5 Ways I’ve Traveled for Free (And How You Can Too)

Photo via menhak on flickr

People ask me all the time how I get to travel for free. While I have worked for a travel company full-time (which I found through your average old Linkedin post just like anyone other job), I didn’t always get such amazing perks. But as you know, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. None of these ideas are revolutionary or ground breaking, but I keep my ears to the ground and jump on opportunities. You may be surprised by some of these, but it’s all about the hustle.

Method 1: Worked 

Staffed High School Graduation Trips to Mexico. There are plenty of tour companies looking for seasonal destination staff. My program specifically was run through GradWeek, and was the perfect interlude between college and the real world. Granted this was before I had a “real” job and was intentionally left off my resume, but if you’re looking for a career change, or mental break, it’s something you may want to consider.

The Good? It was like being on Spring Break 24/7. Which, as a young 20-something, was great. We were the personal bodyguards and “fun patrol” of whatever D-list reality star they were paying to be their “VIP” guest for the week.

The Bad? It was like being on Spring Break 24/7. It was basically glorified babysitting. Someone was in jail or in the hospital every single night (Don’t take that as a testament to my babysitting skills).

How You Can Do It: Google “destination staff” and tons of things come up from GradCity, one of GradWeek’s competitors, to cruise ships. Bear in mind though, this only really works if you can take a significant break from your career, as they’re not really looking to hire people who have just the standard two weeks off. You need at least a solid 2-3 months to be considered. Another awesome resource? Dreamjobbing.com. Started by one of the winners of Amazing Race, a TV producer, and their production company, it’s literally a job board of amazing opportunities that last anywhere from 1 week to a few months. If you’ve ever dreamed of being Michael Bolton’s backup singer, an animal activist in Thailand, or Lance Bass’s song writer, apply now.

Method 2: Volunteered

Birthright Israel and English Teacher. If you’ve never been to Israel and you’re Jewish, Birthright offers free peer to peer trips for young adults ages 18 to 26 with the hopes of discovering your roots and bonding with your community. I extended my stay for 2 months to teach English while I was there, hosted by a local family.

The Good? It’s like summer (jew) camp all over again. You’ll see incredible sites, get super active and do once in a lifetime things with an awesome group of people your own age (a mighty fine dating pool, if I do say so myself), all while squashing horrible Middle East stereotypes perpetuated by the media.

The Bad? It was only a week. Seriously, there was no downside, it’s a fantastic program.

How You Can Do It: If you meet the requirements (Jewish, in that age range and haven’t been to the Holy land), apply online at http://www.birthrightisrael.com. If not, there are plenty of other mainstream volunteer programs around the globe worth looking into. WOOFing is a great program that allows you to stay for free in exchange for various types of hands on work.

Method 3: Interviewed

 Attended Boulder Startup Week. When I was plotting my move back to Denver, one of my main motivations was getting involved with the booming startup scene. Enter Boulder Startup Week: an amazing weeklong meet/greet with 50+ employers that were consequently all hiring. Boulder has such a shortage of IT professionals they actually pay to fly people from all over the country to try to convince them to move there (Have you seen the Flatirons? Not a tough sell).

The Good? It was the drunkest, most non-traditional job “interview” I’ve ever experienced intermixed with some really informative tech sessions that were totally representative of the Boulder culture. If you’re interested in the Colorado lifestyle and excel at networking, definitely check it out.

The Bad? Aside from just paying for your flight, if you want, they’ll also put you up on someone’s couch for the week. Aka it’s a total a crapshoot what kind of accommodations you’ll get. My host was amazing, but he was living in a co-op, which was way too granola for me. (Aside from doing their own composting, I felt like I couldn’t even leave my non-organic shampoo out in plain sight). #EcoShaming

How You Can Do It: Boulder Startup Week is always in early May so start checking their website a few months out. A lot of companies also regularly fly people out throughout the year. This applies to any type of job so start applying at out of state companies to rack up those frequent flyer miles.

Method 4: Wrote & Promoted

Influencer, Press and/or “Fam” (Familiarization) Trips. This is what I do now as a travel writer and influencer. You are invited by a PR company or the tourism board and they host you (sometimes solo, sometimes with other journalists or social media personalities) on behalf of the destination or hotel, showing you everything they want you to promote. You can also proactively reach out to organize your own trips if you’re going to be in the area and are looking to trade comps for coverage

The good? You’re usually treated like a five-star guest and spoiled rotten. I’ve stayed in hotels with private butlers who leave presents on your pillow and are at your beck and call 24/7. Not a bad life.

The bad? It’s really hard to share an honest opinion when you’re being wooed. You don’t want to offend your hosts, especially when they’re footing the bill and pulling out all the stops, but it’s a delicate balancing act between your journalistic integrity and the truth.

How You Can Do It: Get your klout up. Start a blog. Not a writer? Start a photo journal. Grow your social networks and get people to notice you as an influencer. Anyone can do it, it’s all about how motivated you are and how much time you’re willing to dedicate to getting followers and becoming relevant.

Method 5: Won a Contest

I impressed someone with my Instagram photography skills. At some point, every brand runs a contest or sweepstakes with free trips often offered as enticing prizes. Some have winners chosen at random, but I prefer skill-based incentives. All have different entry requirements, but I specifically look for contests that do not require voting. I feel like I already annoy my friends enough on social media, I don’t need to ask for them to vote for me in a contest too. In this particular example, I won a free roundtrip flight to New Zealand and a GoPro from STA Travel to document the experience. Recently, I also won an all-inclusive trip to Nepal after submitting a photo and story and rallying my community for votes.

The good? There’s no catch. If you’re chosen as a winner, usually you don’t owe the company anything (unless you’re chosen as a correspondent of some sort).

The bad? Submitting entries and garnering votes can be time consuming with no promise to reward. If you’re a really talented photographer, writer, or videographer, etc., though, it may be worth it. You also usually have to pay the applicable taxes on the prize if you win.

How You Can Do It: I have a Google alert setup for contests and sweepstakes. Often times, I also search twitter or Instagram for those same hashtags. Look for words like #win #sweeps #contest and determine if the requirements match your skill set. Looking to improve your skills to increase your chances? Take a travel photography class. And don’t be afraid to annoy your friends for votes, they are your #1 fans, after all.

Have you ever traveled for free? How?

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