How to Travel Cheap: 16 Ways to Travel for Cheap or Free
Whenever I ask readers what the number one thing holding them back from traveling is, I almost always get the same answer: Money.
This is something I hear from everyone I talk to: “Matt, I simply don’t have enough money to travel.”
This problem — and how to overcome it — is my most asked question. Over the past 14 years, I have answered this question in a plethora of posts, emails, tweets, and Facebook posts. Long-term readers might even be getting sick of me discussing this subject because it is one I talk about so much.
But I know no matter how often I address this question, it will come up again.
Since this question comes up so often, I like to constantly remind people of this fact: You do not need to be rich to travel.
Let’s repeat that: You do not need to be rich to travel.
There are plenty of ways to travel on a budget (and for free) — you just need to be willing to get creative.
Traveling the world with no little or no money sounds like an impossible dream. But it is possible. It’s not glamorous, but it’s possible.
It should be said that there are some expenses you shouldn’t compromise on (like travel insurance) but there are tons of ways you can travel the world on a budget — including plenty of ways you can actually travel for free.
In this post, I’m going to show you two things:
- How to travel cheap
- How to travel for free
Learning how to travel cheap is all about taking advantage of helpful apps and websites that save you money, finding ways to lower your expenses, and even making money as you travel. It’s about finding value and lowering your expenses while still being able to afford to do what you want.
Learning how to travel for free entails taking advantage of free accommodation, transportation, and activities that are already out there, thereby reducing your cost to zero. You can also use points and miles to earn free flights and accommodation. Here, you sacrifice comfort and convenience to extend your travels as long as possible.
With the right budget and the right mindset, you can make your travel dreams a reality. Even if you don’t earn a lot or you have debt, there are still plenty of ways to go overseas (I still had debt when I went on my first trip around the world). They may not be fancy or luxurious, but if travel is your priority then you can definitely make it happen!
Ready to kick-start your budget travels and save money? Just click on either of the links below to jump directly to that section!
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1. Get a Job Overseas
Not making enough money at your job? Or, even worse, are you working a job you hate? Why not get a job overseas? There are plenty of opportunities in the world as long as you aren’t picky. After all, this isn’t a career you are starting — it’s just a way to earn money for travel.
Here are some popular (and easy to find) jobs you can get when you travel:
- Au pair – An au pair is a live-in caregiver who helps a host family by looking after their children and doing some basic housekeeping. In exchange, you get free room and board and a small salary. This is a great route if you’re looking to learn a new language or immerse yourself in a new culture. You can read this post for more info on being an au pair.
- Bartender – It’s always 5 o’clock somewhere, so if you have the skills then this is an easy job to move overseas. It’s also an easy job to get under the table if you decide to go that route. If you don’t have the skills to tend bar, consider being a dishwasher or busser.
- Hostel worker – Hostel workers rarely stick around for long, which means there is always a demand for new help. It’s a great way to meet other travelers while adjusting to a new location. You can usually also start off as a volunteer (in exchange for a free room) to avoid visa complications. Three websites that can help you find hostels to volunteer at are Worldpackers, Workaway, and HelpX.
- Waitress/waiter – There are tons of seasonal restaurants around the world (and around the US) that need extra help during the busy tourist months. If you have experience, this is an easy job to find abroad.
- Dive instructor – If you have your certification, this is an easy job to travel with as dive instructors are needed everywhere. Best of all, these jobs are usually in picturesque tropical locations!
- Tour guide – If you’ve got a knack for history and don’t mind speaking in front of groups, this is the perfect job for you. It’s also usually a cash job, which means you get your tips directly.
- Cruise ship worker – This is a much more formal position than the ones above, but it’s a great way to travel. The hours are long, but there’s something to be said about living at sea!
- Casino worker – While this might require some training, if you’re a night owl and don’t mind the casino scene this is a fun job to work abroad.
- Seasonal worker at ski resorts – Instructors, restaurant staff, hotel staff, lifeguards — ski resorts need all sorts of staff to keep things moving, making this a goldmine for the overseas traveler (as long as you don’t mind the snow!).
- Yacht worker – While the hours can be long, you can make great money working for the rich and famous on their yachts. Best of all, you’re usually in some pretty amazing destinations!
- Yoga instructor – If you have the skills (and certification), teaching yoga abroad is an easy way to make some spending money. While you might need to know the language, there are yoga studios in pretty much every city in the world.
Working overseas often gets discounted as an option because it seems hard to do. It’s not. Just be open. These jobs don’t require advanced degrees or a lot of work experience either.
Are you going to get a high-paying office job? No.
Will you get a shitty, low-wage job that will pay all your travel bills? Yep!
I’ve met people from all walks of life, both from Western and non-Western countries, funding their travels this way. It’s an easy, fun way to lengthen your travels, deepen your experience, and make a little money so you can keep on traveling.
READ MORE ABOUT WORKING OVERSEAS: 15 Ways to Find a Job and Work Overseas
2. Teach English Overseas
One of the best ways to make money for travel is to teach English overseas. You can make a lot of money teaching — I replenished my travel funds while teaching in Thailand, and I have had friends leave South Korea with tens of thousands of dollars in the bank.
All you need is the ability to speak English fluently and a TEFL degree, depending on the country you work in. The world is yearning for teachers, and this is a job in high demand; many companies in Asia will even pay for your flight over as well as cover your rent while you’re there.
If you have a college or university degree you’ll be able to make more money and apply for better positions though it’s not necessary for many countries.
Additionally, there are many websites and services out there that allow you to teach virtually. As long as you have a great Wi-Fi connection, you can help people learn English from anywhere in the world!
Some places you can teach online are:
READ MORE ABOUT TEACHING OVERSEAS:
- The Best TEFL Courses for Teaching English Abroad
- The 9 Best Places to Teach English Overseas
- How Oneika Gets Teaching Jobs Around the World
- Can You Teach English Abroad Without a TEFL?
3. Do WWOOFing and Work on a Farm
WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It’s a platform that allows you to work on a farm in exchange for free room and board. It’s a great way to see a destination in-depth while allowing you to commune with the great outdoors. You have to pay to get to the farm, but once you are there, everything else is covered! It definitely will help you travel cheap as well as have a unique experience and meet lots of cool people.
WWOOF has opportunities available in 130 countries around the world, with over 12,000 hosts and 100,000 WWOOFers. Some of the most popular destinations for WWOOFers are Portugal, France, Italy, Costa Rica, Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii.
READ MORE ABOUT VOLUNTEERING:
4. Use the Sharing Economy
Use the sharing economy to find cheaper accommodation, quirky tour guides, rideshare options, and home-cooked meals with local chefs. You can bypass the traditional travel industry with sharing economy websites and gain access to locals using their own assets and skills to become small tourism companies with cheaper prices. Moreover, locals know where to find deals. They know which supermarket is cheapest, which stores offer the best sales, and where to find the hole-in-the-wall restaurants and bars with the tastiest food at the lowest prices. Talking directly to them gives you access to that knowledge.
These websites have changed the travel game and made travel more accessible for everyone.
Here are some of my favorite websites:
- BlaBlaCar – A ride-sharing app that connects you with drivers who have extra seats in their car (primarily for medium and long distances, and mainly in Europe).
- EatWith – Platform that connects you with local cooks serving private meals.
- RVShare – Lets you rent RVs and camper vans directly from locals.
- Turo – A car sharing marketplace that lets you rent vehicles from locals.
- Campspace – This platform lets you camp on private property. Properties range from basic tent plots to luxurious glamping and RV stays.
- Trusted Housesitters – Connects you with locals with whom you exchange pet and house sitting services for free accommodation.
READ MORE ABOUT THE SHARING ECONOMY:
- How to Use the Sharing Economy to Travel on a Budget
- How to Find the perfect Apartment on Sites Like Airbnb
5. Cook Your Own Meals
The best way to save money on the road is to cook all your own meals. While in Stockholm, I spent $60 USD for a week’s worth of groceries instead of an average of $15 USD per meal eating out! That’s a savings of $150 USD!
I’ve done the same thing in dozens of countries all around the world — especially in expensive destinations like Iceland where eating out can really destroy your budget.
If you are staying in hostels, book accommodation that has a kitchen so you have space to cook. If you’re Couchsurfing or using Airbnb,your host will probably have a kitchen.
No kitchen? Pack your own container and cutlery and make some sandwiches and salads on the go. Not every meal requires a stove, right?
Just because you are traveling doesn’t mean you need to eat out every meal. You won’t ruin your trip to Paris if you decide not to eat out one day! There’s simply no reason to be spending lots of money on food on your trip!
READ MORE ABOUT SAVING MONEY ON FOOD WHEN YOU TRAVEL:
6. Get Rail Passes
Rail passes (like the Eurail Pass in Europe or the JR Pass in Japan) are a great way to save money when it comes to train travel. If you’re traveling around the region for a while, rail passes will likely be much cheaper than just booking individual trips.
If you are booking individual trips, booking ahead of time can usually save you about 50% of the cost of a train ticket. However, that fixes you to a set timeline. If you don’t want to be tied into a fixed schedule, rail passes can save you a lot of money while giving you the flexibility you need. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars in Europe doing this!
READ MORE ABOUT RAIL PASSES:
- Is The Eurail Pass Right For You?
- A Complete Guide To The Eurail Global Pass
- The Ultimate Guide To Saving Money With Eurail Passes
- A Complete Guide to the Japan Rail Pass
7. Sleep in Large Dorms
Large hostel dorm rooms are the cheapest paid accommodation out there. If Couchsurfing isn’t your thing, this is your next best way to save money on a place to sleep. The bigger the dorm, the cheaper it will be. While a 4-6 bed dorm might give you more privacy, a 12-18 bed dorm is going to be a bit cheaper. In the long run, this will add up. As long as you’ve got earplugs and a sleeping mask, opt for the bigger dorm to keep your budget intact!
If you’re a light sleeper, make sure you read the reviews before you book to ensure you don’t choose a party hostel. In larger cities, you can usually find a hostel that is quieter than the others. It might not be as social or as centrally located, but you’ll at least be able to get a good sleep.
In a large dorm, you’re almost guaranteed to have some snorers. If earplugs don’t quite do the trick, download an app like Rain Rain, which plays rain sounds on a loop. You can set a timer so they stop playing after an hour or two, helping you ignore the noises of the dorm while you try to fall asleep. Spotify also has all kinds of rain and whitenoise playlists too.
For discounts on hostels in Europe, check out HostelPass. This card gives you up to 20% off hostels throughout Europe. They’re constantly adding new hostels too. I’ve always wanted something like this and am glad it finally exists! (Use code NOMADICMATT for 25% off your membership.)
READ MORE ABOUT HOSTELS:
- Why I Still Stay in Hostels When I Travel
- 11 Expert Tips on Picking a Good Hostel
- 6 Ways to Avoid a Bad Hostel
- My Favorite Hostels Around the World
8. Use Student and Other Discount Cards
Are you a student, teacher, or under 26? Welcome to the world of 50%-off attractions and a plethora of discounts! Get a student/teacher/youth card and save big while you’re abroad. Even if you’ve recently graduated, chances are you can still get by with your expired ID card (as long as it doesn’t have an expiry date). Always ask if there are discounts available for students or youth as this is an easy way to save tons of cash as you travel around!
Museums, galleries, and other major tourist attractions usually have discounts (especially in Europe). It never hurts to ask! (There are also often discounts for senior travelers and veterans as well, so always ask!)
9. Get City Tourist Cards
If you plan on seeing a lot of sights in a city, you should get a city tourism card. These will offer you discounted and/or free access to the major attractions and museums, as well as free public transportation. I saved over $100 USD with the London pass, $80 USD with the Paris Museum card, $50 USD with a Helsinki card, and tons more with other city tourism cards.
They are an amazing way to save money on attractions that not enough people use. Just head to the local tourism office to find out what cards are available. They can help answer all your questions and make sure you save as much money as possible. Not every city has them, but most major destinations do and you’ll save a lot of money if you plan on seeing the major sights.
10. Capitalize on Your Skills
Need some cash? Use Craigslist (operates in 70 countries), TaskRabbit (mainly in the US and Canada, though also in Italy and Spain), or Gumtree (UK-based) to find paid odd jobs, like assisting people who need a few things done around the house. It’s a way to make money when you travel without committing to a long-term job.
Additionally, if you have a skill, sell it. Offer haircuts to other travelers, busk for money, provide online services like editing, graphic design, or consulting. It’s never been easier to work online. As long as you have Wi-Fi you can make money. The sky is the limit here — get creative!
11. Travel Hack and Get Free Flights!
Travel hacking is the #1 way I’ve been able to afford so many flights and hotels over the years. By using a travel credit card for regular spending on groceries, restaurants, and shopping, I’ve been able to earn free flights and hotel stays — all by spending money I was going to spend anyway!
These days, there are tons of ways to earn free flights. Simply sign up for a few travel credit cards, collect miles, and then fly for free.
Most cards offer sign-up bonuses of 50,000 points (or more) — which is often enough for a free round-trip flight right there. And if you sign up for both an airline card (e.g., a United credit card) and a general rewards card like the Chase Sapphire, you can combine the two point balances and get a cheap flight faster.
You can go a lot further in the world when you take away the cost of flights and some accommodation. By collecting points and miles through credit card bonuses, smart everyday spending, online surveys, bonuses, and other methods, you’ll accrue a ton of miles even before you’ve left for your trip. There’s even a card now — the Bilt rewards card– that lets you earn points on your rent!
Travel hacking isn’t only for Americans either (though US residents have the best options). Canadians can travel hack too, as can folks from Australia and New Zealand and the UK.
Europeans also have several options as well, including all kinds of airline cards such as Norwegian Air, SAS, Aer Lingus, Lufthansa, and more.
READ MORE ABOUT TRAVEL HACKING:
- Travel Hacking 101: A Beginner’s Guide
- The Ultimate Guide to Travel Hacking
- How I Earn 1 Million Frequent Flier Miles Each Year
- The Best Travel Credit Cards
12. Stay for Free
There are many services that connect travelers with locals who are willing to let them stay with them for free. Using these sites, you will never have to pay for accommodation. Years ago I read about a guy who traveled for years while only Couchsurfing.
I’ve used this service dozens of times over the years and always meet amazing people. Sometimes you get a room, sometimes a couch, sometimes an air mattress, but it’s always free.
Ideally, you’ll want to repay your host’s kindness by cooking them a meal, bringing them a souvenir from home, or taking them out for a drink. But that will still be much cheaper than paying for accommodation!
There are also local Couchsurfing group meet-ups that can help you make friends in your new city. You can even use the app just to meet people without having to stay with them. It’s a great way to connect with local insiders — whether you want a free place to stay or not.
Moreover, because of the rise of the sharing economy in the last few years, there are now websites that let you not only stay with locals but share rides, meals, train tickets, gear, and much more! These websites not only save you a TON of money but also get you off the tourist track and into the local life. Win-win! Here is a list of websites to use for free accommodation:
READ MORE ABOUT FINDING CHEAP OR FREE ACCCOMMODATION:
- How to Find Cheap Accommodation
- How to Start House Sitting and Never Pay for Accommodation
- How to Crush it on Couchsurfing
Hitchhiking is a free way to get around that is relatively safe and quite common in many parts of the world, including Central America, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
I’ve hitchhiked in more than a handful of countries (and I know solo female travelers who have done the same!). Sure, it has a bad reputation in North America, but with some common sense and a bit of patience, you can hitchhike almost anywhere — saving you tons of money in the process!
Here are a few basic tips to help you get started:
- Use a sign – Make a clear sign that lets people know where you’re heading. That will help drivers decide if they can help.
- Look presentable – Wear clean clothing, smile, and don’t obscure your face with something like sunglasses. People want to see who they are picking up.
- Check the laws – Hitchhiking is illegal in some places. Always check the laws to make sure it’s ok to do where you are.
- Take precautions – Note the license plate of anyone who picks you up and text it to a friend. Chances are you won’t need it but it’s better to be safe than sorry!
- Keep your valuables on you – Don’t leave any valuables in your bag if it goes in the trunk in case it gets left in the car (or stolen).
- Consult Hitchwiki – Hitchwiki is the #1 hitchhiking resource there is. Always consult it before you hitchhike to pick up tips and ensure you’re hitchhiking in a safe place.
READ MORE ABOUT HITCHHIKING:
- 14 Ways to Safely Hitchhike Across the United States
- What I Learned Hitchhiking Around China
- A Lesson in Kindness While Hitchhiking through Iceland
14. Take Free Walking Tours
Want to learn about the city, get your bearings, and see the major sights? Take a free walking tour. You can find them in most major cities — just ask the local tourist office, your hostel staff, or Google “free walking tour (city name).”
You’ll get a solid introduction to the city while also getting access to a local guide you can ask questions to. I always start my visits to a new city with one. Just be sure to tip your guide at the end (that’s how they get paid).
READ MORE ABOUT TAKING FREE WALKING TOURS:
- The Best Walking Tours of NYC
- The Best Walking Tour Companies in London
- 8 Ways to Choose the Perfect Tour Company
- The Best Walking Tours in Paris
- The Best Walking Tours in Amsterdam
- A Self-Guided Tour of Colonial New York
15. House Sitting & Pet Sitting
If you’re on a tight budget, you can pet and house sit for fellow travel lovers when they go on their own vacations! In exchange, you’ll get free accommodation while you’re watching their home and pets (animal care is involved 99% of the time).
You can sign up for one of the sites below to start house sitting, allowing you to stay in one destination for a while without having to pay for accommodation. Everyone’s account is verified and has reviews so you know you won’t get cheated.
This is a great way to travel long-term, with an important added bonus: you get a kitchen to cook your food (which saves you even more money!).
You will also often get access to a vehicle and sometimes will be left a tip or free groceries. It’s generally people who are well enough off that they can afford multi-month vacations, so you’re usually in pretty nice homes and apartments too!
Here are the best house-sitting websites to check out:
READ MORE ABOUT HOUSE SITTING:
16. Use Your Social Network
Does your colleague have a relative in Spain? Or maybe you have a distant cousin who lives in New Zealand. Or maybe a childhood friend of yours is working down in Brazil.
These days, we have a vast social network of friends and family that stretches across the globe. Don’t hesitate to use that! Ask your co-workers and friends if they know anyone where you’re going. Get your mom to ask her co-workers and friends, too.
Using your social network can be hugely helpful in traveling the world. You never know who knows who! ***
By implementing a variety of these tips, you’ll be able to travel for relatively little money. With a little planning and some creativity, you can travel the world for cheap.
Because if I can do it, you can do it too!
Whether it’s two months, two years, or just a two-week vacation, travel doesn’t need to cost a ton. The key is to get out of the mindset that you must travel in the typical manner of simply booking a flight and a hotel. Using out-of-the-box, nontraditional ways to travel can lead to big savings.
But it all starts with a change in mindset. From there, with some patience and practice, you’ll be able to make your travel dreams a reality — without breaking the bank!
Want to Learn How I Travel the World for Free?
Stop paying full price! Download our free guide to travel hacking and learn:
- How To Pick a Credit Card
- How To Earn Miles for Free Flights & Hotels
- Is Travel Hacking Really a Scam?
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- SafetyWing (best for everyone)
- Insure My Trip (for those 70 and over)
- Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)
Want to travel for free?
Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation. They are what keep me traveling so much for so little. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.
Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.