10 Ways to Travel for Free

Patricia Magaña, February 18, 2014
Fares from Washington DC:

    Forget hitchhiking. The best new ways to travel for free rely more on tech savvy and social media connections than old-fashioned backpacking skills. Got Champagne taste on a beer budget? Here's what you need to know about home exchanges, crowd funding, and other ways to see the world without paying a dime.

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    Arrange a Home Exchange

    You can eliminate the cost of travel accommodations by participating in a home exchange. There's nothing complicated about it—it's basically the old-fashioned barter system—and you can do it either through a free site like Craigslist or a members-only site that will vet or provide references for a small fee.

    Related articles: 10 Things You Need to Know About Home Swapping and 10 Tips to Make Your Home Ready for an Exchange.

    (Photo: Thinkstock/Digital Vision)

    Participate in a Hospitality Exchange

    Commonly referred to as "couch surfing," hospitality exchange is different than a home exchange because the hosts are in town when the traveler passes through. The experience could include home-cooked meals and maybe even a tour of the area. Expectations should be set prior to the visit. Interactions between the hosts and guests range from nonexistent to full-on new friendship. Basically, you get out of the relationship what you put into it.

    Among the largest of the hospitality-exchange programs are Couchsurfing, BeWelcome, GlobalFreeloaders, and The Hospitality Club. Some hospitality-exchange programs are free; others charge a fee for membership.

    (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

    Exchange Work for Food and Lodging

    Free meals and accommodations are yours if you're willing to get your hands a little dirty—in soil, that is. Opportunities to exchange your labor for food and a place to rest your head are available on farms, on boats, on ranches, in lodges, in hostels, and many other places around the world.

    Hosts typically require a commitment of four hours per day, but arrangements vary based on the scenario. Among the other benefits you may receive as an agritourist are free Internet access, use of the facility's amenities, and the opportunity to learn new skills. The most typical work-exchange opportunity is as a farmhand, where the owners provide accommodations, meals, Internet access, and activities in exchange for help.

    Find these work-exchange opportunities at WWOOF, HelpX, and Farm Stay America.

    (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock Editorial)

    Accumulate Miles

    Accumulating miles and points for travel through credit card purchases isn't altogether free (you do need to buy things, of course), but it is very nearly free, especially if you're only purchasing things you planned to buy anyway.

    The best credit cards to choose from are those with minimal booking restrictions, no or low annual fees, and those that allow miles or points to be redeemed for flights, car rentals, or accommodations—with any provider. Look for cards offering sign-up bonuses to quickly boost your miles.

    (Photo: Thinkstock/Fuse)

    Take Advantage of Free Museum Days

    Most major cities have museums that offer free visits on certain days. In Boston, for example, the Institute of Contemporary Art offers free admission every Thursday night, the Boston Children's Museum only charges $1 every Friday after 5:00 p.m., and the Museum of Fine Arts allows you to pay what you want (even nothing at all) for general admission every Wednesday after 4:00 p.m.

    TripAdvisor's forums and Reddit's free and travel sections are good places to ask about free museum admission wherever you might be traveling.

    (Photo: US Embassy Canada via flickr/CC Attribution)

    Join the Peace Corps

    It's not for everyone—certainly not for those simply looking to get a free trip—but volunteering with the Peace Corps has the potential to yield free travel with the added bonus of immense personal satisfaction. A typical volunteer commitment lasts a little more than two years, with placement opportunities in more than 70 nations.

    To qualify as a Peace Corps volunteer, you need to possess a bachelor's degree and be at least 18 years old. Knowledge of a second language isn't a requirement even if you're assigned to an international position. A living allowance is provided during the assignment, and upon completion, you receive a nominal sum of money.

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    Sit Through a Timeshare Presentation

    Sitting through a timeshare presentation can net you all kinds of freebies, including complimentary or extremely reduced accommodations, free use of resort amenities, dinner, and cash. Nothing in life is truly free, of course, and in this case you pay with your time. Surviving a timeshare presentation without purchasing a stake in the property is about boundaries and sticking to your guns. First off, clearly establish the amount of time you'll be required to attend (typically 90 minutes) and leave when that time has elapsed. It's up to you to put an end to the encounter despite the salesperson's high-pressure sales tactics. And if you're actually interested in purchasing a timeshare, make sure you're getting a good deal.

    (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

    Use a Crowd-Funding Website

    Crowd-funding sites such as Kickstarter, GoFundMe, Indiegogo, and GiveForward aren't just for innovators hoping to get their projects off the ground. They're also for dreamers who want help paying for travel.

    One woman who wished to revisit Africa recently raised $4,700 in six months through donations from family and friends. A freelance photographer recently raised $1,500 in four days to help pay for a photography trip to Australia. Here's how it's done: You create an account on a crowd-funding site, write a strong pitch, and then share your fundraising page via email and social media. Crowd-funding websites generally charge a fee of around 8 percent for every transaction.

    GiveForward has a list of fundraising tips and ideas and GoFundMe has a page dedicated to raising funds specifically for travel and adventure.

    (Photo: Thinkstock/Monkey Business)

    Teach English Abroad

    Signing on to teach English in a foreign country could net you free room and board, reimbursed airfare, and a paycheck! Most teaching programs require that you have a bachelor's degree (sometimes a master's in education, too), that you complete a TEFL certification program (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), and that you qualify to work in a host country. Among the countries with the most demand for English teachers are South Korea, China, and Japan.

    (Photo: Thinkstock/Photodisc)

    Work for a Cruise Line

    Cruise ships require hundreds of deckhands to keep everything running smoothly. Among the employment options for those traveling for free (and getting paid while sailing) are jobs for cooks, cleaning crew, and ship hands. More glamorous gigs in onboard casinos or as ships' officers are also available with the right experience.

    Start racking up the nautical miles by applying for positions on the major cruise lines, including Carnival, Disney, Princess, and Royal Caribbean International, or at a consolidator like All Cruise Jobs or Cruise Ship Jobs.

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    This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Ways to Travel for Free.

    Follow Patricia Magaña on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

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