Updated: 11/19/19 | November 19th, 2019
I recently asked subscribers of my newsletter about the number one thing that holds them back from traveling. The near-universal answer?
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. 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 cheaply.
There are plenty of ways to travel cheap or for free. There are plenty of ways to travel around the world when you have no money if you’re willing to be creative.
The Ultimate Guide to Cheap Travel
Traveling the world with no money sounds like a distant dream, 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
Wondering what the difference is?
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 and reducing your cost to zero. Here you sacrifice comfort and convenience to extend your travels as long as possible.
Travel doesn’t have to be expensive. 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. 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? Just click on either of the links below to jump directly to that section!
Table of Contents
- Getting a Job Overseas
- Teaching English Overseas
- WWOOFing and Farm Work
- Use the Sharing Economy
- Cooking Your Own Meals
- Getting a Rail Pass
- Sleeping in Large Dorm Rooms
- Student Discounts
- City Tourism Cards
- Selling Your Services
- Travel Hacking
- Finding Free Accommodation
- Free Walking Tours
- Using Your Social Network
How to Travel the World for Cheap
Follow this ultimate guide to travel frugality and see the world on the ultra-cheap:
1. Get a Job Overseas
Not making enough money at your job? Why not get a job overseas? There are plenty of opportunities in the world as long as you aren’t picky — and after all, this isn’t a career you are starting, it’s just a way to earn money for travel.
Here are some 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.
- 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.
- 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 expereince, 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 (some certification required) – 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, 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!
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 some high-paying office job? No. Will you get a shitty, low-wage job that will pay all your travel bills? Yes! I’ve met people from all walks of life, both from Western and non-Western countries, funding their travels this way.
READ MORE ABOUT WORKING OVERSEAS:
2. 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 maybe 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.
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!
READ MORE ABOUT TEACHING OVERSEAS:
- How Emily Funded Her Entire Trip by Teaching Overseas
- Discover How to Get an English Teaching Job Overseas
- How to Teach English and Live in Spain
- The 9 Best Places to Teach English Overseas
3. 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.
READ MORE ABOUT VOLUNTEERING:
4. 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:
5. Cook Your Own Meals
The best way to save money on the road is to cook all your own meals. I recently spent $60 USD for a week’s worth of groceries in Stockholm instead of an average of $15 USD per meal eating out! That’s a saving of $150 USD! If you are Couchsurfing, your host will probably have a kitchen, as do many hostels, campsites, and guesthouses. No kitchen? Pack your own container and silverware and make some sandwiches and salads on the go. Not every meal requires a stove, right?
Just because you are traveling, it 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!
READ MORE ABOUT SAVING MONEY ON FOOD WHEN YOU TRAVEL:
6. Get Rail Passes
Rail passes (like Eurail) 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!
7. 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 ear plugs, opt for the bigger door to keep your budget in tact!
8. 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! 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!
9. 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 with the London pass, $80 with Paris Museum card, $50 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.
10. Sell Your Services
Need some cash? Use Craigslist, TaskRabbit, Upwork, 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 or consulting. The sky is the limit here! You can also help people learn your native language through apps like Duolingo.
How to Travel the World for Free
Looking to travel for free? Here are all the ways that can make that happen:
1. Travel Hack and Get Free Flights!
I hate when people tell me they can’t afford to fly. There are so many ways to earn free flights these days. 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 — and if you sign up for both an airline card (e.g., a United Airlines card) and a general rewards card like the Chase Sapphire or AMEX card, 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.
READ MORE ABOUT TRAVEL HACKING:
- The Ultimate Guide to Travel Hacking
- Is Travel Hacking Really a Scam?
- How I Earn 1 Million Frequent Flier Miles Each Year
2. 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 about 10 times and always meet amazing people. Sometimes you get a room, sometimes a couch, sometimes an air mattress, but it’s always free. 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:
READ MORE ABOUT FINDING CHEAP OR FREE ACCCOMMODATION:
- How to Find Cheap Accommodation in 2018
- How to Become a House Sitter and Never Pay for Accommodation
- How to Crush it on Couchsurfing
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!
READ MORE ABOUT HITCHHIKING:
- 14 Ways to Safely Hitchhike Across the United States
- What I Learned Hitchhiking Around China
- A Lesson in Kindness While Hitchhiking through Iceland
4. 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 90% of the major cities in Europe, and there are also a few in large Asian cities, South America, New York, Australia, and New Zealand. To find these tours, ask the local tourist office, your hostel staff (or just walk into a hostel and ask about them), or Google “free walking tour (city name).” Just be sure to tip at the end!
READ MORE ABOUT TAKING FREE WALKING TOURS:
5. House sitting
Can’t afford your vacation? Watch someone’s house while they go on theirs! You can sign up for one of the sites below and watch people’s homes (and often 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 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!). Here are the best house-sitting websites to check out:
READ MORE ABOUT HOUSE SITTING:
- How to Become a House Sitter and Never Pay for Accommodation
- How to Travel the World for Free with Trusted Housesitters
6. 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!
Not only is this an opportunity to find free accommodation but you’ll get to interact with a local and pick their brain about the destination, giving you a more in-depth experience. Then, once you start traveling and meeting people you’ll have your own network of friends across the globe who can help you as you travel onward. Of course, you’ll want to re-pay the favors as you go, but this is a great way to build closer relationships while saving you some more.
READ MORE ABOUT USING YOUR SOCIAL NETWORK:
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 huge sum of money. 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.
With a little creativity, patience, and practice, you can travel the world for free (or at least very cheap). It’s possible if you follow these travel tips!
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay elsewhere, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. I use them all the time.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel – and I think will help you too!