How to Travel the World When You’ve Got Absolutely No Money
My all time favorite question to ask someone I’ve just met is “If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money?”
The reason I love to ask this question, is that I believe it instantly reveals someone’s deepest desires. It reveals what they’d be doing with their lives if they removed the barriers of limitations and looked through the lens of possibility instead. When people imagine having all of the money they could ever dream of, immediately they see a life without limits.
Without fail, nearly everyone I ask answers, “I would travel the world.”
Indeed, money seems to be the main factor that prevents people from leaving a job they don’t love, a life that doesn’t make them happy, and chasing their dream of traveling the world.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
A few days ago I shared with all of you How I Afford a Life of Constant Travel, And You Can Too. Since then I’ve been positively stunned by the number of shares, comments, and messages I’ve received. One thing became overwhelmingly clear: people want to know how a nomadic lifestyle is financially possible.
In that post I share lots of advice for how to financially sustain a life of constant a travel. But how do you get started when you’re flat broke? When you’ve got nothing saved? When your feet are so itchy you can barely stand still, but you’ve got absolutely no financial reserves to get up and go?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in three and a half years of travel, it’s that nothing, literally nothing, is impossible. So today, I’m here to tell you, that even if you’ve got absolutely no money at all, you could pack up your bags and set off to travel the world tomorrow. You can live as if you won the lottery, even when you’re flat broke.
Here is how:
Sell Your Shit
The first step in quickly getting money to be able to travel, is selling your stuff. Not only will this help you pay for your trip, but it removes the baggage you still have at home. If you don’t have any stuff, you don’t need an apartment to keep it in. You don’t need a storage unit to store it in. You have one less thing tying you to a physical space.
Selling my belongings was the initial step that helped me make my dream of traveling long term a reality. I did anything from sell my leather boots and dresses to consignment shops to sell my car and furniture on Craigslist.
Assess your belongings and ask yourself what you can let go of. Rather than losing something or having less, consider it an exchange. By selling your belongings, you’re essentially exchanging a material possession for a bigger piece of freedom. What is freedom worth to you?
Do you still own a car? How would it feel to let it go? Do you still have a house? How would it feel to let it go? Big items will certainly help you save the money quickly, but no item is too small. What do you have that you are willing to exchange for freedom? Have a garage sale, sell on Etsy, post on Craigslist, auction on Ebay, and put the word out to your friends on Facebook.
Travel For Free
Would you believe me if I told you that it’s not only possible, but fairly easy, to travel for free? I never would have believed this to be true until I started meeting people, all over the world, who were really doing it. I’ve witnessed that traveling for free, or at least on a budget, can actually yield richer, more authentic, and more life changing experiences than organized, luxury travel. Why? It requires resourcefulness, human connection and trust, and embracing a more down to earth way of living. Here are some of the best ways to travel the world for free:
One of the simplest and most popular ways to sleep for free is through couchsurfing. If you’re not already signed up with couch surfing get on there now! You can search for hosts offering a free couch, a free bed, sometimes a free bedroom, with no expectations in return. Some hosts will even cook you breakfast and show you their favorite parts of the city. Let me say it again, FOR FREE! It’s particularly helpful if you want to travel in more expensive cities like Singapore or London, where even dorm beds can cost as much as $50 per night.
Admittedly, I’ve not done much couchsurfing, but I have many friends who swear by it. My friend Anna, from The Legendary Adventures of Anna, has couchsurfed all over the world and made tons of friends in the process. I stayed with one of her couchsurfing hosts in San Jose, Costa Rica who was totally sweet, gave us our own room, and even made a full Costa Rican breakfast in the morning! A friend of hers took us out to his favorite bar overlooking the city, he ended up staying with me down in Puerto Viejo, and we’re still friends to this day.
That said, you certainly need to take some precautions with couch surfing, especially if you’re a woman traveling on your own. There are plenty of men who use couchsurfing as a way to pick up chicks, and I had a very uncomfortable experience in Munich with a guy who advertised a couch, yet when I got there he expected me to share the bed with him. Try to plan ahead and look for hosts with good reviews and common interests. Couch surfing at the heart is about making friends and being part of a community, rather than just a free bed.
For more on Couch Surfing, check out: The Comprehensive Guide to Couchsurfing
Nature lovers rejoice, there are tons of places all over the world where you can camp for free. One of my friends, Foster Huntington, is basically the king of “vanlife” and has lived and traveled all over the world in his campervan. I’ve met travelers who backpack with lightweight tents and either pay a small fee to pitch their tent at hostels or camp in the wilderness. A great option in the tropics is to simply travel with a hammock and a mosquito net. I met people who did this all over Southeast Asia. Of course, safety is certainly something to consider, and be sure that you’ll be secure where you choose to camp.
Here’s a great resource on getting started: Travel For Free By Camping Around the World
Far and away the most luxurious, comfortable option for free lodging is housesitting. I know tons of people who have afforded long-term travel by looking after people’s vacation homes. In Costa Rica I know expats who leave during the rainy season and have long term travelers stay for free in their home during that time. Recently I stayed with a friend of mine who has been housesitting at a beautiful place in the countryside of Spain for over a year. In exchange for looking over the property and feeding the cats, she lives for free in a big two-bedroom house with a garden and a courtyard among the olive groves of Andalusia. Many travel bloggers, particularly families and single parents, travel and live abroad through housesitting opportunities across Europe, Bali, Thailand, Mexico, you name it.
When I’m traveling I walk almost everywhere. I’ll happily walk for hours to get to the best hidden beaches, hike into the jungle to discover the waterfalls, and wander around the city all day. Walking is not only FREE transportation, it’s also my favorite form of transportation because it allows me to connect with what’s around me, take tons of amazing photos, and get exercise at the same time.
I’ve also met travelers who put their bicycle in checked luggage and cycle from one destination to the next. It’s not easy, but it’s totally possible and a great way to see a lot on a low budget. If you don’t already have a bicycle, you could always show up to your destination and buy a used one, then sell it when you leave. This is what I do every time I go to Costa Rica. For around $60 I find a bicycle that I can take into town and out to the remote beaches. Then, I sell it for exactly what I paid when I leave a few months later.
When my parents were traveling in their 20s people hitchhiked, these days it’s all about carpooling. Today there are tons of ride share and carpooling resources online, where you can pay a small amount, or sometimes ride for free. You can find reputable drivers all over the world through Bla Bla Car. Also look up different Facebook groups. In Costa Rica we have local rideshare groups where people post when they’re driving to different destinations across the country.
Think of travel hacking as knowing how to work the system. By understanding the way that reward points, frequent flier miles, and credit card offers work, you can rack up enough credits to be able to get free flights and hotels anywhere in the world. Nomadic Matt is the expert on Travel Hacking, so get started with his guide on Time, The Incredibly Simple Guide to Getting Totally Free Flights and Hotels, or if you’re serious about learning, buy his eBook The Ultimate Guide to Travel Hacking.
I’ll never forget the moment when I realized that even if I drained all of my funds, I could still keep traveling forever. That happened when I learned about the incredible world of work trade. Hundreds of thousands of establishments all over the world are looking for travelers to come and volunteer on their farms, in their hostels, at their retreats, and for their organizations in exchange for free room and board. Even if you have money saved for travel, this is an excellent way to extend the length of your trip.
You can organize work trade ahead of time by contacting hosts online and planning your trip accordingly, or make last minute plans when you find yourself in a country that you’d love to stay in longer. It’s even possible to walk into businesses, especially hostels, and simply ask at the front desk if they’re looking for work traders.
Here are some resources for finding work trade opportunities:
These are the most popular and comprehensive websites out there for work trade opportunities. Both require a subscription fee to directly apply for jobs, around $25/year, and with Work Away you can still browse the jobs for free. You can find trade opportunities in nearly every country in the world, ranging from working reception in a hostel to pouring drinks in a beach bar to playing music in a nightclub to growing vegetables on an organic farm to teaching yoga at a resort in the jungle. If you want to volunteer specifically in Latin America, check out Volunteer Latin America, a socially and environmentally sustainable organization that connects volunteers with programs in South and Central America. Their opportunities are typically free and many include free food, accommodation, living stipends, and sometimes even free flights!
If you’re already a certified yoga teacher or body worker, there are tons of retreat centers, resorts, hotels, and studios looking for work traders. Many of the hosts pay money in addition to free room and board, especially if you offer massage or reiki. Yoga Trade is, to my knowledge, the only resource out there with work trade opportunities specifically for the yoga field. An opportunity on yoga trade was actually how I managed to work for my 200-hour yoga teacher training last year. Since then I’ve discovered amazing yoga teacher options through Yoga Trade. Some examples include leading retreats at a surf and yoga villa on the coast of Morocco, teaching yoga at a retreat center on a deserted beach in Costa Rica, and teaching yoga at a nonprofit for women in a riverside town in Cambodia.
Want to learn about organic farming, or simply like the idea of getting your hands dirty in a foreign country? You should definitely take a look at Woofing, where hosts offer free accommodation, meals, and training in exchange for hard work.
Get a Job Overseas
For travel to truly be sustainable, you’ll need to start earning some income sooner or later. Check out my article How I Afford a Life of Travel, and You Can Too, for ways that I’ve made money on the road, especially by working online. The list below focuses on job opportunities overseas that you can sign up for before you even leave home.
Working Holiday in Australia
Working abroad in Australia is practically a backpacker right of passage, and a great way to experience life in Australia while saving up a lot of money. I have friends who spent six months to a year earning high wages in Australia and saved enough to spend a year traveling in Southeast Asia. The job options are limitless, it all depends on your skill set. One friend of mine was already a trained barber and had an amazing time cutting hair in Melbourne. Another taught at a yoga studio by the beach in Byron Bay. A copywriter friend worked in an office for an internet marketing company. And I meet tons of travelers constantly who picked bananas on farms, worked in bars in Sydney, and did all kinds of odd jobs. There are two caveats, however. One is that you must do it before you turn 31, so sign up while you’re young. The other is that Australia is very very expensive, so if you want to actually save money, you will have to live frugally in an expensive country. Working outside of the cities on farms makes this much easier, and you’ll often have room and board included in your compensation and few temptations for spending money.
Find out how to apply for a working holiday visa here.
When you literally have no money and you’re looking to save a lot of it quickly, teaching English overseas is an amazing option. Some programs will even pay for your flight, your training, your relocation costs, your housing, and you’ll get a decent income to top it all off.
Last month in Morocco, I met a couple from the UK who are both gym teachers, moving to Japan to teach English for a year. Two of my friends from High School teach English in Saigon and earn enough to travel around Southeast Asia often. Popular travel blogger That Backpacker taught English in South Korea and managed to save $17,000 in just one year!
If you’re already a teacher, the opportunities will come easily for you. Some schools will pay for your training, a great option if you want to go quickly and you don’t have a teaching background. Though you will have better teaching options if you invest in a TEFL training program.
Find out more information on teaching English overseas in this guide.
Be a Tour Guide
Perhaps the most fun way to travel and earn a living at the same time, is by being a tour guide. Yes, you will still have to work, but you’ll get to experience a lot of different places, meet people from all over the world, and make a decent income. Contiki is a popular option for young adventurers, Beach Travelers is a great choice if you’re into the island party lifestyle, and Stoke Travel focuses mostly on festivals all over Europe. Other popular tour companies to contact include G Adventures and Intrepid Travel.
Work as an Au Pair
I remember about five years ago when I was working a desk job back in the states and my best friend was a nanny. While I spent the summer in an office in a basement, she was exploring London, living in her own beautiful flat, and taking vacations to Greece. When she was working back in the states, she would take the kids on trips to Hawaii, Los Angeles, and Mexico. Since then, that same friend has started a company called Adventure Nannies, connecting adventurous families with experienced nannies. They even have a specific section for travel nannies. If you’re already a qualified nanny, spend some time researching different sites for au pairs in countries you’d like to travel to. However if you’re looking to get into the field, read this guide How to Become an Au Pair.
Work on Cruise Ships
Friends of mine who have made the most money on the road, and have seen the most of the world, are the ones who worked on cruise ships. I know people have been anything from a captain to a steward to a private chef. The work can get intense, the hours can be long, and you might go crazy out at sea, but you can save a lot of money quickly, develop solid relationships, and have the chance to travel to some of the most coveted destinations in the world. If you’re serious about getting a job working on cruise ships, popular blogger Wandering Earl has an entire guide to getting jobs which you can purchase here.
Trim Weed in California
Disclaimer: I’m in no way endorsing that you do something illegal, I’m simply letting you know what’s out there. One extremely monotonous, though extremely lucrative way to earn money for travel while having a new experience is by trimming marijuana in the good ol’ USA. Humboldt County in Northern California is the epicenter, where it is indeed illegal. I’ve met many many many many more people than you would ever imagine, who fund all of their travels by trimming weed for just a few months of the whole year. How much money you make depends on how much you trim, so it’s possible to make a thousand dollars a day if you’re really fast, $200 a day if you’re really slow. Your experience will vary wildly depending on where you decide to trim and how you plan ahead. I’ve heard many horror stories, but I also know people who trim at very laid-back farms run by families. If you do decide to trim, try to find a personal connection through friends to ensure that you’re in a safe situation.
This guide will help you get started: Everything You Need to Know About Trim Camps But Were Afraid to Ask
Crowd Fund Your Trip
There are people all over the world who are traveling because other people paid for it. No, they don’t have trust funds. They’ve created a trip that adds enough value to the world, that people are happy to support them.
Years ago Kickstarter completely changed the way that people approach business by offering an easy fundraising platform. Nowadays there are crowd funding websites designed specifically for travel. Trevolta is one where you can propose trips with a purpose and offer different donation levels with different benefits for your donors. The cool thing about Trevolta, is that it targets not only your network, but also potential sponsors who may want to get involved.
A friend of mine who I met last year in Southeast Asia, The Nomad Barber, raised enough money through Kick Starter to go on a year long trip around the world to make a Youtube series about barbering. His project became incredibly successful, some of his videos have over a million views, and he leveraged this success to get investors on more of his projects.
If you’ve always dreamed of writing a book, or making a documentary, or starting a blog, whatever, create a campaign through one of the many crowd funding websites and get people to support you. Remember, money is simply an exchange in energy, so create something valuable, full of worthwhile energy, and people will want to support it.
This guide offers some clear directions in creating your own crowdfunding campaign: How to Crowdfund Travel
Phew, that was a lot. I sincerely hope that this article has shown you that traveling the world, even when you’re flat broke, is entirely within reach. And even more importantly, that the more you see beyond the limits and into the possibilities, the more expansive your entire world becomes. Everything is possible if you believe in it enough.
Now, go! Live as if you won the jackpot. Because the truth is, you already have.