Travel influencers make it seem like traveling well requires wealth, but it isn’t! 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. Well, 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 some free time, it is possible to travel internationally for no cost.
Previously, I’ve written about 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. 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. 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 there permanently. She stayed in a village about an hour down the mountain from Machu Picchu, Ollaytaytambo, Peru.
From a small house near Peru’s Sacred Valley, she taught English to students in China. By teaching in a high cost of living location while living in a country with a low cost of living location, she saved money. Her income from teaching one English class each day was sufficient to fund her lifestyle as an ex-pat in Peru.
For recent college grads, teaching 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. Your employer will pay many of your travel expenses for you. You’ll have options to teach in person or virtually. 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, it’s not always a fact. Some consumers have spending patterns that can create incredible returns on travel rewards.
For example, if you’re a small business owner that buys massive quantities of widgets for resale, you might benefit from using a card with reward points. Consider making your inventory purchases by using a credit card with travel rewards. When cash flows, 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.
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. Other perks (like traveling with a family as they head out on vacations of their own), are often included.
Thousands of corporations house executives and their families overseas temporarily. Many of these working professionals seek au pairs and nannies to care for their children. American nannies are a top choice for child care for both temporary international residents and ex-pats (those who have chosen a more permanent relocation).
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. College classes in child development, a community college parenting class, or simply just first aid certification can help land your dream job.
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 to trade homes. People in one location view, select, and book a house swap with residents somewhere else in the world. 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. It’s a pretty good way to travel internationally for nearly free- and you don’t have to work!
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, you have options. It’s reasonably easy to get free housing, free food, and even 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. However, working in exchange for logging lodging is often exempt- as is volunteering at a farm in exchange for room and board.
In almost any hostel around the world, you’ll find a twenty-something vagabond 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 to support your travel. Be open to sacrificing a bit of pay or a few benefits to get your foot in the door with a company that will pay your on a 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. You might be able to book a return flight Sunday night instead of Friday evening. This practice allows you to stay somewhere cheap or free for a few days while exploring the city on your own time.
Consider the Military
During peacetime, 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 many 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 constantly look 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 worldwide. Working on a cruise ship can be hard work and include cramped quarters and less than ideal food options for employees. However, the drawbacks can be 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. Sometimes, you also get a small stipend or other 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 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, it’s possible. 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. People who are willing to get creative about their employment and labor have many options!
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.
Military, housesitting, and business travel fall last place on my personal list.
However, everyone’s goals, energy level, vocational life, and travel expectations are different! The free ways for international travel that work for some people won’t work for others, and that’s okay!
Lynli Roman’s unique approach to travel is informed by decades of experience on the road with a traveling family and, later, years spent as a solo international traveler. When she’s not writing about Seattle from her Pike Place Market apartment, Lynli writes on-location while conducting hands-on research in each destination she covers. Lynli’s writing has been featured by MSN, ABC Money, Buzzfeed, and Huffington Post. She is passionate about sharing information that makes travel more accessible for all bodies.