Have a yen to see the world, but also want to keep something in your retirement fund? If you think it’s not possible to achieve both dreams, think again. Not only is it possible to travel to exotic locations for free, you’ll find that you can get immense satisfaction and enjoyment from the experience as you tap into opportunities you would otherwise miss by going on a traditional tour or spending your time in the typical tourist traps.
Here are six steps you can take to have the ultimate, free world tour!
#1. Travel Light
When looking to travel for free, start by traveling light. We all have those last minute items we throw into our backpacks thinking we should have them on hand “just in case.” Generally, those just in case situations don’t arise and when we return we find we haven’t touched those six extra sweaters or eight pairs of shoes.
What we have done, though, is add to our bulk and our weight.
As we’ll soon see, there are ways of getting free flights and other modes of transportation, however, the more stuff we have on us, the more likely we’ll be tapped with fees, which can quickly make a free trip rather expensive.
Try to fit everything you need into a backpack or carry-on. Evaluate every item: is it a need or a want? Can you borrow from someone at your final destination? Consider also if items you wish to bring are allowed over country borders, so you don’t get hit with customs fees.
If you’re planning on staying with someone once you’ve arrived and want to bring them a gift, check to make sure you won’t have to pay tariffs on it.
Pay attention to the type of bag you pack as well.
A sturdy, comfortable backpack is much better than a rolling suitcase. If you bring a suitcase you’ll find you need a place to keep it while you travel, as it will be ungainly to navigate streets, jungles and other locations while pulling it.
Which will mean you’ll be more likely to end up at a hotel, shelling out money per night for a room to keep your stuff in.
A comfortable backpack, on the other hand, will allow you more freedom of movement as you travel.
You can take one pretty much everywhere without it hampering your movements, and in a pinch it works as a pillow if you need to sleep in an unconventional location.
Tip: When choosing a backpack for overseas travel, find one with secret, hard to reach pockets where you can keep your valuables--specifically your passport and wallet--as pickpockets are a global concern no matter where you go, especially if you’ll be traveling to a country where you stand out as an obvious foreigner.
#2. Keep Your Needs Down
This is a tough one for many of us. We’re pretty spoiled in the Western world. Many of us shower every single day--some of us even more than once.
We’re used to changing our clothing on a daily basis, a morning cup of coffee, WiFi…
These are all nice things and normally they don’t make much of a dent to our bank accounts when we indulge in them.
However, depending on which part of the globe you’re planning to visit, these luxuries are just that: luxuries. And you’ll end up paying through the nose if you insist on having them. At the end of the day, a human’s needs are pretty simple.
To survive, we just need food, water and shelter. All of these can be found for free if you look hard enough, and everything else we can do without.
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When visiting a developing or third world country, having a shower regularly might be either impossible due to water restrictions, or impractical for free travel as you’ll have to pay extra for one.
Regular laundry can be the same.
If you’re goal is to travel free, evaluate your needs and try to see what is the bare minimum you can get by on. Most of us can survive on one or two showers a week, especially when surrounded by others who might not be showering for longer than that.
Keeping your clothes clean is possible, and if not, opt for washing clothing the way the natives around you does, be it in a stream or sink, rather than paying for it to get laundered or to use a machine.
Food as well can be whittled down.
We’re used to meals consisting of certain basics and amounts. However, if you want to travel the world for free, you’ll want to take cues again from the locals. Eat what they eat, especially if it’s offered to you for free. Don’t turn up your nose at a protein just because there’s no ketchup.
Tip: The one thing you should not compromise in is water quality. If you’re traveling to a country known for tainted water, make sure you get water purifying tablets or medication before hand. The local population will probably be used to the water or have built up an immunity to it, but you have not, and drinking water could put you out of commission for awhile or worse. So while you can probably still bathe and wash your clothes in the water, avoid drinking it if you know it’s been proven problematic to visitors.
#3. Connect With People
This is another thing that might be tricky for Westerners, but with a little practice can be fulfilling.
In general, we tend to be pretty suspicious of others, barely making eye contact with passersby and avoiding conversation whenever possible.
However, on the road, being able to engage with others not only can lead to free food, accommodations and ride, you’ll also find that these connections end up being the most meaningful ones you make.
When traveling, strike up conversations with people whenever possible.
Be open and friendly, and chances are you’ll receive invitations to meals or to spend the night. Many will be excited to bring a foreign guest home to their families to meet, just as you’re excited to get to know a local family.
Be willing to stretch yourself and embrace the excitement of chance encounters. If you get an invitation, don’t worry about having to give them a host gift; instead, offer to do a chore such as doing the dishes or fixing something that is broken. In fact, in general offering to do chores for people will get you a meal or bed in exchange.
Tip: You are not obligated to take any and all invitations you get. If you have a bad feeling about someone, or feel you would be uncomfortable, use common sense. That said, be tactful, as in some countries hospitality is taken very seriously, and you don’t want to cause an affront.
If you don’t want to leave your arrangements to chance, you can still get food and lodging for free.
Sign up to a site like couchsurfing.com and you can connect with locals and get a free place to stay. If you’re lucky, you can also get offered meals by your hosts, and if not, offer to do chores in exchange for food. You’ll find that most people will be accommodating, as those are the kinds of people who sign up to open their homes to strangers in the first place.
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Similar to couch surfing, you can also sign up to house-sitting sites, which connect you with people who want a trustworthy individual to look after their homes while they’re away. This will afford you a little more privacy if you’re uncomfortable being in a home with strangers at the same time.
You can also sign up with a work exchange program like WWOOF, which matches travelers up with organic farmers around the world.
In exchange for giving a hand on a farm, you’ll get food and lodging during your stay. It’s a win-win in both directions. If farming isn’t your thing, keep looking - there are many volunteer opportunities available in hundreds of countries, so chances are high you can find one that suits your personality and interests.
#4. Barter Your Skills
Another way to earn free travel around the globe is to barter skills. You are your own best resource. Whether it’s being good with computers, great at cooking or just simple English fluency, you already possess dozens of marketable skills that are on high demand around the world. You can set yourself up as an English Language tutor and exchange lessons for a meal or a night’s stay. If you’re mechanically inclined, you can offer to help fix someone’s car in exchange for a ride to your next destination.
Creativity is key in this case. Think outside of the box and you’ll be surprised to discover how many different ways you are needed for what you can do!
#5. Sign Up to be Sent Out
On the note of skills, there are companies out there who will send for free you to different exotic locals in order to use those skills.
A great example of this option is the organization Diverbo which arranges trips for English speakers to places where people want to learn English.
Diverbo will organize the entire trip, including food and lodging and activities. They even prefer you don’t speak the language of the place where you’re visiting because the people who you’ll be matched with want to practice their English skills on you, rather than converse in their native tongue. Companies like Diverbo offer once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to interact with a foreign country, all expenses paid!
You can also score free trips to global destinations by looking for heritage trips like Birthright Israel, ReConnect Hungary and TuCuba.
Often geared toward individuals ages 18 - 25 who have never been to their country of origin, there are a number for those 25 and above as well. A little genealogy research can take you far when it comes to travel!
#6. Points, points, points
Finally, we’d be remiss in not mentioning the classic way many people travel for free. While not as exciting as say, hitchhiking, using points accumulated through credit cards, or miles earned through other travel experiences can be useful in at least getting you to the place you want to be for free. Though points won’t cover everything, they can be used in conjunction with other ideas on this list, knocking off expenses to make for a truly free trip around the world.