7 Tips For (Cheap) Long-Term Travel

7 tips to get you to your next destination.

If you’re a world traveler, you’re likely familiar with the set of responses that come when you tell your friends that you’ve decided to pack a bag, quit your job, and skip town.

“I’m so jealous,” and “Ugh, you’re so lucky,” are often repeat offenders.

It’s a funny response. As if travel is something that chooses only the lucky ones and passes everyone else by. But in reality, long-term travel has nothing to do with luck. It’s a choice that involves involves a bit of planning and sacrifice, a willingness to forgo all things comfortable (especially mattresses), and a hefty amount of guts to just go.

The perception that long term travel is only for the privileged, the rich, or those with dual nationalities is flawed. Consider the fact that between 200,000 and 250,000 young people aged 16-25 do long-term travel (from 3 to 24 months) each year. In Europe, taking a “gap year” is considered by many to be a rite of passage, not an unattainable fantasy that only trust fund kids get to do.

The merits of long-term travel are hard to quantify and even harder to overstate. While saving up enough money beforehand is a much less risky undertaking, it’s also limiting in that your travels will come to an end when the money’s gone, which is usually a much shorter interval than the time you took to earn it.

So in the tradition of all those who have hit the road before us, we bring you the top ways to find low airfare, book a one way ticket and travel the world for free, or at least for as much as you’d be spending at home.

TEFL: If you’re reading this sentence, you have something that a vast majority of the world population really wants: the ability to speak intelligible English. A third of China’s population (roughly 400 million people) are currently learning English and they want people like you to teach it to them. The acronym TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is a blanket term that refers to teaching English abroad in a general sense; there is no one set way to get certified as a TEFL teacher nor is there a requirement to speak the language of the host country. Once you are certified—which you can do at home or abroad—hiring practices depend on the nation or part of the world you wish to go to, and it’s important to do your research carefully. Passing a TEFL Certification course means you can work a variety of jobs—from private language schools and tutoring to high school and universities—all while living in a foreign country.

Skill Share: Have a skill you can offer or teach to others? Maybe you can teach surfing, diving, or yoga, be an entertainer on a cruise ship or help re-design a resort? Search for resorts and vacation destinations in locations that appeal to you and reach out to to explain your qualifications and offer your services. Oftentimes in developing countries, hotels and resorts will be looking for high level professionals that they cannot find locally. In exchange for working, you may just get accommodation and food, but it’s a good way to start and you can always find more work once you get there.

WOOFing: The growth in interest in organic agriculture worldwide means that there are more opportunities than ever to travel and farm at the same time. Worldwide Opportunities in Organic Farming (WOOF) has networks in roughly 100 countries around the world, from coffee farms in Kona to dairy farms in South Africa. While WOOFing, you’re given food and accommodation (which isn’t necessarily plush), but it’s not for free. You will be expected to get your hands dirty and work hard, though you will hopefully be learning valuable skills and tenets or organic farming and gardening at the same time. There is no international WOOFing site; instead, you can search the various listings by the individual country websites and then make arrangements with a host whose requirements or setup suit you.

Go Off the Books: The biggest hurdle for a lot of people who want to stay away for a long time by working abroad is a getting the correct Visa to do so. While most countries do require a specific visa to get a proper job, it’s often the case that menial, off-the-books work is available if you know where to look. While this certainly depends on the country or city you’re in (big cities in developed countries are more likely to have employers that follow the rules), finding domestic/childcare, construction, promotional or part-time work in a hostel or bar is not an impossibility once you’re on the ground meeting locals and searching classifieds. To get a sense of what’s available before you go, start by searching Gumtree (which is similar to Craigslist, but used much more widely outside of the US). While it may not be a good plan to depend on this from the get-go, it’s certainly a way to extend your trip once you’re already in a country and your funds are running low.

Volunteer: There are countless options to volunteer abroad. However, some of them require that you pay more than just your costs, which while not always a scam, isn’t really necessary. Just be sure that the organization you’re on board with stands for something you actually believe in. Religious organizations aren’t going to be subtle about why they are in a given country, so don’t assume that you’ll be able to ignore religious undertones if that’s not something you really want to promote.

Travel Begets Travel: Perhaps the most beautiful thing you’ll find on the road are random friendships with people from all over the world. If you’ve never done it, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to make friends as a solo traveller—nearly everyone you meet is in the same mindset of possibility and self discovery. The upside of that of course, is that next time you want to hit the road, you’ll realize you have friends in New Zealand, Belgium, and Singapore, all of whom you met while staying in a seedy hostel in Amsterdam. If your new friends have offered a place to crash in the Southern Hemisphere somewhere down the line, don’t be shy about getting in touch—that’s the single most compelling reason to not delete your Facebook account. And just make sure you’re willing to do the same when they contact you.

Couch Surf: To an older generation, it might sound like a internet predators playground, but CouchSurfing is a remarkable community with nearly 4 million members worldwide with the primary motivation of meeting new and interesting people. Using it properly means creating an account (on which you include your mission, philosophy, interests, and skills you can offer) and, over time, acting as both guest and host while providing feedback and building credibility. There are security measures in place, and according to CouchSurfing CEO Daniel Hoffman, “We have had over six million positive experiences, with only a tiny fraction of one per cent negative.”  While it may not be the best way to secure accommodation for months at a time, it’s a great option for shorter trips once you’re already based somewhere for a few months.

There’s one thing you absolutely must have if you want to hit the road for an extended period of time: a willingness to make it work. It’s most definitely not going to be an easy ride and you will have moments where your plan is nonexistent and your funds are lingering in negative territory. But those moments—the ones that cultivate resourcefulness and resilience—are precisely why travel changes you as a person. They also make for the best stories down the line.

Flickr: Katerha

Rosie Spinks

Rosie Spinks is a freelance journalist from California with a degree in Environmental Studies. Her work has been published in publications including Sierra magazine, GOOD magazine, the Ecologist, and the Guardian Environment Network. A passion for travel, running barefoot outdoors, and reconnecting people to what is good dominates most of her thoughts. You can follow her writing on Twitter and Tumblr.