How to Travel for Free—Seriously
If your vacation budget is running on empty, consider these ways to—basically—travel for free, according to folks who have mastered the craft.
Sign up for a travel rewards credit card
Choosing the right card that provides rewards that can be turned into cash for hotels or airlines is a smart way to save money and get out of town, says Christina Vidal, luxury travel blogger. Her favorites include American Express Platinum, which offers 5X 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 the complimentary food and beverages and skip the airport’s overpriced food court. Another go-to is the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which gives you 3X points on travel and dining, as well as Priority Pass airport lounge access. Lastly, consider American Express SPG Luxury card, which offers benefits including 2X rewards on travel, Priority Pass lounge access, $300 toward resort expenses annually and one free night at an SPG property (including Marriott, Sheraton, and more) once a year.
House swap with your friends
If you have a friend who lives across the country, in Europe, or near the beach, there are two ways to utilize your friendship, according to travel writer Sarah Wilson. Either you can ask to come stay a week on their couch, or offer up a “house swap,” where you both save that hard-earned dough. “I’ve been seeing more and more Facebook statuses pop up from people who are looking to travel somewhere, and asking if anyone would be interested in swapping with their house or apartment in exchange for somewhere else around the world,” she shares. “Not only is it spontaneous, but it’s a great way to save a ton of money on accommodations while traveling.” There are also websites, such as HomeExchange.com that can help you find an answer to the question: How to travel for free.
For the past year, travel blogger Megan Starr has been housesitting around the world and it’s a practice to plans to continue. “It is definitely the best way to travel at no cost and it has brought me some of the coolest experiences thus far,” she shares. Recently she took care of two Jack Russell terriers in a sleepy, coastal town in Wales she would never have ventured to otherwise—and had zero expenses. “If you’re looking to travel for free, you seriously can’t beat housesitting,” she continues. Get started at TrustedHouseSitters.com. Make sure to avoid these 9 travel mistakes.
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 actually have the time to spare, co-founder of FlyTrippers.com Andrew D’Amours says an overbooking can actually lean in your favor. “Always be proactive and volunteer to be bumped from flights—and always negotiating the compensation as the airlines as the first offer is rarely the best,” he says. These are the 18 things you should never do on an airplane.
Become a nanny
How to travel for free without a college degree? For younger generations who are looking to take a gap year or are just starting their work lives, international au pair opportunities are a fun way to see the world. While, yes, your primary responsibility is to take care of children, you can negotiate time off to sightsee and experience whatever country you’re in. Depending on the gig, you might even have the chance to vacation with a family, too. Travel blogger Elizabeth Blasi recommends getting started at sights like New Au Pair, AuPair and GumTree.
Drive someone’s car cross-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 AutoDriveAway that pairs travelers with folks who need their car driven nationwide. Digital nomad and web developer Jessica Tatham says this as a cost-effective way to get out of town without spending much.
Sign up for a “stopover” service
If you only have a hot second for a quick trip, traveler and author Kelly Hayes-Raitt suggests signing up for Nomador.com. While it is a traditionally a housesitting website, it also offers a unique “stopover” program. This is a smart idea for when you only have a night or two in a place and want to stay for free. Yep, you read that right: no money! All you have to do is contact a host and request the evenings.
For an extended stay in a city and for the opportunity to make a difference in a meaningful, significant way, consider volunteering your time abroad. Sites including WWOOF and Workaway invite nomads to volunteer a few hours a day and receive accommodations and food in exchange, shares travel blogger Inma Gregorio.
Sign up for Helpx.net
As travel blogger Nina Ragusa explains, for those who have deeper pockets and not enough time, hiring a part-time helper is an easy solution. You can find such a gig at Helpx.net, a network that partners people who need help with random things such as running their BnB, cleaning and running their hostel, gardening, household work, farming, and more, with those looking to provide it. In exchange for your time helping, they provide a room and sometimes food too.
Sell your photos
You’ll want to practice and perhaps take a class or two, but if your travel photos are captivating, travel expert Carolyn Scott-Hamilton says there are complimentary trips to be had for a talented photographer. “There are so many ways to sell your photos from the traditional selling to print media to cool new apps and websites looking for all sorts of travel, landscape, portrait, and even stock photos,” she shares.
Fill out surveys for freebies and perks
Ever received an email from an airline or a hotel asking for your feedback? Instead of automatically deleting the email, travel expert Kristin Addis suggests combing through the fine print. How come? Often times, for your time, you might be offered a travel voucher or a free stay. For an hour of your time, it isn’t a bad trade.
You don’t have to be a certified teacher to make a living helping others speak the English language. Tatham recommends Diverbo, a company that provides native speakers with full room and board in exchange for teaching villages in Spain and Germany their language. You will still have to pay for your flight, but the rest is covered, and your nights are free.
Look into work exchange programs
If you have some extra time on your hands and want to take an extended vacation, Wilson recommends work exchange programs, where you can log a few hours every day at a hostel or a front desk, and in return, receive a free place to lay your weary traveling noggin’. “While traveling through New Zealand, I helped with the reception for a few hours a day in a guest house, in exchange for accommodation. Many tour sales reps would visit the hotel and offer free tours if we would sell their tours. I enjoyed trips to Mount Cook and whitewater rafting in my free time,” she shares.
Take advantage of flight delay insurance
Some travel days go smoothly, even landing early in your destination. Others? Not so much. While it can be frustrating to miss a connection, did you know you can actually get reimbursed when this happens? D’Amours says to use your credit card’s flight delay insurance and get up to $500. This can be used toward a hotel room, a meal or even another plane ticket. Learn more about your rights on an overbooked flight.
Become a brand ambassador
Though you might have to work on your Instagram following, if you’re a mega fan of a travel brand like Contiki, a tour operator, or a hotel chain, let it be known! If you sing their praises frequently and accumulate a following, you might be offered an opportunity to travel for free in exchange for covering. The key to success, according to Blasi, is remaining consistent.
Take your nursing certificate on the road
Want to see the country—and work? If you’re a nurse, you’re in luck. Via TravelNursing.org, you can take assignments between 8 and 26 weeks, all around the United States. In addition to your housing and meals covered, you’ll also earn a salary, based on your experience.
Attend a timeshare meeting
You might roll your eyes at the idea when you’re vacationing at an all-inclusive, but if you take the time, you might receive a freebie in return. Blasi explains plenty of these resorts and destinations will give some sort of reward, even if you don’t sign-up, for listening to the presentation. Even if it’s a free night—that’s better than nothing, right? Next, read on to find out how to travel on the cheap with recommendations from travel agents.