How to Travel for Free: A Woman’s Guide to Traveling the World for Free

First of all, I want to debunk the myth that travel is expensive.  Travel can cost a lot of money, but it doesn’t HAVE to.  There are lots of ways to save money while travelling, and even plenty of ways to travel without spending any money at all!   So, for those of you like me, who love to travel without the hefty price tag, there are some fabulous ways to travel for free, or at a very low cost.  Check out my epic guide to travelling for free, and you’ll learn how to travel for cheap and how to travel for longer!

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Travelling For Free Safely

Before we get into it how to travel for free, I want to talk about travelling safely while still being on a budget.

As a solo female traveller, safety is one of my main concerns.  In this list of tips for travelling for free, I have deliberately left out some suggestions that I have seen some male backpackers recommend, such as sleeping on a park bench or in a phone box because I would not personally do that, or recommend anyone to do that, least of all a woman travelling on her own.

However, I have done my best to include tips for those of you who want to try hitchhiking and Couchsurfing for example.  Your safety should be your priority, but with these budget travel tips and recommendations, I believe that it is possible to travel safely on a budget without resorting to “begpacking”, stealing or any other inappropriate ways to get money!

Now that is out of the way, let’s talk about how to travel with no money, including free travel opportunities for everyone from students to seniors and everyone in between!

How to Travel For Free - The World in a Travel Savings Jar
How to Travel For Free – The World in a Travel Savings Jar

Free Accommodation While Travelling

Sleep While You Travel

For cash-strapped travellers, spending the night actually travelling saves a night on accommodation, although you will probably have to sacrifice several hours of sleep.  Red-eye flights and overnight buses and trains are a great idea in theory, as you wake up in your destination and are ready to go.

However, check the arrival times into your destination, as some overnight flights arrive early in the morning so you would have to get a taxi from the airport instead of public transport, which makes that part of the trip more expensive. 

Bring earplugs, an eye mask, and a blanket or plenty of layers to keep you comfortable.  I know from taking overnight buses in South America they often have the air conditioning blasting out, so it gets very cold!

Wild Camping

Depending on where you are in the world, wild camping in a tent or campervan (or car) could be an option to save you lots of cash.  I wild camped for a few nights in my campervan, although I usually prefer the comfort and security of a campsite.

Check the rules of your destination regarding wild camping.  It isn’t usually permitted in England, although it is in some places in Scotland for example.  General guidelines include arriving late and leaving early, camping away from people’s homes so you are not disturbing them, and of course to leave your campsite in the same (or better) condition than you found it, taking all litter home with you.

For campervans and motorhomes, you can often park up for the night in a pub carpark as long as you have something to eat or drink in the pub.  Campervan apps such as Park4Night and iOverlander have hundreds of places where you can spend the night in your camper. 

Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing can be a great way to get to know local people, by staying in their homes without paying any money.  Couchsurfing used to be completely free, but now you have to pay to have an account, and your stays are free of charge. 

The whole idea of Couchsurfing is that locals let you crash on their sofa, or in some cases in a spare room, in exchange for chatting, cooking a couple of meals, and essentially having a cultural exchange

I love this idea, although I admit have used it sparingly – mainly due to concerns over safety about staying the night in a stranger’s home.  There are frequent complaints that some male hosts use the app as a hook-up. so many female couch-surfers prefer to only stay with female hosts.

Before you stay, check reviews of the person first, exchange a few messages and see if you get along before agreeing to stay.  And be prepared to do your bit, don’t treat your host’s home as a hotel, it might be free but don’t take liberties.

Servas

Servas is an international organization created shortly after the 2nd World War with a view to creating peace and understanding between different cultures.

There is a small membership fee, and in order to join ideally you should apply before you travel, as you will have an interview before being allowed to join, and the process usually takes three to four weeks.  It is a reciprocal arrangement, so you will be expected to host visitors in your home in order to be hosted elsewhere.

Once joined, you will be sent a list of potential host members in the country you plan to visit, at which point you can contact them to arrange a stay, a maximum of two nights per stay.  The site seems more formal than Couchsurfing, but I have heard some excellent recommendations of the site, and the interview process should keep out the creeps!

Group of people sitting around a table preparing vegetables on a work exchange or cultural exchange program
Work and Cultural Exchanges are Wonderful Ways to Travel for Free

Volunteering & Cultural or Work Exchanges

Work Exchanges

Work exchange programmes provide a way for backpackers and budget travellers to share their time and skills while saving money. 

Work exchange sites like Workaway, Worldpackers and various others offer a platform for local people, businesses and organisations to advertise for help they need.  Potential volunteers sign up to the websites to search for suitable hosts and volunteer placements in countries all over the world.

The type of work placement available varies from working in hostels to teaching, cooking, cleaning, helping with eco-projects and everything in-between.

In exchange for working part-time for their hosts, volunteers get free accommodation in dorms, private rooms or tents, and usually some meals too.  Volunteers may also get other benefits like free tours or language lessons, as well as a cultural exchange by spending time helping local people with their projects. 

You will usually need to commit at least a couple of weeks to each volunteer work placement, so if you are backpacking long-term this is a great option for you to save some cash and stretch your budget.

Worldpackers Discount

I’ve teamed up with Worldpackers to offer all Tales of a Backpacker readers a $10 discount, which is a saving of 20% and means you only need to pay $39 USD for a full year’s verified membership. 

PLUS if you sign up to become a member by 31st May 2022, you’ll get 3 MONTHS EXTRA FREE

Once you are a verified member you can apply to and message all the hosts on Worldpackers and volunteer all over the world. 

GET YOUR DISCOUNT

I also have a lot of articles all about work exchanges to help you choose the best option for you, check them out for more information, or browse all of my work exchange articles.

Work Exchange Programs: Are They For You?

6 of the Best Work Exchange Sites Compared

Which is Better – Worldpackers or Workaway?

How to Travel for Free by Volunteering Abroad with Worldpackers

Free Accommodation in Exchange for Work as a Hostel Volunteer

Volunteering on a Farm

WWOOF or Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms does what it says on the tin – working in a similar way to the work exchange websites but solely for placements on organic farms.  Each country has its own WWOOF network, and you have to pay for registration for each country’s network which tends to be $20 – $30. 

The farms offer excellent opportunities to experience rural areas of your chosen countries, but by their nature tend to be more isolated from city centres and offer more basic accommodations than you expect to find in hostels or destinations where tourists are. 

House Swap

I love this idea as it makes me think of the film “The Holiday”, but of course you do need your own home to exchange.  Swapping homes with someone on the other side of the world could be a great way to experience another culture while they do the same in your home, without having to pay for accommodation.

There are various websites that act as an intermediary to help you find a suitable swap, try Home Exchange to get a feel for what is available (there is a membership fee to actually do an exchange, but you can browse for free)

Housesitting or Petsitting

Everyone’s dream: staying at someone’s luxury villa for a week’s holiday with all perks included!  House-sitting is a wonderful way to get free accommodation, although it is generally for more mature travellers – would you want to let a party backpacker into your home unguarded?  It seems to be a harder network to crack into, simply for this reason.

Often people will have pets to look after, and their primary concern is having someone responsible and caring to look after their beloved animals, and of course their home.  Once you have a couple of references under your belt the game gets easier, although it is always best to have a skype call with your potential homeowners to check you will be a right fit, and vice versa. 

One of the largest house-sitting sites is TrustedHousesitters the fees are just under $10 per month for a year’s membership.  They have a large number of sits in Europe, Australia and North America, and are growing steadily in other countries.  I signed up for Trusted Housesitters, at the start of 2020 so although I haven’t had chance to use it yet, I will be signing up again soon!

Trusted Housesitters Discount

I’ve teamed up with Trusted Housesitters to offer all Tales of a Backpacker readers a 25% discount on the yearly membership which gives you access to all house sits on their website.

GET YOUR DISCOUNT

Woman with arm out of a car window enjoying travel
Hit the Road and Save Some Cash – How to Travel for Free

How to Get Free Transport While Travelling

Hitchhiking

Hitchhiking is not my favourite activity, especially as a female solo traveller, but some people swear by it.  I have tried it a few times when I’ve been with a friend, and I must admit that there is nothing quite as liberating as flagging down a pick-up truck and leaping in the back to get to the next town. 

Once I had a lift from a family in their truck, and on another occasion, my friend and I got a lift from a guy who we got on well with and offered to take us out for a drink later – although I’m pretty sure he was already drunk when he was driving which is another risk to bear in mind!

I don’t recommend doing it alone, or at night, or doing anything that may put you at unnecessary risk.  I am a budget traveller, yes, but sometimes it is worth spending the money on a bus or taxi fare. 

If you do want to try hitchhiking, do some research on the destination to make sure that hitchhiking is common, and find out where is a good place to do it.  Make a note of the number plate of the vehicle and text it to a friend – and let the driver know you have done it.    

Get Paid to Drive

What’s better than travelling for free?  Getting paid to travel, that’s what!  In the USA, you can apply to become a driver for Auto Driveaway which hires people to drive their client’s vehicles from one place to another.  Usually, the trips are one way, so you’ll need to find your own way back – unless there is a request to take a vehicle back the same way! 

It’s also worth noting that you shouldn’t expect to take lots of time on a leisurely road trip – in most cases, you will be given a deadline so may not have time to see the sights along the way. 

Toronto Driveaway run a similar service in Canada, and there may be an equivalent in Europe, but I haven’t come across it yet.

Offer Someone a Lift

If you’re driving your own vehicle and want some help with the petrol costs, put your trip on Bla Bla Car.  You advertise your trip, how many spare seats you have, and how much you want to charge for the trip, and people travelling part or all of the same journey can book a seat in your car. 

The money is all paid via the website and you can check reviews of passengers (and drivers) before accepting them.  You get all or part of your petrol paid for, and you can meet new and interesting people.  Win – especially with the price of petrol these days! 

Self-Powered Travel

Having your own transport means you don’t need to pay someone else to take you anywhere.  Having my own campervan has given me a lot more freedom than I ever had when I relied on public transport, and I love being able to go anywhere I want, whenever I want!

If you are driving, you’ll need to pay for petrol of course, but walking or cycling are free and better for the environment too!  I love to walk around a destination to explore, but for hiking and walking trips you save a lot of money just using your own two feet.

For longer journeys, bikes offer even more freedom.  I met several people who were travelling around South America on bicycles, which is a challenge but a great way to explore on a budget.  You’ll need to plan carefully to take into account breakdowns and be able to carry everything you need on your bike, but bikepacking can be an incredible adventure if you’re fit and don’t mind a sore bum!

City Streets in Barcelona with Tall buildings and trees on the avenue - Explore Places for Free
Explore the City Streets for Free

Free Stuff in a Destination

Free Activities

Once you have arrived in your destination, you can enjoy many activities and experiences without spending a penny.  I love walking around the streets, visiting local markets and watching the local people just go about their daily business. 

Free walking tours are a great way to get your bearings in a new city, whilst learning about the culture and getting tips for other places to see or restaurants to dine at.  Although the tours are ‘free’, remember to tip your guide for their time.

There are always parks to enjoy for free, landmarks to admire, and more often than not there are free museums to visit too.  In addition to things that are always free, check out the local newspapers and Facebook pages for free events, music performances and festivals. 

Many destinations also have certain days of the year when museums are free to visit, perhaps on bank holidays, Sundays or other special dates. 

Check out some of these blog posts for inspiration and ideas for free things to do in cities around the world:

Get Free Wi-Fi

Phone roaming costs can be extortionate, so to avoid the hefty fees try to rely on free wifi whenever you can.  I turn off data roaming and search for free wifi in hostels, accommodation, even in Starbucks or McDonalds if needs be.  Even if the wifi isn’t strong enough for a WhatsApp call, you should be able to send messages for free.

The WiFi Magic app is a useful (if cheeky) way to access as much free wifi as possible during your trip.    Users upload the access passwords for wifi networks in shops, hotels, cafes and other places where you are usually required to be a customer.  I usually prefer to find open wifi signals wherever I can, but in emergencies this app could come in very handy.

Before leaving home, make sure you have an offline (or paper) copy of everything you need for your journey – flight/transport details, the address of your accommodation and directions for how to get there. 

Maps.me is another very useful app which allows you access to maps of your destination while you’re offline, so download the app before you go and download any maps you might need. 

Free Food

I love foraging for free food, but I mainly stick to blackberries which grow in abundance during late summer in the UK.  I don’t know enough about picking mushrooms or wild herbs to go all out with free food but buying a foraging book for your destination could be useful.  The food available will vary depending on the season but being able to pick your own free food is such a good feeling! 

The Falling Fruit website has some spots where you can pick your own food from public land, as well as places where you can go ‘dumpster diving’ for food which is thrown away by supermarkets, cafes and restaurants. 

I haven’t done this myself, but if you have then please let me know how you get on!  As a middle ground in supermarkets, I always trawl the reduced section to find discounted food to eat that day, which can still save a bunch of cash, although sometimes the discount is negligible so compare the original price with the discount offer.

I’ve also enjoyed plenty of free meals while doing work exchanges, as at least some meals are usually included in placements, and may also be offered for other volunteering or work abroad programs. 

In smaller, rural communities you may also find that people leave out food like fruit or vegetables that they have harvested from their garden and can’t eat themselves.  In those cases, make sure to follow the instructions and leave some money in the honesty box if requested.

Group of Friends smiling together - Staying with Friends and Family Around the World Can Save a Lot of Money
Staying with Friends and Family Around the World Can Save a Lot of Money

Use Your Friends and Family

Heritage Travel

If you are travelling to learn more about your heritage and family history then you may be able to do it for free.    

These programs are usually geared towards young people who stay with host families and have an educational trip to better understand their cultural identity.  In some cases, a portion of the airfare may be covered too.

The programs I’m aware of are: Birthright Israel, Heritage Greece, ReConnect Hungary, Birthright Macedonia, Birthright Armenia and CubaOne, although there may well be more. 

Stay with Friends or Family

One huge benefit of travelling is meeting people from around the world.  If you keep in touch with friends from previous trips, they may well offer you a place to stay or at least show you around some of their favourite haunts. 

Don’t forget to check with relatives for contacts in the area too, a lot of people will be happy to welcome you into their homes – but don’t outstay your welcome! 

Birthday, Christmas, and Wedding Gifts

If travel really is a priority for you, then for Christmas, birthdays, and other celebrations you can ask for money towards your next trip, gear to take with you, or for activities to do while you’re there. 

The best-known ‘free’ holiday is a honeymoon of course, that’s a huge perk of inviting everyone you know to the wedding – a better chance of having a dream trip all paid for!

Work to Travel

Grabr delivery of stuff

How would you like to earn money every time you travel, just by delivering something?  And no, it’s not drugs, and yes, it is legal!  In countries all around the world, people want to buy things that aren’t available in their country.  Grabr allows people to request orders from people who are travelling who purchase the item for them and deliver it to them, without having to pay expensive postage and import costs. 

Upload your travel plans to Grabr to see requested orders on your route.  Choose the order(s) you want to deliver and arrange the details with the shoppers.  The shopper pays Grabr, who hold the payment.  You buy the item with your own money and deliver it in person to the shopper, then Grabr will release the funds to you.

It all sounds pretty straight forward, although I haven’t tried it myself, I know people who have.  Next time I set off on a trip I’m definitely going to check it out!

Language Exchanges

I only recently heard about this but am interested to give it a try.  Companies such as Pueblo Ingles and Angloville run language exchange holidays where volunteers get a free stay at one of their holiday centres in Europe.  You pay for your flights to the country, and any accommodation before the program officially begins, then everything is covered by the company.

The catch?  Speaking with the language exchange students for up to 12 hours a day.  You don’t need any teaching qualifications; you simply have to chat.  This type of program is not suitable if you want some relaxing alone time, but if you are a chatty person who has plenty of stories to share from your travels and day to day life this could be a great fit!

Student Working Holidays

Students and young people are often eligible for different visas to allow them to work and travel more freely than the rest of us, so if that’s you, take advantage of it while you can!  When I was studying at University I (as a British person) worked in the USA one summer using the J1 visa exchange program. 

I joined BUNAC’s Work America program which helped me to find a job and arrange the visa I needed to spend the summer working on a ranch in Wisconsin.  I didn’t earn a huge amount of cash, but it was enough to cover my costs for the trip and I had a great time.  It was my first solo trip and it was one hell of an adventure!

BUNAC has been running since the 1960s and can help you arrange working holidays in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, America, Germany and the UK, as well as arranging volunteer opportunities in various countries too.

Woman sitting with a laptop on a beach with palm trees in the background - Become a Digital Nomad and Earn Money As You Travel
Become a Digital Nomad and Earn Money As You Travel

Become a Digital Nomad

There are hundreds of jobs that you could do online, and work from anywhere in the world.  Even jobs which were traditionally office-based are becoming more flexible, and you can even become a digital nomad without any experience with some beginner-level online jobs.

Working online will of course require a good internet connection, so travelling while working can be a challenge in some countries.  Many digital nomads prefer to find a base for a month or two (or more), so they have a fixed base with reliable internet before moving on to the next destination.

I work full time on my travel blog which means I can work from anywhere, but you don’t need to start a blog to do that.  Writers, web designers, virtual assistants, English teachers, video editors, digital marketing, social media managers can also do that, and there are hundreds of other freelance and permanent jobs which can be easily done 100% online.

Work Abroad

Working in another country obviously isn’t a way to travel for free, but if travel is part of your job, or if your job is in another country, you can still get to travel! 

Working abroad may require a special visa, depending on where you are from and where you are travelling to, so make sure you check what is required and arrange any visas before you travel.  If you want to work with kids, you will also require additional background checks.

You can apply for a permanent job abroad, although some countries often have rules in place which give preference to people from that country, so do some research before applying.  Temporary or seasonal work may be easier to get.

A lot of temporary work abroad is in the tourism industry and can be great fun.  It is still a job though, so you will be expected to start on time, complete all the required tasks and be somewhat professional.  However, after hours, workers have chance to let their hair down and have a great time!

In days off you can explore the area and get to know the local people and culture much better than you would in a ‘normal’ trip.  Some jobs will provide accommodation, whereas others may require you to rent your own room nearby, so check on the costs for that before you accept the job. 

Some jobs are seasonal, others might be full time over the year.  You may choose to work a summer job in one place, then head to the mountains for a ski season over winter. 

There are lots of options for this type of job, you just need enthusiasm and some inspiration!

Here are some ideas for jobs you can get abroad to allow you to travel.

Teach English Abroad

Teaching English abroad is a great way to see the world.  For most teaching positions you will need a TELF (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) qualification, which will give you the training and skills needed to get started.

Organisations like TEFL Org have online and in-person courses and access to job boards and other resources to help you find a job once you are qualified.  As well as placements in specific destinations, you can also teach English online from anywhere in the world.

Au Pair

If you enjoy working with children, getting a job as an au pair could be a great option for you.  Au pairs usually live with a family and look after the children, perhaps taking them to school, doing some housework and cooking some meals for them.  Au pairs are typically younger people from 18-26 years old as they are often eligible for student or exchange visas.

Applying for au pair jobs through an agency is probably best, as they offer more safety and security for you and the families looking for an au pair.  Check out the British Au Pair Agencies Association         in the UK or the Department of State Au Pair program in the US as a good place to start.

Work as a Tour Guide

Travel companies who run tours around the world need tour guides.  Some prefer to have guides who are locally based, so you could guide in your local area or your own country, while others have opportunities to guide tours abroad too.  Overland tour companies such as Intrepid Travel, G Adventures and Oasis Overland are a good place to start.     

Crew a Yacht

Not recommended if you suffer from sea-sickness, but if you are fond of water then working on a yacht can bag you a free adventure on the open sea.

Bar Work

Bar work means long hours and can be very busy and noisy.  But if you’re prepared to work hard and play hard this could be a great choice for you, especially if you can earn extra cash in tips.  

Work on a Campsite

There are various jobs on campsites that you could do – receptionist, cleaner, entertainer or kids club worker among others.  I worked on a campsite in France for the summer after I finished University and had a great time!

Work in a Hotel or Hostel

I’ve done this in several different countries, and I love it.  There are various roles you can apply for from wait staff to receptionist and more.  Speaking other languages is useful for customer-facing roles.  Learn more about working in a hostel by reading about my experience as a hostel volunteer here.

Theme Park Attendant

Theme parks, water parks and funfairs all take on extra staff for busy holiday periods.  Be prepared to spend a lot of time outdoors!

Ski Season

If you prefer the cold, then head to the mountains to work a ski season.  You don’t even need to ski as you can also find jobs as cleaning staff, a chalet cook or working in bars and restaurants too.

Diving Instructor

If you are a diver or are thinking about getting your PADI certificate, build on your training to become a divemaster or instructor so you can get a job in one of the hundreds of diving schools around the world.  Take a look at the PADI website for more information and inspiration to see what you could do.

Credit cards on a blue denim background - Travel Hacking with Credit Card Points Means You Can Travel For Free
Travel Hacking with Credit Card Points Means You Can Travel For Free

Travel Hacking

If you’re a savvy shopper and always looking out for the best deals and travel hacks, then these are for you.  You’ll need to spend some money in order to get rewards in return, but it can be worth it if you find the right deal!  Travel hacking is not my forte, but here are some ideas to get you started!

Travel Credit Cards 

Generally, credit cards in the USA have much better points programs than in the UK, but it is worth doing some research.  If you can earn points by spending your day-to-day expenses on a credit card, then it really is a no-brainer, as long as you only spend what you can afford to pay.

Popular options for credit cards with great rewards include Chase Sapphire and other Chase cards in the USA, but I am not a financial advisor and am not responsible for your personal finance so be sure to do your own research before signing up for any credit card.  Remember,  don’t spend money on it if it would mean you end up in debt at the end of the month!  

Airline Rewards

If you are a frequent flyer, for example, due to your work, then airline rewards points can provide you with free flights!  You usually need to take a lot of flights to finally earn enough for a free flight, but if you can earn airline points on your credit card as well then you could end up earning enough much sooner!

Other rewards cards offer benefits such as airport lounge access which can bag you free food and drink at the airport or an upgrade.

Loyalty Programs

Similar to credit card rewards, some loyalty programs award free night stays and other benefits.  Hotels.com offer the 10th night free whereas large hotel chains have their own rewards cards which work in a similar way to airline points.  Even car rental companies have their own rewards programs! 

In theory, you may as well sign up for as many loyalty programs as possible but check the rules and benefits of your favourite brand’s program.  Remember that some credit cards may offer points on hotels, flights and car hire which could work out better than signing up for the individual programs as you can earn points quicker.

Cashback Websites

This isn’t exactly a way to travel for free, but it will give you free money to use towards your next trip, so why not?  Cashback websites such as QuidCo (UK) and Rakuten (USA) give you money back on purchases made via their website, which seems like a no-brainer to me. 

Search for cashback websites in your region to find a local equivalent. However, make sure you can’t find what you’re buying cheaper anywhere else before you purchase. 

Volunteer for Bumping

Flight companies assume that a certain percentage of people booked on a flight won’t show up, so they often sell more seats than they actually have available.  This means that popular routes are often over-booked, and when the people all show up and want to fly, the airlines ask for volunteers to be bumped to another flight.

If you are in a rush to get somewhere then this isn’t for you, but if you have time on your hands and a flexible itinerary, volunteers are usually offered vouchers as a thank you for giving up your seat, in addition to putting you on the next available flight.  Use your vouchers to buy a free flight next time, but accept that there is no guarantee.

A good time to try this is over peak times such as Christmas and other holiday periods.  At the gate, hang out close to the boarding gate desk so that you’re at the front of the queue when they ask for volunteers. 

Final Thoughts on How to Travel The World for Free

I truly believe that everyone should be able to travel if they want to, so I hope that these free travel tips will help you to follow your dreams and all you to travel abroad for free, or even explore your own country if you prefer.  I’ve got lots more articles on budget travel and how to travel cheap so browse the site or comment below if you need more help or advice about travelling for free!

You might also want to check out:

How to Save Money for Travel

How to Save Money While Travelling

How to Make Money While Travelling

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