So I lied.
It’s not really possible to travel the world for zero dollars. Eventually you’re going to spend a dollar somewhere. Maybe to buy a cocktail for that pretty Balinese girl, or to get your nails done before that Indian wedding you’re about to attend.
But that doesn’t mean everything needs to cost money. Whether it’s flights, accommodation, transport, food or entertainment, there are ways to travel the world for free. You just need to know where to look, and have a willingness to do things a little differently.
For you aspiring nomads on there who are looking to see the world on the cheap, here are a few zero-dollar-ideas to get you started:
1. Travel the world for free by House sitting
House sitting has been taking off recently in backpacker circles, especially with more long term travellers hitting the road and looking for places to base themselves for extended periods.
House sitting is a system where you can live in someone’s home for a few weeks or months while the owner is away. Usually people seek house-sitters because they need someone to feed the pets and water the garden etc. That means as a house-sitter, a little work is involved. You’ll spend a couple hours each day walking dogs and feeding chickens, stuff like that.
Nonetheless, it’s a pretty good gig and you can find some pretty amazing places to stay. Did I mention you stay for free?
Get started in house-sitting by
Checking out some of these established sites:
2. Home Exchange
Remember that movie “The Holiday”? Yeah, the one with Jack Black and Cameron Diaz and a few others, I don’t really remember. That actually happens in real life. It’s called Home Exchange or House Swap, and it’s been around a little while.
Basically before you go to Australia, you find someone in Australia who wants to come to your city. You exchange emails, make sure they’re not a looney, presumably they do with the same with you, and then you agree to swap house keys. You go to Aussie and stay in their home for free, they come to your city and stay in your home for free. You both get a free house-sitter, and nice home to holiday in, maybe a car to drive, and you save a ton of money. Pretty cool.
Get started in home exchange by
Checking out some of these established sites:
I talk about Couchsurfing a lot on here, because it’s awesome.
Couchsurfing involves sleeping on someone’s couch (or if you’re lucky, a mattress or a bed) for free. The focus of the community is on cultural exchange and travellers helping other travellers.
If you want to get the most out of it, don’t just use it for free couches. Really get involved in the community by joining groups, going to events and hosting other travellers in your city.
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4. Stay With Friends and Family
You’d be surprised how many people you actually know around the world. When you start travelling, that number will multiply every day.
Don’t be afraid to ask around and see who’s got a couch free. I try to keep my house-crashing to a minimum but if I’m in uber expensive places like France, London or Hong Kong, I always try to find a friend to crash with. As you meet people on the road many will go above and beyond to help you out – don’t be surprised if you get offered to stay with the friend of the brother-in-law of the guy you shared a hostel dorm with in Argentina. It happens!
When I was in Turkey earlier last year I met a guy who had travelled all over the country, total hobo style. He’d been hitch hiking the whole way, and would pitch his tent by the side of the road at night and sleep. It sounded mad, but he said it was fine and trouble free. On that same trip, I had a Greek couple who had spent an entire summer camping on the beach in Greece, for free. Get involved in the camping community and get familiar with the rules, and you can sleep for free in many countries around the world.
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6. Travel the world for free with WWOOF
Every second backpacker I meet in New Zealand is WWOOFing. Traditionally WWOOFing refers to farm work but it’s become synonymous with any kind of work exchange these days. Recently I met a girl who is WWOOFing at a hostel down at my local surf beach – she surfs in the morning, cleans the hostel in the afternoon. Others are WWOOFing at farms and hostels across the country. Sounds fun.
Get started in WWOOFing by
Checking out WWOOF.net, but during your travels all you need to do is ask! Hostels, guesthouses and farms are always looking for people.
7. Travel the world for free with HelpX
HelpX is similar to WWOOF – it’s a network where people offer housing and food in exchange for a few hours work each day. Very common requests are for people to help renovate properties, look after children, help run B&Bs and guesthouses, cleaning, painting, sometimes people just want you around to practise English with a few hours each day. HelpX is literally all over the world and there are a ton of interesting projects on there for every type of traveller.
Get started in HelpX by
Checking out the endless opportunities on HelpX.net
Workaway is another work exchange network where you can trade work for room and board. Opportunities are global and the network is very professionally run.
Get started in Workaway by
Checking out Workaway.info
9. Cruise shipping
I’ve met quite a few people who spent time working on cruise ships. The common theme is that it is hard work, but you are literally being paid to travel around the world and that makes it awesome.
There is work for everyone on a cruise – they need cooks, waiters, IT staff, a band to play at night, personal trainers for the gym, dance teachers, cleaners, tour guides, management staff etc. The pay isn’t bad, and because room and board is provided you save around 90% of your salary.
Get started in Cruise shipping by
Reading Earl’s guide on getting your first cruise ship job, or browse some current cruise ship jobs here.
10. Au pairing
Au pairing is where you work as a live-in assistant in a foreigner’s home. Duties are standard household chores such as laundry and cleaning, as well as dropping off/picking up children from school, helping them with homework etc. Au pair work usually requires 4-5 hours of work a day, and the work is paid. This is very popular in more expensive destinations to travel/live in, such as Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
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Technically you can get free transport to anywhere in town, if you’re willing to use your feet. Well, you might need to swim/climb/crawl a little too, but you get the deal. A lot of us tend to head straight for the subway or a taxi when we’re new in town, but as you get more comfortable on the road you’ll start to love walking. You get to move slowly, look around, smell the air, peek inside the windows. Some of the most interesting things I’ve encountered on the road have been a result of taking walks. These days, if I need to get somewhere and the walk is less than an hour I’ll go by foot. Being free is just a bonus!
12. Hitch hiking
Hitch hiking is popular in a lot of countries and perfectly safe if you know what you’re doing. Go to the side of the road. Stick your thumb out. Get in. Get out.
We’re all still alive, because we did our homework.
Staying safe on a hitched ride is more common sense than anything else. Try to hitch hike in pairs. Don’t hitch hike at night. Do it in countries where it’s normal and accepted. If a car stops and you get a bad vibe, don’t get in. Stuff like that.
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13. Free entertainment
There are endless ways to stay entertained for free. Start with your standard parks, plazas and markets where you wander, take photos, watch buskers and get to know a few strangers.
During the week in big cities there are often free shows, concerts, open mics, festivals and cultural events.
Beaches, boulevards and city squares always have interesting things going on. Hiking, regional parks and major landmarks are often free as well.
Many major museums often have free entry days in low season.
Couchsurfing events are free. On Meetup.com there are often casual sports gatherings and pickup games which are free.
This is just a few of many examples – always check out your hostel noticeboards, tourist info offices and online city guides to stay informed. Or as Rolf likes to say, “When in doubt, just walk until your day becomes interesting.”
14. Dumpster dive
That’s not a literal term – you don’t actually need to dive inside the dumpster (although that works too).
It is very common for small family owned bakeries and restaurants to throw away leftover food at the end of the day. Fruit and vegetable shops will also have produce left at the end of the day which they can no longer sell. Food that is also one or two days away from expiry usually gets thrown in the bin too. It’s perfectly edible food and there’s no shame in asking for it!
In fact, you’re actually helping reduce food wastage while saving a bunch of cash at the same time. It’s a win win.
Just head to these places before closing time and ask if they have any food they’re going to throw away. If you let them know you’re a bunch of broke hungry backpackers they may be extra nice. I remember a friend telling me about the markets in Italy, where he would get given so much free food he was actually turning it down because he couldn’t carry it all!
Some places may try to sell it for a nominal amount, maybe a couple of dollars, which is fine too. And of course many people still do it the traditional way – looking through the supermarket dumpsters at night – which is how we scored the bounty in the photo above!
15. Teach (anything!)
This is really common and there are a lot more ways to do this than people realise. It does require you to be pro-active as not all opportunities are advertised on the likes of HelpX or Workaway, but if you have skills, chances are someone else needs them.
Things such as zumba, yoga, surfing/skiing, dancing (all types) and personal training are some of the most in-demand skills and there are resorts, cruises, schools and tour companies always looking for people to jump in and start taking classes for clients. If you’re qualified or experienced in these kinds of things and looking to settle down for a bit, approach the big resorts and tour companies and ask! You’ll be surprised how many opportunities there are.
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16. Travel hacking
Travel hacking is the art of playing the frequent flyer and hotel points systems to your advantage.
Frequent flyer points are free. Sign up for a credit card and you get 30,000 of them. Eat at a restaurant, get another 1,000. Put your spending on a credit card, get a few more. Most cards will waive an annual fee for a year, and waive it a second year when you tell them you want to cancel. You can rack up a tidy number of points if you’re willing to figure it out.
Some people have dedicated their lives to this and play these frequent flyer programs full time. It’s like a game to them and they end up jetting all over the world for free. If you’re willing to invest the time, you can too.
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Great resources on the topic are Million Mile Secrets and the Flyer Talk forums, although if you’re a newbie it can be hard to understand the lingo and what they’re talking about. Good source of free information though.
If you’re a Kiwi, check out my travel hacking guide for Kiwis. It will give you everything you need to know.
Inspired? While there’s a lot of info here, this is really just scratching the surface. Whether it’s someone ironing linens on a rich man’s yacht or restoring ruins in rural Italy, I constantly meet people doing interesting things out here to travel the world for free. If you’re low on funds it doesn’t mean you can’t travel. It just means you need to think outside the box and do things a little differently.
Got anything to add? What are some ways you’ve managed to travel for free? Share your stories in the comments section below 🙂