How To Travel for Free (or Close to It!)

Even as inflation makes things more expensive, people still have an itch to travel. According to AAA, more travelers are hitting the road this summer — about 4% more than last summer.

The good news is that while everything else is going up, travel prices are going down. Some international flights are down by as much as 12%, reports Fast Company.

Meanwhile, more and more travelers are swapping pricey hotels for cheaper accommodations.

Not only is it possible to capture great travel deals this summer, but there are ways you can actually travel for free (or almost free). Here are eight of them — and how to do each.

Erika Taught Me

  • Housesitting and couchsurfing are two ways you can avoid paying for expensive hotel stays while traveling.
  • Teaching abroad or working a part-time job at a national park can allow you to travel while earning some extra money.
  • Using credit card rewards points can help you offset the cost of a vacation.

. . .

1. Housesit

Housesitting is one of the best ways to travel for free. This typically includes looking after the owner's pets and other chores like watering plants and bringing in the mail while the owner is out of town.

TrustedHousesitters is a popular site for finding housesits. You pay an annual membership fee and can look for housesits within the United States and abroad. 

Finding housesits in expensive destinations can cut down on hotel costs — one of the biggest line items in your travel budget. Plus, access to a full kitchen means you can cook from wherever you're staying and stick to a more frugal travel budget.

Some platforms specifically cater to pet care, like Rover. Instead of just getting a place to stay for free, you can also earn some income for caring for homeowners’ furry friend(s).

RELATED: Surprisingly Simple Travel Hacks with Big Impact

2. Home Swap

If you’ve seen the movie “The Holiday,” you know the concept of home swapping very well. You trade homes with someone else, and each of you gets a place to stay for free. (Jude Law and Jack Black not guaranteed.)

Or, you could crash on someone’s couch. Couchsurfing is a popular website that helps you find a place to sleep free of charge. It’s so popular that many countries even have local couchsurfing meetup groups, so you can mingle with other travelers.

While there’s no expectation of payment for your stay, couchsurfers usually bring a gift to leave with their host or do something nice for them during their stay, like cooking a meal. 

You may even form a friendship that leads to open invitations to visit your host again in the future!

3. Volunteer

Volunteer organizations and aid groups may provide accommodations in exchange for your time, skills, and expertise. This can include room and board and, depending on the organization, even airfare and local transportation.

Habitat for Humanity and AmeriCorps are two examples of U.S. organizations that allow volunteers to travel for free domestically.

For international travel, churches and religious organizations often partner with host country organizations to sponsor mission trips. These types of trips usually work on specific projects over a short period.

Other types of volunteer engagements, like the Peace Corps, have a competitive application process and require a long-term commitment. For these types of volunteer opportunities, you might earn a stipend and develop work experience that can help you in your career.

4. Work Trade

If you don’t mind putting in the hours, you can get free room and board while you travel with a work trade.

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms — known as WWOOFing — is a popular way to find work opportunities. Once you register on the platform (which comes with an annual fee) you’ll have access to job openings at farms in more than 45 different countries.

If farming isn’t your thing, you can look into working in the hospitality industry instead. Hostels typically provide work arrangements where they offer free accommodations for helping to check guests in and maintain the facilities. Depending on local labor laws, you might even earn an hourly wage, too.

With work trades, expect to work certain hours with time off each week to explore. Hosts usually request that you stay for several weeks at a time. This might be a slower way to travel but it gives you the chance to get to know the places you visit on a more intimate level.

5. Teach English

Another work-related job that allows you to travel for free is to teach English abroad. Not only will you get paid to teach, but if learning a foreign language is something you’re interested in, this is a great way to do so.

Your room and board will likely be covered and you can expect to earn a stipend, too. Some countries compensate their teachers more than others so that is something to keep in mind when you’re creating your travel budget. 

While most other work trade travel arrangements don’t require experience, you’ll need to complete a TEFL or TESOL certification before you can get a teaching job abroad.

6. Get a Part-Time Job

National parks, ski resorts, and summer camps all need staffing during peak times.

CoolWorks is a website that posts seasonal and part-time jobs at popular travel destinations around the U.S., including Hawaii.

You can also get an old-fashioned part-time job working for an airline or a hotel chain. Some companies offer travel benefits as part of their compensation package. This includes free flights or hotel rooms.

7. Use Credit Card Points

Travel hacking is a great way to travel for free and doesn’t necessarily require you to do so on a budget. 

Travel rewards credit cards allow you to earn points for every dollar you spend. You can rack up points and use them to book airfare, hotel rooms, and rental cars.

Some cards also come with special perks. Depending on your status, you might be able to check in a bag for free, get priority boarding, or score lounge access. 

8. Plan a Road Trip

Not all trips require a flight. A road trip can be an affordable way to travel around the U.S.

The National Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management maintain public lands that are free for anyone to use. Many come with designated campsites that are available on a first come first served basis. 

While there is a limit to the amount of time you can stay in a single spot (usually 14 days), you can bounce between different sites. 

Camping around the country and cooking your meals from a camp stove can give you the chance to travel for free while living on a budget.

READ MORE: Cheap Summer Staycation Ideas

Tips for Traveling Cheaply

When you’re looking to travel for less, here are a few extra tips to consider:

  • Avoid tourist hotspots. While you might want to travel to Barcelona or Paris, it isn’t necessarily going to give you opportunities to travel on the cheap. Look for smaller cities to visit that are off the beaten path.
  • Travel in the off-season. You’re more likely to find deals when you travel in the off-season. If you’re using credit card points, this can help stretch them further.
  • Cook as much as you can. With food prices sky-high, dining out has gotten way more expensive. Cooking as much as you can from a hotel room or your host's home can help you free up cash to spend on other things during your trip.

FAQs

When do flights go on sale?

Airfare fluctuates weekly. Flights usually go on sale at the beginning of the week — some travelers say Tuesday morning is one of the best days to find a deal, but it really depends on the airline.

To keep track of price fluctuation, set up an alert on Google. It will let you know when the price changes. Look for a pattern to find the best day to book your trip.

When is the best time to buy airline tickets?

The best time to buy airline tickets is during the off-season or at least several months in advance of your desired travel date. Compare prices across different websites to find the best deal.

If you’re not picky about where you go, you can try this Google Flights hack: Don't choose a destination. Instead, choose your starting point, select “Explore,” pick your dates, and see what pops up for cheap.

TL;DR

It’s still possible to travel without much money, provided you’re willing to put in a bit of legwork. 

Home swapping, house sitting, volunteering, and working abroad are all ways that you can see the world without emptying your bank account.

And if your credit card earns you travel rewards, you can use those points to score yourself cheap flights and hotel rooms!

For more cheap travel hacks, check out these episodes of the Erika Taught Me podcast:

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I'm an award-winning lawyer and personal finance expert featured in Inc. Magazine, CNBC, the Today Show, Business Insider and more. My mission is to make personal finance accessible for everyone. As the largest financial influencer in the world, I'm connected to a community of over 20 million followers across TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. I'm also the host of the podcast Erika Taught Me. You might recognize me from my viral tagline, "I read the fine print so you don't have to!"

I'm a graduate of Georgetown Law, where I founded the Georgetown Law Entrepreneurship Club, and the University of Notre Dame. I discovered my passion for personal finance after realizing I was drowning in over $200,000 of student debt and needed to take action-ultimately paying off my student loans in under 2 years. I then spent years as a corporate lawyer representing Fortune 500 companies, but I quit because I realized I wanted to have an impact; I wanted to help real people and teach them that you can create a financial future for yourself.

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Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.