Be Smart, Travel for Free – A Guide for Adventurers
Can you live and travel for free? As a low-budget adventurer, you often can. Free from the constraint of paying rent and taxes, the world is your playground. Awesome news, right?
There are many ways to lower your budget while traveling and, if you’re dedicated enough, you can absolutely manage to travel the world with no money.
Let me just say that in general, the cheaper you go, the more discomfort you may experience (but that can also spark immense personal growth and grant you experiences you would never have otherwise).
If challenge doesn’t scare you, you’ve come to the right place.
Not having money does not have to be awful. For example, I once went to the Canary Islands, where I spent an entire month without having to use any money AT ALL. Zero. And I was perfectly comfortable, well-fed, and happy. I had a fantastic time.
So, are you wondering how you can travel for free or with a very low budget? I’ll walk you through the three main costs travelers usually have (and how to avoid them): Accommodation, Transport, and Food.
My top tips to travel for free – travel with no money
Part I: How to get accommodation for free
Ready to live a rent-free life? These are a few great ways to start.
One of my favorite long-term travel tips is to become a volunteer and participate in a work exchange. You offer your skills and help and in return, you get at least free accommodation – sometimes even food.
Of course, work hours are not as many as a paid job. Usually, to keep it fair for both sides, you invest a couple of hours a day, depending on what is offered in return.
You can volunteer in hostels, dive centers, with families, at farms, in self-sustainable communities, retreat centers, yoga schools, … The opportunities are many, the only question is to find them.
The work varies just as widely, it might range from gardening to babysitting, making beds, taking professional photos, organizing, cooking, harvesting, … You get the idea. It really depends on what kind of volunteering you are looking for.
There are platforms specifically dedicated to enabling work exchange (they usually cost a small yearly fee to be able to contact the hosts). The most known ones are currently Workaway, Woofing, and Helpx.
But also outside of these platforms are plenty of opportunities. I’ve had great success simply asking at hostels if they are looking for help or reaching out directly to places I wanted to stay at.
Couchsurfing is much more than just a free bed. It is a beautiful opportunity to make friends and discover a town from the perspective of a local.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, Couchsurfing is a platform to connect travelers with local hosts who offer a place to sleep – for free – to travelers. Remember, travelers, not freeloaders. You should be seriously interested in cultural exchange and spending time with your host.
I’ve met many great people and formed some long-lasting friendships through Couchsurfing. The underlying principle of mutual trust is beautiful to witness! I’m always amazed by the kindness of strangers while traveling.
Whenever I was renting a place somewhere myself, I tried to return the favor and welcomed other travelers in my home as well, reliving the travel spirit through the stories they had to tell.
This one I haven’t tried personally yet, but I’ve heard from other travelers that housesitting is a great way to travel for free.
Often, people who own a house or apartment want to go away for longer but don’t want to leave their property abandoned. Sometimes it is simply for security reasons that they look for a trustworthy housesitter, other times there’s a pet to be taken care of, plants to be watered or a garden to be maintained.
So housesitting might come with a little bit of maintaining work, but it allows you to live in a whole flat or house to yourself while being abroad. A beautiful idea if you’re trying to stay in one place for a little longer and immerse yourself in the local culture.
Wild camping and sleeping rough
Now let’s get to one of my favorite ways of living an adventure. It’s for the more daring, but incredibly rewarding.
To me, there is little more beautiful than spending weeks traveling on foot and sleeping in a tent (or hammock or another kind of shelter) along the way. It is wonderful to reconnect with nature – and sleep for free.
Off hiking trails, many travelers also choose to sleep rough, at gas stations, bus stations, other kinds of shelters, or completely in the open.
It can be draining over time, but it is less scary than one might think. If you trust your guts, you usually will be okay.
Personally, I always seek out nature if I’m traveling on my own – it is way safer than any city could be and you’re almost guaranteed to have an undisturbed night. Possibly even under the stars, what could be better than that?!
It really shows that living and the world are essentially for free. We are part of nature, and there’s always a place for us to rest our tired bones.
Read as well: Alone in the wild: Why more women should go solo camping
One of the benefits of traveling is that you get to meet a lot of fantastic people. And as someone who gets to meet a lot of fantastic people, you end up having friends in all corners of the world.
Having traveler connections is not only great because you already know someone in a new town, but they usually also have a free place to sleep for you.
And if you don’t know someone in that town yourself, maybe you have a friend of a friend…? Often, there’s someone happy to host you and make a new friend.
Again, that’s assuming you’re interested in making genuine connections – simply crashing at people’s places for free to take advantage of them isn’t exactly the nice way. Repay the favor, whether that’s by cooking them a nice meal or simply spending quality time together.
Other questionable ways to get accommodation for free
Part II: How to travel around with no money
One of the major travel costs is transport – flights, trains, busses, taxis, tuk-tuks. But, amazingly, most of these are unnecessary if you’re up for an adventure.
Yes, you can move from A to B and get to travel for free.
It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of walking. When I travel, I try to walk everywhere. Even if it takes two hours, what you discover on the way can be worth the effort.
Walking allows you to get to know hidden corners of towns that you would not find in any tourist guide. You’re assuming the perspective of the local. You get to truly explore what it’s like to live here.
And the most beautiful thing is, walking is completely free. And healthy as hell! There’s really no reason not to do it.
But what about longer distances? Well, technically, if you have a lot of time, any distance can be walked. Continents can be crossed on foot. Walking is the basis of the art of slow traveling.
Ok, but maybe you don’t want to walk everywhere. Then hitchhiking is the one for you! (Still, even when hitchhiking be prepared to walk quite a bit.)
Contrary to popular opinion, hitchhiking has not died out yet – and many older people who used to hitch in their younger days are happy to give you a lift.
To me, the most beautiful thing about hitchhiking is the stories you get to hear. You meet people you would never get to talk to otherwise. And some of their stories are wiiiiiild!
And again, there’s the beautiful aspect of trust. They are trusting you by taking you along, just as you give your safety into their hands.
While hitchhiking, it’s important to really listen to your instincts. If a driver stops and you feel uncomfortable, do not get into the car – usually, our intuition tells us within seconds if a person can be trusted or not. If you’re unsure, it’s always safer to decline and wait for the next car.
If you want to travel with no money, but you at least have a bike, you’re good to go! Cycling is faster than walking, but still, you get to enjoy the benefits of slow travel.
This way of traveling is so popular that it even has its proper name, bikepacking. With a bike and a tent, you’re off to a wicked adventure.
You decide how far you want to go each day and where to sleep. Many beautiful nature places to wild camp are easily reached by bike.
And if you ever get tired of cycling, you can easily take your bike for a train ride and treat yourself to a little break. (Or skip the terrible uphill parts, but hey, it’s all part of the challenge.)
Traveling for free the illegal way
I’m not sure whether it is a smart idea to even recommend that one in a public blog, but the fact is, people still do it. Let’s just say I don’t recommend it, but of course, you can always try to sneak your way onto public transport without a ticket.
In some places, you might risk some hefty fines, in other places nothing much happens except for you getting kicked out of the train or bus (possibly in the middle of nowhere).
A classic is also making a run for the metro in bigger cities – just about sneaking through the gate as another person passes through before it closes again.
Some people even take on the risk of train surfing, to ride on top of trains. But seriously, this one is actually dangerous and no matter how much you want to travel for free, I don’t think it’s worth risking your life for.
A magnificent journey in itself is long-distance hiking. Trails leading through steep mountain ranges and soft valleys. Footpaths bringing you into the wilderness and out again.
Especially if you’re willing to carry camping gear, you can turn long-distance hiking into the perfect low-budget trip. Sleeping in a tent: Zero cost. Walking hundreds of kilometers: Zero cost. Views: Priceless.
You might have to plan some emergency money for accommodation when the weather in the mountains gets too dangerous to stay outside or for possible rest days in towns.
But apart from that, following a trail is very cheap – after all, you do everything out of your own power. And it is truly life-changing to spend weeks, or even months, traveling at this slow pace. Everything becomes slower, and once you’re used to it, you wouldn’t want to have it any other way.
Did you know that you can hitch a boat? Yes, you caaaan!
If you’re leaving the continent or crossing over to an island, but don’t want to (or can’t) pay for a flight, this is a great option.
Head to the next port and ask around for opportunities to join the crew. Many will be glad to teach you, but of course, it helps to have a little sailing experience under the belt.
Inform yourself about the sailing seasons as well – some passages, like an Atlantic crossing, are only possible for some time of the year or the sea might be too rough.
There are also online groups, for example on Facebook, to connect hitchhikers with sailors.
Careful, you might like sailing so much that it could even become your main way of traveling – just like the Alternative World Sailing Community that travels as a sailing circus crew around the world!
Flying for free
Now, the magic question is, can you even get flights for free? Since nothing is impossible, let’s just say yes, you can.
Well, you would either have to make a friend who happens to work for an airline (they often get special deals for taking along family and friends), or go work there yourself.
Alternatively, you could start collecting flyer miles early on and eventually get a free flight.
The last one I’ve heard of is becoming an Air Courier. As such, you will transport highly sensitive documents or freight on behalf of a third party – and usually get the flight (mostly) covered.
These are definitely not easy solutions (hitching a sailboat is probably way easier), but it just shows that anything goes.
Part III: How to eat for free while traveling
Now, to me personally, getting free accommodation and transport are fairly easy, but I usually do spend some money on food (also because I just personally enjoy that). But even there are ways to save a lot of money, so you can basically eat and travel for free.
Roughly a third of the world’s food production simply goes to waste. A shocking number, but why not take advantage of it? In some places, dumpster diving is as easy as shopping at the supermarket.
Supermarkets regularly throw away food simply because it’s not looking as nice anymore or because the expiry date is approaching. However, it might still be perfectly fine for consumption.
People all over the world are taking advantage of this and go check supermarket bins to see if there is any food to be saved. Often enough, there’s such an abundance of thrown-away stuff waiting that there is no need to buy anything else. It’s quite crazy, actually.
It has to be said, however, that dumpster diving is not always legal and some supermarkets in some countries lock away their bins. Always inform yourself about the local rules and consider which risks you’re willing to take.
Generally, dumpster diving is seldomly penalized, but only if you’re not crossing any limits, such as breaking locks, etc.
Getting treated to food
I don’t want to recommend this as a planned strategy for getting free food, but the reality of traveling is that you will be invited for meals quite often.
In my experience, the more adventurous you travel, the more it tends to happen. Often, people feel inspired by your adventure and simply want to support your journey.
In some countries, it is simply a shared cultural value to practice hospitality towards travelers – if a stranger shows up in your village, you make sure they are well-fed.
It can be quite humbling, especially in regions where people don’t have much to share in the first place, to be facing such beautiful, warm-hearted hospitality.
Of course, also among travelers in hostels shared meals are common, but it’s very much a give and take. In any case, food is a beautiful way to connect!
As mentioned before, trading your skills is a super enriching way to travel for free, learn something new, and become part of a local community.
Often, the deal does not only include accommodation but food as well. It depends on the place whether they will cook for you if you are free to take food from the kitchen to cook for yourself or expected to buy your own groceries.
In some places, everyone shares the meals, in other places, volunteers cook their meals separately. It really depends. Work exchange can range anywhere from zero to all meals included, so talk to your hosts beforehand to ask how they usually handle the topic.
Usually, food is more likely to be included if you’re working in a rural area. Often, farms have an abundance of home-grown food to share and the location might be too remote to easily access supermarkets anyways.
Eat only what you can find
If having regular meals is not a necessity for you and you are very serious about wanting to travel for free, you might as well simply eat whenever an opportunity arises.
If you do a lot of walking in nature, you can pick fruits and other plants growing wild, or simply fast when you don’t find anything.
Personally, I like to have food security (because getting hangry is real), but I’ve met a couple of travelers who don’t mind fasting for a bit when cash is low.
The pros and cons of traveling for free
As you can see, there are so many ways to travel for free, and you could definitely make it for a (long) while without relying on money. Sometimes, it might even happen that people give some money to you as support for your crazy journey, or you can find ways to make some money on the side.
Yes, traveling with little or no money can be hard. You need more time, you might experience insecurity because you can never plan what happens next. You will be faced with discomfort, your own fears and you’ll have to fully embrace slow travel.
But… what waits on the other side?
The beautiful thing about traveling for free is that you get to experience so much more. You build trust with strangers, you get to experience kindness from the world and you learn to deeply connect to people.
Traveling without money really restores faith in humanity. And it brings the wildest adventures and stories to your life, more than you could have ever imagined.
Money should never be a factor to stop you from realizing your dream – there’s always a way.
It can be good to plan ahead a little bit financially, but don’t hesitate when the time has come. Just go. Once you adapt the mindset of low-budget travel, you will find more and more ways to get out of your comfort zone and travel forever.