How to travel for free: Part 1

Work exchange to travel for free

For most people, one of the biggest barriers to entry when it comes to long-term travel is money. I can tell you from experience, fretting over finances when you’re supposed to be having the time of your life is a real bummer. Fortunately, there are some ways to travel for free — though finding the right one can feel a little like hunting for a unicorn. Here’s everything you need to know to start planning your free adventure.

The “Is it really free?” disclaimer

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, right? Often, when bloggers talk about “free travel,” what we really mean is free lodging. Sometimes you can get food, too, but it’s rare to get transportation covered (though you may be able to receive free ground transport, like an airport transfer).

In our experience, the more you get for free, the more you have to work for it, and the less sightseeing you’ll be able to do. The same goes for the duration of your trip. If you stick around for months, you’ll probably be given more gratis, but that obviously means you won’t be jetting from place-to-place or really “traveling” in the traditional sense.

What to think about before booking your free travel

What do you want to get out of the experience? Sure, lots of people travel just to relax, but there are a lot of other reasons to get away, too. Are you seeking solitude and inspiration for a creative project? Relaxation and beach time? An opportunity to learn a new skill or further your career? Do you simply want to experience a totally different culture and get truly immersed? Make sure that the opportunities you’re seeking actually fit with your goals.

Can you and do you want to do the work required? Only you know your tolerance for grunt work (or any other kind of work, of course). If you’re hoping to relax and recharge, carefully consider whether the work-exchange you’re signing up for really qualifies as a vacation before you commit. Also keep in mind that, while caring for someone else’s pets may seem like a piece of cake, there is a lot of responsibility on your shoulders when you’re in charge of the health and well-being of others’ beloved companions.

What is included and what’s not? Consider: airfare, ground transportation, lodging, food, alcohol, cell phone and internet, laundry, and other miscellaneous expenses. Also keep in mind that what you spend on the non-included costs can vary a lot from place to place. Volunteering in a rural village in Kenya? You probably won’t spend much partying. But if you’re working at a scuba resort on a tropical island, you can bet your peers will be dragging you out for brews. If you’re in a remote location or resort, your food options could be limited to very pricey restaurants.

How long do you need to stay? As mentioned above, you’ll probably have to stick around for at least a month or two to earn completely free lodging and some meals. If you’re just going on a short vacation, your free travel options will be far more limited.

How much free time will you have? Make sure you understand all of your obligations. If you’re sitting for pups who need twice daily walks, don’t count on any long daytrips or overnight stints in the surrounding area.

What can you afford? All of the opportunities I’ve encountered have some cost associated with them — even if it’s just the flight to your destination or spending money. Be honest with yourself about what you can afford. Make sure before jetting off on a 3-month unpaid internship that you’ve got the funds to pay for your flight home and the expenses you’ll incur abroad. Don’t count on picking up an odd job to earn spending money! On the other end of the spectrum, while “free” might sound appealing, if you only have two weeks and you want to really relax and recharge, work-exchange might not be for you (why not consider staying closer to home to save on airfare and go camping?).

Now you’ve got plenty to consider before jumping into the work-exchange world, so I’ll be back tomorrow with the big secret: where to find these amazing opportunities.

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