In my last five years of constant travelling, many people asked me how do I sustain myself, where do I get the money for it. Low-cost travelling is usually associated with low-cost airlines and cheap countries, mainly in Asia. But that isn’t all to it. I’d like to share a few tips with you how to travel with minimum-cost practically anywhere around the world. Yes, it’s possible. Two essential ingredients are trust and courage.
When you start to think about destinations like Australia, Norway, Iceland or the USA, the first big no-no is that life over there is expensive. Yes, it is, usually. However, as a traveller and backpacker who is willing to sacrifice their comfort, the costs can be significantly minimized. All your needs are reduced to pure basics covered in three categories: food, accommodation and transport. Something to eat, somewhere to sleep and somehow to move.
The easiest and most common way of finding a free bed is to use Couchsurfing. CS is an international network of locals who are happy to let you oversleep at their place in exchange for nothing. It sounds unbelievable but it’s real. And it works. I’ve had at least one CS experience in almost every country I’ve travelled to. Sometimes people get sceptical or worried if it’s safe or why should someone just let you sleep in their house. Well, as I mentioned in the beginning, you need some trust and courage. And a little bit of common sense. If you travel to popular destinations, usually the choice of hosts is pretty wide and you can scroll through the profiles until you find someone who you feel comfortable with. For example, you can choose only couples or families, girls can choose women hosts, animal lovers, smokers, vegans whatever preference you have. On the other hand, more remote locations do not offer a big selection but it’s more likely to get a host fast and smooth. Couchsurfing also functions as a natural filter and attracts like-minded people, so the vast majority of hosts are travellers themselves, system-opponents and free-lifestyle supporters. Once you choose your host, send a message, get in touch, agree on details, exchange contact and go. It’s that easy.
My second favourite platform providing free bed is Workaway, which works quite differently. Whereas Couchsurfing is suitable for short-term stay and last minute crashing on someone’s couch (hence the name), WA has a bigger message. It provides an opportunity for all those lovers of immersing into local life, understanding new culture and volunteering. In exchange for a few hours of work daily, hosts usually offer a place to sleep and food to eat. The length of your stay can be anything between a few days to a few months. Type of work depends on the place you choose including young families in need of help with housework or babysitting, farmers in need of any extra hands, old people in need of company or petsitting and sometimes even schools, hotels or breweries. Conditions vary extensively from host to host and there is something for everyone. If you have some extra time and energy to spare, this is a great way how to experience any country in their true colours.
Befriend a local
The last but not least is the simplest way you can think of – befriend a local and get invited into their house. Depending on your nature, this might be a very easy or impossible task for you. If you are one of those super friendly and talkative guys who enter a place and immediately form a circle of newcomers or join one already existing, there you go. Nothing easier. At some point, someone will most likely ask you where you are staying and you don’t know yet. The hospitality of the right people is endless. If you are not an extrovert by nature, it will get slightly more difficult but it’s still possible. Trust me. Been there, done that. Sometimes, things just happen the right way and you don’t even need to do much. And if you get a feeling that you are using someone, just offer some help around the house, weed the garden, cook dinner and the bill is paid.
Free and cheap transport
One of the very safe and very cheap ways of getting around is so-called relocation. Big car rental companies offer their cars for free or very low price in exchange for delivering the car to the needed location. How does it work? Let’s say that a company is based in Melbourne, someone rented a car and returned it in Sydney. Now the time has come and the company needs the car back in Melbourne. But there isn’t anyone who could drive the car back. And that’s where you come in the picture. The route is fixed and the days are limited but hey, you still got a free car! Sometimes they even offer fuel refunds to some amount. The catch is that it is still a rental company and you are still responsible for the car. This means you have to be of a certain age, usually over 21 and have enough money to cover the deposit. If you are happy with all the conditions applied, there’s your way.
Another option of getting cheap transport is carshare and there are two ways around it. Firstly, the official website for carsharing, for example, blablacar or coseats, which can be international or country-wide. These are platforms where you can register and find drivers who plan a similar journey to yours. Then again, send a message, agree on details and jump in. Usually, for a low fee, you can safely arrive at your destination. Secondly, there are plenty of other travellers around who are doing the same thing as you. And that’s why facebook groups are so helpful. Look for backpackers/travellers/travelmates in *insert country* or anything related. The only thing you need to do is to find someone who is one step ahead, meaning already has a car, and goes the same way as you. As every other traveller, they try to minimize their costs so sharing the fuel is a must in this relationship. Becoming a travelmate can be a life-changing experience. Someone who’s been a stranger to you becomes a person you share absolutely everything with, within a week. Especially if you choose the road less-travelled.
And if the level of your comfort with strangers is high, go for the good old hitchhiking. Hit the road, walk the shoulder, stick out your thumb and enjoy the sky above your head. The feeling of freedom is priceless, and addictive. Try to follow safety recommendations and country-related laws, though there is no paradigm.
Of course, being in a country with a good and cheap network of local public transport, like the Philippines or Indonesia, this is always a way to go.
Free and cheap food
Good street food is never bad. When you see one of those ladies in kitchen apron clattering with huge metal pots and looking for the biggest ladle of your childhood, you know you are at the right spot. The portion is huge and you pay close to nothing. You sit with all the regular customers on plastic chairs with missing armrest, cats roam under your legs and nothing can wipe your smile out. That feeling of getting a plate and having no idea what’s on it…..
Pay as you feel
If you didn’t build enough trust yet and the idea of street food makes you think if the toilet is close enough, you can choose a safer option. Pay as you feel restaurants become more and more popular. All across the countries, you can find places where the food is served to your liking, portion and choice, and the price is only recommended. Usually, it’s not much and you can decide whether you can afford to pay a little more or little less at the moment. The concept relies on the right balance, that’s why the food is usually very good quality. In this way, they can attract also customers who actually pay much more then what the sign says, and thus support and sustain the restaurant.
Levelling up or down, choose your point of view, there come charity meals provided by local communities or church. These are usually served a few days in a week at a certain time and a particular place. You can look for them on local websites, information boards or simply talk to people. Most of the bigger towns have them. And they are completely free.
Finally, one of my favourites, let me introduce you dumpster-diving. Quite literally, you have to dive into a dumpster. Most of the chain food stores get rid of the goods on the day of expiry and it goes directly into a trashcan untouched. If you are lucky, in countries like Norway, they even separate it. Then you find one can only for dairy, another for dry packed stuff like sweets and nuts, another for fresh veggie and fruits. All you need to do is to decide what would you like for tonight. Pick it up from the can in the same way as you would from the shelf inside of the shop. And walk away. Well, wash it afterwards. Don’t be very ostentatious while dumpster-diving, people don’t like it. The best is to go in the night and park the car a bit further away. There is a lot of social prejudice even if you come up with an argument of food-waste. Sometimes they might call the police, so be aware of the local laws. And sometimes the dumpsters might be locked. Also, it’s not highly recommended in warm countries for obvious reasons, the food goes bad faster.
If this is too much to digest, you can make an agreement with the store to donate you all of the close-to-expiry food after closing time and your shopping for the day is done.
Low-cost travelling is like this. You can run out of money, sometimes it happens. But you cannot run out of trust in people and the universe. That’s just not allowed. It’s a beautiful social experiment, trying to figure out how far you can get without money. And it will, almost certainly, restore your faith in humanity.