Can you travel the world with no money?

Volunteering at a school in Cambodia Volunteering at a school in Cambodia

It’s the ultimate question, but is it possible? When people think of travelling the world, or going on a holiday, they automatically think of the cost, which is completely natural. After all a typical overseas trip means expensive flights, hotels, car rental and other transport costs, restaurant meals, activities, the list goes on and on. A two-week holiday to the closest tropical resort from wherever you live can cost thousands of dollars. Then you get home and you’ll probably face a drained bank account or an enormous credit card debt. A cousin of Sarah just booked a 21-day Contiki Tour through Europe that cost her over AU$5,000, and that doesn’t even include flights (AU$1,500), all meals or spending money!

I’m not saying that is the wrong way to travel, in fact I think it’s awesome if that’s what you want to do and are willing to pay that sort of money. I have a friend who went on a two-month Topdeck Travel camping tour through Europe in his 20’s and he still talks about it to this day, 15-years later! However, travelling the world can be quite cheap if you do things differently and accept that staying at the Hilton every night and drinking piña coladas by the pool bar isn’t going to happen, at least not often anyway.

When Sarah, Jack and I decided to leave Australia and travel the world, we saved for six months, sold everything we owned, and made plans to work while travelling. Depending on your circumstances you may need to save for longer. Perhaps you don’t earn a lot of money in your current job, or you don’t have a lot of belongings to sell. But that shouldn’t stop you from creating and committing to a savings plan, and making whatever sacrifices are necessary in order to fulfill your dreams. I first moved overseas a few months after leaving university, so I really had to save hard to get enough money together for the flights to London and a few weeks of cash. Whenever the urge hit me to have a big night on the town, I used to ask myself, “would you rather be spending your money on a night out at the pub you’ve always gone to, or in a bar overlooking Piccadilly Circus?” It was an easy decision and kept me motivated to keep saving for my dream overseas adventure.

So how can you stretch your money further, and even make money, while travelling the world? It’s much easier than you think.

First things first, get a credit card that will work for you 

You'll need credit cards, but not for credit (Image souorce: Flickr - frankieleon)

You’ll need credit cards, but not for credit (Image souorce: Flickr – frankieleon)

I’m not a fan of banks, particularly Australian banks that have some of the highest fees of any banking system in the world, so it seems odd to encourage you to do your research and apply for a credit card. But there is a method to the madness.

Before leaving Australia Sarah and I had a credit card that gave us points every time we spent any money; two points for every dollar spent using the Amex, and one point using the Mastercard. We used to pay for absolutely everything on our card – bills, groceries, lunch at the local café – whatever we could pay by card, we would. And at the end of each billing cycle the balance would be paid automatically from our savings account. We didn’t have to remember to pay it or force ourselves to do it. This meant we were accumulating points, and paying absolutely no interest. So the money we were going to spend every month anyway worked to accumulate Qantas frequent flyer points for us.

Let’s say you’ve decided to spend the next 12 months saving for your dream adventure. Over that time, if you spend $2,500 per month on your credit card, you could earn anywhere between 30,000-60,000 frequent flyer miles. I just had a quick look for how many points it would take to fly Qantas from my home town of Melbourne to Bangkok. In two-minutes I found a flight that would cost 24,000 points plus AU$191 in taxes. BOOM, you’re in Southeast Asia and it’s cost you next to nothing. Plus, as an added bonus, many credit cards offer frequent flyer mile bonuses when you sign up. A quick look at www.creditcardfinder.com.au and I found a credit card that offers 28,000 frequent flyer points on signup, and two points for every dollar spent using the Mastercard. BOOM, there’s another Qantas flight from Bangkok to Dubai (25,000 points).

If you can control your urges and remain disciplined, you can accumulate quite a lot of points in 12 months, and you’ll have travelled halfway around the world for next to nothing.

The good news for North American, UK and European travellers is credit card frequent flyer bonuses are even more generous! Just search for a credit card comparison website in your home country and do your research. However, a word of warning, this will most likely not be the credit card to use while travelling. Before you leave you’ll need to get a credit card that offers free foreign transactions, no currency conversion fees and no ATM fees, otherwise you’re going to get stung big time.

More ways to get free or cheap flights

Apart from accumulating frequent flyer points using a credit card, there are other ways to get free or cheap flights from wherever you are to wherever you want to go.

  • Sign up for airline newsletters – Get on the mailing lists of all of the major airlines and every now and then you’ll see a deal that’s too good to be true. It could offer half-price flights, or bonus frequent flyer points for just entering a competition or watching a promotional video.
  • Special offers – A lot of airlines and their partner airlines have deals with particular stores like Amazon, Apple and other major department stores. If you buy your goods there, you could get 3-4 times the amount of points you might otherwise have earned. Read all of the promotional material regarding your credit card and airline partner and when you need to buy something, see how you can maximise your points.

Earn money while you travel

In today’s connected world there are so many ways to travel the world with no money, or at the very least not much. I’ve heard hundreds of stories of people buying a one way ticket to a foreign city and arriving with $300 in their pocket, only to carry on travelling for many years. It’s really not that difficult.

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL)

They may look like little angels, but this particular class was hard work!

They may look like little angels, but this particular class was hard work!

Before leaving Australia I completed a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course. The plan was to use my qualification to secure work as we travelled to make a few dollars before moving on to the next destination. Two months into our adventure we decided to spend a couple of months in Chiang Mai. Before leaving Bangkok I searched the local online classifieds and applied for an English teaching jobs. By the time we got off our overnight train in Chiang Mai, I’d had a reply and an interview arranged for the next day. I turned up to the interview, chatted for about 30 minutes, and was offered a job. It really was that easy. I would work 16 hours a week, and because many of the classes were out of town, they gave me a scooter to use free of charge. The money I earned was plenty enough to pay for our rent and food.

Freelancing is growing and it’s easy to get work

New Acer laptop...not a bad office!

New Acer laptop…not a bad office!

While I was teaching English in Chiang Mai, Sarah decided to investigate the world of freelancing. She signed up to a couple of freelancer websites, www.upwork.com and www.freelancer.com, and within a few days she had her first clients. She didn’t have any official qualifications, but she soon had work writing website articles for clients all over the world. There are literally thousands of jobs available; if there’s a task that can be completed online such as writing, translation or design work, there will be someone willing to pay for on a freelance website. After leaving Chiang Mai I joined Upwork as well and within a couple of months both Sarah and I were charging around US$30 per hour each to write website articles. Twenty hours each a week and, coupled with hoousesitting, we were easily making enough money to sustain our travels.

Jobs, work trade and volunteering

If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, working late hours, or manual labour, there are plenty of ways to make some money or to work in exchange for room and board:

  • Youth hostels always need staff to work on reception in exchange for a room.
  • Working in bars and restaurants is an easy way to earn a bit of money while meeting plenty of people along the way.
  • If you speak English, Spanish, Italian, French, Chinese or the local language of the country you happen to be in, there are many jobs available as tour guides in popular tourist destinations like Prague, Bruges and Amsterdam.
  • In Australia, seasonal fruit picking is an incredibly popular way for tourists to work, make some money and see the country.
  • If you happen to be in the Caribbean, Mediterranean or somewhere else where yachts take tour groups and private parties from one tropical island to the next, you could get a job as a deckhand.

There are a bunch of websites that advertise work and volunteer opportunities right around the world.

Do your research, keep an open mind, and go with the flow. Often the best times are when you end up somewhere you hadn’t planned, doing something you never thought you’d do!

Free accommodation

Apart from working in exchange for room and board, there are many ways you can get free accommodation around the world.

Housesitting

Jack in the snow outside our housesitting assignment in France

Jack in the snow outside our housesitting assignment in France

When we made the decision to leave the United Arab Emirates and fly into Europe, we started searching for housesitting assignments. We searched through four or five of the major housesitting websites, looking for opportunities all over Europe. We joined a couple of the housesitting websites and sent a few applications. Within a couple of weeks we had the next six months of our journey planned, we’d be housesitting two separate places in France. One was in the south near Toulouse with incredible views of the Pyrenees, while another was just outside a small town called Chatellerault, about 90 minutes by train south of Paris.

It was a simple process and as long as you present well and can sell yourself, you should have no problem getting housesitting assignments all around the world. These could be for as little as a few days, to assignments that last for many months. Some of the more popular housesitting websites include:

Couchsurfing

Jack playing video games with Hugo and Anais, Paris

Jack playing video games with Hugo and Anais, Paris

When I first heard of Couchsurfing, I assumed it was for young people travelling on their own finding a place to sleep for the night and partying with like-minded people. But I soon discovered it was much more than that. We started Couchsurfing in Switzerland and once we got our first taste of it, we were hooked. Despite the fact there are three of us, and one of us is a three-year-old boy, we found plenty of Couchsuring hosts willing to put us up. We’ve stayed with a wide range of people including young single guys, professional couples and multiple families living under the same roof! Sometimes the accommodation was basic, other times it was so good we could easily have stayed there forever! But every time we stayed with a Couchsurfing host we met some great people and didn’t pay a cent. Our travelling experience was enhanced exponentially, and we’ll be doing a lot more of it in the future.

Rome2Rio

Before you start planning on getting to your next destination, check out the Rome2Rio app or website. Just enter where you are, where you want to go and when you want to leave, and Rome2Rio will do the rest. It will give you plenty of plane, train, bus, ferry, carpooling, drive and any other option that may be available between the two points, including times and costs. It’s brilliant and a must use for any traveller.

Finding the best flights, trains and car sharing opportunities

Sometimes you’ll have no choice but to dip into your bank account and pay to get from where you are to where you want to be. Depending on your destination, there are plenty of ways to get there. Flights are obviously the quickest over long distances, but often using trains and even car sharing services can save you lots of money. For example, in India we zig-zagged across Rajasthan because it meant we could take overnight trains and save on accommodation costs. We often went past cities we were going to eventually come back and visit, just so we could stay on an overnight train.

Flights

When searching for flights the best thing to do is enter your details into a flight search engine, such as these few below. They all do the same sort of thing, search for the cheapest flights available across many, many airlines and display the best for you. You can even search for car hire, hotels, cruises and other common traveller needs as well. However, don’t just trust one to find the best flight for you, enter your details in several and you’re more likely to get the best final result. There are some suggestions that clearing your browser cookies may result in finder cheaper airfares when searching online, but there is no concrete evidence that this is actually true. Here are a few flight comparison sites you might like to use:

Cars and buses

Christina, our carpooling driver, with Sarah and Jack

Christina, our carpooling driver, with Sarah and Jack

Carpooling is a great way of getting around, particular in Europe and North America. It’s often far cheaper than flying, and you’ll get to meet new people, which is one of the reasons why we travel nomadically. And you never know, there have been plenty of stories of carpooling turning into offers of accommodation and your own personal tour guide. Some of the more popular carpooling sites include:

If you really want to book a rental car, check out Autoslash. When you make a car rental booking, it will find coupons and discount codes to use, re-books your vehicle when the price drops, and searches multiple vendors to find the best price available.

Most of the time bus travel is the cheapest way to get from A to B, but there’s a reason for that. It’s often slower than any other form of travel, you don’t get much leg room, and you get picked up and dropped off at stations that could be far from where you’re staying. Having said that, when you’re travelling on a budget sometimes beggars can’t be choosers. Here are a couple of good bus comparison sites to use to find the best fares:

Trains

A far more subdued platform at Jaisalmer

A far more subdued platform at Jaisalmer

When booking any train trips, make sure you check out The Man In Seat 61. What started as a hobby, this website has turned into the number one resource for finding out information about almost any train trip on Earth. It also offers great advice on ferry trips if that’s on the itinerary as well.

The reality is thousands of people travel the world every day, doing what it takes to make ends meet and get from one place to the next. Most started with a burning desire to hit the road and see the world, but very little or no money in the bank to start. So they either saved up enough to ensure they had some money in the bank to get them going, or they just threw some clothes in a backpack, walked out the front door and used their instincts to get by. Either way, it isn’t anywhere as difficult or expensive to travel the world as most people believe it to be. By using readily available resources to secure paid work, free accommodation and cheap transportation, you can roam from country to country experiencing all of the wonderful things this world has to offer. So what are you waiting for? Make your dreams a reality today…

5 Comments on Can you travel the world with no money?

  1. Hey Chris,

    Some helpful ways to make money, cheers! I agree that if you really WANT to work, there’s plenty of ways you can while travelling.

    I’ve just returned from Spain, where I was teaching English. Now I’ve just picked up a bit of work on Upwork and wanted to ask, are they worth the time? I’ve heard some bad things about them.
    Andy recently posted…Adventures with Spanish ChurrosMy Profile

    • Hey Andy, I only have positive things to say about Upwork. My wife and I started doing $9 an hour jobs, and quickly progressed to changing $35 an hour to write articles for websites. We’ve also been paid every cent on time, every week. My advice is choose your clients carefully. If it looks and sounds dodgy, it probably is. And if you want to be extra secure, only accept jobs that pay by the hour. That way payment is guaranteed. Good luck ?

  2. Thanks Chris, good to know.

    I’ve picked up a fixed-price job for around $20 an hour (a conservative estimate). It’s below my rate but because it’s my first on the site I’ll take the risk and then do hourly only from then on in.

    I’ll let you know how it works out.

    Hope you’re enjoying being back in Melbourne. Looks like you’ll have lots of tricks when you tackle ‘part two’.
    Andy recently posted…Adventures with Spanish ChurrosMy Profile

    • When we started out we took short term jobs for low cash, then asked them for 5 star ratings and nice comments if they thought we did good work. Once we’d built up 5-6 5 star ratings, we noticed people coming to us instead of us chasing jobs, and we hiked up our fee. Don’t be scared to ask for great comments and ratings, it will help big time.

      Loving being back in Melbourne, but can’t wait to get back on the road. We’ll definitely be far better equipped for ‘part two’! North, Central and South America next…counting down the days!

  3. Thanks Chris, I’ll do that. Funny I got chased for this job, didn’t do a thing. I’m going to try and go ‘above and beyond’ for each job too.

    The second part sounds great. I’ll be following along for sure. Bolivia’s still my favourite country I’ve been to!
    Andy recently posted…Adventures with Spanish ChurrosMy Profile

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