Whenever I ask readers what the number one thing holding them back from traveling is I almost always get the same answer: Money.
This is something I hear from everyone I talk to: “Matt, I simply don’t have enough money to travel.”
This problem — and how to overcome it — is my most asked question. Over the past 12 years, I have answered this question in a plethora of posts, emails, tweets, and Facebook posts. Long-term readers might even be getting sick of me discussing this subject because it is one I talk about so much.
But I know no matter how often I address this question, it will come up again.
Since this question comes up so often, I like to constantly remind people of this fact: You do not need to be rich to travel.
Let’s repeat that: You do not need to be rich to travel.
There are plenty of ways to travel on a budget (and for free) — you just need to be willing to get creative.
Traveling the world with no money sounds like an impossible dream. But it is possible, and you can do it responsibly without breaking the bank. It should be said that there are some expenses you shouldn’t compromise on (like travel insurance) but there are tons of ways you can travel the world on a budget — including plenty of ways you can actually travel for free.
In this post, I’m going to show you two things:
- How to travel cheap
- How to travel for free
Traveling cheap is all about taking advantage of helpful apps and websites that save you money, finding ways to lower your expenses, and even making money as you travel. It’s about finding value and lowering your expenses while still being able to afford to do what you want.
Traveling for free entails taking advantage of free accommodation, transportation, and activities that are already out there, thereby reducing your cost to zero. Here, you sacrifice comfort and convenience to extend your travels as long as possible.
With the right budget and the right mindset, you can make your travel dreams a reality. Even if you don’t earn a lot or you have debt, there are still plenty of ways to go overseas (I still had debt when I went on my first trip around the world). They may not be fancy or luxurious, but if travel is your priority then you can definitely make it happen!
Ready to kick-start your budget travels and save money?
Get a Job Overseas
Not making enough money at your job? Or, even worse, are you working a job you hate? Why not get a job overseas? There are plenty of opportunities in the world as long as you aren’t picky. After all, this isn’t a career you are starting — it’s just a way to earn money for travel.
Here are some popular (and easy to find) jobs you can get when you travel:
- Au pair – An au pair is a live-in caregiver who helps a host family by looking after their children and doing some basic housekeeping. In exchange, you get free room and board and a small salary. This is a great route if you’re looking to learn a new language or immerse yourself in a new culture. You can read this post for more info on being an au pair.
- Bartender – It’s always 5 o’clock somewhere, so if you have the skills then this is an easy job to move overseas. It’s also an easy job to get under the table if you decide to go that route. If you don’t have the skills to tend bar, consider being a dishwasher or busser.
- Hostel worker – Hostel workers rarely stick around for long, which means there is always a demand for new help. It’s a great way to meet other travelers while adjusting to a new location. You can usually also start off as a volunteer (in exchange for a free room) to avoid visa complications. Three websites that can help you find hostels to volunteer at are Worldpackers, Workaway, and HelpX.
- Waitress/waiter – There are tons of seasonal restaurants around the world that need extra help during the busy tourist months. If you have experience, this is an easy job to find abroad.
- Farm worker – While hardly glamorous, if you don’t mind the hard work this is a great way to make a lot of money in a short period of time (as you won’t have time to spend your money because you’ll be farming out in the middle of nowhere!). This job is very popular in Australia and New Zealand.
- Dive instructor – If you have your certification, this is an easy job to travel with as dive instructors are needed everywhwere. Best of all, these jobs are usually in picturesque tropical locations!
- Tour guide – If you’ve got a knack for history and don’t mind speaking in front of groups, this is the perfect job for you. It’s also usually a cash job, which means you get your tips directly.
- Cruise ship worker – This is a much more formal position than the ones above, but it’s a great way to travel. The hours are long, but there’s something to be said about living at sea!
- Casino worker – While this might require some training, if you’re a night owl and don’t mind the casino scene this is a fun job to work abroad.
- Seasonal worker at ski resorts – Instructors, restaurant staff, hotel staff, lifeguards — ski resorts need all sorts of staff to keep things moving, making this a goldmine for the overseas traveler (as long as you don’t mind the snow!).
- Yacht worker – While the hours can be long, you can make great money working for the rich and famous on their yachts. Best of all, you’re usually in some pretty amazing destinations!
- Yoga instructor – If you have the skills (and certification), teaching yoga abroad is an easy way to make some spending money. While you might need to know the language, there are yoga studios in pretty much every city in the world.
Working overseas often gets discounted as an option because it seems hard to do. It’s not. Just be open. These jobs don’t require advanced degrees or a lot of work experience either.
Are you going to get a high-paying office job? No.
Will you get a shitty, low-wage job that will pay all your travel bills? Yep!
I’ve met people from all walks of life, both from Western and non-Western countries, funding their travels this way. It’s an easy, fun way to lengthen your travels, deepen your experience, and make a little money.
Teach English Overseas
One of the best ways to make money for travel is to teach English overseas. You can make a lot of money teaching — I replenished my travel funds while working in Thailand, and I have had friends leave South Korea with tens of thousands of dollars in the bank.
All you need is the ability to speak English fluently and a TEFL degree, depending on the country you work in. The world is yearning for teachers, and this is a job in high demand; many companies in Asia will even pay for your flight over.
If you have a college or university degree you’ll be able to make more money and apply for better positions though it’s not necessary for many countries.
Additionally, there are many websites and services out there that allow you to teach virtually. As long as you have a great Wi-Fi connection, you can help people learn English from anywhere in the world!
Some places you can teach online are:
Do WWOOFing and Work on a Farm
WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It’s a platform that allows you to work on a farm in exchange for free room and board. It’s a great way to see a destination in-depth while allowing you to commune with the great outdoors. You have to pay to get to the farm, but once you are there, everything else is covered! It definitely will help you travel cheap as well as have a unique experience and meet lots of cool people.
WWOOF has opportunities available in 130 countries around the world, with over 12,000 hosts available. Some of the most popular destinations for WWOOFers are France, Italy, Costa Rica, Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii.
Use the Sharing Economy
Use the sharing economy to find cheaper accommodation, quirky tour guides, rideshare options, and home-cooked meals with local chefs. You can bypass the traditional travel industry with sharing economy websites and gain access to locals using their own assets and skills to become small tourism companies with cheaper prices. Moreover, locals know where to find deals. They know which supermarket is cheapest, which stores offer the best sales, and where to find the hole-in-the-wall restaurants and bars with the tastiest food at the lowest prices. Talking directly to them gives you access to that knowledge.
These websites have changed the travel game and made travel more accessible for everyone.
Here are some of my favorite websites:
- Airbnb – The go-to platform for finding budget accommodation.
- BlaBlaCar – A ride-sharing app that connects you with drivers who have extra seats in their car (primarily for medium and long distances).
- EatWith – Platform that connects you with local cooks serving private meals.
- RVShare – Lets you rent RVs and camper vans directly from locals.
- Turo – A car sharing marketplace that lets you rent vehicles from locals.
- Campspace – This platform lets you camp on private property. Properties range from basic tent plots to luxurious glamping and RV stays.
Cook Your Own Meals
The best way to save money on the road is to cook all your own meals. While in Stockholm, I spent $60 USD for a week’s worth of groceries instead of an average of $15 USD per meal eating out! That’s a saving of $150 USD!
I’ve done the same thing in dozens of countries all around the world — especially in expensive destinations like Iceland where eating out can really destroy your budget.
If you are staying in hostels, book accommodation that has a kitchen so you have space to cook. If you’re Couchsurfing or using Airbnb,your host will probably have a kitchen.
No kitchen? Pack your own container and cutlery and make some sandwiches and salads on the go. Not every meal requires a stove, right?
Just because you are traveling doesn’t mean you need to eat out every meal. You won’t ruin your trip to Paris if you decide not to eat out one day! There’s simply no reason to be spending lots of money on food on your trip!
Get Rail Passes
Rail passes (like the Eurail Pass in Europe or the JR Pass in Japan) are a great way to save money when it comes to train travel. If you’re traveling around the region for a while, rail passes will likely be much cheaper than just booking individual trips.
If you are booking individual trips, booking ahead of time can usually save you about 50% of the cost of a train ticket. However, that fixes you to a set timeline. If you don’t want to be tied into a fixed schedule, rail passes can save you a lot of money while giving you the flexibility you need. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars in Europe doing this!
Sleep in Large Dorms
Large hostel dorm rooms are the cheapest paid accommodation out there. If Couchsurfing isn’t your thing, this is your next best way to save money on a place to sleep. The bigger the dorm, the cheaper it will be. While a 4-6 bed dorm might give you more privacy, a 12-18 bed dorm is going to be a bit cheaper. In the long run, this will add up. As long as you’ve got earplugs and a sleeping mask, opt for the bigger door to keep your budget intact!
If you’re a light sleeper, make sure you read the reviews before you book to ensure you don’t choose a party hostel. In larger cities, you can usually find a hostel that is quieter than the others. It might not be as social, but you’ll at least be able to get a good sleep.
In a large dorm, you’re almost guaranteed to have some snorers. If earplugs don’t quite do the trick, download an app like Rain Rain, which plays rain sounds on a loop. You can set a timer so they stop playing after an hour or two, helping you ignore the noises of the dorm while you try to fall asleep.
Use Student and Other Discount Cards
Are you a student, teacher, or under 26? Welcome to the world of 50%-off attractions and a plethora of discounts! Get a student/teacher/youth card and save big while you’re abroad. Even if you’ve recently graduated, chances are you can still get by with your expired ID card (as long as it doesn’t have an expiry date). Always ask if there are discounts available for students or youth as this is an easy way to save tons of cash as you travel around!
Museums, galleries, and other major tourist attractions usually have discounts (especially in Europe). It never hurts to ask!
Get City Tourist Cards
If you plan on seeing a lot of sights in a city, you should get a city tourism card. These will offer you discounted and/or free access to the major attractions and museums, as well as free public transportation. I saved over $100 USD with the London pass, $80 USD with the Paris Museum card, $50 USD with a Helsinki card, and tons more with other city tourism cards.
They are an amazing way to save money on attractions that not enough people use. Just head to the local tourism office to find out what cards are available. They can help answer all your questions and make sure you save as much money as possible. Not every city has them, but most major destinations do and you’ll save a lot of money if you plan on seeing the major sights.
Capitalize on Your Skills
Need some cash? Use Craigslist, TaskRabbit, , or Gumtree to find people who need a few things done around the house and get paid to help them. It’s a way to make money when you travel without committing to a long-term job.
Additionally, if you have a skill, sell it. Offer haircuts to other travelers, busk for money, provide online services like editing, graphic design, or consulting. It’s never been easier to work online. As long as you have Wi-Fi you can make money. The sky is the limit here — get creative!
Travel Hack and Get Free Flights!
Travel hacking is the #1 way I’ve been able to afford so many flights and hotels over the years. Simply by using a travel credit card for regular spending on groceries, restaurants, and shopping I’ve been able to earn free flights and hotel stays — all by spending money I was going to spend anyway!
These days, there are tons of ways to earn free flights. Simpley sign up for a few travel credit cards, collect miles, and then fly for free.
Most cards offer sign-up bonuses of 50,000 points (or more) — which is often enough for a free round-trip flight right there. And if you sign up for both an airline card (e.g., a United Airlines credit card) and a general rewards card like the Chase Sapphire, you can combine the two point balances and get a cheap flight faster.
By collecting points and miles through credit card bonuses, smart everyday spending, online surveys, bonuses, and other methods, you’ll accrue a ton of miles even before you’ve left for your trip. You can go a lot further in the world when you take away the cost of flights and some accommodation.
It’s not just for Americans either (though US residents have the best options). Canadians can travel hack too, as can folks from Australia and New Zealand and the UK.
Europeans also have several options as well, including all kinds of airline cards such as Norweigan Air, SAS, Aer Lingus, Lufthansa, and more.
Stay for Free
There are many services that connect travelers with locals who are willing to let them stay with them for free. Using these sites, you will never have to pay for accommodation. Years ago I read about a guy who traveled for years while only Couchsurfing.
I’ve used this service dozens of times over the years times and always meet amazing people. Sometimes you get a room, sometimes a couch, sometimes an air mattress, but it’s always free.
Ideally, you’ll want to repay your host’s kindness by cooking them a meal, bringing them a souvenir from home, or taking them out for a drink. But that will still be much cheaper than paying for accommodation!
There are also local Couchsurfing group meet-ups that can help you make friends in your new city.
Moreover, because of the rise of the sharing economy in the last few years, there are now websites that let you not only stay with locals but share rides, meals, train tickets, gear, and much more! These websites not only save you a TON of money but they also get you off the tourist track and into the local life. Win-win! Here is a list of websites to use for free accommodation:
Hitchhiking is a free way to get around that is relatively safe and quite common in many parts of the world, including Central America, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
I’ve hitchhiked in more than a handful of countries (and I know solo female travelers who have done the same!). Sure, it has a bad reputation in North America, but with some common sense and a bit of patience, you can hitchhike almost anywhere — saving you tons of money in the process!
Here are a few basic tips to help you get started:
- Use a sign – Make a clear sign that lets people know where you’re heading. That will help drivers decide if they can help.
- Look presentable – Wear clean clothing, smile, and don’t obscure your face with something like sunglasses. People want to see who they are picking up.
- Check the laws – Hitchhiking is illegal in some places. Always check the laws to make sure it’s ok to do where you are.
- Take precautions – Note the license plate of anyone who picks you up and text it to a friend. Chances are you won’t need it but it’s better to be safe than sorry!
- Keep your valuables on you – Don’t leave any valuables in your bag if it goes in the trunk in case it gets left in the car (or stolen).
- Consult Hitchwiki – Hitchwiki is the #1 hitchiking resource there is. Always consult it before you hitchhike to pick up tips and ensure you’re hitchhiking in a safe place.
Take Free Walking Tours
Want to learn about the city, get your bearings, and see the major sights? Take a free walking tour. You can find them in most major cities — just ask the local tourist office, your hostel staff, or Google “free walking tour (city name).”
You’ll get a solid introduction to the city while also getting access to a local guide you can ask questions to. I always start my visits to a new city with one. Just be sure to tip your guide at the end (that’s how they get paid).
House Sitting & Pet Sitting
If you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford a vacation, consider watching someone’s house while they go on theirs! You can sign up for one of the sites below and watch people’s homes (and their pets) for free, allowing you to stay in one destination for a while without having to pay for accommodation. Everyone’s account is verified and has reviews so you know you won’t get cheated.
This is a great platform for long-term travel with an important added bonus: you get a kitchen to cook your food (which saves you even more money!).
You will also often get access to a vehicle and sometimes will be left a tip or free groceries. It’s usually people who are well off that can afford multi-month vacations so you’re usually in pretty nice homes and apartments too!
Here are the best house-sitting websites to check out:
- Trusted Housesitters
- Home Exchange
- House Carers
Use Your Social Network
Does your colleague have a relative in Spain? Or maybe you have a distant cousin who lives in New Zealand. Or maybe a childhood friend of yours is working down in Brazil.
These days, we have a vast social network of friends and family that stretches across the globe. Don’t hesitate to use that! Ask your co-workers and friends if they know anyone where you’re going. Get your mom to ask her co-workers and friends, too.
Using your social network can be hugely helpful in traveling the world. You never know who knows who!
Because if I can do it, you can do it too!
Whether it’s two months, two years, or just a two-week vacation, travel doesn’t need to cost a ton. The key is to get out of the mindset that you must travel using a flight/hotel combination. Using out-of-the-box, nontraditional ways to travel can lead to big savings.
It all starts with a change in mindset. From there, with some patience and practice, you’ll be able to make your travel dreams a reality — without breaking the bank!
This article was originally posted on Nomadic Matt.