Tips for World Travel on a Tight Budget

When contemplating world travel, the pesky cloud of cost often visits, dousing any thought of traveling abroad. Shoot, most of us save and stress just to get enough time on a beach to get into that vacation vibe and being to unwind. In the meantime, those adventurous enough to step away from the trappings of travel brochures, and yes, from all-inclusive resorts, are kicking that cloud to the curb and enjoying world travel – fun, authentic experiences and relaxation included -- on a tight budget. Some even get paid to travel the world. Usually, when something sounds too good to be true, it is. Once you read about the methods that set inexpensive, even free, world travel at globe-trotting fingertips, decide for yourself.

After airfare, lodging usually taps the piggybank more than any other travel expense. First we'll examine the accommodations, and then we’ll look at cutting airfare. Since most have heard of exchanging homes with another traveler, such as with the service HomeExchange featured in the 2006 movie The Holiday (Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet), and hosteling is a household word for shoe-string budget travelers, we’ll look at lesser known tricks of the free-lodging globe-trekkers.

Couch Surf for a Cultural Experience

If you’re willing to trust in humanity, check out couchsurfing.com. The service -- reported on by reputable sources like the New York Times-- connects hosts with travelers seeking free, short-term accommodations and an authentic cultural experience. The latter is critical to hosts who join for similar reasons, including the love of regaling travelers with stories and tips on their locale. The most popular cities with this group range from Copenhagen to Paris, but domestic cities and exotic places like French Polynesia aren’t off their map.

Housesitting For Privacy and Roominess

Prefer more time to yourself than couch-surfing allows? Want to see Canada or more of the United States? Consider registering with a housesitting service.  Sites like Housesitter.com, which features member feedback and referrals provide a sense of comfort to homeowners. The housesitter has plenty of time to relax and explore the area, after watering the plants. Would you prefer walking the dog or nuzzling with the cat? As part of the CareGuide Family, the site has links to pet sitting and other work for accommodations.

Farming (or perhaps another trade) for Free World-Wide Lodging

Another way crafty travelers secure longer-term lodging is through the WWOOF program, which stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms. The emphasis here is on workers, which may not fit the bill for everyone. But, if you have a passion for plants, the earth, gardening, farming or simply being outside, trading a few (or more) hours of labor a day for a nice place to stay (of course the digs will vary) as well as some camaraderie and time to explore on your own, WWOOFing might be for you. The WWOOF network spans the globe and is an amazingly organic way to get to know new people and places.

Don’t dig the soil? WWOOF has grown to include opportunities for folks with all sorts of skills, from carpentry to website design. While you can advertise in your travel destination’s newspaper and such, WWOOF provides a community and reviews.

With WWOOF and the services mentioned above, plan to spend time cultivating relationships and sharing expectations.  

Free and Low-Cost Airfare

It may be easier than you think to fly for free or super cheap. Wise Bread suggests volunteering to be bumped, flying standby and using a credit card that provides frequent flier miles. The airline’s own frequent flier programs also help rack up free miles. If you experienced problems during your flight, a civil complaint would often result in the airline giving miles or a free ticket. (Note: We’re not enouraging you make something up)

Also, you can sign up for the airlines’ email list and keep an eye out for screaming deals (sometimes airlines have sales or make mistakes and offer hugely discounted tickets). If you’re flexible with timing and carrier, check out Hotwire.com, which sells tickets at deep discounts for airlines left with empty seats.

Other Tips for Budget Travel

Taking the path less traveled, away from big cities, has its perks: rural folks tend to be friendlier, and campgrounds are easier to find. But as shown above, opportunities for cheap and free accommodations exist in cities, suburbs and the wilderness.

While traveling for free can indeed restore one’s faith in the generous spirit of humanity, please do keep safety in mind, particularly when going solo. Taking a self-defense class and carrying a legal deterrent (pepper spray?) provides confidence, and that alone makes a difference. As always when traveling, give a trusted friend or family member your itinerary and update as plans change, as they will if you are of the adventurous, spontaneous persuasion. Now that you know how to travel the world on a budget – or even for free, what dreams of adventure will you fulfill?

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