How to Travel for Free—Seriously
If your vacation budget is running on empty, our guide will teach you how to travel for free—and how to get paid to travel
They say there’s no place like home, but as anyone who’s been lucky enough to see some of the world knows, there’s also nothing like the thrill of experiencing a new culture. Walking down a street lined with ancient buildings, navigating public transport in a language you don’t speak and eating a new and delicious food are just some of the joys of traveling. But unless you know how to travel for free, the mounting costs of flights, travel insurance and accommodation can cause even the most dedicated traveler to reconsider their dream trip.
What if there was a practically no-cost way to travel, though? Or what if you could get paid to travel? We’re not talking about traveling on a budget, picking cheap places to travel or finding a deal for a cheap family vacation or budget beach vacation. There really are jobs out there for which travel is a condition of the position, and we’ve rounded them up. But if you’d rather use your time for sightseeing and relaxing instead of working a full day, we’ve also hunted down all the ways to travel for (nearly) free that won’t remind you of your regular nine-to-five at all.
Keep these tips in mind, and you can line up a whole travel itinerary while saving your pennies. Learn how to travel for free, then start dreaming of your next adventure!
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How to travel for free
You could get strategic with your vacation plans, traveling during shoulder season and flying only budget airlines. But if you really want to save, the tips below will help you travel for practically nothing.
Housesit, pet sit or swap homes
Do you live in Maine but have a friend in Spain? Why not swap homes for a week? Accommodation can really eat into any travel budget, so putting a big line through it is a great first step on your quest to travel for free. Plus, having an on-site kitchen can save you even more moola because you won’t have to eat out as much.
If you’re not lucky enough to have any international friends (yet!), turn to one of the many websites that link housesitters and pet sitters across the world. HouseCarers, HomeExchange, Love Home Swap, HomeLink, MindMyHouse, TrustedHousesitters and Animal Aunts are just a few. Most charge a yearly membership fee of between $50 and $200 and expect you to open your home for swaps in return.
If you’re open-minded about where you go, you might find yourself in a totally unexpected country or a tiny yet charming village you wouldn’t have known about otherwise. Unexpected travel experiences—we’re talking hidden-gem locations, not blistering sunburns—make for some of the best trips.
A word to the wise, however: There have been cases of people being denied entry to various countries, including the United States, because the immigration authorities consider house- or pet sitting to be equivalent to working for pay and therefore prohibited under the conditions of a tourist visa. Always check the visa requirements of your destination country before booking a trip. It’s also a good idea to have a flight out of the country booked before you arrive so that you can prove you’re not trying to move there.
Use credit card rewards points
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Signing up for a travel credit card that provides rewards you can use on hotel stays and airline travel is a smart way to save money and get out of town, says luxury travel blogger Christina Vidal. Her favorites include American Express Platinum, which offers five times the points on airfare booked directly with an airline. American Express Travel also gives you access to the luxe American Express Centurion Airport lounges, where you can snack on complimentary food and beverages and skip the airport’s overpriced food court.
Travel hacking takes time, effort and research, but the rewards can be massive. Kelsey Habermehl, who runs the Everyday Travel Hacker Instagram account, shared that she and her husband are flying business class to Europe this summer for two and a half weeks, mostly on rewards points. Talk about mastering how to travel for free!
Volunteer or sign up for a work exchange
If you’re looking for tips on how to travel for free long term, volunteer opportunities and work exchanges are your new best friends. Simply sign up (most come with an annual membership fee of around $50 to $100), select the locations and industries you’re interested in, and start contacting hosts.
There is some variation among programs and positions, but most placements involve working for part of the day (around five hours), about five days a week. Food and accommodation are provided, and the rest of your time is yours to do as you wish, whether that’s lounge on one of the best beaches in town, hit the slopes or explore the surrounding countryside.
Eco-conscious types should check out World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (aka WWOOF), which has been connecting farms with travelers who aren’t afraid to get dirty since the 1970s. HelpX offers similar opportunities. Outdoorsy types will hit pay dirt at AdventureWork, and pretty much any traveler will find tons of incredible opportunities on websites like Worldpackers, Workaway and HelpStay.
Again, it’s best to look up the visa requirements of your destination country before you go. The definition of paid work varies by country, and you don’t want to find out you’ve made a mistake at the border. Alternatively, you can volunteer closer to home and travel within your own country (it’s cheaper too!).
Say “yes” to overbookings
No one wants to be bumped from a flight when they’re excited for a vacation or on deadline with a client. But if you aren’t in a rush and have the time to spare, Flytrippers co-founder Andrew D’Amours says an overbooking can lean in your favor.
“Always be proactive and volunteer to be bumped from flights—and always negotiate the compensation [with] the airlines, as the first offer is rarely the best,” he says. In other words, hover by the counter until the compensation voucher goes from $300 to $1,000.
How much could you earn, exactly? Per U.S. Department of Transportation regulations, you won’t get any money if the airline can get you on an alternate flight that’ll land you at your destination within an hour of your original scheduled arrival time. But if the replacement flight results in a one- to two-hour delay, the airline owes you 200% of the one-way fare, up to $775. And if your replacement flight delays your travel for more than two hours? You’ll get 400% of the one-way fare, up to $1,550.
Drive someone else’s car across the country
You want to see every state you can squeeze in between New York and California, but you don’t have the gas money, much less a set of wheels. Solution: Register at a company like Auto Driveaway or Transfercar, which pair travelers with folks (or rental companies) who need their car driven nationwide. It’s a great way to get out of town without breaking the bank.
All you need is a driver’s license, a playlist and a need to feel the wind in your hair. (Arming yourself with the best travel apps before you go doesn’t hurt either.) Combine this step with another—say, housesitting—and you’re golden.
Reconnect with your roots
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Young, broke but desperately wanting to travel? Head home—to the home of your ancestors, that is. There are several U.S. heritage programs offering free trips for young adults back to countries from which they can claim ancestry.
One of the oldest is Birthright Israel, which has been providing adventures for Jewish young adults since 1999. Others include Heritage Greece for those of Hellenic descent, ReConnect Hungary, Birthright Macedonia, Birthright Armenia, CubaOne and the Overseas Compatriot Youth Taiwan Study Tour, one of the oldest summer programs in the world. The famous tour, known informally as the Love Boat, has been helping young Asian Americans visit Taiwan since 1967.
These programs provide more than just a great opportunity to see the world (though they certainly deliver there!). They give travelers an amazing chance to understand their family’s history and culture while connecting with people who share their heritage.
A word to the wise: If it’s your first time on a long-haul flight, get the lowdown about what traveling on a plane does to your body.
Join the Peace Corps
One of the oldest and most respected international volunteer programs in the world, the Peace Corps has been sending Americans out to gain experience and travel since 1961. It’s definitely a commitment, though: Volunteers sign up for three months of training and two years of service.
You could learn a new language, work on a lifesaving project and receive a monthly stipend along the way. You won’t be earning big bucks here; this is very much a volunteer gig, not a job. Still, the modest stipend helps cover living expenses, and the program is a great way to experience the place the way locals do.
The best part? There’s no upper age limit! Participants call it life-changing.
How to get paid to travel
A free vacation is a wonderful thing, but what if you want your entire life to revolve around travel? It’s time to get a job that allows you to work while visiting some of the best places to travel in the world.
Serve as an au pair or nanny
If the laughter of children makes you smile, consider becoming an international au pair (pronounced oh-pair) or nanny. Many overseas parents are keen on their children learning English from a native or fluent English speaker, so there’s always demand for kind and enthusiastic au pairs with that skill.
Taking care of little ones would, of course, be your primary responsibility. But days off and evenings out are an opportunity to explore whatever country you’re in.
Depending on the gig, you might even have a chance to vacation with the family you’re working for. Au pairs don’t usually get paid huge amounts—you’ll work for room, board and pocket money (think $100 to $300 per week) in most cases—but with some careful budgeting, it’s totally possible to see some of the world. There are several reliable websites that will help you get started, like GeoVisions, InterExchange and Au Pair World.
Work on a cruise ship or yacht
Dreaming of spending the summer cruising the Mediterranean? If you’re willing to swap some of your Greek-island-hopping for deck-swabbing, you could be paid to do it! Cruise lines and ships (and even private yachts) are often looking for housekeepers, stewards, chefs and deckhands for specific charters or trips, or even for longer-term contracts. Some jobs require specific qualifications or experience, but the lower-level jobs do not. Get started at websites like All Cruise Jobs, CrewSeekers and Find a Crew.
As with many travel jobs, there are a few things to consider before you sign up, including how much you’ll be paid and how much free time you’ll have. Wages tend toward the low end ($30,000 to $50,000 per year), though they may include tips, and food, board and uniforms are provided.
The type of job you do may also govern whether you’re able to get off the ship at ports. If you’re on the housekeeping team, you’ll probably be cleaning cabins and making beds while everyone else is enjoying their new city. For this reason, many ship workers save up and take a quick trip between assignments—after all, you’re often disembarking in a beautiful destination.
Become a flight attendant
Looking for a career in travel? Becoming a flight attendant can be an extremely rewarding and exciting career, as well as a great hack for learning how to travel for free.
“As a flight attendant, one of the biggest perks is the fact that you travel to a place while on the job with all expenses paid,” says Susan Fogwell, a retired flight attendant of 22 years. “And traveling during your free time is covered by the travel pass program provided by your airline.”
That said, it’s not all sunshine, roses and five-star hotels. That travel pass allows you to travel only on planes that have space, which can make planning difficult—so no planning a vacation based on the best time to visit Hawaii; you’ll have to go when space allows.
According to job site Indeed, the average wage for a U.S. flight attendant is $39,155 per year. Fogwell admits the pay isn’t great. “Starting wages are low,” she says. “The amount of hours during your duty day are not all paid. You’re only paid when the plane backs off from the gate. Sit times in airports, delays, etc., are not paid.”
That means layovers, no matter how long, aren’t paid either, so that five-star hotel for the weekend is coming out of your own pocket. Still, Fogwell says that she traveled constantly in her free time when she was a flight attendant, visiting six continents, so seeing the world without shelling out tons of cash is definitely possible.
Teach a skill
If you’re qualified as a yoga teacher, fitness instructor, snorkel or scuba dive instructor, spa therapist or ski or snowboarding teacher, there are tons of opportunities to work at wellness retreats, in luxury accommodations and at the best resorts worldwide. These opportunities can vary from paid to unpaid but often include free accommodation and food, at the very least. Some jobs even pay all expenses.
Websites like Season Workers and Yoga Trade can help you find vacancies and opportunities in different countries all over the world. Working hard in the sun can make you feel exhausted, but that won’t stop you from exploring the surrounding area on your time off.
Become a spring break host
If you prefer your vacations with some party action and a side of tips—plus a fully paid flight to a beach paradise—look into getting hired as a spring break host. All you need are a valid passport, the ability to travel anywhere for the month of March, an outgoing personality and an ID that proves you’re over 21. If you can speak Spanish, you’ll be in even hotter demand for roles that could take you to spring break destinations as varied as a luxury all-inclusive resort in Mexico and a nonstop party in the Bahamas or Florida.
So, what’s the gig? You’ll provide on-site support to guests who book with the travel company that hired you. This could mean long hours at events, manning the desk, assisting guests with checking in and possibly selling party packages. But those events might be a sunset cruise, a snorkel trip or a party with an international DJ at the hottest club in Jamaica.
Your expenses are covered, so the pay is low (as in $250 a week low), but if you’re up for working long hours and dealing with intoxicated people, it could be a really fun opportunity for free travel. Get started at Go Blue Tours.
Put your nursing degree to work
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Want to see the country and work at the same time? If you’re a nurse, you’re in luck. Via TravelNursing.org, you can take assignments that last between eight and 26 weeks. They’re scattered around the United States, including in big cities. Not only are your housing and meals covered, but you’ll also earn a salary (the average is over $70,000 per year!) based on your experience.
If you’re thinking bigger—globally—you’re in luck. Nurses generally have an easy time getting international work visas, as there is a global shortage of workers in the field. So if you’ve always wanted to visit Italy or think you’d enjoy working in Australia, Ireland or Dubai, it’s worth looking into.
Teach English online
You don’t have to be a certified English teacher to earn money helping others practice and learn the language. Programs like Pueblo Inglés provide native English speakers with full room and board in exchange for a stay teaching English in a village in Spain or Germany. Certification is an added bonus—and it can up your pay. Find even more teaching jobs abroad at Go Overseas.
But you don’t have to teach in person to combine language mastery with travel. If you’re looking to become a digital nomad, teaching English online can be a lucrative way to fund your travel habit. Parents and businesspeople all over the world are happy to pay for tutors through sites like VIPKid. Earn about $14 to $18 an hour, which should be enough to cover a decent lifestyle, depending on where you’re based. Best of all, you can make your own schedule.
Browse even more English-teaching opportunities, both online and overseas, at TEFL and ESL Cafe.
Leverage your skills into a freelance career
You want to know how to travel for free while working full-time, but your current job doesn’t have an international office you could transfer to, and your search for remote work is coming up blank. Don’t worry. There’s a way to turn your skills into a career that allows for travel on your schedule: freelancing!
Sites like Freelancer, UpWork and Fiverr allow you to put your writing, editing, social media, graphic design, translation, voice-over and other skills to work by earning money through commissions and assignments. Rates vary widely, as does payment (from hourly to project-based to by the word), and the platforms may take a cut of your pay. It can take time to build a profitable freelance career with these platforms, but it’s doable. Of course, if you have industry contacts, you could reach out directly about freelancing and probably secure an even higher rate.
If you’re a handy photographer, you can try selling your images through stock image websites like Shutterstock, Alamy and Getty. You can expect to make around 2 cents per image per month, so quantity might be the best strategy.
It can be hard to make regular money from freelancing at first, but many travel bloggers have made a decent living writing about their experiences and giving recommendations. Start while you’re still planning your trip, and try to build up a few regular clients.
Become a tour leader or travel guide
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So you want to know how to get paid to travel? These travel jobs require the following: an outgoing personality, a sense of adventure and fun, a willingness to work with people and a thirst for new experiences. With all the above, you could work as a tour leader on a bus tour (the type that covers 10 countries in 12 days) through a company like Busabout, Contiki, Bus2Alps and Topdeck.
Or you could become a festival worker throughout Europe with Stoke Travel or a travel guide with One Life Adventures or Trek Travel. From leading walking and cycling tours to partying your way through Europe with a tour group, there are tons of opportunities to get paid to travel by helping others have the trip of their lives.
Pay and benefits vary—flights may or may not be included, but accommodation, food and expenses are usually covered, along with a salary of around $22 per hour in the United States, according to Indeed. Make no mistake: These jobs are hard work. The hours can be long, the people difficult and the free time limited. But the opportunity to travel (and get paid to boot) and make new friends is pretty dreamy. Becoming a tour leader is a way to make that happen.
Now that you have all the tools to make your dream trip happen, make sure you know the best time to book a flight.
- Christina Vidal, luxury travel blogger at Jetset Christina
- Kelsey Habermehl, travel hacker at @everydaytravelhacker
- Andrew D’Amours, co-founder of Flytrippers
- Susan Fogwell, retired flight attendant
- U.S. Department of Transportation: “Bumping & Oversales”
- Indeed: “How Much Do Cruise Ship Workers Make?”
- Indeed: “Flight Attendant Salary in United States”
- Travel Nursing: “Average Salary + Benefits”
- International Council of Nurses: “Nurse Shortage”
- Indeed: “Tour Guide Salary in United States”