VACATION IDEAS

How To Travel The World For Free

You'll be amazed at these smart, effective ways to cut travel costs you thought were unavoidable—whether you're planning to WWOOF your way around the world or embrace the brave new world of travel hacking.

By Kaeli Conforti, Wednesday, Nov 6, 2013, 6:00 PM

Sunset view of Torii Gate in Miyajima, Japan

Teaching English in Japan is a great way to save money and experience life as a local as you travel the world.

(Chuongy / Dreamstime.com)

We know, we know. You can't actually travel the world without paying for something along the way. But we've got a few ideas to help cut down on costs and ensure you'll have a more authentic adventure.

Barter your time and hard work for a place to stay

Christine Maxfield, founder and editor of CompassMag.com and producer of the When In Roam: Conversations with Travel Writers podcast on iTunes, recommends work-exchange programs like WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), HelpX.net, and WorkAway.info as a way to immerse yourself in new culture and make local friends quickly. "Work exchange is a little different than volunteering because you barter your time for food and lodging with a host rather than spending money for the opportunity, said Maxfield. "I've learned the most interesting jobs that way, from black-pearl diving to working at a sea-turtle hatchery, and it only cost me my hard work! It was a very fulfilling way to travel, and I also made lifelong friends with my hosts so I was never lonely." Another option is to pitch in at a local hostel you plan to stay in, as oftentimes owners can use the extra help and may be willing to offer you a free bed for the night as payment for a day's work.

How to get started: In the case of WWOOF, the hardest part is deciding where you want to go. Some countries have their own WWOOF organizations, websites, and programs, so visit the link listed above, choose a country, and browse through the farm lists. Sign up to be a volunteer—as long as you're over the age of 18—and follow the instructions. In some cases, you may have to pay a fee of up to $72 to view the final listings for a country, but it's well worth the money you'll be saving on accommodations in the long run. Pack sturdy work boots, prepare to pay for your travel expenses to and from the farm, and set aside some extra cash for day trips while you're off. The program is available in more than 60 countries worldwide including Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa, Costa Rica, Thailand, Ireland, Italy, the United States, and Canada, so take your pick!

Related: 50 Incredible Images of New Zealand and Australia

House-sit your way around the world

You’ve heard about pet–sitting, but what about house–sitting to save money while traveling? Dalene and Peter Heck are one Canadian couple who did just that: four years ago, they sold everything for the sake of travel, started a website, Hecktic Travels, and wrote a book about how they saved over $30,000 in accommodations costs by house–sitting their way around the world. The basic idea is reciprocity: keep an eye on someone's home while they're away, and you get to stay in it for free. It's a win–win since the owners get the peace of mind in knowing their houses (and sometimes pets) are safe, and you get to take the price of accommodations out of your vacation budget. (You'll also save money on food, since your lodgings now include a kitchen.) Jobs can last anywhere from two weeks to six months and give new meaning to the term culture immersion. "The best part about the whole experience has been the ability to really dig in to a destination and get to understand the culture. We get to know people and visit places that regular tourists never would," said Dalene Heck.

How to get started: A number of websites, such as House Sitters America, The Caretaker Gazette, and Mind My House among others, provide listings for a fee (ranging from $20 to $60 depending on the membership), but consider this an investment. The couple recommends creating an account on multiple websites to increase your chances of being chosen for a coveted house–sit job. Planning ahead is the key, since it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to fully flesh out the details of a contract. House–sitting hopefuls from the U.S. should remember to check Visa requirements for countries they plan to apply for, Dalene warns. "In 28 countries of Europe, Americans are only allowed 90 days total at a time, so the dream of bouncing around from house–sit to house–sit indefinitely isn't really an option there."

Crash on someone's couch

Websites like GlobalFreeloaders.com and Couchsurfing.org aim to bring together like-minded travel-worshippers and promote a more authentic, cultural exchange between them. The other perk of course is that free accommodations are more than likely part of the equation, with hosts offering an extra bed, couch, futon, or other temporary place to crash while you're visiting a new city. Participants get in contact with each other and can interact as much or as little as they want: if you'd rather just meet a host for coffee or lunch, that's fine. If you decide to host someone in your home (or are hosted at someone else's home) and want to cook for each other, even better. The whole point is to leave your comfort zone behind and get to know someone new from a different environment than your own, so take this free opportunity to make a new friend and embrace a new culture.

How to get started: Both sites require you to create a free profile—GlobalFreeloaders only lets you do so if you're able to host someone in your own home within six months of signing up, as there are two sides to this travel coin, visiting and hosting. Couchsurfing, however, is more flexible and gives you the option to create an account so you can participate, and lets you list "Not Right Now (but I can still hang out)" if you're not ready to host someone in your own home but are still open to the idea of meeting new travelers, whether for a quick drink or to show them around town.

Related: 11 Bucket List Adventures You Can Actually Afford

Embrace the art of travel hacking

The idea behind travel hacking is simple: work the system to score enough free rewards points on hotel and airline loyalty programs to earn free accommodations and transportation. Sign up for any credit card that offers ridiculous amounts of miles just for joining, enter contests that give away free miles or points, and basically jump at anything that offers free travel benefits. Keep up with special promotions and always be on the lookout for more point-earning opportunities, whatever they may be. With a little time (okay, more than a little time) and creativity, Matt Kepnes of NomadicMatt.com explains how it's possible to hack anything from airline costs and accommodations, to transportation, restaurants, and even attractions—he even has a new e-book about it, on sale now for $37 through his website with a money-back guarantee if you don't earn enough miles for at least one free flight within six months!

How to get started: Register to receive emails from The Points Guy, a website founded by road warrior Brian Kelly that is dedicated to tracking and sharing the best ways to make the most of your travel rewards points. Either purchase the book mentioned above or sign up with the Travel Hacking Cartel to learn more about this gutsy new travel frontier. (Try a $1 14-day trial subscription to the Travel Hacking Cartel, or opt for more in depth packages starting at $15 a month).

Teach English in a foreign country

This has always been a really popular way to see the world and make a little money in the process—several of my college friends actually went on to teach English in Japan, China, South Korea, and in one case, Romania. While you will receive a steady paycheck and a place to stay, it's important to remember that you will basically be expected to work the equivalent of a full-time job, teaching students of varying ages the art of the English language at least five days a week with a full level of excitement and enthusiasm. Prepare to be exhausted, yet fulfilled, if teaching is your passion, and try to do a little exploring on weekends and holidays when you and your class have some free time. Or better yet, try to save up a little money for day trips or other regional travel from your new location if you can.

How to get started: First, you'll need to work on getting TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) Certification—basically you pay for and take a course online or in person (options vary), and learn everything you'll need to get started in your new classroom. Once you're certified, decide which country you want to live and work in and how long you're willing to sign a contract for. CIEE Teach Abroad offers options for teaching assignments in Chile, China, South Korea, Spain, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Dominican Republic. Apply through programs like JourneyEast.org for teaching opportunities in China, The Jet Programme or AEON for options in Japan, or search for teaching job openings around the world via ESLcafe.com.

Related: 27 Perfect Places To Go Camping

Swap houses

Anyone who has seen the movie The Holiday, a delightful chick flick that features Kate Winslet swapping her cozy English cottage for Cameron Diaz's Hollywood mansion (and leading to respective love affairs with Jude Law and Jack Black) has probably had this idea on the brain ever since. According to an article by USA Today, home swapping is becoming more and more popular thanks to websites like Knok, Love Home Swap, Intervac, HomeLink, and HomeExchange, all of which allow you to create an account, browse open houses and apartments in whatever destination you're interested in visiting, and connect you with potential home swappers. And you don't have to be a homeowner to participate either. Renters are welcome, and some people even go as far as swapping their places of residence and cars, but the important thing is to set limits if necessary and keep the lines of communication open, as you will be honored guests in each other's homes for the length of your stay.

How to get started: You will have to subscribe for the service, and prices vary depending on the website and however many months you'd like to use it—a full year on HomeExchange, for instance, will cost you $9.95 a month, while an annual subscription to Intervac costs $99.

Volunteer Abroad

Donating your time to a noble cause, whether it's taking care of children at a local orphanage or helping to improve the environment, can be a great way to see the world for less, if not for free. Really do your homework on this one, folks, as there are literally thousands of opportunities and companies to choose from and all the important details, like where you'll stay and how long you'll be there for, vary. Look for free or low-cost volunteer companies that offer an experience you're interested in—you will most likely need to pay for yourself to get to and from your post, and some companies may require you to pay for your accommodations while others may offer to have you stay with a local family while you work.

How to get started: Search for voluteer opportunities on websites like idealist.org and workaway.info, or in Volunteer Vacations: Short-Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others, available on Amazon from $13 or on Kindle from $9.99.Every travel guide by Go! Girl Guides lists opportunities to choose from, offering listings for Thailand, Argentina, and Mexico, respectively. VolunteerSouthAmerica.net is also a great resource for free and low cost volunteer options, with their enormous list broken down into two main categories: programs that are free to participate in, and affordable options where you live in and pay for your own accommodations.

Related: 35 Incredible Solo Trips You Love

Work at a summer camp in a different state or country

What better way to explore a new place than to spend a season working with children at summer camp, then taking the money you earned and using it to travel? A friend of mine from Australia did exactly that, working a stint at a summer camp in Maine for three months before using her earnings to fund a cross-country U.S. road trip. If you have any experience with children or specialize in a certain sport or skill (like photography), the options are endless and you'll make anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 for a few months of your time and energy, easy money to fund that long-awaited vacation. Working with kids is usually a great addition to any resumé, plus, if you play your cards right, you can work for a camp abroad or at least in another state to keep things interesting during your time off.

How to get started: Create a free profile on CampStaff.com and CoolWorks.com, and remember to apply early and often to score your dream camping spot.

Join the Peace Corps

If you are an American citizen who happens to have 27 months to spare and a strong desire to make a difference in the world, consider signing up for the Peace Corps. Originally started in 1961 by President Kennedy, the Peace Corps relies on volunteers to work with local residents on projects that help to promote peace and understanding between global citizens. Most positions require a bachelor's degree or similar applicable experience and volunteers are matched with available programs depending on their background in volunteering and level of skill—you'll find opportunities in education, youth and community development, health, business and information, and communications technology, as well as in environmental and agricultural areas. Five percent of volunteers are over the age of 50, as there is no upper age limit to volunteer. Other perks include possible student loan deferment, paid travel to and from your country of service, medical and dental benefits, a monthly living and housing stipend, graduate school opportunities, 48 paid vacation days, the ability to take leave for family emergencies, and a "readjustment" allowance of about $7,400 upon completion of service. Not too shabby.

How to get started: Don't just sign up lightheartedly for this, as it does require a 27 month-long committment between training and time served in the field. Visit the Peace Corps website to read blogs written by current volunteers, attend any and all information sessions, and try to talk to someone who has previously volunteered for a better idea of what you'll be getting into. Fill out an application online, meet with a recruiter for an official interview, and be prepared to be sent to wherever you are needed if you get accepted.

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