There are several ways to travel for free if you don’t mind taking the path-less-traveled; if you have a sense of adventure and an openness to new things, you can have the time of your life while spending little or no money. 

Travel for free #1.  House Swap

If you want to go to one area and live like a native for an extended period of time, house swapping might be for you.  At homeexchange.com you sign up for a membership (currently priced at $99.95 for the first year, second year free if you don’t exchange a house in the first year) and then you can browse over twenty thousand home listing scattered across the globe.  After finding a listing that you like, you can converse with the owners over the web; send pictures, and plan your stay.  It’s up to you to plan a contract so that you know what will be expected of you while you’re in the other person’s house and vice versa.  Home Exchange has a sample contract, available here.   Typically, you pay all utility bills while you are there, and of course you have to buy food, but the savings can add up to thousands of dollars.  A typical hotel room can cost over two hundred dollars a night.  An entire house, for just the price of the utility bills, is a bargain.  Plus, having your own kitchen will save you hundreds more dollars on restaurant bills.  A car is sometimes included in the exchange, which means you can drive around like a local, live like a local, eat like a local…what’s not to love?

Some other sites that offer the same service are:

homelink.org,

intervac.com,

and

stay4free.com.

#2: Drive Someone Else’s Car Across America.

Known as “drive-aways,” you can get the opportunity to drive someone else’s car across country for them.  How?  If somebody’s moving and doesn’t feel like driving their car or having it shipped, you can sign up to drive it for them.  There are several different places that offer this service; they all have similar rules. 

1.  You gotta prove they can trust you with their new BMW (or fifteen year old Buick).  If you have any type of criminal record, don’t bother to apply. 

2.  Pay a large but fully refundable deposit. 

3.  Be at least nineteen.  This surprised me, since you usually have to be over twenty-one or even twenty-five to get a rental car. 

4.  Surprise, surprise!  You have to have a valid driver’s license…I’m sure we never thought of that one. 

Most of the time you have to pay for the gas. 

You will usually have a reasonable time limit to get to your destination; say however long it should take driving full time, then add two-three days. 

You also will probably have a mileage limit you must follow.  This, again, is however many miles it is required to drive, then another 10-15% added on top of that.  So you have to stick pretty close to your itinerary, but there’s some wiggle room in there.  It’s very cheap when you think of what a rental car would cost you, or the miles that you would be putting on your car that are now being put on someone else’s car!

Sites that offer this are:

movecars.com 

shipcar.com

Or, you can look in your local yellow pages under drive-aways or moving. 

#3.  Develop a wildly successful travel blog that will give you enough money that you can travel anywhere you’d like…

Yeah.  Let me know how that one goes.  So far I haven’t had much luck. 

#4.  Sleep in an Airport

This can be a great cost reducer, if you really want to travel on a budget.  Not that airport officials are usually very pleased, but some places actually offer better accommodations than the local hostels/hotels.  As an added bonus, you are already at the airport for that 3 a.m. red-eye flight!  There is actually a website devoted to sleeping in airports, called sleepinginairports.net.  They have best and worst airports, reviews, sleeping tips, and airport photos.  If nothing else, the site’s good for a laugh–but I’m totally planning on using this when I go to Europe. 

#5.  Sister-City Exchanges

The theory of this is that cities all over the world have similar cities in different countries: similar size, geography, terrain, climate, etc.  Sometimes residents of one city get to go to one of their sister cities–and their hometown pays for everything.  Go to sister-cities.org for more info.  You have to join their organization, of course, and it costs $50 if your city is not part of the program and $25 if it is.  I don’t know a lot about this, never having heard of it from any other sites than Budget Travel, so I don’t know how feasible it is.  If anyone knows any more about it I’d love to hear from you, though.  It sounds quite interesting. 

#6.  Couch Surfing…

The theory of this is pretty simple.  You find someone who has a couch and is willing to share, then you come and crash on aforementioned couch for free.  In return, you let someone crash on your couch when you get home.  There are several websites that do this; the one with the best search feature that I’ve found is couchsurfing.com.  Then there is HospitalityClub.org and GlobalFreeLoaders.com

They all have security features to help make sure you don’t go to a murderer’s couch, but really you need to use your own judgement.  You can read reviews from other people who have stayed at a person’s couch before to see what the host was like. 

This isn’t just freeloading, though.  Hosts expect you to make some contribution, whether it be cooking a meal or bringing a gift from your home country; it’s always nice to be nice and generous.  Couchsurfing demands that you host yourself within six months of having been hosted by somebody else. 

This can be a great way to backpack across country or even just on a short business trip.  Hosts will try to make you feel at home; if they have time, they may show you around the city–you’ll get to see a local’s perspective that you never would have seen otherwise.

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