How to Travel the World With (Almost) No Money

If there’s one thing that continues to surprise me on my globe-trotting journey, it’s the reactions I get from others when I give them a peek at my bio.

I’ve been asked if I am the son of some rock star or hedge fund manager – living abroad under a false identity, of course – or if I’m a trust fund kid living out an extended gap year, or a million of other things. ‎

world globe

The truth is, as the adage goes, less glamorous than fiction.

Or is it? What if I told you that what I do, living as a nomad, country-hopping for a living, is something that nearly anyone can accomplish, and that money is not the defining barrier between those who dream and those who do?

What if I went even further and told you that you can actually travel the world (almost) for free?

Well, that’s just what this guide will be about. I am going to share with you some tips, strategies, and valuable experience I’ve learned on how to travel without money.

Before you go…

Before I send you off on your glorious journey, here are a few things to consider.

I’m by no means trying to be a killjoy (those who know me would know I am anything but), but sometimes you need to be able to sit down and think things through rationally.

Assess your savings

piggy bank savings

This is something you’d best do before you head out in the first place. After all, the vast majority of the people who will be reading this will be complete newcomers to backpacking around the world with no (or little) money.

That’s great! Believe it or not, but time, not wealth, can often be your greatest advantage. It allows you to plan ahead and calmly put things together before you dive in.

Before you embark on your journey (which might just become your new life), put together all your savings and everything you own. Count it up, make a list, do everything that helps you get an overview.

Of course, if you don’t really own so many possessions, that only makes it easier to keep everything accounted for.

The idea here is twofold. One, you want to make sure of which things to take and which to leave behind. Whether in the form of physical belongings or financial liabilities, there are probably quite a lot of things you could let go of to rid yourself of unnecessary stress while traveling.

Secondly, it helps you get an idea of how prepared you are to truly make it out there. Make no mistake, this guide is made to help you understand how to travel the world without money.

Still, you can’t deny having some in your pocket anyway could make life easier, right? So sit down, add everything together, and follow your gut to place yourself somewhere on the great risk-reward scale.

There’s no real right or wrong here; it’s all about how far you’re willing to go beyond your existing comfort zone.

Minimize the risks

Get travel insurance

Seeing the world without money comes with certain risks, legal, physical, and otherwise.

I believe that it is up to each of us to decide what we’re comfortable with, and what we’re willing to lose. Think about it: the expensive ways of traveling the world don’t exist for no reason!

Still, I also believe at the same time that most of us can find a happy zone somewhere in between a five-star, four-figure-a-night trip to the Galapagos and an illegal train-surfing escapade through Siberia.

As much as it’s all about risk assessment and finding (and maybe moving a bit beyond) your comfort zone, traveling the world like a true nomad is also about, dare I say, not acting stupid.

Recognize the real value of travel insurance like Safetywing, and invest in at least a bare minimum level of fallback security should something go wrong! As I already talked about above, additional savings can never hurt either.

Downgrade and embrace frugality

Frugal room

This one is not a thing that you can do to travel the world for free. It’s a thing that you can not do, and in fact should not do.

Let me explain. For many of us, particularly those raised in the West, a certain kind of (compared to the rest of the world) hyper-consumption and lavish spending on goods and services is taken for granted.

We make money to take out loans on things we can’t afford, and then we strive to make even more and more just to pay off those loans a bit sooner, while taking out new loans for even shinier things, all in a race to outdo the other.

If you want to live as a nomad and spend as little as possible, then let me break it to you: this kind of lifestyle simply isn’t sustainable in the long term.

When trekking through less wealthy areas of the world, such as Central Africa or South Asia, you might be tempted to think that the low local cost of living means you can use your savings in Western currencies to live like a king and spend like there’s no tomorrow.

For sure, there are some travelers that choose to behave like this – mostly retirees who have nothing to lose.

But apart from projecting a negative image about nomads in general, it is also in most cases extremely wasteful.

Instead, you’ll get by much easier by cutting down on your possessions, reducing your expenses to a certain minimum, and trying to live your life to the fullest in a way that isn’t expressed in constant consumption.

You don’t have to give up every possession, become a monk and move into a sleeping bag. But what you can do is to re-think your approach to the material world around you.

You will live more happily, be more in touch with the local lifestyle, gain more real friends, and staying on top of finances will also be much easier.

Trust me, it works. And it feels wonderful when you get the hang of it.

How to travel the world for (almost) no money

1. Hitchhike or carpool

man hitchhiking

When planning out your adventure, you’ll quickly run into a fundamental roadblock.

Sure, you might be able to imagine how it could be possible to get room and board without spending much (or any) money abroad – and I will go more into that in a bit – but how do you actually travel the world without money?

In other words, how do you get from A to B for free?

There are many options here, and it all depends on that comfort zone that I already mentioned. All of us have our own, and while the point of being a nomad for many of us is to challenge that comfort zone, you don’t want to go all-in without leaving at least a little room to get yourself adjusted.

A classic way to get around for free is hitchhiking, along with its younger brother, carpooling. If you know the right people, you can pull this off entirely risk-free. Of course, depending on where you live and how far away from home you’re thinking of going, that might not be so simple.

But for many, hitchhiking remains a reliable and safe option to see the world – for free! Excellent spots to look for hitchhiking ops include gas stations, rest stops, and roads frequented by travelers – such as those leading right out of or into a major city.

2. Train-hop

woman surfing freight trains

I’ll go on record right away saying that I have never made use of this strategy myself (though I know some who have), and part of the reason is that it’s one of the riskiest and most dangerous ways to travel the world for free. If you’re unfazed by my warning, feel free to read on.

Train-hopping will probably be one of the most effective methods of traveling without money for those starting out in Europe and planning to head eastwards into Central or South Asia. Particularly in Russia and other former Eastern Bloc nations, it’s fairly well-established.

Also in parts of North America, it’s not too rare of a sight.

But what is it, exactly? Well, train-hopping is the practice (supporters might say the art) of using trains as a means of backpacking around the world with no money.

Usually, this means literally hopping on and taking a ride on a freight train to cover a big chunk, if not the entirety of the way to your destination.

You can also hitchhike by means of passenger rail, of course – whether riding the train’s carriage or by simply blending in with passengers or cargo and hoping to not get caught and fined.

In some parts of Europe, there is a great leniency on the side of the law for train-hoppers. This stems from a cultural association between train-hoppers and the poor. That’s why it’s also called “hoboing” in some places.

When I used to live and travel throughout France, I saw plenty of stowaways sitting and sleeping inside the luggage compartments of the long-distance TGV – and every conductor and service personnel in sight walked right past them, pretending not to notice.

Of course, no matter how you twist it, it must be said once again that this is an extremely risky, legally grey, and potentially very dangerous way to travel. For adrenaline junkies and those who really want to nullify their expenses at every cost though, it remains an option.

3. Work on a cruise ship

Cruise ship in the Bahamas

I know what you’re thinking. You’re the kind of person who accepts no compromises. You want the best of both worlds: a way to travel the world for free while also being entirely free of risk. Don’t worry, I got your back.

Ever been on a cruise? It’s a bit like staying at a fancy hotel but, well, out on the open sea. Ever imagined all the work that goes into maintaining a cruise ship, making sure everything runs as it should?

The reason I’m asking is that you might not have realized how you’re probably already qualified to work a fair number of positions on just such a vessel!

The idea is simple: you get a solid paycheck, room, board, healthcare and insurance is all accounted for, and you get to see the world while you’re working! If that’s not the whole package, I don’t know what is.

Of course, there are downsides to working on a cruise. The hours can be long and tough, and unless you’re extremely lucky and play your cards right you won’t really be able to go exactly where you want to go.

If you don’t have a set destination though, and you just want to get “out there” and see the world without any big savings, then this career could be right up your alley! It’s also a great chance to meet some like-minded people and make lasting friendships, of course.

4. WWOOF your way around the globe

farming work

Speaking of a frugal lifestyle, let me introduce you to what is probably the world’s biggest gateway drug within the field of how to travel the world with no money.

WWOOFing, which you might be surprised to hear does not have to involve dogs, stands for WorldWide Opportunities On Organic Farms.

It’s a global volunteer program that allows you to stay anywhere in the world, room and board provided for free, in exchange for doing work on – you guessed it – an organic farm of your choice.

WWOOFing gets you to expand your horizons, pick up new skills, work with some wonderful people, and do a genuinely good deed! I can only recommend it for those just starting out; it’s been one of my favorite ways to see the world for a long time.

5. Exchange your skills for room with Workaway

friends working together

Now, here’s a secret tip that many non-nomads often don’t know about.

Workaway, put in a nutshell, is a service that connects travelers to hosts who let those travelers live with them in a house, apartment, hostel, BnB, forest hut, camper…the list goes on. The point is, you get to stay there for free in exchange for performing some volunteer-type work.

This work can really be anything – writing, teaching languages, et cetera et cetera. This makes Workaway more accessible to a wide audience compared to WWOOFing, though you can find a lot of farm work as well if you’re interested in that.

Some hosts are totally casual and will let you stay as long as you keep them company, help with a few chores around the house, and partake in a little bit of friendly cultural exchange!

Others will be looking for trained specialists to assist with something highly specific. If you’re an experienced carpenter for instance, you can find a lot of good international work on here, and some of it will even be paid!

“Workaway” per se is just one website, and its name has definitely become the catch-all term for these kinds of volunteering opportunities, but there are many many more.

In the past, whenever money was tight and all I knew was where I wanted to go next, Workaway has been – more times than anything else – my go-to source of opportunity for what I could do.

6. Travel hacking

credit cards in wallet

Of course, volunteer work like WWOOF is absolutely amazing, but there is one caveat: your travel expenses aren’t covered. Travel hacking is another great trick on how to solve that problem, even when going intercontinental.

Simply put, travel hacking means making use of various promotions, deals, and special arrangements that travel companies, airlines etc. usually provide for some of their more valued customers.

Of course, whether you have access to these kinds of opportunities will depend on a lot of factors, and travel hacking won’t be an option for everyone.

However, for those who can, paying for flights with points collected on your credit card, for example, can be one way of seeing the world without spending a single cent.

7. Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing is simple, and it works kind of like Workawaying.

You contact a host, who gives you room and board for a certain amount of time – except in this case, they mostly don’t ask for anything in return other than that you behave and don’t break anything.

This makes couchsurfing a means of backpacking around the world with no money that is to room and board what hitchhiking is to travel.

Of course, there’s also a downside to couchsurfing. Or shall I rather say, a risk? Simply put, couchsurfing is not the most trustworthy way of traveling.

You’re entrusting your physical safety to a total stranger whom you’ll be living with for a certain amount of time with no oversight, so that’s not exactly foolproof.

Particularly if you’re a solo female traveller, this is something I’d seriously consider before embarking on a couchsurfing adventure.

On the other hand, the “close quarters” intimacy of couchsurfing is exactly where it got its many many fans from.

You get to experience life in a new place from the eyes of an average Joe or Jane – and share with them your own unique perspective, learn from each other, and so much more. This cultural exchange is for many one of the primary reasons to go couchsurfing.

Mainly because of concerns about safety, the reputation of the actual Couchsurfing.com service has taken a bit of a hit in recent years. This is not to say that the actual practice of couchsurfing has become less popular though!

Far from it: countless of “unofficial” couchsurfing alternatives exist! My go-to favorite would be BeWelcome, which is run by an international non-profit and remains the most popular alternative to the original Couchsurfing website.

Alternatively, there is also Trustroots, which markets itself particularly towards hitchhikers, and as the name implies the whole business is based on mutual trust between all its members.

If you’re prepared and have the guts for it, couchsurfing as a means of travel can be one of the most rewarding of them all, period.

8. Try dumpster diving

Man dumpster diving
Editorial credit: LIDERO / Shutterstock.com

Again, this is one of those ways of backpacking around the world with no money that some might scoff at. That’s perfectly fine and valid – but the rest might really be able to strike some gold with dumpster diving.

What is it, you ask? Well, in short, dumpster diving is the act of sustaining yourself from what ends up in large ditches, roadside waste containers, and so on.

No, this doesn’t have to mean literally “rummaging through trash”, wearing lousy clothing, or consuming rotten food.

In many places, establishments like grocery stores and large shopping centers will throw away perfectly new, fresh items every single morning if they weren’t sold by the proper date. Similar stories unfold at many urban landfills.

These can be clothes, food, hygiene products – anything! While truly living off of dumpster diving is a bit daring even for most budget-conscious travelers (though I have heard of some managing this way), you can at least try to drive down part of your existing budget by scoring some smaller consumables for free!

9. Be a house-sitter

Woman house-sitting

What if I told you there is a way that you can travel the world (mostly) for free, and also live a very comfortable lifestyle within a set of four, very comfortable walls that are all your own, without having to worry about rent?

Well, that is just what house sitting is all about. If you haven’t heard of it, house sitting originated as the answer to a simple, common problem.

Many people own a second home, or perhaps a vacation house.

But when they leave their permanent residence, often for a few months at a time, what happens to it? Usually, the time frame is way too short to consider renting it out, but on the other hand you can’t just leave a place standing empty for that long.

Enter the house sitter. This friendly helper’s job is simple: “sit” the house (temporarily living there while the owners are away), make sure everything works, and provide small upkeep and maintenance, like tending to the garden or taking care of pets for instance.

In return, you get to live in luxury (relative to most ways of how to travel without money, at least), and you don’t have to spend a dime!

The properties you get to house sit are often in semi-rural and suburban, relatively wealthy areas, so safety is little of an issue. On the other hand, if you’re house sitting in a country where you don’t speak the language at all, you might run into some issues.

This is because there tend to be fewer cosmopolitans and international travelers here than in the big inner cities and capitals.

If you’re looking to become a house sitter, take a look at HouseSittingWorld, a global community of travelers and like-minded fellows who help each other out in finding homes to sit anywhere on the globe.

This can be much more helpful sometimes compared to “official” services like TrustedHouseSitters, which, while very useful, tend only to cover one country or region individually.

I personally would recommend house sitting to anyone who wants to see the world – for free or otherwise. Some might leave it at a one-time experience; others will turn house sitting into a lifestyle.

Regardless, it gets you places you would probably never end up in otherwise, and it’s yet another way you can travel the world for free, so why not give it a shot?

10. Connect with kind-hearted locals

Make friends with strangers

If there is anything that I have learned through my years of traveling the world solo, it is that “traveling solo” as such is a romanticized myth.

What I mean by this is that no matter whether you’re going alone or with a partner (or a few), you will in all likelihood need to rely on the work of others – for transportation, housing, food, learning the language, and the list goes on.

Sure, it is theoretically possible to survive completely self-sufficiently, living as the proverbial hermit. But, in all honesty, only very few of us are willing to pay the steep price in quality of life, physical and mental effort, and safety that this demands.

In that sense, the friends and connections you make before and during your travels are truly worth their weight in gold.

In my experience, the number-one traveling resource that can truly open up worlds of opportunity when you least expect it to is the social network we all love to hate, good old Facebook.

If you’re like me, you might not particularly enjoy using Facebook that much, but it’s hard to escape the fact that its groups are often more useful than anything you will ever find anywhere else, online or otherwise.

No matter your community, vibe, or inclination, there’s bound to be a travel group for you. From LBGTQ Travel to the Black Travel Movement and Bloggers and Travelers, I’m sure you’ll find somewhere to fit in.

Specifically for women travelers, there is also the truly excellent Host a Sister group, which connects women worldwide with a plethora of hosts in their destination, offering free accommodation.

Many of these groups do not focus solely on connecting travelers with hosts; they’re also an excellent way to make new connections and friends while gaining valuable insight and cultural experience for the place you’re staying.

Of course, if I were to write about every Facebook group that could be useful for the budget-conscious nomad, this guide would approach the length of the average novel.

I’d encourage you to read up and discover for yourself how to travel the world for free, both within and beyond the scope that I covered in this article. See it as a stepping stone to your future adventures, and don’t be afraid!

Good luck out there!

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