When I decided to quit my job and embark on a backpacking journey that ended up lasting a year, I had R100 000 (South African currency) saved. For those who want to do the conversion, that’s roughly $7500 now. That’s a fair bit of money that I saved over an 18 month period while working. The reason I saved so much was because it was my first travel adventure on my own and I wanted to make sure I had enough. The reality - as I found while traveling - is that you don't need that much money. In fact, if you’re smart you can travel the world for free.
I mean, while in New Zealand, my friend and I met someone on the beach who let us stay in his house for a few days, gave us food, and even let us use his car. If that isn’t generosity, then I don’t know what is. So, if you have an open mind, avoid travel agencies, and embrace minimalism, it’s more than possible to travel on a budget, if not for free.
So, how can you travel the world for free?
Avoid Travel Agencies
Travel agencies charge an arm and a leg. Sure, they plan everything for you, but it ain't cheap. When I traveled to Thailand, I had nothing planned aside from my flight and a rough idea of where I was going.Was it scary? Yes. Did I die? No.When I landed in Bangkok, I walked around, compared prices and found a cheap taxi that took me to Khaosan Road in Thailand. From there, I found cheap accommodation, and so, my travel journey started.
Had I pre-planned everything before, not only would I have spent a fortune, but I would've been locked into a pre-planned itinerary. This is limiting. If you’re someone, like me, who wants to embrace the traveling experience and the local culture, this is a no-go.What happens if you meet someone who you want to travel with for a bit? Or if someone tells you about a place worth visiting? Or if you find a cheaper deal for accommodation nearby? Or if you don’t like where you’re staying?
So, keep your options open. Plan less. Stay flexible.
Have an Open Mind; Don’t Be Afraid to Connect
Open yourself up to new experiences, get out of your comfort zones and be spontaneous. Approach that random stranger in a Hostel. Introduce yourself. Don’t be afraid to connect with people. Not only will you grow as a person, but that random stranger may surprise you with immense generosity.
I’ll give you an example. Walking on a beach in New Zealand, a french friend of mine approached a local Kiwi who was fishing. We started chatting. We told him what we were doing and he then invited us to stay over at his place for a few days (meals included). Not only did he gives us free accommodation, but he lent us his car allowing us to travel for free - aside from fuel - for a few days.
Ask yourself: “How Much Do I Really Need?”
We live in a world of mass consumerism. We’re spending money on unnecessary things when the truth is that we need very little. If you want to travel the world for free, adopting a minimalistic approach will get you far. You’ll need a few essentials like your backpack and some clothes.
Once you have that, the other stuff - the stuff that matters - is free. Hiking is free. Going for a walk is free. Connecting with another human being is free. You really don’t need all that stuff. Start training yourself to live with only that which you need.
Offer to Work for Accommodation
In New Zealand, I stayed at a cheap backpackers. While I never stayed there for free, I have friends who did. How did they do that? Well, they offered to work for their accommodation. It’s as simple as approaching the staff where you stay and asking them if there are any openings.
Explore The Countryside; It's Cheaper
The city, while fun, will drain your finances. Sure, there’s a lot to do, but these things cost money. Moving to the countryside will not only be cheaper, but more relaxing. Why sleep in a hostel on a busy street, when you can sleep under the stars for free? Why spend a fortune to have fun, when you can spend nothing?
Find a Job That Lets You Travel
There are plenty of travel jobs that entail extensive traveling, allowing you to soak up new countries and cultures. Tim Patterson, Matador Network contributor mentions, “Native English speakers can often travel for free by teaching language classes in each destination they visit.”
For job, ideas check out 18 Awesome Travel Jobs That Will Allow You to Work From Anywhere.
Another great way to travel the world for free is to create a profile on Couchsurfing. Using the platform you can connect with locals and stay at their houses for free. You'll need to do a little upfront planning i.e. connect with people but it’s worth it for free lodging.
Before I went to New Zealand, I created a profile on Couchsurfing and connected with a local in Christchurch. She agreed to let me stay at her place for two nights. Not only that, but she picked me up from the airport at 02:00 in the morning - and to my surprise - even showed me around the city. I explored the gardens, museums, and got to taste the local cuisine. And the beauty of it? It cost me nothing.
So, open your mind and you’ll be surprised at the generosity of people. Avoid travel agencies, take a minimalistic approach, work for accommodation, explore the countryside, find jobs that let you travel, and use some good old technology to connect with locals through Couchsurfing. You’ll be all set to travel the world for free, or at least come darn close.