fun manager often consists almost solely of taking groups of guests out to the best bars and clubs around the city during the night. If everyone gets drunk, laid, and has a good time, then the fun manager did their job. This job is best performed by very personable, friendly people who enjoy nightlife.
To get a job at a fun manager, just show up at a hostel as a paying guest, show the management that you are a “fun” person, make the rest of the guests like you, and then after two or three nights request a free bed for doing fun manager detail. Very often you will be successful.
Camping on the sly
This basically means sleeping outside for free outside of the auspices of formal campgrounds. This can be done in many ways, from requesting the permission of landowners to set up a tent on their property to sneaking around and sleeping under a tarp or some other quickly made shelter. For more on this strategy, go to camping on the sly definition or How to Sleep Outside for Free.
There are now many thriving sites such as Couchsurfing.org that allow users to arrange free home stays with people all around the world. This is often a great way to meet new people, see behind the doors of a new culture, and to get a place to stay for free. But be warned that setting up these exchanges often take a decent amount of time and effort, as you need to set them up well in advance and maintain contact with your host until your arrival. Refusals are now very frequent, as these hospitality sites have become very popular, and unless you are a buxomy blond it often takes sending between 5 and 20 requests before getting accepted (in popular cities, plan to send at least 50 requests). For setting up longer duration journeys relying on hospitality sites for free accommodation, expect to put at least an hour a day into arranging stays.
Regularly using these hospitality sites also makes traveling a little more restrictive, as you need to have somewhat firm arrival and departure plans set up in advance, and if these change you need to contact your host — which could be an annoyance to them.
Utilizing this way of obtaining free accommodation is often much easier to do with your own laptop computer and cellphone. In point, to more seamlessly use sites like Couchsurfing it is highly recommended that you travel with a cellphone that is set up for use in the country you are in. The cellphone is now how people communicate, and very often your host will want you to telephone them when you arrive in their city or they may want to telephone you to provide additional directions, meet up points, etc. Some host will also be less prone to offer you a place to stay without a cellphone, as this makes the arrangement more difficult for them.
As far as a computer is concerned, if you don’t travel with your own laptop expect to make trips to the internet cafe every day. This is a hassle and an additional expense.
Couchsurfing | Hospitality Club | Warm Showers
Home stays can also be arranged the old fashion way: make friends, stay with them, ask them if they have other friends where you are traveling, request to stay with them.
House/ Pet Sitting
This is a great way to get free accommodation around the world. I have met people in various cities around the globe who were staying rent free in apartments and homes just for watching over the place or taking care of pets when the owners were out of town.
You can generally get these gigs through word of mouth, looking through newspaper classifieds, online message boards, or through using various websites (most of them pay to use) that are designed specifically for this purpose.
Bus and train stations can be used as all night pit stops. I have no idea how many times I have opted to save money by just sleeping in the station hotel. Be sure that the station is going to be open all night long before trying this, and be very cautious in terms of security as many stations are not the best places to be after dark. For more on this go to Bus station hotel.
Sleep in an airport
This is probably one of the best free accommodation strategies there are. When in a big city and the hostels want too much money, like in Europe — no, $20 per night is not cheap for a dorm bed — just hop on a local bus and ride to the airport. This works better in big airports, as you can wander from terminal to terminal until you find a good place to bed down. I have used this method far too many times to count. For more on this, Sleeping in Airports is the best site there is.
Food is often a much cheaper expense in travel than accommodation, so the effort and energy put into getting it for free should be used in inverse proportion to how much it would cost otherwise. In point, if you can eat in a country for a few bucks a day, it may not be worth the hassle of using some of the methods outlined below unless you really do not have any money.
I learned this tactic well in my early days as a moneyless squatter punk, and in its simplest form consists of collecting edible food from dumpsters. As a general rule, look for boxed, canned, or otherwise good looking (and smelling) food in the dumpsters behind supermarkets, bagel and donut shops, pizza restaurants, and coffee bistros.
Work in a restaurant
Restaurant employees are often given a free meal for each day they work or are able to seize some grub throughout their work day through more covert methods. In point, if working around food there are various ways to get it into your mouth or to pack it up and take it home. Very often, canceled orders or leftovers in restaurants can be eaten by the staff.
I will not go into this in much detail here (saving it for the book that I will soon be publishing), but stealing is another way to obtain free food. This is often a risky strategy — floating over both legal and ethical boundaries — and I neither recommend nor condone it.
If you see a line of grubby looking people standing in the streets in front of a doorway, there is a good chance they are being given free food inside. Stand in line too, try to make friends, and eat. Don’t feel bad for trying to use soup kitchens, as there is often enough to go around.
Many temporary volunteer engagements will offer a meal. Help set up a concert stage, do some dirty work at a festival, take a shift working the kitchen at a charity event, or help people park at a conference and you will probably find your belly being filled. Look for a gathering crowd or an event, search out the organizers, and ask if you could volunteer in exchange for free entrance and a meal.
Hitchhiking is the classic way to get across large expanses of land for free. Make the highways your rivers, and hitch. Be aware what the cultural rules are for hitchhiking in whatever country you try this in, as some — like Mongolia — it is customary to pay the driver for the ride, and in others — like Montenegro — it is almost impossible to get a driver to pick you up. Digihitch is the preeminent online hitchhiking resource. Or go to Hitchhiking on Vagabond Journey Travel, for more information on this travel strategy.
If you know how to do it, then in some countries this is a truly classic way to travel. A big section on train hopping will be included in the book, as a brief description here is not adequate for this type of travel.
Just put a pack on your back and walk. It works. It may take you longer to get to where you are going, but you will get to know the path every step of the way. I have done some long walking trips, it is truly a noble way to travel.
Riding a bicycle is one of the prime ways to move about the world without needing to pay very often for public transportation. Bicycle travel is becoming increasingly popular, and many, many, many travelers have found this to be a prime way to get around the world.
Bicycle travel | Ask bicycle travel questions
Ok, so doing ride shares are not free, but this can be an option to get to where you want to go for cheap.
This sounds as if it has lots of restrictions, but, if you are up for it, you can relocate someone else’s car across the USA by driving it for them. For whatever reason, people often need to move a vehicle from one place to another and are not willing to do it for themselves, so they hire services like Driveaways to find drivers to do this for them. This website requires a $350 deposit.
More information on this coming soon.
Accompany a minor on flights
More information on this coming soon
Free travel through volunteering
It is very possible to cut your travel expenses down to almost nothing through volunteering. There are many volunteer opportunities that provide free food, accommodation, and sometimes even transportation from making a commitment to work a specified amount of hours each day.
Volunteer to teach English
If you are a native speaker, it is possible to teach English at many places in the world in exchange for room, and sometimes even board.
Volunteer on farms
As is outlined above in the free accommodation section, volunteering on farms is a good way to get room and board around the world for a few hours of work each day. There are various websites that arrange such exchanges, Organic Volunteers and WWOOF being just two. Many of these sites demand yearly membership fees to use.
Hiking trail volunteers
It is my impression that this is a rip off, as working on a trail crew was once a paid job. The work is hard, the hours are often long, and I suppose they will give you a tent and some peanut butter sandwiches for the labor. Though, I must admit, it does sound like fun. There are various websites which connect volunteers with trail crews. Most of these opportunities that can be readily found are in the USA, but I sure there are similar gigs in other countries as well. To get on a volunteer trail crew, start with the following webpages.
High Sierra trail crew | Appalachian trail crew | Pacific Crest trail crew | Continental Divide trail crew
Israeli Defense Force
The Israeli military also takes on volunteers from abroad to do menial militaristic duties — probably cleaning tanks, shoes, and weapons — in exchange for free room and board.
Volunteering on a kibbutz — an organized working and living community — in Israel is another way to live for free in this country. In exchange for working on the kibbutz, you get free room and board. This is also a good way to experience living in a socialistic, intentional community. There are plenty of websites to find these arrangements.
This is a website that connects volunteer workers with farms, hostels, and other business that want to take them on. For working, you get free room and board. Registering is free, but if you want to be able to contact employers directly you need to pay for a premier membership. The website is at Help X.
Free travel through working
I use to spend my summers traveling from job to job around the USA doing archaeology, and my employers would pay a portion of my travel expenses, provide me with free accommodation, as well as a per diem for food. This was an excellent way to travel for free while bolstering my travel fund with decent paychecks. But this line of work is not for everyone, as you cannot usually just walk onto a paying archaeology job. I have a degree in anthropology and completed an archaeology field school, so I am formally educated in this profession. But I do believe that it is possible to begin finding professional archaeology field work with just about any liberal arts degree, just so you complete an accredited field school. For more information on how to get into this profession, visit the following pages:
Archaeology | How to become an archaeologist | Paid archaeology field work | Archaeology education and work | How to choose an archaeology field school
Teaching English Abroad
This is a great way to land a job in a foreign land where the employer will often cover the cost of your accommodation. Teaching jobs where the school itself owns an apartment complex for foreign teachers are common. Often, teaching positions that offer free accommodation are in the countries with relatively more resources going into English language educations, such as South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China, Malaysia etc. When looking for an English teaching job, let free accommodation be your guide when choosing a position.
English teaching abroad resources:
Dave’s Esl Cafe | English Teaching Abroad Index | How to teaching English as a Foreign Language
Working in the various fisheries of the world is often seasonal employment that offers free accommodation and food. The prime location in the USA for this is Alaska, but landing this type of work is also available in many other parts of the world that has an active fishing industry, such as Canada, Scandinavia, Russia etc . . . In terms of being gainfully employed, searching out work in your home country is often your best bet, though I am sure with a little elbow grease you could get a job in the fisheries of other countries as well. In terms of working in Alaska, thousands of workers are employed each season to fish and work in the fish processing plants. These jobs provide free round trip airfare, free accommodation, and free food for the term of your employment. Although the working hours are long, the term of commitment is generally short — often under six weeks.
Fishery jobs resources that offer free accommodation:
Alaska General Seafoods
Cruise Ship Work
To be blunt, when out out on a cruise ship in the middle of an ocean there is no place else to go besides the ship. This work inherently includes a free place to stay. Also, when in port most cruise lines have hostels for employees to stay in, also for free.
These free travel tips are brought to you by Wade Shepard, a vagabond who has been traveling the world on a super tight budget since 1999. He has been through 50 countries on 5 continents, taking work as an archaeologist, an English teacher, a gardener, a farmer, a hotel receptionist, a traveling webmaster, a freelance journalist, and just about any other job he has been able to find. Wade is also the owner/ editor/ and head writer of Vagabond Journey Travel and will have a book coming out this summer about how to travel the world on $10 per day.
To fellow web publishers: If you are going to borrow ideas and content from this page, please at least link to it. Thanks.
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3679 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Papa Bay, Hawaii
March 13, 2011, 11:53 am
Excellent list. Instantly bookmarked.
June 13, 2011, 10:05 pm
Sleeping in Airports? Brilliant! Why didn’t I ever think of that?
August 1, 2011, 3:58 pm
Hi Wade! This is truly one of the best articles on traveling the world for free. You cover the main points with detail and you are someone with legit travel experience. I look forward to buying your book and trying out some of these tips when I embark on my next adventure this October. I’ll be trying to travel “for free” as much and as long as possible starting in Mexico and Central America. Thanks for the awesome tips!
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