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Travel for free: 5 best ways to see the world for nothing

There are no free lunches, someone once said. But what about travels? We've investigated 5 strategies to tour the world for free. But nobody said it's easy.

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The subject of free travels has lured more than one travel blogger and backpacker to google for concrete ideas on how to escape reality and the cost for air tickets and lodging. Can this really be done, one wonders?


Seemingly unattainable, the idea seems to boil down to Milton Friedman’s famous statement that there are no free lunches, in the sense that if you score an advantage somewhere, you’ll end up paying for it later in one way or another. If, for example, you get to stay for free somewhere, you might end up having to spend the better part of the evening politely chatting with your host, rather than hitting the bar across the street. Thus, you haven’t gained anything.

Of course, most backpackers have enjoyed a free night somewhere at some occasion, after having arrived late and found all hostels fully booked. And then, finally, having been saved by a kind local family to spend the night on the sofa.

But harder to carry out, it seems, is the concept of a completely free trip, all included – tickets, lodging, food. Is that even possible to do?


Yes, as surprising as it may sound, it is. At least to some extent, and depending on how much you are ready to sacrifice (no one said traveling for free would be easy). The Traveling Reporter has investigated the matter and found a number of concrete, feasible methods on how to travel completely for free. At least as far as real costs are concerned. Because, as you may find out soon enough, Friedman might have been right after all – “costs” can mean so much more than just money.

Nevertheless, here are our 5 best ways to travel for (more or less) free:


1. The flirty way

In 2012, a guy from the Netherlands calling himself Neil Skywalker released his book “Around the world’s in 80 girls“. In it, as the title suggests, he claims to have traveled through 40 countries in three years by picking up girls at various locations and having them provide lodging. While the prospect of such a journey might seem inviting to many men, in Neil’s case the trip also, apparenly more than anything else, became a way for himself to develop his social skills. In an interview with an Australian travel site Neil explains:

“Becoming a popular guy and learning about Pick Up made me change my mind on a whole lot of things. Especially the discovery of books on learning how to pick up girls was astonishing. I had never even heard of things like that before the end of 2009. I soon found out that a lot was bullshit and learned to develop my own style.”


travel for free

Skywalker’s book.

RELATED Filmmaker shows how to travel for free

Not having read the book myself, I can’t provide a review (a number of people have posted reviews on Amazon). But doing such a journey certainly seems possible – although it’s easy to identify a few possible drawbacks, too.

But it doesn’t end there. With the never-ending entrepreneurship of the Internet, mixing dating with travel has developed into concrete business models in a few cases. In 2012, the Miss Travel travel/dating service made headlines with its offering to beautiful, travel-hungry women to sign up to meet wealthy guys, who were then presumed to pay for tickets. It’s not clear how well the service works in reality. But while it seems viable enough in theory, one recent comment that the Reporter received, apparently posted by a female Miss Travel user, suggests it might not work exactly as intended. As Natalia Pestell reported (an excerpt):

“You will meet there students, then broke guys with mental problems who can not even get ANY girl in their city at all, married players, who is not determined of what they want till the end, they have wives and they want sex, but they are not willing pay any cent even for anything and if they decide to buy you a ticket for a week, then they expect whole 24/7 sex with you for FREE of course.”

(Read the full comment here.)


As for Skywalker, he was far from first writing a book about his accomplishments abroad with the opposite sex – online bookstores are full with similar titles, one of which is “Dirty Nomad: Not your typical backpacker story”. That one, though, does rather appeal to the adventurous than those longing for sex and free rides.


2. Volunteer work


Volunteer work can give you new experiences.

Here, if anywhere, Milton Freedman’s decree of no free lunches seems to become true – how can working be considered something free? Well, it depends on how you look at it – there are many stories around of people having worked for months and even years for volunteer organizations, rewarded by fantastic experiences and friendship they otherwise would not have gained access to. is one of many organizations arranging volunteer work, though participants have to pay a fee to be able to join programs. There are others, though; we found this list of volunteer organizations. People interested in this can find a number of blogs on the subject – here is one such list. Also, having a look at some of the charity organizations might also prove fruitful.

A similar approach to this would be to take hire as crew member on a private yacht. The arrangement is usually that the crew help sail the boat, with food and a place to sleep being the salary. This post on Do I While You’re Young has some info.

• See also: “Work on a cargo ship” below


3. Become a travel reporter


Tintin – always on an adventure.

There is a debate going on among journalists about unethical offers by travel companies, inviting journalists on free trips in order for them to write stories about a certain destination. To avoid the problem, large publishing houses usually keep policies stating that such journeys must be paid for by the reporter’s of photographer’s employer, not the travel company. But for many small newspapers and travel websites, the luxury of paying for an expensive ticket to the Caribbean just isn’t there.

Some journalists and travel bloggers of small, independent media have turned these opportunities into a way of life, almost. One of the best in the category, in our opinion, is the Wild Junket, whose editor Nellie Huang is always on her way to a new destination. Often a disclaimer is posted with the Junket’s stories, stating, “Our experience was made possible by [a travel company] but all opinions expressed above are my own. 

There are tales of ordinary bloggers getting these offers too, but it’s hard to assess how common it is. But it certainly is possible for freelancers to keep a fair travel schedule running by making use of the travel industry’s need for exposure. Beware, though, that as far as ordinary newspapers are concerned, competition for the jobs is extremely high, apart from the fact that you’ll need years of training to become a decent reporter.


4. Become a destination scout

Marieta hidden underground Beach Mexico.

Marieta Island’s hidden Beach, Mexico.

Related to the one above, but from the other side of the fence, is the work of finding new destinations for travel companies. These enterprises have people employed whose job it is to scout for good beaches, decent hotels, fine restaurants – and getting paid while doing it.

I have no idea how easy it is to land one of these jobs, but I would imagine there are no lack of applicants. One can also assume this is quite hard work, so if your idea of travel rather limits itself to lying on the beach, this option is probably not your you.


5. Work on a cargo ship


One of Maersk’s container ships.

A few years back, I went on a trip for three months around South East Asia, and was then researching the idea of getting on a cargo ship from, say, Tokyo to Los Angeles. The idea would be to take a cheap job onboard, doing maintenance work or whatever, and seeing the world at the same time. For various reasons it didn’t work out. I guess insurance would have been a possible problem, me lacking the skills needed another (although I actually own a boat).

But even though the world has developed much since the good old days when sailors hade a girl in every harbor and all that, it is certainly possible to work on a cargo ship; obviously, since they are still navigating the seas with crews onboard. This post, from 2009, tells some of the adventures of a crew member having been onboard a cargo ship for five months at the time of writing.

It seems possible that this is easier – and riskier – to do if you start looking for work at the shipping industry in a developing country than, for example, in the United States of Europe. Qualification and safety standards are generally higher in the West.


Another, perhaps easier, approach would be to take a job on a private yacht. Those are plenty in places like the Mediterranean, and their wealthy owners sometimes spend just a few weeks a year onboard, leaving the crew to run the boat as they see fit for the rest of the time. In our Travel Blog Watch section, we reported about Arielle, who managed to land a job as nanny on a luxury yacht. Certainly a way of life worth trying.



The editor of the Traveling Reporter works as a business news editor, and is a frequent traveler. When not doing any of that, he spends time on his boat and tries to figure out where to travel next. Two of his top destinations are the Philippines and San Francisco. Email Erik! Follow the Traveling Reporter at Stumbleupon, Tumblr, Chime In, Pinterest, Google+, Weibo, Storify, Facebook, Traveldudes, Myspace.