How to travel the world for free

Published 26th November 2020

Free travel hero

If you’re one of the fortunate few to have had the savvy to save for your holidays, then you’re likely to laugh in the face of free travel. Whereas, if you’re a member of the not-so-money-canny crew and think that travelling the world on a few credit cards is one of the better ideas you’ve had in life, maybe you should read on.

Note one: travelling the world on credit cards alone is never a good idea. Well, that is, unless a loaded rich relative is going to pay them off for you. Note two: travelling anywhere for free is always, and ever will be, top trumps in the good idea stakes, and wholly enjoyable into the bargain.

Problem is; how do you go about it? Well, it can be done. And here’s how!

Sail around the world

Sailing can offer a certain amount of freedom in travel for those willing to learn the ropes, quite literally. A week-long course will teach you all the basic sailing techniques and safety procedures to ensure you’ll be a valuable member of any crew. The rest is up to you. Gaining experience is relatively easy, just head down to your local marina and offer to crew for free at weekends, races or regattas. It will make you more confident out in the big blue. Then seek out yacht deliveries around the world on the Crew Network and enjoy the perks of slow travel.

Get WWOOFing

WWOOF, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, offers a place to stay for anyone interested in learning about sustainable living. A list of organic farms and businesses seeking willing workers is published on the WWOOF network, and updated regularly (membership is $12). In exchange for your hard work, host farms provide meals, accommodation and an insight into sustainable practices in various parts of the world.

Kip on a couch

People have been sleeping on sofas since sofas were invented, probably. But since the advent of Couchsurfing.com, the experience has become a worldwide phenomenon. Founder Casey Fenton came up with the idea on a short trip to Iceland, when he decided to spam over 1,500 Icelandic students, asking them if he could stay on their sofa instead of a dreary hotel. The response was huge, and after spending a crazy weekend in Reykjavik with his new-found friends he decided to share his experience with others and provide a platform for couch surfing the world over. Registration is free, as is the service, all you need to do is search for empty couches in the areas you intend to visit and start meeting new people. The Couchsurfing online community is a good place to start.

Home swap with strangers

The thought of complete strangers having the roam of the house fills some people with dread, but to others, it’s a great way to ensure your house is looked after while you’re away. This, of course, is only any good for those who own their house – your landlord might not be too keen on the idea. There are a number of home swap companies found easily online but these usually entail a hefty registration fee, although they do ensure a certain level of insurance against weirdos. But if you’re not terribly bothered about logistics, sites like Craigslist and Gumtree often have great home swap opportunities.

Become a house sitter

You’d be foolish in thinking that it’s easy to find a straight-up fancy house sitting position where all you have to do is water the plants once a week. Oh no, that would be far too simple. Most people who advertise on the various house sitting websites are looking for someone to tend their garden or look after their pets while they’re away, which isn’t all bad news for animal fanatics. There is usually a small registration fee involved but nothing else. Check out Caretaker.org and TrustedHousesitters.com for opportunities.

Hitchhike

Sounds obvious, but alas this once great practice has fallen out of favour among travellers due to safety worries, yet, in some areas of the world hitchhiking is still a wholly accepted way of travelling. But before you go practicing this much neglected art, just check out local customs and ask other travellers about their experiences. Reports are that Ireland, Japan and New Zealand are top spots for happy hitchhiking.

Redeem air miles

This can be a bit of a slow burner, but if you’re a frequent traveller it makes sense to take advantage of credit cards offering mileage rewards. As every dollar you spend on the card translates to frequent flyer points, if you want to make the card work for you, you need to use the card for everyday purchases to maximise your air miles, but be sure to pay off the balance every month or your debt will soar.

Get sponsored

Without having to do anything outlandish, it is possible to get sponsored by some of the big brands if you’re willing to do something for them in return. Photographers could try approaching camera companies to try out new equipment. They sponsor your travels while you test and write about their product. This could work for travel equipment, rock climbing equipment etc, too.

Volunteer hiking holidays

A popular European hiking tour operator, HF Holidays is always looking for hiking enthusiasts to lead one of their many walking holidays in various destinations across Europe. Walk leaders are provided with meals and accommodation in return for their services, some travelling expenses are covered, too. The company also has regular paid vacancies in country houses across England, which also offer workers live-in accommodation.

Volunteer at the source

Don’t be fooled by the hoards of volunteer travel companies demanding wads of cash for your willingness to volunteer. Cut out the middle-man and travel to where you want to go, take time to meet the locals, speak to the village elders, and simply offer your time and expertise for free. Many places are desperate for skilled workers, either to carry out manual labour or to train locals and the community on building techniques or environmental practices. In return travellers are often put up in the village for free. Any money you do have, spend within the village so you know they will benefit directly, and not the often-unscrupulous tour companies.

Win your way to a free stay

If you’re oozing with talent and fancy a free holiday, why not try your hand at one of the many travel writing or photography competitions, many of which run annually. Successful candidates not only get amazing travel prizes, but usually get their career kick-started through publication of their winning piece. Wanderlust magazine, and the Bradt Guides run yearly comps with great prizes. The good thing is, it doesn’t matter where in the world you live – the majority of competitions accept online applications.

Put your trust in human kindness

As slushy as it sounds, it’s surprising how many people are only too eager to help the lonesome traveller. A smile and good manners in most parts of the world will ensure a bed for the night and some food in your belly. As long as you don’t take advantage of other people’s generosity, this type of travel can be the most rewarding, for both you and your host.