Let’s talk about how to travel the world for free, also known as extreme budget travel. Can it be done? Is it actually possible to travel with no money at all?
The cost of travel, is often the main reason people feel they are held back from travelling the world, or even travelling within their own country.
Often the mindset of ‘travel is expensive’ is the problem here. Travel does not have to be expensive. There really are many ways to travel for cheap or for free.
And there are ways you can significantly reduce your costs, by considering the many alternative ways to travel. I have travelled for a long time on a tiny budget – sometimes almost no budget – just by changing the way I travel.
In my 10+ years of travelling, I believe I have perfected the art of how to travel the world for free, when I need to. Well…almost free.
Learning how to travel with no money CAN be done. And although I have never started a trip with zero dollars, there have been times where I’ve had no money and I have had to be very resourceful, whilst travelling.
It’s not as black and white as free travel, every day, all the time. There will be small sacrifices you’ll need to make, to be able to travel the world for free.
By using the resources below you can make most of your travel for free, however you will always need some money or a backup fund, to buy things you can’t always get for free. Such as an activity or tour fee, travel beauty products, medication, clothing, alcohol and some food items.
I don’t ever recommend anyone goes travelling with absolute zero in the bank account. Life on the road would be pretty miserable if you didn’t even have the funds for a beer or to buy some souvenirs.
And let’s get real, no-one is going to pay for you, to enjoy full-time luxury travel around the world, wherever and whenever you want it (but if anyone is offering, hit me up!).
However all you have to do is get a little creative in the way you travel, and think about how you can narrow down or eliminate the larger costs, until you’re only left with the small costs – or none!
Eliminating your accommodation costs in an expensive city or getting free transport to your next destination, can be a significant saving and would make a large sector of your travel, completely free!
In this post, I’m going to show you all the ways to get free accommodation, free food or free transport, or significantly stretch your travel budget further, so you can learn how to travel the world for free, when you need to.
HOW TO TRAVEL THE WORLD FOR FREE
EARN AIR MILES TO TRAVEL FOR FREE
Air miles – use them! Choose and sign up to a few travel credit cards with great travel perks, collect the air miles, then redeem them for free flights. Some travel credit cards even give you a tonne of air miles, as a sign-up bonus.
This practice is also known as travel hacking and it requires some serious research, together with knowledge of the rewards programs. It’s worth it though, as ultimately it can result in getting completely free flights.
I know travel credit card availability varies by country, for example I know the USA and Canada have excellent credit card options, offering significant air miles and points deals, which makes travel hacking way easier if you live there.
Unfortunately some countries such as the UK or Australia, don’t have access to the same options (sad face). They do have credit cards that offer air miles, however they’re just not as lucrative or flexible as the USA or Canada options.
Wherever you live, research your country’s travel credit card options and apply for the best deal you can find. Then start racking up the air miles.
GET FREE FLIGHTS
If you don’t have enough air miles or you want to try something different, when you’re at the airport, volunteer to be bumped on your flight. It’s not a guaranteed way to get free flights, but it often works. You’ll be bumped onto the next flight out and in exchange you’ll get a free flight voucher, which you can then use on another trip.
To increase your chances of getting chosen, make sure you:
- Choose a popular flight that’s likely to get overbooked
- Pack only carry on luggage, so that you’re easier to move off the flight
- Volunteer on check in and be super friendly to the staff
GET CHEAP FLIGHTS
If you’re not able to get a travel credit card or able to get any free flights by volunteering to be bumped, don’t worry! Just get yourself an amazingly cheap flight using SkyScanner instead.
SkyScanner is amazing and the Godfather of flight search engines. I have found SO many cheap flight deals using SkyScanner and I book lots of my flights using it.
HOW TO TRAVEL THE WORLD FOR FREE OR TRAVEL WITH NO MONEY
TRAVEL THE WORLD FOR FREE WITH… FREE ACCOMMODATION
Help Exchange is a culture where volunteer helpers work for a host, offering their skills in exchange for accommodation and food. There are many online platforms now that connect Hosts and Helpers, including HelpX, Workaway and WWOOFing.
Hosts can be anything from homestays, farmstays and B & B’s to lodges, hostels and camp-sites and they invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short term, and work 4-5 hours a day in exchange for accommodation and food.
You pay a small fee to sign up to the platform you choose and get access to thousands of work exchange listings around the world.
It’s an amazing opportunity to share and learn new skills, learn about a new culture, see a new place and save on your accommodation costs, making your travel budget go even further.
We did a Workaway in the Catlins in New Zealand, considered one of the unspoilt and stunning regions of the country. We got to live in rugged wilderness on a campsite with windswept beaches and beautiful waterfalls nearby.
Contrastingly we also did a HelpX in Perth, Western Australia where we lived on the vibrant strip of Victoria Park, alive with eateries and bars, whilst working as a home help.
WORKING FOR ACCOMMODATION IN HOSTELS
Some hostels offer a working for accommodation option, where you work 2-3 hours a day, usually cleaning, housekeeping or on the Reception desk, in exchange for a free bed. I worked at a hostel in Auckland as Night Shift Receptionist where I was checking late arrivals in, in exchange for a free bed.
So next time you check into a hostel in a place you want to spend some time in, ask if they have any working for accommodation availability and spend zero on accommodation costs whilst you’re there!
This is my favourite way to get free accommodation. If I’m staying somewhere for a while, I like to have my own space, especially if I have freelance work to do. And I love to have a Doggo friend to hug too.
House sitting is the ultimate way to get free accommodation when you travel and have all the comforts of home, including a pet to hang out with.
House Sitters get to live rent-free in exchange for taking care of the Homeowner’s pets, maintenance and housekeeping, taking care of the gardens and keeping everything running smoothly, whilst they’re away.
You can find a few house sitting jobs in some social media groups, although it’s worth paying a little to find reliable house sitting job listings. I use websites such as Trusted House Sitters and House Carers to find house sitting jobs around the world.
Through these websites, we’ve found house sitting jobs in Thailand, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand which meant we were able to travel those countries really cheaply. We’ve stayed in some beautiful houses in exotic locations, so when you think about what you’re getting, it’s completely worth the cheap membership fee.
It’s easy to land a house sitting job if you put in some effort and if you need some extra help, read my guide on how to become a house sitter and get house sitting jobs.
CouchSurfing is probably the best way to get free short term accommodation and meet like-minded people, around the world. It’s a hospitality/social media sharing network where you stay with locals in their home for free and experience a different way of seeing the world.
Couchsurfing hosts offer their spare room (or their couch), for a few nights – for free. It’s a fair-exchange based community, so in return you should offer the same in your home country, to travellers who may need it.
It’s free for everyone to join and although no payment is required to Couchsurf, please don’t treat it like a hotel stay. Engage with your host and let them show you their town or city, that’s what the network exists for. Couchsurfers can show their thanks or gratitude to the Host by cooking one night or buying them a gift, or even just a few beers.
Global Freeloaders is another alternative to Couchsurfing.
Volunteer positions around the world usually include accommodation, usually onsite and it is offered in gratitude for your time. You can find volunteering opportunities anywhere around the world, on a range of projects.
Make sure volunteering is the focus of your intention, as you are expected to work and with some added passion and enthusiasm for the cause too.
I don’t really support the ‘Volun-tourism’ opportunities that are out there, because they appear to value profit over the best interests of the cause (in my opinion). They’re also pretty expensive.
No-one should charge you large amounts for volunteering your time, if they are it’s probably being marketed as a tour or an ‘experience’.
So look for ethical and credible volunteer positions that are often free, on Grassroots Volunteering or VSO International. IVHQ is another good one to try and whilst they’re not free, they keep their fees low and ensure they only go towards the community projects.
If you take a tent with you or you happen to have a campervan, you can take advantage of free camping or wild camping in lots of countries.
For instance in Australia and New Zealand there’s a huge network of free camping sites with basic amenities, where you can camp for free, with a campervan or a tent.
For completely unrestricted wild camping try Sweden, Kyrgyzstan, Norway or Iceland.
Always check each country for restrictions, buy camping gear suitable for the climate and check for dangers or natural hazards wherever you decide to setup camp.
Home Exchange also known as ‘house swapping’ is where you literally swap homes with someone else in a different city or country and get free holiday accommodation around the world. Obviously this will only work for you if you already have a home to exchange.
TRAVEL THE WORLD FOR FREE WITH…– FREE FOOD
HELP EXCHANGE MEALS
The best way to get free food, is if you’re at a Help Exchange placement through HelpX or Workaway, because your meals will almost always be included in the exchange. So you can save heaps on grocery costs. This is a huge saving out of your travel budget when you’re living in countries like Australia, New Zealand or Europe, where the cost of living is very high.
FOOD FESTIVALS AND EVENTS
If you are able to help out with any cultural or religious food festivals, you may get free food in return for your help. It’s always worth asking if you can help out in the kitchen, if you know of a food festival happening nearby.
DONATION BASED RESTAURANTS
There are plenty of donation-based cafes and restaurants around the world.
Lentil as Anything in some Sydney and Melbourne locations in Australia is an amazing, donation-based vegetarian restaurant, with the motto ‘Food Without Borders’. They operate on the values that everyone should have access to healthy food, without borders of race or gender, finance or social status.
So there are no set prices and you pay what you can afford for your meal, as well as volunteer for them. All food is home-made and vegetarian.
And in most cities, you will find Hare Krishna temples or restaurants, where you can often get free vegetarian food. Most people go to the Hare Krishna temples for the free food, although it’s also a great place to learn about a new culture.
Some Hare Krishna restaurants encourage a donation, so if you do go to a restaurant and eat, it’s just nice to leave something to show gratitude even if it isn’t much.
FOOD COURT, BAKERIES OR SUPERMARKET REDUCTIONS
If you rock up to most bakeries or food courts at closing time, you are very likely to be able to get heavily reduced food items. Think bread and pastries at bakeries, and sushi, salad bowls or fresh sandwiches from food courts.
Okay so it’s not completely free food, but I often go check out places at closing time and I always get food at least half price, sometimes up to 75% off. Try to go around an hour before they close for reduced prices and focus on the outlets that sell fresh or cooked food. Food that’s packaged or sealed won’t be such an urgency to sell.
As for supermarkets, it differs between countries but from my experience, they reduce the meat, fish and dairy early in the morning before opening and baked goods or other chilled items at closing times.
Keep an eye out for food sample tastings in supermarkets. You won’t get a whole meal this way, but you can fill up on anything you can sample from the deli counter and any promotional food stands that are around.
Look out for the free alcohol tastings in the wine and spirits section too 🙂
I have more luck with this method of getting free food, by hitting the more upscale, speciality supermarkets.
DUMPSTER DIVING OR FREEGANISM
Controversial topic but each to their own. I completely agree with the concept of ‘Dumpster diving’ or ‘Freeganism’ and I myself, have experienced food insecurity or vulnerability before.
I fully believe we waste too much food as a society and when we mass produce enough food to feed the entire planet – why are people still going hungry?
Try it at your own risk, some countries have charged people with dumpster diving as a crime, even though I think that is insane, when food is going to be thrown out. (Don’t get me started on this issue!)
GLEANING OR FORAGING
Another similar practice to Freeganism is ‘Foraging’ or ‘Gleaning’. A celebration of the bounty of the fallen food, that is naturally growing or available on city streets or in your neighbourhood.
Check out Falling Fruit for information, an interactive guide on where to start and a sharing page that lists places that grow food in public spaces, such as food forests and public orchards.
TRAVEL THE WORLD FOR FREE WITH… FREE TRANSPORT
Hitchhiking is a great way to travel the world for free. You stand on the side of a road with your thumb out (or a sign with where you want to go, written on it) and flag down a ride to your next destination.
You need to use your best judgement with hitchhiking and always do your best to stay safe. In New Zealand I felt it was safe to hitchhike multiple times with my partner and I even hitchhiked alone a few times.
New Zealand is known for being relatively safe to hitchhike in, I believe this is because New Zealand is sparsely populated and has a small town feel everywhere you go, so this lulls travellers into a misleading state of mind that everything is safe.
But sadly every country can have it’s bad people. The recent tragic case of murdered backpacker Grace Millane in Auckland, sent shockwaves through the country in New Zealand (for reference – Grace was travelling but not hitchhiking).
I do take risks when I travel, but calculated ones. I always think through every decision I make and go with my gut if somethings not feeling right. I have hitchhiked alone here and I felt just fine about it but there have also been occasions where I have felt nervous, so I listen to my instincts and use my best judgement. Never let your guard down anywhere and only hitchhike if it feels safe.
This is why it’s important to have some money, even if you’re travelling mostly for free. Having to hitchhike because you can’t afford a bus, means you will take unnecessary risks for the sake of saving money and you’ll be placing yourself into a potentially dangerous situation.
Although most Kiwis are friendly and helpful as and the majority of hitchhiking happens without incident. I have also hitchhiked in other cities and it was all a good experience. Check out HitchWiki for hitchhiking tips and if you feel Hitchhiking isn’t for you, go for the more organised Ride Sharing option.
RIDE SHARING GROUPS
There are a few networks and groups on social media, that focus on organising Rideshares so you can arrange a ride with another like-minded traveller. We have used these groups on Facebook in the past, to get a ride from Dunedin to The Catlins in New Zealand.
Public transport is limited going down to the isolated Catlins region and we were trying to get to a Workaway placement we had arranged. We hooked up with a Dutch guy who had a van and there was 4 of us in total, the driver, my partner and I and a German girl.
It was a long journey, however we actually had a great time stopping off at several places to take photos, for snack stops and we even did a short hike to a lighthouse together. I don’t remember the travellers names but they made that journey memorable for us and I’m so grateful for the ride.
Always discuss and agree on a monetary exchange before setting off or just a contribution to fuel etc.
TRANSFERCAR & IMOOVA
Car Rental Relocation is one of the best ways to travel the world for free. Car Rental companies often need their rental cars driving from from one point to another. So to save money on paying drivers or trucking vehicles, they list them on Immova or TransferCar, for anyone to drive – getting you a free ride.
You can find cars, campervans and RV’s needing reloaction and they are often free or just $1-$5 a day. Some even include free fuel. The deal is, you get a set number of days to make the journey and you can sometimes buy a couple of additional days for a few dollars.
A friend and I have done a relocation rental, through TransferCar when we needed to get from Auckland to Wellington in New Zealand. We did the journey in just one day, as it was only a car. However if it was a campervan or RV, we could’ve got more days and we could’ve done stopovers and made it into a longer road trip.
It was a 10 hour drive and only cost us $5 and that included fuel. It was an incredibly cheap way of getting from one city to another.
GETTING A LIFT FROM YOUR HOST
This one needs little explanation. If you’re doing a help exchange or a volunteering placement, sometimes the host will give you a lift to your next destination, if you ask politely.
We got a free ride from one of our New Zealand Workaway hosts which was in The Catlins, all the way to Invercargill. This was really helpful, because we hitchhiked in and The Catlins is a looong way from the nearest city.
And we almost always get offered a lift to our next house sit from the Homeowner, when we’re house sitting. Always ask, most people will be happy to help.
WORK AS BOAT CREW ON BOARD FOR FREE TRAVEL
Yes, this is actually a real way to travel the world for free. Sign up to CrewBay or CrewSeekers and you can browse through listings for sailing opportunities from boats or yacht owners looking for volunteer or novice crew.
There are some skilled, paid crew jobs available but most often if you’re a novice, you can take on simple jobs in exchange for free digs on the boat and a free journey. What better way to travel the world for free, than out on the vast ocean!
Have you discovered other ways of how to travel the world for free? Let me know in the comments below 🙂