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How to Travel for Free

Luke Armstrong | Feb 16, 2021

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Earlier this month, I wrote about how to find more time to travel. Since one strategy was to take a pay cut, it's only right that I now give you all of my accumulated tactics on how to travel the world for free.

They say there is no such thing as a free lunch, but I've had free lunches on the free flights. I have had a free breakfast at a free hotel stay during a free trip to Ireland.

In this article, we'll look at ways people are doing the seemingly impossible – traveling the world without draining their bank account or adding to their debt.

Warning, this article has the potential to kickstart your wanderlust into high gear. Reading this could make you a flight risk.

1. Travel For Free By Winning a Trip Giveaway

You miss 100% of the shots you don't take and you don't go on any free trips you don't enter to win. My first trip to Ireland happened because I won a trip for two to Cork that paid for flights, hotel, meals and chipped in $500 in spending money that my amigo Joey and I blew at the pub like the twenty-two year olds we were.

The company Ganedon Biotech had put out a new anti-constipation medication and to celebrate this feat, hosted a short story contest called "Get Uncorked and Go To Cork." My story "Constipated With Love," got me there.

Google "free trip giveaways" or "win a free trip" to find more trips to enter than any employed person has time to.

One final note to keep in mind. One type of trip giveaways is the one you enter simply by signing up. These could get you from here to there, but competition is stiff. Then there are contest like "Get Uncorked and Go To Cork" where entrants actually have to do something—write a story, make a video, sing a song, slay a dragon, build a castle out of noodles, etc. If you enter these trip giveaways, and actually put in quality time to put together a solid entry, your odds of winning are much more substantial than the lottery giveaways.

2. Travel For Free For Work

If you work in an industry where you have to travel for work, you have the opportunity to turn that work into pleasure. When I was working in a charity, I often had to go to fundraisers or speaking gigs around the country. Whenever these work trips took me to a place I wanted to spend more time exploring, I took advantage of that time by asking my boss if I could take a couple vacation days and book my return flight a few days later than when my work engagement ended. This is how I discovered Boston for the first time, explored Portland, visited Washington State, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and a host of other places I might not have experienced had I simply done my work and hightailed it outta there.

Even if you aren't able to travel for work now, it doesn't mean that you can't travel for work in the future. Is someone else in your company traveling for work? Are there opportunities to travel for work that you are not capitalizing on? When bosses are not being scary monsters bent on making us work weekends, they tend to be reasonable people who want their employees to be happy. If you would like to travel more for work, make sure your boss or manager is aware of that desire and you may just find yourself traveling on the company's dime.

3. Travel For Free by Crowdfunding Your Trip

This bullet point is as much of a cautionary tale as it is a suggestion for a free trip. I think all of my travel blogging counterparts will agree – we get hit up ALL THE TIME from people who are kickstarting their dream trip and want us to help them spread the word to our readers.

Some of these people have super cool, specific ideas about doing amazing charitable work, filming documentaries, or just something new and unique that once I hear about, I want to exist. When it comes to them, I am always more than happy to give them some Tweetage, share their Kickstarter page on Facebook, or even chip in a fiver and write an article about them. It's inspiring to see people dream big and then build the funding to reach those dreams.

On the other side of the fence, are those who have vague notions of helping the world, or want to take an amazing trip but don’t want to pay for it.

When it comes to crowdfunding a trip (or crowdfunding anything), your goal is to get others excited about the vision that you are excited about. This begins with a vision that transcends your own personal wants and dreams to the extent that it energizes others to hear about. If you can manage that, then you can probably get your trip funded.

Be reflective and honest about this—just because you personally have always wanted to visit Fiji and drink cocktails on the beach does not mean that the rest of the world is itching for this to happen in your life.

4. Travel The World For Free With a Student Loan

When it comes to financial planning, I give some of the worst advice around. I recently gave a friend of mine set to graduate college some advice based on personal experience. He's going to leave college about $20,000 in debt. He's a musician majoring in theology who's always dreamed of living in Europe and playing music professionally.

Student loans generally have a six-month grace period before you need to start paying them, and when it comes to repayment, they are some the easiest debt to manage.

After you finish college, you still have six months to take out alternative student loans. I encouraged my friend to graduate and then take out a $5,000 loan to live out his dreams without worrying about instantly getting a job. He's lucky, since with a theology major employers aren't exactly going to be hunting him down, so why not live out his dreams instead.

When I graduated eight years ago, I took out a student loan to fund hitchhiking from Chile to Alaska. In a matter of looking at it, I'm still on that trip. It has led to a life where I never needed to enter that "real world" adults were always pontificating about when I was in school.

5. Travel For Free By Couch Surfing

In life I have been both a couch surfer and a couch surfer host and both have been remarkably positive experiences.

For just over a decade, CouchSurfing.com has been providing travelers with newfound friends and a free place to stay all over the globe. I consider Couch Surfing a right of passage that all travelers at some point should try.

Airline tickets and hotel/hostel bills are the most expensive part of traveling, so when you are on a budget, this service will get you halfway there. The next two bullet points will get you the rest of the way.

6. Travel For Free By Getting a Credit Card

One of the best ways to travel for free is to get airline miles for a free ticket by signing up for a credit card. The key is to not be someone who is outwitted by the game and ends up in credit card debt paying more in interest than their free airline ticket cost. If you play the game right, you should never need to pay for a domestic ticket to anywhere, ever. There are a lot of cards to choose from, each with pros and cons. Nerd Wallet does a great job of listing offers that credit card companies currently have on the table.

7. Travel For Free by Getting Bumped

As a single freelancer, my schedule tends to be flexible. Because of this, I always sit right by the counter of my departure game. I do this so that as soon as an agent gets on the intercom to offer a voucher to anyone willing to go on a later flight, I am first in line. Just last month, I had a connection in Tokyo and ended up getting bumped. This got me an all expenses paid day in Japan (a country I had yet to see!), and a thousand dollar travel voucher for my next trip. Some travels eager for a free flight take this a step further and preemptively volunteer to be bumped with an airline agent as soon as they arrive at your gate.

One final word of caution

Just because you are traveling for free, does not mean that you should cut corners on something as important as travel health insurance. I don't write this because I blog for a travel insurance company; I blog for a travel insurance company because I firmly believe this. Traveling without travel insurance is like speeding during rush hour in an unregistered vehicle, with no license, without car insurance, with a pack of feral dogs in the back seat, and an angry badger sitting shotgun–it should be illegal.

About the Author

luke armstrong

Luke Maguire Armstrong is the author of "The Nomad's Nomad." He has spent the last decade traveling, writing and designing, and funding philanthropic programs around the world.

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