Traveling for free – sounds too good to be true, right? Even though you can definitely travel a lot on a tight budget, it’s probably impossible for any of us to see the world without spending a single penny. Such statements are usually there only to attract more viewers without getting into details and mentioning the hidden or even obvious costs and disadvantages of following some of the travel tips. Let’s take a closer look at a couple of them:
- You can earn money or get free trips thanks to your travel blog!
You surely can. But if you add up the time and money spent on putting up a website, it doesn’t seem that free anymore. The sad truth is that there are thousands of travel bloggers and most of them will never make it. Sometimes it’s your PR skills, your pictures or writing style, sometimes it’s pure luck, and even if it happens, it takes a long time. Most of the renown travel bloggers of today have been out there for a couple of years already and worked hard for their recognition, not just by adding new posts, but also connecting with other people and learning how to handle social media like pros or taking additional blogging courses. Even if you already have the skills and connections, you still have to offer something more than others to be seen and wanted by companies who could possibly work with you. You end up having a very flexible, but still time consuming job that might or might not pay out in a distant future. So, if you’re just starting out – it would be safe to keep in mind that it might stay only a hobby and never develop into a valuable source of income.
- You can get airline miles and hotel points! That’s both flying and living for free!
Yes, but to earn these points using your credit cards you need to… spend money. Or apply for a new credit card. Or sign up for a points program. If you’re already spending a lot – sure, it’s a great way to, at some point, be able to fly somewhere free of charge. But what if you’re really broke, struggling with finding money for your everyday needs, or happen to live in a country that doesn’t have a great points program to offer? In this case, you won’t be using that tip anytime soon.
- You could try Couchsurfing (or some similar portal) and find free accommodation!
That topic was already tackled by the guys from Angloitalian in their article about Couchsurfing – it’s advertised as free, but, as many things in life, isn’t. You’re someone’s guest and even though they agree to that, you’re still using their living space, their electricity, water, and other things that they pay for at the end of the month. It’s an unwritten rule that you should invite your host for a beer or a dinner (whether you go out or just cook something in their home) or at least bring them a souvenir from your country. And you still have to eat something… whether you use the home kitchen or go out, it’s still some amount of money flowing out of your pocket. Same goes for petsitting or housesitting – unless you find a paid offer, you need to spend something on house maintenance, yourself and the cute little creatures you’re taking care of. Of course, it’s cheaper than a five, or even a two star hotel/hostel – but it’s not completely free. Add to this that lots of housesitting jobs are in countries with an average to high cost of living… you might save more backpacking through South-East Asia and staying in cheap hostels than you would just buying groceries and cleaning products in Barbados while taking care of someone’s home (which, on the other hand, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go for it if you can afford it!).
And what about camping? You’re going to need a solid tent, and unless you’re able to rent it… you have to pay a lot for it. Also, many camping sites aren’t free and if you decide to skip them and go off the path you might get the adventure of your life – or pay a hefty fee for breaking the law, depending on your luck.
- You can work as an au pair / English teacher / tour guide / ..!
But… since when does working for something count as getting it for free? Granted, it’s a great way to stay abroad when you run out of money or don’t want to spend your entire savings, but it’s not something that comes at no cost whatsoever. You’re investing a lot of time and effort and you’re using your skills to earn money or get accommodation – the main difference to working at home being that you get to live abroad in exchange for your work. Also, in most cases, you need to at least pay for the ticket to get to your destination and provide for yourself for the first couple of days/weeks, even if later on you’re able to cover everything you need with your earnings. Which bring us to the next point…
- You just need the courage to board the plane / get into this bus /..!
Unless you’re really invincible, you’re gonna have to spend quite some money on your insurance – and the further you go, the more extreme adventures you plan, the more expensive it gets. It’s completely irresponsible to travel without any backup, and while it might save you some money, it can also screw you for life if something bad happens. Also, if you’re really planning on jumping on that plane, you might want to buy some tickets. And, very often, also pay your visa. You’re going to trek the mountains in Nepal? You likely have to buy or rent some gear. All you have for summer is short shorts and tube tops? You might consider buying something more covering and comfortable if you’ll be spending the next 6 months in India. Also, it may be highly advisable, or even required to take certain vaccinations before you go to some countries. And it’ll be covered from your own pocket.
So… what should I do? Is all advice worthless?
No! These tips are actually great for saving money and can get you very far if you’re on a tight budget… but they should be advertised as such, not as ways of traveling the world for free.
It’s misleading to suggest that anyone could travel the world for free – simply because lots of things have hidden costs and it’s just better to be prepared for that than to wake up penniless in the face of some kind of emergency.
Maybe one day you’ll be able to get lots of perks from your website or find a very undemanding or pleasant job and you won’t feel like you’re working much for your travels – there’s a chance that it will be almost as if it’s for free or at a very low cost. For now, it might be best to adjust your expectations to reality – and reality doesn’t look bad, especially if you’re lucky enough to come from a country with a decent economy. With some savings and budgeting, you’re most likely unable to open a real estate business in Hawaii or go skydiving in Australia every day, but maybe you could, for example, go backpacking around Asia or Eastern Europe for a longer while. Or buy a ticket to somewhere and have enough to pay for your accommodation while looking for a job. Or get a course in something you might use to earn money during your future travels. There are many possibilities and lots of articles on how to monitor your expenses and spend as little as possible. Even though – like most of us – you’ll probably go way over the budget on your first trip, with time you’ll probably get more and more savvy – and you’ll be able to travel for much longer.