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Ten Ways to Travel For Free … and Maybe Even Get Paid To Do It

So you want to see the world? You’ve got the time, the energy, and maybe you’ve even picked up a few useful words in several different languages. Obviously, you want to get out there and spend that time wisely, burn that energy constructively, and use those words contextually. There’s just one problem. You don’t have any money. Granted, that isn’t ideal, but it’s also not a dealbreaker. There are actually all kinds of cool ways to adventure both in the U.S. and abroad without so much as a dime to your name. Not only are there lots of amazing ways to travel for free, but if you do it right, you may even find a way to get paid for it!

Your cool aunt probably has some enlightening stories about selling beads and hitchhiking her way across the U.S. in the 1960s with nothing but a toothbrush and a Grateful Dead tour schedule. But things are a little different these days. The Grateful Dead are gone and hitchhiking is dangerous. Fortunately, you have all kinds of amazing opportunities today that your cool aunt didn’t. So before you strap on a backpack and start thumbing your way to parts unknown, perhaps consider a few of these safer and far more productive options. 

1. Get a Job Abroad

Obviously, the best way to get paid while traveling somewhere new and exciting is to find a job in a new and exciting place. The last 20 years have seen a dramatic transformation in the global economy. The proliferation of high-speed web technology, mobile telecommunications, and cloud computing has coincided with the elimination of international barriers to commerce and the global coalescence around various multilateral trade agreements. So just what do all of these complicated and overlapping things have to do with you? Companies all over the world are hiring English speaking experts in pretty much every sector. And for many Americans, this opportunity is more than just a chance to experience a new place and culture. It may even offer the opportunity to improve your working life. According to a study from, roughly three-fifths of Americans living abroad work for a living. (The rest of those expats are retired.) But for those who do work, “over three-quarters of them (76%) work full-time. When it comes to overall job satisfaction, respondents are pretty happy, with nearly two-thirds (66%) rating this factor positively (global average: 64%). This is largely thanks to work-life balance, which close to two-thirds of US Americans (66%) are satisfied with.” Whether you’re seeking a profound change in your work and lifestyle, or you’re just eager to experience something new, start by checking out the international job boards offered by notable employment forums like Indeed Worldwide.

2. Work as a TEFL Instructor

Job seeking is, of course, a competitive undertaking in any country. If you’re looking for the perfect job in your field, and in a specific country, it may take some time to find the right match. But if you’re in a hurry to get on the road, there may be an easier way, as long as you’re willing to teach. For outgoing, friendly, and ambitious travelers, Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is an excellent way to go. This opportunity is not limited to those with teaching experience. Anybody with the qualifications and desire can take the necessary certification courses to become a TEFL instructor. Joining a certification program can also put you in a great position to connect with agencies that can actually place you in classrooms all over the world. You can jump from your certification process into a room of students in an exotic country in the space of just a few months. 

3. Join a Work Exchange Program

Perhaps you’re looking for a travel experience that’s a little more grounded. And by grounded, we mean, literally working in the dirt. There are actually quite a few exchange programs aimed at aspiring travelers with a desire to work the land. Farms, ranches, and lodges all over the world have use for visitors who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. Many of these programs are actually designed with a cultural and educational component in mind as well. For instance, HelpX uses home-stays and on-site lodging to board participants, and highlights the opportunity this creates for a more immersive travel experience. Under this arrangement, participants stay with their hosts “short-term in exchange for food and accommodation. HelpX is provided primarily as a cultural exchange for working holiday makers, who would like the opportunity during their travels abroad, to stay with local people and gain practical experience.” HelpX notes that most participants will work an average of just 4 hours a day in exchange for their accommodations. This seems like a pretty fair trade.  MoneyCrashers identifies several other similar exchange programs including World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, helpStay, and Workaway. Each provides a unique pathway to working in exchange for food and shelter.

4. Join the Peace Corps

John F. Kennedy launched the Peace Corps in 1961 with the mission of aiding in the social and economic development of countries in the developing sphere. This is a strictly volunteer opportunity for college graduates “to immerse themselves in a community abroad, working side by side with local leaders to tackle the most pressing challenges of our generation.” In order to participate, you’ll undergo a three month training program, after which you will be placed in a volunteer setting abroad for a duration of 24 months. You could work with a wide range of partners, and in a wide array of settings, including government agencies, educational institutions, non-governmental and nonprofit organizations, health outreach organizations, businesses, farming cooperatives, youth development programs, and more. The range of responsibilities you might have and contributions you could make are virtually limitless.  It should go without saying that this won’t be a vacation. You will be working hard to make a real, tangible difference in the communities where you serve. But there are also few more immersive experiences that you could have abroad. This is your chance to build real connections, nurture real relationships, and make a real difference in the lives of people in need. After your complete your two years of service, you are eligible to apply for a new assignment.

5. Volunteer

The Peace Corps is just one volunteer option. There are actually thousands of volunteer programs that could provide you with a pathway to seeing the world while doing good. For instance, Go Overseas provides a portal to more than 3,000 international volunteer programs focused on working with local communities abroad as well as undertaking environmental and wildlife conservation missions. In addition to this index of programs, which are accompanied by reviews from prior participants, Go Overseas offers thousands of other listings providing unique avenues to studying abroad, teaching abroad, serving in an international internship role, teaching TEFL Courses (see above), and more. If you’re interested in volunteering, but you’re not entirely sure where and how to start, this is a great spot to begin your search.

6. Pet Sitting, House Sitting, and House Swapping

If all of these exchange and volunteer programs sound like a lot of work, it’s because they genuinely are. But you know what isn’t much work? Bringing in somebody’s mail and watering their plants. One of the more relaxing ways to see the world has got to be joining a house-sitting our home-swapping program. People all over the world enlist the services of these programs as a way to save money on home care while traveling on business or holiday. And if you like cats or dogs, you can expand your search to include those seeking pet sitting services. The way it works is that you get a free place to stay and they get a free dog-walker. Everybody wins. If this sounds interesting to you, you can get started with a look at programs like Trusted Housesitters and MindMyHouse. House swapping programs are similar. There is, however, an added dimension you should be aware of if you choose to participate in this kind of program. Here, you would live in somebody’s house abroad and they would live in your house back here in the U.S. Obviously, you’ll want to be sure this is something you’re comfortable doing, and that you can provide a safe, healthy, and suitable environment for a long-term guest. If you’re interested in trying one of these programs, you can check out services like Love Home Swap, Homelink, and Home Exchange. Any of these programs gives you the opportunity to establish a comfortable, fully-furnished home base from which to launch on countless immersive adventures in a new setting.

7. Check Out Heritage and Citizenship Programs

If you’re after a culturally enriching and entirely free experience, look no further than your own family’s background. Heritage and citizenship programs are cultural expeditions that are either partially or fully funded by a combination of benefactors, non-profit organizations and the destination countries themselves. Typically framed as organized group trips, these experiences are usually only made available to individuals with specific cultural ties to the host country. Participating in a program like this could be a great way to get a free, tour-guided experience alongside other participants while learning a bit more about where your family or ancesotrs came from. Popular heritage and citizenship programs include Birthright Armenia, Birthright Israel, Birthright Macedonia, CubaOne, Heritage Greece, ReConnect Hungary, and much more. Whatever your background, cultural identity and unique immigration story, this could be a great way to connect with your family history for a fraction of what you might pay to do one of those ancestry searches online.

8. Take a Cross Country Drive…For Someone Else

You don’t necessarily have to travel abroad to see amazing new sites, have incredible new experiences, and meet awesome new people. You can do that right here in the U.S. Our national highways and byways are an incredible network of arteries through which flows the bloodstream of American freedom. Too much? Maybe. But there’s nothing quite like the open road—the sweeping majesty of the Rocky Mountains, the lush green cliffs of the Pacific Northwest, the conveniently located outlets and strip malls just off turnpike exits throughout the Mid-Atlantic. If your happiest moments are spent with a coffee in the cupholder beside you, the radio turned up loud, and your seatbelt firmly fastened (because safety first, of course), you might be a good candidate for this mode of travel. Road trips are always fun, but less so if you don’t have a car. And even if you do have a car, the costs of gas, tolls and jerky can add up. But what if you weren’t paying for any of it? Enlist with a vehicle relocation service like Auto Driveway and you could drive cars cross country for dealerships, commercial fleets, and even everyday consumers who are relocating to new jobs, moving across state lines or just retrieving newly purchased cars. Once you’ve completed proper driver safety training, you could be on the road, earning dollars, and seeing all kinds of crazy roadside attractions in a matter of weeks. 

9. Roadie For a Band

If you’re into the idea of a road trip but you want company while you’re doing it, find yourself a hard-working, road-tested touring band—the kind with real instruments and gear. This is easily the least glamorous way to travel, arguably even grimier than the farm co-op program we told you about earlier. You’ll be staying in crummy motels, crashing on couches, cramming into vans, and staying out crazy late. And that’s just the good stuff. You’ll also be heaving amps onto stages, pushing pianos into U-Hauls and, with most bands, dealing with some pretty eccentric personalities. Touring life is pretty grueling. It’s hard work and the pay is pitiful. But it should go without saying that you’re not there for the pay or the glory. You’re there to see the country and to take in some live music while you do it. And hey…if your band ever really makes it, you could be lugging their gear in the big leagues. 

10. Crew A Cruise Ship

If the thought of a road trip doesn’t do it for you, how about a voyage? Cruise ships are basically massive floating cities, and like a city, it takes a lot of people to run one. And you don’t need much in the way of a nautical background to work on a big boat. You could do just about anything on a cruise ship from working in a dining hall or doing laundry to turning down rooms and swabbing decks (seriously, that’s actually a thing). If you happen to bring a specific set of skills to the table, your odds of landing a cool gig on a cruise ship are even better. Cruise companies are always looking for fitness instructors, chefs, massage therapists, performers, medical personnel, event coordinators, casino dealers, and more. Cruise ships launch from all over the world. (They also stop in cool places all over the world, which is obviously a bonus for the crew.) Start with a look at who’s hiring through job boards like Indeed, or jump right to any of the leading cruise line websites for a look at current job openings.

And once you’ve gotten a real taste for travel, you may even decide it’s time for a more permanent change in your life. If you find yourself considering a major relocation, check out our 10 Ways to Save Money on a Cross Country Move.