Travel

How to stay for free around the world

One way to travel free: volounteer to work on a farm in return for room and board through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Here two guests help their host dig potatoes on a ranch in California.
One way to travel free: volounteer to work on a farm in return for room and board through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Here two guests help their host dig potatoes on a ranch in California. AP

One of the most common comments I get from readers is that they would like to travel, but they just can’t afford it.

Hey, I get it. Budgets are tight. But if you really, really yearn to see the world, there are ways to do it. You often have to be dedicated. And maybe put in some sweat equity.

No one’s going to treat you to a five-star hotel unless you’re as good-looking as a movie star, and even then there will, ahem, certainly be strings attached. But, if travel you must, then you can find a way.

Consider these ideas, all of which are long-standing and successful:

▪ Crew someone else’s sailboat. Can you help crew on a sailboat? If so, captains are looking for you to help them sail the world. You probably won’t get paid — though sometimes you will — and they generally want some kind of experience afloat. Occasionally, they’ll take on an eager beginner.

At this writing, skippers were looking for people to crew boats heading to Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Tahiti and Patagonia. You’re responsible for getting yourself to the launch point and, occasionally, you could be asked to chip in for food. Check out Floatplan.com.

▪ Care for someone else’s property. If you could bear to live in a beautiful, exotic location for free, and you’re willing to do a little work, then maybe you want to check out the Caretaker Gazette magazine. A subscription costs $29.95 per year but might be your ticket to travel.

This bimonthly print publication offers opportunities for people to take care of properties such as “estates, mansions, farms, ranches, resort homes, retreat centers, camps, hunting and fishing lodges, vacation homes, private islands, and any other kind of property imaginable.”

Your job could involve anything from feeding an old cat in England to running a horse ranch in France. You could be working on a vineyard or keeping up a movie star’s estate. Sometimes, the publisher told me, he gets calls from people who’ve inherited a house or farm and need someone to stay there while they figure out what to do with it.

The oddest listing I ever saw was for someone to live on an island in Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, and keep up the house and feed the dog. The island floods every winter, making it inaccessible. And if you’re thinking about Jack Nicholson in The Shining, get that thought out of your head right now.

Learn more here: caretaker.org, or call 206-462-1818. Mailing address: The Caretaker Gazette, 2503 E. Martin Luther King Blvd., Austin, TX 78702-1448.

▪ Sleep on the couch: People are traveling all over the world and sleeping on each other’s couches or spare beds, courtesy of Couchsurfing.org. This organization matches travelers with willing hosts who will let them crash at their places for free. People must register in advance and provide information about themselves.

The youth minister at our church went all over the world doing this, by finding people as interested as he is in kitesurfing, and then asking them if he could crash with them. He loved it.

▪ Join the Servas cultural exchange club. I’d never heard of Servas until I read Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World by Rita Golden Gelman — a book I heartily recommend. She used Servas as a springboard for international adventures. Once you join this club that fosters international understanding, traveling or hosting other travelers is free. Most visits will last three days and two nights, then you’ll need to move and find another host family.

You’ll need two letters of reference, to meet with an interviewer and pay a registration fee in advance of $25 to $85, depending on type of traveler. You can also host guests in your home. Host families pay nothing, though they are invited to donate $40. Learn more here: UsServas.org or call 707-825-1714. U.S. headquarters: 1125 16th St., Suite 201, Arcata, CA 95521.

▪ Work for your supper. If you’re willing to travel on your own dime to exotic locations, you can work for your room and board when you get there.

Check out the website workaway.info, which lists hundreds of opportunities for volunteers worldwide. This is for people who want to travel on a budget, learn a new language, make friends and experience a culture. You contact the hosts directly (or sign up to be one yourself). You might be painting a house, serving breakfast, raising animals or any other chore. Guest workers can provide feedback online about their experiences.

At this writing, there were opportunities to work in a beach guesthouse in Turkey, help out with a hostel in rural Poland, restore an old house in rural Spain, work a date farm in Morocco, dismantle a barn in France, help with kids and horses on a guest farm in Ireland and many more.

▪ Try a WWOOF. Like being outdoors? Working with your hands? How about volunteering on an organic farm in one of 100 countries through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms)?

I found out about this group from the owner of a hostel in Talkeetna, Alaska. When the hostel is closed in the Alaskan winter (brrr), she flies with her kids to New Zealand, where it’s summer, and works on organic farms to earn her keep.

Try growing coffee in Peru, weeding a vegetable garden in Hawaii, working on a berry farm in England. It’s a good way to learn about farming or to decide if it’s for you. WWOOF recommends four to six hours a day of work as fair trade for your room and board.

Each member country has its own organization and rules. To join the South Africa WWOOF, for example, costs $25 a year. To learn more: Wwoof.net.

▪ Swap your house. If you join a home exchange club, you can trade your house for others in places you want to visit. Most clubs charge a fee of $50 to $100 per year, which gives you access to their websites and the right to post your own home for trade. You can do a simultaneous swap — they come to stay in your house while you’re there — or a non-simultaneous trade, especially if it’s a vacation home.

Right now, I’m owed a week at a beachfront condo in Puerto Vallarta and a week at a home in Lake Tahoe due to previous exchanges, where people stayed in my house while I was away.

If the thought of other people in your house gives you the heebie-jeebies, or you’re messy, this is not for you. But if you’re flexible and like meeting new people, give it a try. You not only save money on lodging, you can eat at home and sometimes even swap cars, by agreement. The largest home exchange club is HomeExchange.com but there are lots of others, including for teachers and people who keep kosher.

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