Isn’t it human nature to want to go out and explore the world around us? Even as children, we find ourselves on the other side of that “do not cross” line, yearning to see what is out there. Even if we’ve grown up and managed to repress that desire because of the responsibilities of adult daily life, every once in awhile, we find ourselves sitting on our office chair, gazing blankly out the window wondering what is out there and daydreaming of all the places we want to go.
Sometimes, no matter how much we find ourselves wanting to pack a bag for an adventure, we reach into our pockets, fish out our wallets, and find nothing inside but a couple of old receipts, some spare change, and maybe even some cobwebs – struck with the reality of being grown up. The thing is, you don’t really have to worry about not having enough money to go on a trip. It has been done, and it can be done by you, as long as your desire to go out and travel is strong enough. This is a guide on how to travel without money.
Plan For The Trip
The worst enemy of a successful trip is going unprepared. Even though it seems as though money is the universal answer to why people don’t go and explore the world, it is no longer an excuse – thanks to the people who have proven to us that money isn’t everything.
I remember a trip I took before with a friend that we didn’t plan out very well. We were supposed to stay 10 days on a beach and hiking trip. Then about halfway through our trip, we ended up with almost no money. It became really difficult because every step had to be properly calculated; every aspect had to be taken into consideration and though about really carefully.
It got me thinking about the ways to travel without money and how other people did it. I realized one of the very first steps is to make a plan.
Step #1: Select Your Destination
Usually, our wanting to travel stems from the fact that there is a certain place you want to visit. Is it The Coliseum in Rome? The Taj Mahal in India? Or maybe it’s The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Whether the place you want to visit is a popular tourist destination or a simple visit to a new place with no spectacular landmarks, you need to choose your destination.
If you’ve decided to drop your regular life for an extended period of time, you’ll get to select more than one destination. Write down all the places you want to visit on a piece of paper – make sure they are places you really want to go to. As your planning will progress, however, the list may change.
Step #2: Map It Out
Once you’ve figured out where you want to go, grab a map, and map it out. Look at the direction that you will be traveling. Make sure it is cohesive and you move in a proper, continuous flow. Moving in a clear and concise direction will save you money in transportation from having to go back and fourth, realizing you were going the wrong way.
Next, you need to figure out how long you want to stay in those places. How you decide will be entirely up to you. For example, chances are that you’ll want to stay in a popular city such as Rome a lot longer than you would a small town with not much to see. The problem with big cities is that accommodation will most likely be more expensive. There are other alternatives (which we will talk about in the next sections), but sometimes it won’t always be so easy. This is why planning is important so that you can have an idea of how actionable your trip really is.
Step #3: Reach Out To Friends And Family
You will learn that friends and family will be very important on a trip like this. After you’ve set up your goals on where you want to go and how long you want to stay, the first real step you need to take is to see if you have any friends or family there.
Contact everyone you know and see if they will be willing to accommodate you into their homes so you get a place to stay for free. If they can’t open up their homes to you, they may have suggestions on places that you can stay that are very cheap. Reaching out to your friends and family will also give you an idea of the things that you can do and places you can visit while you are there.
Step #4: Internet Research
Contacting your friends and family abroad can only get you so far. Luckily for us, we live in a world where almost everything is accessible on the tips of our fingers. Even luckier for us is that people have found a way to make traveling easier, cheaper, and sometimes even completely free – all thanks to the websites and the apps that they have developed to connect people as well as to give everyone the opportunity to live out their adventures even without a huge bank account.
On the next section, “How To Do It”, I’m going to list down resources that you can find online to help with your money-free travels. There are many websites that offer ridesharing, free tours, meals, cheap (and free) accommodations, and so much more. I will be talking about in detail for you in the next section, so keep reading to see my list of different sites you can visit.
It is possible that the destination you want to go won’t have some form of service that you can find online. If this is the case you have two options – change your destination to where you can plan out everything ahead of time, or wing it. If that specific destination is really where you want to go, take the leap of faith and go for it. If you’re brave enough and strong enough, you’ll figure it out along the way!
Step #5: Get Your Documents Ready
Now it’s time to get your documents ready. This includes things like your passports, reservation confirmations, and VISAs if you need them, especially if you’re hopping from place to place.
Documents also include your airplane tickets, booking records, and so on. It’s a simple step, but make sure that you are thorough and have everything. Or else you’ll find yourself running around a new place trying to find somewhere to print your documents – which can be quite expensive!
STEP #6: Pack The Right Things
When it’s time to pull out that suitcase to pack your bags, remember that this isn’t going to be some fancy trip where you’ll have the luxury of packing anything and everything you want, knowing very well that you’ll have a bellman greet you at the door to escort all your belongings to your room – NO. So packing the right things, is essential.
And I mean it when I say – pack only the essentials. I understand that is a slightly complicated term since the word “essentials” can mean different things to different people. So I have a simple solution. Lay out all the items you are planning to bring with you. Then hold each item in your hands, one by one and ask yourself this question: "Will I be willing to carry this around with me in my backpack while hitchhiking, biking, or possibly taking very long walks to my destination?"
Then ask yourself: "Will the weight that it brings be worth the effort?" If your answer is no, ditch it! It’s that simple. Think of this as a very long, hiking trip. So if you feel like it is unnecessary weight, don’t bring it. The goal is to try to get all your items to fit into one, big hiking backpack. Nothing more. Chances are you’ll be able to get other things you need throughout your journey, so there’s no need to pack your entire house!
STEP #7: Tie-Up Loose Ends Before Leaving
Before leaving, make sure everything is set at home. Don’t leave things a mess because you’ll come home feeling quite depressed and stressed out. If you have pets, be sure to find someone to take care of them while you’re away. If you need to, maybe even find someone to check on your house every once in awhile to make sure nothing is out of place and everything is in control.
Take your leave at work if necessary and ensure all major tasks you have are done. Inform your boss and your colleagues how long you’ll be gone and provide any information they may need while you’re away. If you’ll be gone a long time, be sure your house is clean. Do your laundry, wash the dishes, pack away food, give away or consume perishable items, and keep everything in tip-top shape.
How To Survive
One of the scariest things about traveling without money is not knowing how to actually survive! You’re probably wondering where you’re supposed to stay, how you’re supposed to get from place to place, or what to eat! While it may be difficult to take a trip that is completely free, these are ways for you to survive with very minimal amounts of money.
It’s no secret that one of the biggest expenses in relation to traveling is your accommodation. Hotel rooms normally range anywhere from around $50 all the way to a few thousand dollars.
1. Home Exchange
With a little bit of planning ahead (see “Plan For Your Trip Step #4), you may be able to find a place to stay for free! This is because there people all over the world who are willing to open up their homes in exchange for nothing but your friendship and conversation. There are four sites that can help you with that:
Some of these require a membership fee but it is extremely minimal and only upon signing up. The goal of sites like these is to connect you with other people opening up their homes or for you to open up your homes for other people. A very popular choice among travellers is Couchsurfing, because it is completely free. Sometimes you’ll be able to score a room, sometimes it will be a couch, other times it may even just be a mattress, but it’s your ticket to free accommodations.
The best part about Couchsurfing is the bond you build with your host. Chances are that he/she will take you places, parties, and events that you won’t find on guidebooks. One of the biggest concerns with Couchsurfing though, is safety, since you’ll be staying in a stranger’s home. But the company takes steps to ensure as much safety as possible. It really comes down to your own judgment. Email your perspective host before making a decision and see how well you get along. If it’s a fit, go for it. If not, find a different host. Make sure their profiles are filled out and complete and with good reviews. People opening up their homes via Couchsurfing are most likely recent travellers themselves so they’ll know exactly what you are going through – that makes it awesome.
When house sitting, you’ll be staying in the stranger’s house to take care of it while they are away – giving you a free place to stay. You won’t pay for rent or the bills and if you’re lucky, you may even be able to use the car of the person’s house you are watching! Here is a list of websites that will connect you with people who need their house (and maybe even their pets) to be taken care of while they are out:
These sites charge an annual fee from $20 – $60, but if traveling is something you plan on doing for a long time or often, what is $60 for unlimited options to stay in compared to $60 for less than 24 hours in one hotel? Here, you’ll get to immerse yourself in the local neighborhood in ways that you could not if you stayed at a hotel. House sitting can range anywhere from a few days to even a few months. If you planned your trip right, you can hop from house to house.
A good tip is to start with people you know – friends, family, and colleagues in case they have a house that needs taking care of. Practicing with people you know will also give you an idea of what it’s like before you head out into the real deal. It will also create a good reference for you, increasing your chances of being “hired” for a house sitting job. If you want to learn more tips and tricks, check out this article from Nomadic Matt about house sitting.
3. Hostels/Dorm Rooms
Another option for you is to stay in Hostels/dorm rooms. While these aren’t exactly free, they are a lot cheaper than hotels. If you have some money to spare, this is the option to go to – also, if you feel like Couchsurfing or house sitting isn’t exactly your cup of tea. Hostels and dorm rooms aren’t limited to “young people” or groups of people. Nowadays, there are a lot of hostels that have solo or double rooms that are meant for solo travellers or for couples. So even if you plan on traveling without money with your significant other, some hostels can still provide you privacy.
Hostels today are a lot different from what you see in the movies because people are expecting better service and they are talking about their experiences in blogs or on social media. This has pushed businesses to improve their quality of service. If you are really crunching the numbers on your budgeting, the general rule of thumb is that the bigger the room, the cheaper it will be. Of course, you’ll have to share the room with more people, but if that doesn’t bother you or you don’t really have much money, it’s still the better option versus hotel rooms.
WWOOFing stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and it is a service that will match you with farmers who are looking for labor to help them. It’s kind of like working for a place to stay. There is a small price to get into the farm, but once you’re there, everything else is free, such as food! The way it works is that you sign up in the national organization of the country that you want to go in, since there is no international membership. Every country that you sign up for, you have to buy the membership. The yearly membership fee is around $30 per country, which is still a great deal.
There are about 99 countries that participate in WWOOF, so even if you visit each and every single one of those countries through WWOOF, you’ll be saving thousands of dollars. What’s great about WWOOF is that they don’t look for people with work experience – just those with a desire to work. This is a way to extend your travel while opening yourself up to endless opportunities. You’ll learn a whole bunch of new skills, learn some foreign languages, and even make new friends. Visit their website to learn more: http://wwoof.net/
Finally, the last option for you to be able to stay in a place for free is to go camping. Check out, which places you can stay and camp for free. There may be places with a fee but they should be minimal. Chances are that you will be able to find somewhere to pitch your tent or sleeping bag.
Camping gives you the option to sleep almost anywhere. If you’re staying in big cities, you may be able to sleep in the park with your sleeping bag. Just be sure you’re not breaking any laws while you’re there – you don’t want to end up in any trouble while in a foreign place!
Now that we’ve talked about the bulk of your expenses, let’s talk about the rest. When it comes to transportation, more specifically your airfare, your best bet is to get promo flights way ahead of time so you get them cheap. In this section, we’re going to talk about how you can get from place to place once you’re already at your destination.
A website that you can check out is BlaBlaCar or Carpooling.com. This online resource is a great way for you to find a ride in Europe. If your goal is to get from point A to Point B with no cost at all, the best thing to do is to walk. But if your point B is way to far to walk, your next best option is to hitchhike.
Yes, there are many horror stories about hitchhiking, but use your best judgment. You can also let your creativity out when hitchhiking – grab a ride in a car, a truck, horses, motorcycles, trains, boats, and maybe even drive a bus. Really, the options are endless as long as you can convince the other person to give you a free ride!
Getting a good meal can be very challenging when traveling with little to no money. But, if you’re lucky, you’ve found a host or made a new friend that will happily share their meals with you. If you searched for accommodation through Couchsurfing or the other home share sites, or even through WWOOF, chances are, you will be granted free meals (especially with WWOOF). In these cases, food won’t really be that much of a problem for you.
But on those days where you might have to go camping or don’t have a generous host to share a meal with, the best thing to do is buy from the supermarket or local market foods that you don’t really have to cook if you have extra money. If you really down in the dumps with zero cash on you, you can try visiting supermarkets or convenience stores during closing hours. Sometimes, these establishments throw out perfectly good food that wasn’t sold for the day – that’s a free meal for you.
The thing about traveling without money is that you don’t have to actually travel without money. You can earn money while your traveling to help you pay for things such as a meal or accommodation.If you have a special talent, you can try street performing. Tell your story, people will be more inclined to help you out. But don’t beg for money.
There’s been a lot of news lately about “beg-packing” where foreigners beg in countries that are not their own to fund their travels, which comes across the wrong way with locals. It feels like the foreigners are “robbing” those truly misfortunate just to fund traveling – which is considered a luxury to most. So be careful. The greatest thing about our world today is the availability of Internet. One of the easiest and best ways you can earn money through traveling is to work as a freelancer online. You can earn almost as much money as you would on a normal job, and all you’ll really need is your laptop and a network connection. Really, the possibilities are quite endless.
Advice From Real People Who Have Done It
Now it’s time to hear from some very special people who have been able to travel the world with no money!
"Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one."
Laura Bingham, who cycled 7,000km across South America. Read her story on laurabingham.org
“Carry a tent and sleeping gear, water purifier, cooking equipment and comfy clothes. Travel light and leave behind what you don’t need. Make connections for places to stay, and earn meals through websites such as wwoof.org, helpx.net, and workaway.info.”
Rob Greenfield, who hitchhiked his way from Brazil to Panama. Read his story on RobGreenfield.tv
“Asking locals for advice, learning how to read people’s body language and researching countries beforehand is also important. Emotionally, you need a positive attitude and determination. You are going to hear “no” a lot along your way and sometimes dirty looks and nasty comments. But you cannot give up at the first “no” … try, try, and try again until you get a “yes”.”
Rhinal Patel, the lone female traveller. Check out her travel updates here.
A commonality that is mentioned by those three travellers is to simply stay positive and remember your end goals. Traveling with no money will be very difficult and a lot of people will turn you down, but as they tell their stories, they talk about how despite many “no’s”, there are still a lot of people who are willing to help you for nothing in return. If you want to take a quick look at their experiences, you can read this article from The Guardian. Finally, one of my favorite stories about traveling with nothing comes from Tomislav Perko who dropped everything to travel the world. In return, he gained enriching experiences, found great stories to tell, and uncovered things about himself in the most unique ways. Watch his TED talk below!
Hitchhiking according to Tomislav:
- Be on the right road and on the right direction
- Look decent – shave, wear clean clothes
- Don’t hitchhike at night
- Be in a good mood
- Talk to the drivers while you’re in the car, tell them your stories, and listen to theirs. That’s the only way you get to repay them.
- “Hitchiking Lesson # 62: When the driver is asleep, take over”
Some Extra Tips
“No matter how long you wait, the right ride will come”
Now that you’ve heard from the people who have done what you may think isn’t possible, let’s go through some extra tips that you can take along with you once you decide to embark on this chance for a great adventure.
Prepare Yourself Mentally
First of all, you need to get in the right mindset. Don’t expect things to be easy or comfortable, but they will definitely be unique. Be prepared to technically be ‘homeless’. But get into the mindset where you understand that it doesn’t matter because now, you get to make the whole world your home.
Spend Time With The Locals
Once you’re out exploring, be sure to spend time with the locals! After all, they will become your lifeblood. This is the chance to make friends outside your regular borders. Hear their stories; get to know about their lives. If you spend enough time with them, they’ll take you in as their own and bring you to places that you would never find if you had just Googled it on a travel website.
Bring A Big Jug For Water
And take that jug everywhere. Take advantage of water fountains that are free all around you. Even better if you have a water bottle that purifies water for you so that you always have access to clean water. I own the CAMELBACK ALL CLEAR UV bottle, which uses UV light to purify water. It’s saved me from thirst on many journeys I have taken.
Volunteer every chance you get. Offer your hand without expecting anything in return because truth is, kindness will be extended. You don’t even need to volunteer at an organization or somewhere big – even just lending a helping hand to the local farmer, or the old fisherman struggling with his catch for the day. The least you’ll get out of helping is a smile and a new friend. If you’re lucky, you may even get a meal or a place to stay. So extend your kindness and watch it circle back.
Be mindful and use common sense. Select people you feel are on the same wavelength. Have a short conversation before jumping in their vehicle and try to gauge out their character. Most important of all, be patient!
Most people resist the urge to travel especially when they know that they don’t have money because of the fear of the unknown and the fear of whether or not you will be able to survive without those dollar bills in your back pocket.
We’ve gotten so dependent on the comfort that comes from knowing your wallet is stacked and full that the moment it becomes empty, so do the dreams of traveling and exploring the world around us.
But behind the feeling of an immediate need for money, is the true essence of human connection – the knowledge that someone, somewhere out there is willing to open up their lives to accommodate you into theirs. The best thing about traveling without money is that it brings those new people into your life in ways that you cannot imagine.
If you have never really been an extroverted or social person, the challenge of traveling without money will force you out of your comfort zone and reveal characteristics about yourself that you never knew were there.
You’ll learn so much on a journey like this where you can’t use money to take the easy way out. You’ll learn how to not just take care of yourself, but of the earth as well and how to respect it. You’ll learn about people, their different lives, and different cultures – you’ll learn to tear down prejudice, which is one of the issues that continually plague our world today. You’ll learn that despite our different colors, cultures, beliefs – at the root of all humanity, we are all basically the same.
So what are you waiting for? Make the world your home – make the world your playground. Go out there, enjoy life, and challenge yourself.
Your adventure is waiting...