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!
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 TrustedHousesitters.com, 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.
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.