By Julia Rosien
Mom always said the best things in life are free. Walking barefoot on freshly cut grass, building a snowman, an afternoon with good friends - yup, she was right. But what about travel? Is it possible to jet around the world for free? Well, maybe not free - but cheap, yes.
To travel on the cheap you need three things - chutzpah, creativity and shameless amounts of enthusiasm. And you've got to balance all three of those with common sense, which mom also said was free.
If you're aching to take the trip of a lifetime, don't let a small thing like your wallet get in the way. Check out our top ten ways for traveling cheap - and let us know if we missed any. We'd love to hear your ideas too!
1. Fly smart: Saving money on airfare is the underpinning of my love for travel. I want a safe, cheap flight so I can spend my money at the destination. Our Mr. GoGirlfriend wrote a simple plan for booking cheap online travel. Get out your laptop, pour a glass of wine and dig in. Upside - Finding cheap flights is easier than you think. Reality check - To save money, you'll have to be flexible on arrival and departure times and prepare yourself for layovers between flights. And don't be afraid to hop between carriers to get the best price.
2. Enter contests: win a travel contest. Google "travel contests" and you'll be amazed at how many websites host contests. Tour companies, airlines, cruise lines, resorts and tourism boards offer up prizes all the time and if you're happy to travel anywhere, you might end up traveling a lot more than you ever dreamed. Upside - Travel for free? What's not to love? Reality check - Read the restrictions closely - there may be blackout time periods or other restrictions that prevent you from enjoying your prize when and how you want.
3. House-swap or house-sitting: house sitting while traveling. If you've got a house and live in an area of the world people want to visit, this is an ideal way to trade lodging for travel. Keep in mind that where you go and for how long for is dependent on finding a fellow house swapper with similar travel aspirations. If you can't find a suitable partner, consider renting out your home while you travel or house sitting someone else's home. Upside - Staying in a home rather than a hotel allows you to do your own laundry and cook your own food - cheaper and healthier. Reality check - Giving a stranger access to your home and personal belongings can be scary. Check references before handing over your keys.
4. Get a job on a cruise ship: work on a cruise ship. Think of the money you'll make, the people you'll meet and the exotic places that will become familiar. Pick any cruise line anywhere in the world and you'll find an application waiting for you to fill out and sign your name to. Upside - Some crew members become so familiar with some locals, they jump ship and set up camp as a tour guide. Sweet, right?
Reality check - Crews on ships work long hours, often below deck or with demanding passengers. Pack plenty of patience and your sunshiny disposition before heading down this path.
5. Carpool (or hitchhike): new opportunities to explore. Sharing a vehicle reduces fuel costs for everyone. Carpooling is safer than hitchhiking and gives you time to meet in advance and check references. Upside - Both carpooling and hitchhiking are great ways to meet the locals as well as other travelers. Reducing your carbon footprint is a nice bonus. Reality check - Traveling with strangers can be risky so make sure others know departure and arrival times and your most probable route.
6. Volunteer your way around the world: see the world as a voluntourist. Regular readers of GoGirlfriend know we love sharing stories of travelers who've found a way to combine their love of travel with their love of volunteering. Upside - Working in small communities gives you an inside view of the places you travel to. The friendships you make while helping others will last a lifetime.
Reality check - Some mission work takes you face to face with severe human suffering and the stress can be overwhelming for some.
7. Say WWOOF if you like to travel: be prepared to get dirty. WOOF (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) connects organic farmers to volunteers looking for travel opportunities in more than 100 countries. You'll need to sign up for a membership to access lists in the country you're interested in, but it's worth the price. We love it because of its age - WWOOF was founded in 1971 and has been online since 2003 - they've earned their travel street chops. Upside - Working with others, provides opportunities to make friends while doing good. If you're lucky, you'll enjoy some of the fruits of your labor at meals, the farm to fork way. Reality check - This isn't a beach vacation so come prepared to work.
8. Trade labor for lodging: backpack opportunities abound. Hostels and boutique hotels will sometimes exchange work for a room - especially if you plan to stay in one spot for a longer time. HostelWorld lists jobs and message boards to connect you before you leave home. Upside - Bartering labor for lodging means there's no exchange of cash - and therefore no work visa required.
Reality check - Be prepared to prove yourself by working hard.
9. Organize a group tour: Ever wonder why high school teachers put their hand up to chaperone 20 teenagers on a school trip? Simple, the chaperone usually gets a pretty steep discount while seeing some pretty fantastic parts of the world. As the chaprone or organizer, you pick a date and get people to sign up for the tour. The booking of accommodations, activities and tour guiding is done by a pro.
Upside - You get to see and do stuff for a lot cheaper than you would on your own.Reality check - Traveling with weird and whacky personalities can be interesting...
10. Fundraise a team challenge: charity tourism. For big-hearted, competitive people, this is a fun new travel trend. Here's how it works: you gather a team (or join an existing one), choose a charity and fundraise for it while a tour company customizes a challenge somewhere in the world. You and your team do the adventure and the charity of your choice wins the financial reward of your efforts - you win the fun. Check out GlobalAdventures.com. Upside - For travelers that are into high-adrenaline adventure and want to give back at the same time, this is perfect. Reality check - Be realistic about what kind of adventure you and your team want.
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