Travel influencers make it seem like traveling well requires wealth, but with creativity, hard work, and hustle, it’s possible to travel internationally for free.
Although not for the faint of heart, it’s possible to journey around the world without spending a dime of your own money (or, at least, no more than you’d spend staying home).
In this article, you’ll learn:
- 11 ways to travel internationally for free
- 1 popular method for free international travel that ethically is not an ok way to travel
- and my thoughts on the best and worst routes to free international travel.
Keep reading to learn about 11 ways to take off on an international adventure without emptying your savings or running up debt.
Does free international travel sound too good to be true? Some versions of it are; but if you are willing to compromise the finer points of travel and sacrifice a bit of your free time, it is very possible to travel internationally for no cost.
Previously, I’ve written on choosing cheap European destinations, how to save money as a traveler, how to set a budget and stick with it while overseas, and how to make money while traveling, but in this article, I will actually be sharing a few strategies for international travel for free.
Of course, nothing in life is ever completely free, traveling for free generally means that you’ll be giving up your time, your skills, or a bit of your freedom instead of paying money to travel. Without a reduction, here are my 13 ways to travel the world for free
Become an English teacher
When I spent a month in Peru in 2019, I had the opportunity to get to know a fellow American living permanently in a village about an hour down the mountain from Machu Picchu, in Ollaytaytambo, Peru. From a small house near Peru’s Sacred Valley, she logged in each day to teach English to students in China. By teaching English to students in a high cost of living (and better paying) location while living in a country with an extremely low cost of living location, her income from teaching one class of English a day was sufficient to fund her lifestyle as an expat in rural Peru.
For recent college grads, teaching English in another country is a great fit for many travelers who want to travel internationally for free. While you’ll still be responsible for some expenses, it’s easy and affordable to get a visa to teach English in many countries and your employer will pay many of your travel expenses for you. You’ll have options to teach in person or virtually, and typically no special credentials are required.
Become a Pro at Using Travel Rewards
Many reward programs for credit cards are barely better than a scam – but some are legitimate. Though most of the time credit consumers are on the losing end of rewards cards, some consumers have spending patterns that can create incredible returns on travel points and airfare reimbursements.
For example, if you’re a small business owner that buys massive quantities of widgets for resale, consider making your inventory purchases using a credit card with travel rewards. When cash flow is intense, funneling spending through a rewards card can pay off.
Red Flags to Avoid:
- getting random credit cards,
- getting stuck with only one choice of airline to travel on,
- allowing yourself to get into debt in over your head,
- or opening too many accounts to manage well.
If you can handle your spending and payoffs with extreme responsibility, traveling free by using travel rewards may be possible for you.
Become a Nanny
Working as a nanny overseas usually is one of the best paying work opportunities for young adults who want to travel. Free housing and a small stipend are guaranteed, and other perks (like traveling with a family as they head out on vacations of their own), are often included.
Thousands of corporations temporarily house executives and their families overseas. Many of these working professionals seek au pairs and nannies to care for their children while modeling American English. For both temporary international residents and ex-pats (those who have chosen a more permanent stay outside the US), American nannies are an ideal fit for child care.
Au Pair World is a website where you can explore opportunities to travel for free as a child care worker.
TIP: To improve your chances of getting a great nanny gig overseas and traveling for free as a child care worker, invest in training (like college classes in child development, a community college parenting class, or first aid certification).
Trade your House
If you’re a homeowner, one free way to travel internationally is through a house swap arrangement.
Various sites have popped up on the Internet in recent years allowing potential travelers in one location to view, select, and book a house swap with residents somewhere else in the globe. Through this arrangement, you visit their house while they visit your house.
By traveling through house swapping, you can eliminate one of the biggest expenses of traveling (accommodations) and travel internationally for nearly free. Unfortunately, this option is typically not a possibility for renters or people who own a home outside of a desirable tourist location.
Work your way around the globe
If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and WWOOF (aka work as a farm laborer) or work in a hostel, it’s reasonably easy to get free housing, free food, and even occasional free transportation by doing a work exchange.
In many nations, you need a work visa (these are a little tough to get) to get an actual job, but working in exchange for logging lodging is often exempt, as is volunteering at a farm in exchange for room and board.
A number of twenty-something vagabonds can be found in countless hostels around the world traveling internationally for free through the magic of work exchange.
Workaway.info is the go-to place for researching this type of travel and connecting with hosts.
Work for an international company
If you are a recent college graduate or a skilled consultant, you may be able to structure your next job hunt in such a way that you sacrifice a bit of pay or a few benefits to get your foot in the door with a company that will pay your way for few international trips each year.
Many companies that fly employees internationally for business trips are flexible on departure and return dates – for example, if they fly you out to consult with the team in Paris for a Monday through Friday week, they probably won’t mind if you return late Sunday night instead of Friday evening, giving you the opportunity to stay somewhere cheap or free for a few days while exploring the city on your own time.
Consider the Military
During peacetime (is that still a thing?) the military can be an opportunity for travel for certain types of individuals. If you don’t mind extreme structure and physical intensity, joining the military can be an opportunity to see parts of the world you never would as a civilian.
With a large number of other benefits, the military can be a free way to travel the world that works for some people.
Travel Free via Working for a Cruise Line
30 million people took cruises in 20191, and the industry is expected to fully recover by 2025. Cruise ship companies are constantly looking for employees to live on the ship and work in food service, entertainment, hospitality, or specialty positions.
If you’re willing to sign on for months at sea, working for a cruise can be an incredible opportunity to see ports around the world. While working on a cruise ship can be hard work and include cramped quarters and less than ideal food options for employees, the drawbacks can be totally outweighed by the opportunity to travel internationally for free while making friends and earning an income.
Think working on a cruise ship might be right for you? Check out a list of job descriptions commonly available on cruise ships.
Housesitting as a Way to Travel Free
Like house swapping, housesitting is growing in popularity as a way to travel internationally while eliminating the huge cost of lodging and accommodation. Through housesitting, you agree to care for someone’s home, pets, and plants in exchange for free housing (and potentially a small stipend or perks like free food).
Theoretically, housesitting sounds a great gig for international travelers, however, the daily schedule of caring for someone else’s pet, cleaning up its accidents while it stresses over its missing owner, and dealing with home-related emergencies when you’re the person in charge is actually a pretty easy way to ruin a vacation.
While I’ve written at length on how to get housesitting gigs in Seattle, I personally don’t recommend housesitting while traveling internationally due to the complications it adds to what could be a really freeing experience of travel.
Study Abroad to Enjoy Free International Travel
If you are still in school, or would like like to return to school, consider a study abroad program. You can apply for scholarships to cover your costs. In many countries, including Norway, Sweden, and Germany, colleges are free and a number of English language courses are available.
While it’s difficult to complete an entire education in an international location where you don’t speak the primary language, studying abroad can offer opportunities to meet people and see a different part of a country than you would experience simply by being a tourist.
The one way you absolutely
should not travel for free
There are many ways to travel internationally for free that are effective ways to partially or fully discount the cost of traveling, but there’s one method that I want to call out as not a good way to travel for free, and that is begging.
In a number of countries, particularly Southeast Asia, it’s not unusual to see a scruffy-looking Western backpacker crouched on a street corner holding a sign asking for money. These ostensibly wealthy by Southeast Asian standards beggers take money that might otherwise be given to locals with no choice but to live in abject poverty, and in a postcolonial world that’s not just a moral grey area, it’s very clearly wrong.
If you aren’t willing to work your way around the world and can’t afford to travel without begging strangers for money, you simply can’t afford to travel.
Final Thoughts on Traveling for Free
As you can see from this list, there are actually many opportunities to internationally travel for free – especially for those willing to get creative about their employment and labor.
In this list of ways to travel for free, I find the best options are providing childcare, doing a work exchange, or working on a cruise line, with military, housitting, and business travel falling last place on my personal list. However, everyone’s goals, energy level, vocational life, and travel expectations are different so the free ways for international travel that work for some people won’t work for others, and that’s okay!
Artist, digital nomad, and highly sensitive person, Lynli started traveling full time as a digital nomad in 2018. Writer and Illustrator by day, remote-destination explorer by other-days, Lynli is passionate about pushing the boundaries of her own comfort zone, exploring the world as a plus size, one-bag traveler, and journaling it all on WanderBig.com