You mean you can’t afford a $150 hotel room a night? Well, maybe you ought to aim lower. A lot lower. And sure luxury and comfort are important every now and then but I mean, it’s all about priorities. And if you know where to look, you’ll do just fine…whether you’re off trekking in Nepal or eating your way around Italy.
Maybe you’ve heard of some of these awesome resources to help you travel for free, maybe you haven’t. Whatever the case, it’s time to get out there!
WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. This is probably my favourite of all the options, because, a) I loved my experience, and b) you really, really get to go local with this one. Basically what you do is work five hours a day, Monday to Saturday, on an organic farm anywhere in the world. In exchange for your time, you get free board and free meals. And since you’re likely to be in some pretty rural parts of the world, you’ll get to delve really, really deep into the local culture.
I did the WWOOF experience while in Greece last year, working on an olive farm in Lesbos. My daily chores included weeding, trimming olive branches and pruning the vineyard. You’ll also have the opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals on the farm, and believe me, it’s not all just hard work. When you work from 8 AM to 1 PM, there’s nothing better than a long afternoon to lay in the sun with a good book.
However, there is usually a small membership fee per country to use the website.
HelpX works a lot like WWOOF – you do about five hours of work a day in exchange for board and meals. BUT with HelpX you have the opportunity to do just about everything from renovating an old castle in Transylvania to running a hostel in Crete. Seriously. These are all things I’ve seen advertised in the past.
It’s a good idea to chat with these volunteer seekers for a while beforehand to get a feel for what they’re looking for. Like Couchsurfing, HelpX also lists reviews from previous hosts, and negative reviews are taken very seriously. The website is a bit outdated, but you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for.
Couchsurfing is one of my favourite communities in the world! I’ve often hosted Couchsurfers from all over, and I have been hosted in turn. Everything works on an honour system: you stay at someone’s house for free for a limited time, act respectfully, maybe cook your host a meal or two, and then be on your merry way. Often you’ll get some beautiful insight into the local culture, and your host will quickly become a great friend.
Once you leave your host’s house, you leave them a review. Having more positive reviews generally means a stronger profile, so when it’s time for the host to also travel, they’ll have a better chance of finding good couches to crash on. It sounds sketchy to some, I realize, but I’ve honestly made some dear friends through Couchsurfing. Those reviews don’t lie. My general rule is to only stay with people who have 10 or more positive reviews!
This one tends to be the most appealing to older travellers, especially travelling couples. And it’s exactly how it sounds: someone goes away for awhile and needs someone to look after their house (and likely their pets), and so they find a trustworthy volunteer who will do just that in exchange for a free place to stay. There are several websites that offer house sitting matches, so it’s just a matter of finding the right one for you.
You’d be surprised by the accommodations you’ll come across, too. I’ve known friends who have stayed in centuries old homes, or seaside villas. Some have even taken on a full ranch. Many locations are remote, but you’ll find city dwellings as well. Many people in need of house sitters prefer couples, just so there’re more hands involved. But not always. If you’re fond of animals, bonus points for you!
To “au pair” means to live with a host family in a foreign country, minding the children and generally being a help around the house…kind of like a glorified nanny, except without payment. As with the others, you’ll receive free board and meals. Having a love for children is definitely crucial for this gig!
This is another really good way of culturally immersing yourself in a foreign land. A few of my friends have participated in the program and have often been paired with very well-to-do families…so your accommodations are much comfier than living on a farm, or a ranch, or whatever. My friends also came with mixed opinions, however. Some of them loved the experience, others didn’t. It really depends on the family and how well you jive with them.
This is another obvious one, but an option you should give serious thought to if you’re a native English speaker. Some countries are in desperate needs of English teachers, and while you might not make a LOT of money from the job, everything helps. Even so, there are lucrative places to teach English…like South Korea.
You can earn a teaching certificate online, which will drastically improve your chances of finding work. Try for ESL/TEFL.
There is literally an endless number of opportunities for do-gooders to volunteer abroad, in just about any country in the world. You could help with sea turtle conservation in Costa Rica, work with underprivileged children in Haiti, etc. There are also endless scores of volunteer websites to pick through.
Which brings me to the next point. When looking for volunteer opportunities, you must be very mindful of who you’re working with! There are indeed some scammers out there, and sometimes the volunteer work does more harm than good. Sometimes we turn the strife of others into a sort of tourist attraction…which is just unethical, of course. My friend Shannon O’Donnell has written an excellent book on the subject of ethical volunteering. It’s well worth a read.
Work at a Summer Camp in the United States
I’ve had many friends do this, and they all have said it was one of the best experiences of their life. Working at a summer camp means you get to hang out with kids all day and have a blast, and then your evenings are spent getting to know the other camp counselors. What better way to spend a summer than around a campfire, jumping into lakes and making s’mores?
You then have the option to travel around the United States with your hard-earned money. Might I suggest Las Vegas?
If you’re a people person who isn’t bothered by seasickness, working on a cruise ship or a yacht are both excellent options. Cruise ships especially demand a HIGH volume of workers with many different skill sets – everything from photographers to musicians to nurses. Keep in mind, however, that there are limited quarters for workers and you’ll likely be sharing a room with another employee.
If you’re willing to work on a yacht, chances are you’ll be living a pretty decent life of luxury while doing so. Just be prepared, again, to work incredibly long hours and to spend a lot of time at sea. You can work in the kitchen, be a server, or even work as a teacher for a family doing some extended travel.
For the would-be travellers, there really are endless options. Find out what works best for you, and give it a shot. Is there anything you strongly feel should be added to the list? Let us know!