All over the world, there are people travelling for months on end, while spending almost no money at all! Let me try to answer the ever enticing question; How to travel with no money?
Just bare in mind, this isn’t a post about how to save money while travelling because that’s a whole other art form in itself. This is simply a post illustrating the techniques that you need to travel with little to no money.
Travelling without spending money isn’t just an adventure. It’s a lifestyle and an art form that only the most dedicated and desperate can fully conquer. There’s a few different factors in this style of life and you need to employ most of them to pull it off. That being said, it’s also true that you can use one or two of these techniques to save money and travel the world with little to no cash or even to keep travelling after your savings have run out. There’s nothing more liberating than having an open-ended trip and knowing how to make that last $1000 last you ages!
There’s nothing more liberating than having an open-ended trip and knowing how to make that last $1000 last you ages! I’ve met some pretty amazing and inspirational people out there who’ve managed to have the time of their lives for months on end with less than $500 to their name.
So let’s take a look at some of the techniques you can use to make that money last.
Couch Surfing – Check out Couchsurfing.com
Crashing in a stranger’s living room is certainly a weird thing to do. I definitely found it bizarre to rock up to an apartment in Istanbul and sleep on some guy’s couch for a week when I tried it for the first time.
As weird as it might be at first, after the first night and a few beers, Couchsurfing can be a great way to immerse yourself in the culture and feel like a local in the place you’re visiting.
My first experience was quite amazing. After applying all over Istanbul for a host, a student from the Asian side offered to host me. He gave me brief directions to his house and I rocked up to find two other Couch Surfers crashing in the living room. From that point, the three of us saw a side of Istanbul rarely seen by tourists. We were graciously guided around the hidden treats and delights of Istanbul’s Asian side. We sat at beautiful and cheap cafés, ate at the local bakery every morning with the rest of the neighbourhood. Not only did I not pay for the accommodation, but I made some great friends and saw a side of the city that I wouldn’t have found otherwise.
Couch Surfing, though it can be tricky to find a host these days (especially one that doesn’t want to have sex with you if you’re a woman), is not just a great way of immersing yourself in the culture. It’s also a way to save on the cost of accommodation while you’re at it.
How does it work?:
- You simply sign up to the website and verify your payment details, phone number and address back home. From there you can apply to hosts all around the world.
- Be sure to get a good reference when you do so more hosts will want to host you.
- Write a personalised message to each host and make sure you focus on some shared interest. It helps to say what you can offer the host in return, whether it be some English practice, some minor mechanical skills or some serious pasta and rice cooking skills.
- Don’t give up. In the first few attempts, it can be a bit of a wait before you link up with someone. But as you get the feel for what people are looking for in their guests, you’ll find it gets easier.
Sadly there is a growing trend in the Couch Surfing community. There are a lot of guys out there who will only host girls. For whatever reason that is, it’s easy to avoid this by checking the references of each host to see if they’re a mix of girls and guys.
None-the-less, Couch Surfing is a must if you want to not spend those precious last few bottle caps on accommodation.
After hitch-hiking half way across Europe – at the time of writing this I have easily hitch-hiked from Bulgaria to Slovenia, over 1000km – I can say that this is an awesome way of getting around. Not only do you end up saving some cash, but you’ll end up learning about the country and even seeing more of the countryside.
I was astounded at just how generous people are when you’re stranded on the side of the road holding a cardboard sign with the name of a place written on it that you can’t even pronounce. Check out my first time hitch-hiking where I ended up being treated to a fancy dinner in Macedonia after a beautiful guided tour through the countryside.
There’re a few things everyone should know beforehand;
- Basically, you stand on the side of the road, and try to catch a ride with drivers going the same direction.
- Make sure you’re standing in the right place to get the most opportunities to catch a ride. Pick a place where cars are going slow enough to see you and have a place to pull over if they decide to pick you up.
- Read up on the country you’ll be hitching through on a site like hitchwiki.org.
- Get prepared with a map, some knowledge of basic phrases, a sign and a marker.
- Make sure you smile, make eye contact with drivers and watch their number plates to find one going to the destination that you want.
- Don’t plan too far ahead, just know where you want to go and expect to be there by the end of the day. Also, make sure you start early. 9:00am-10:00am.
- Be patient. Especially in countries where Hitch-Hiking isn’t very common, it could take you a few hours to get a ride, but it’s worth it in the end if you’re saving that precious $30-$50 on a bus/train/taxi/flight.
- Be safe and use common sense above all else. There’s absolutely no harm in not getting in a strangers car if you don’t feel safe.
Hitch-Hiking is an art form in itself, but it’s essential to getting around if you don’t want to spend your cash on transport. And believe me, if you’re confident and you feel safe, give it a shot.
This is not something that I do and don’t tell your mum or partner I’m encouraging you to do this because it’s a little bit risky and un-kosher. That being said, give it a shot if you’re serious about not spending any money. I’ve met a fair few people who manage to feed themselves three meals a day by picking up some left over pizza off a plate, or finding some fruit and veg thrown out in the dumpster by local supermarkets.
That being said, give it a shot if you’re serious about not spending any money. I’ve met a fair few people who manage to feed themselves three meals a day by picking up some left over pizza off a plate or finding some fruit and veg thrown out in the dumpster by local supermarkets.
Essentially, table diving is the process of finding half-finished meals on tables of restaurants. Some of the time people end up stealing a meal, but often they’re able to ask the restaurant for any left-overs. Places like bakeries and fresh produce shops will likely help you out if you explain your motivation.
Alternatively, you can usually find food thrown out the back of grocery stores once they’ve passed their sell-by date. If it’s there, it’s there for the taking… unless it’s lock away.
When diving for food, make sure that you’re safe, sensible and a little bit sneaky. It’s also worth noting that this works much better in countries with higher food preparation and quality standards.
Extra points for managing to snag a lobster or a rump steak, if you manage this, I’ll buy you a beer.
I was lucky enough to stumble into a volunteering position at a bar on the beautiful island of Koh Rong in Cambodia. I had a great lifestyle which included free food, drinks and accommodation on this tropical paradise. I managed to live the dream while serving beers to my mates and setting up beer pong tournaments on the beach. All the while, I could have spent $0 and stayed for months on end.
Volunteering or working for your accommodation and food is probably the best way to make your money last while on the road. Hostels need staff, bars need bartenders and farms need farmers.
It’s no secret that if you can speak fluent English (which I can, sort of), there’re plenty of opportunities to volunteer like this. You might even find yourself making a few dollars here and there.
Some useful links:
wwoof.net – a great way to find opportunities to volunteer on farms around the world.
workaway.info – The leading site listing opportunities to volunteer in anything from looking after horses to working in bars almost everywhere.
independentvolunteer.org – a great not-for-profit website for finding volunteering organisations without the heavy price tag.
Buying a tent, a camping hammock or even a tarpaulin and sleeping in the bushes, fields or in someone’s front hard is a fantastic way to save on accommodation. Plenty of budget backpackers manage to spend almost nothing on accommodation by finding a place to pitch their tent every night.
I’ve spent a long time fantasising about the opportunities I would get with a camping hammock like this one. Matthew Karsten from Expert Vagabond (photo above) has a great shot of his Hennessy Camping Hammock set up by a lake in the US.
It might mean carrying an extra bit of weight around, but being able to sleep where ever you want is a beautiful freedom. Especially if your cycling, which means that you can make pretty big journeys from country to country and sleep under the stars as you go.
I met two English guys who managed to cycle from England to Istanbul over the space of 3-4 months. One of them only spent roughly $700 USD. They cycled, camped, and bought cheap food to cook at their campsite along the way.
People cycling around the world is not uncommon. This style of travelling is just pure freedom. To be able to go where you want when you want, not having to worry about buses or trains, or catching a taxi to the view-point you want to visit. Travellers manage save big this way.
You can normally buy cheap gear where ever you want to start, but it helps to get in touch with people who are doing the same thing.
Making some money on the road (Briefly)
This is a whole different post in itself, but you can find ways to make money anywhere.
The trick is to get creative. Whether your teaching English, cutting hair or working on a cruise ship, you can find a way to get some cash together on the road.
If you could cut hair for $5 each cut and you were only spending $20 a day, you could spend 2-3 days cutting hair and live the rest of the week doing what you want. And you would never have to go home. I’ve met a few people who managed to do this and even save some cash. The trick is to get creative.
I’ll be writing a very comprehensive list of ways to earn money on the road soon.
Why not check out Wandering Earl’s 42 ways to make money travelling? – A great list of ways to earn a few extra dollars or even enough to keep travelling forever.
Now stop worrying about money and get out there
One of the saddest things to see is a backpacker going back home after a great trip before they’re ready to leave. That’s why I always encourage people to choose to go on an open-ended trip, rather than cutting their trip short when they think they’re going to run out of money. You’d be surprised how far you can make your money go when you get down to the last few dollars.