These days, it’s next to impossible to scroll Instagram without seeing the “travel the world” folks. You know who I’m talking about… The hostel-hopper dude scuba diving with manta rays in Mexico on a Tuesday at 2 pm. Or that chick from your high school who’s been traveling non-stop for the past six months selling courses on how to “travel while broke.” And yes, the lifestyle looks amazing but… even when they say it’s attainable… it’s tough to believe.
Are these trust fund babies? OnlyFans success stories?
Maybe. But likely not. After being thrust into full-time travel myself two years ago thanks to a condo fire (0/10 stars, don’t recommend!), I found that it’s not all that complicated to travel the world — er, parts of the world — for practically free. Work exchanges, house-sitting gigs, and getting a job in the travel industry are the main methods of the madness. Though there are always new ones emerging.
Here’s what you’ll need to leap off the proverbial edge (besides courage and/or house fire) and hit the road. If you’re interested in reading more about my story, click here!
PART I — Setting Expectations
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You’re probably not going to travel the world “for free” in the lap of luxury. Maybe you become an au pair for a wealthy Parisian family or the muse of a world-renowned hotel photographer, but in many cases — especially if you’re going the work-trade route — you’ll be in some unglamorous (see: nearly feral) living conditions. That said, hostel work and agriculture-based volunteer ships are great character builders!
You can also expect to spend some money along the way on transportation, visa fees, personal care, and random life stuff. Remember, nothing is actually free in life. You’ll have to contribute to something outside of yourself to make this “travel for free” lifestyle a reality. If you’re still interested, there are of websites and resources online to help you make this happen. So we’ve put the essentials right here at your fingertips, Uproxx style.
PART II — Volunteering (Work Exchange)
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A tried and true way to travel the world for free is through work exchange or volunteering. Which can sometimes include pay. I found a volunteer position at a beautiful eco-lodge on a volcanic crater lake in Nicaragua. I taught yoga and led marketing and web design for three months. On top of free accommodation and food, and making some money teaching yoga, I left with meaningful (and valuable) connections and a sharper skill set.
Pretty priceless perks, if you ask me.
Volunteer positions and work trades are unique and plentiful! Get to work on a farm through a volunteer program like WWOOFING (stands for world wide opportunities on organic farms), live abroad teaching English in Thailand, check in guests as a receptionist at a hotel or hostel in the Caribbean, or provide home and childcare for families all over the world.
Ask yourself what you can offer, where you want to travel, and what kind of environment you want to be in. If you’re hoping for a serene vibe, maybe don’t apply to bartend at that hostel! Once you find a host whose needs match your offerings, apply, and don’t be afraid to negotiate more projects for extra benefits once you’ve established a relationship. (We’d warn against asking for a better deal before you’ve proven yourself!)
Here are some essential volunteer programs and work exchange websites:
PART III — House Sitting
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There are thousands of people all over the world looking for someone trustworthy (like you) to watch their house while they’re away. Many house sits are long-term (a month or more) and include watching pets.
House sitters have room and board in exchange for house care, yard maintenance, and any other agreed-upon duties outlined by the owners. The downside is that you can’t really leave to explore the country the way you can with off-days during volunteerships. Another way of looking at this is as a retreat in another country, where you get to intimately know a city/town as a local!
House Sitting Websites:
Here’s an awesome resource for how to become a house sitter in 2024 from a couple who has house sat for over five years in 12 countries!
PART IV — Travel/Tourism Industry Jobs
The way I’ve found to travel the world for free is by working in the travel industry. Travel writers (as just one example) have the opportunity to go on press and media familiarization trips to review hotels or even tour entire countries. There are plenty of other options if writing isn’t your vibe (sorry but, how? It’s like talking but with the power of a redo button).
Take a look at the tourism/travel industry job listed below. Also, if you’re really good at what you do, you can work freelance for international companies that will fly you out for events and projects. Hell, one time in an airport I met a woman who works for a produce company and gets flown around the world just to sell apples!
Travel Based Jobs:
- Travel/Food/Beverage writer
- Flight Attendant
- Travel influencer
- Travel agent
- Work on a cruise ship
- Captain/skipper/yacht hand
- Travel nurse/doctor
Remember that traveling for free is rarely that — there’s usually sweat equity involved. And if you’re going to be “working” to some degree, you should be 1) getting a fair wage, 2) learning a new skill set, or 3) gaining desired experience. The second and third elements were covered above. But if making a fair wage is your aim, well… that’s the digital nomad life and for another article.
If “free” is your aim — you can rely on the kindness of strangers and find accommodation on Couchsurfing, Be Welcome, and Host A Sister (sorry dudes, ladies only). The only exchange in those cases is a modicum of kindness. And really, if you can’t offer that — maybe it’s time to get off the road and do some soul-searching.