Do you want to travel but feel like money is the main or only obstacle that is standing in your way?
There are several ways to travel abroad cheap--the most common are work-exchanges, hopitality-exchanges, home-exchanges, and volunteer programs.
I'm going to show you that you can travel abroad, no matter what your budget.
Work-exchanges involve volunteer work in exchange for free accommodation and food (bed and board). Oftentimes, this can mean a homestay (staying, living, and eating with the host family) but depending on where you work/go, it could be an apartment, cabin, or elsewhere. These are usually the cheapest options since your help is greatly needed and appreciated so generally your hosts really want you there. These can last from as little as a week to a whole year, depending on what you and your host decide. Volunteers are usually expected to contribute around 20-25 hrs of work per week. It does mean spending part of your vacation working, but if you're interested in cultural travel and language exchange, traveling doesn't get much more local than literally living with a local family and sharing in their daily activities! Here are some popular options for work-exchange:
HelpX-- "Online listing of host organic farms, non-organic farms, farmstays, homestays, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpackers hostels, and even sailing boats who invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-exchange for food and accommodation."
HelpX is probably the most commonly-known work-exchange site. You can make an account for free, but in order to contact hosts or be contacted, you have to upgrade to the premium membership which is 20 euros for 2 years. HelpX operates mainly in the USA, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, but is also available in several places internationally. You are encouraged to travel with friend/s and can create your account as a "couple account" if you wish. (The more help the merrier!)
I haven't explored the HelpX site so I can't give a personal recommendation about it, but I have read many good reviews about it.
Workaway-- "A site set up to promote fair exchange between budget travelers, language learners or culture seekers and families, individuals or organizations who are looking for help with a range of varied and interesting activities."
Workawayers can search for hosts in exchange for providing the following types of work: gardening, building, babysitting/childcare, elderly care, cooking/shopping, general maintenance, farming, help with eco project, help in the house, animal care, helping with tourists, charity work, language-exchange, art project, help with computers/internet, teaching, etc. Like HelpX, you can make an account for free, but in order to contact hosts or be contacted, you have to register which costs 23 euros for 2 years. A couple account is also possible on this site.
Although it's a bit more expensive than HelpX, I personally prefer Workaway. The site is more visually pleasing, clear, and easy to navigate. There also are many more international hosts available and you're likely to find a host in the country you want that wants the kind of work you can and want to offer. You can also see photos of the place you're interested in and review feedback left by hosts and travelers.
WWOOF-- "World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or Willing Workers on Organic Farms, is a loose network of national organizations that facilitate placement of volunteers on organic farms."
They very well may have invented the work-exchange concept, since their organization began in the '70s. WWOOF, however, is focused on organic farming and is country-specific. So if you know you want to organic farm in Ireland, WWOOF is probably a great option for you. However, if you want to travel around and try many things, I wouldn't recommend this site. Country-specific means that each country has its own WWOOF organization, and you need to pay a membership fee for each one.
I have never used WWOOF but my sister and her fiance have used it on many occasions, since their primary interest is organic farming in the States. In their case, it is a very good option and works well for them.
*For these types of sites, beyond paying the registration fee for the site (which ensures that everyone on the site is serious and therefore ensures better hosts/workers), the only other fees you need to pay are any plane tickets or visas you need. In some cases, your host might reimburse you (depending on how long you intend to stay with them) or you may not need a visa. Generally, all other costs will be covered by your host though some spending money would be good to bring with you.
Here are some reviews comparing the above sites:
A hospitality exchange or home stay network is an organization that connects travelers with local residents in the cities they're visiting. They are similar to work-exchanges except that you're more of a guest than an employee/volunteer. They are accepting you more out of the good of their heart and out of the desire to learn your culture/language than because they need your presence. The pros of this is that you get a more home-y place to stay for very cheap (or potentially free, depending) and you don't have to endure hard-work to earn your stay. The cons of this is the lack of privacy and the reminder that you are a guest so you should probably present yourself a certain way. Hospitality-exchanges rely a lot on trust and an open heart. Here are some options for hospitality-exchange:
Couchsurfing-- "The website provides a platform for members to 'surf'on couches by staying as a guest at a host's home, host travelers, or join an event."
Couchsurfing is definitely the most commonly-known hospitality-exchange. It's completely free to make an account, to message people, respond to people, and join groups. It does cost $25 to verify your account but verifying your account is not necessary. However, potential hosts are more likely to take you seriously since verifying shows that you are serious about your journeys. References will also show that you are a good guest and someone that would be worth hosting.
Couchsurfing is ideal if you are traveling around and need somewhere to sleep (like a couch) and want an alternative to hostels. Couchsurfing is usually expected to be short-term. Although hosts are not allowed to charge a fee on the Couchsurfing site, they do expect their guests to help out in some way--maybe cook, clean, or offer language-exchange. Since you're not working for your room and board, you might as well help out somehow.
Personally, I love the Couchsurfing site. You can be both a host and traveler in the same account, the site is visually appealing and easy to navigate, and if you're not up for traveling yet you can still use the site for language-exchange through messaging/Skype. Couchsurfing is a huge organization and you can certainly find many good/bad reviews of it on Google.
HospitalityClub-- "The club is supported by volunteers who believe in one idea: by bringing travelers in touch with people in the place they visit, and by giving 'locals' a chance to meet people from other cultures we can increase intercultural understanding and strengthen the peace on our planet."
Hospitality Club's aim is to bring people together. Members around the world help each other when they are traveling-- be it with a roof for the night or a guided tour through town. Joining is free, takes just a minute, and everyone is welcome. Members can look at each other's profiles, send messages, and post comments about their experience on the website.
Although it's one of the most popular results that comes up when you search "hospitality-exchange" and I've seen many good reviews on it, I personally don't use Hospitality Club. I have an account but I find the site hard to navigate and not as organized so I prefer options like Couchsurfing and Workaway.
BeWelcome-- "Step inside and invite travelers to your home, find hosts all over the world, and become part of our multicultural hospitality community. We are not-for-profit, open source, and exclusively run by members in a transparent and democratic way."
BeWelcome is a lot like HospitalityClub, it's a popular result on Google search and I've seen many reviews of it, but I personally don't use it. Apparently all membership and features are completely free and users can make comments on their experiences to warn others of good and bad experiences with hosts/guests.
TrustRoots-- "Hospitality exchange community for hitchhikers and other travelers. We want a world that encourages trust, adventure, and intercultural connections."
TrustRoots is a very new organization/site but seems very down-to-earth and user-friendly. It is completely free to make an account and to contact others, after you confirm your e-mail/activate your account. Just like Couchsurfing, you can be both a host and traveler in the same account. TrustRoots seems to be geared mostly towards hitchhikers but is in no way limited to them--on the site they say they are working on expanding their community and want you (the users) to add your input/ideas/opinions/comments to help them grow.
WarmShowers-- "A free worldwide hospitality exchange for touring cyclists. People who are willing to host touring cyclists sign up and provide their contact information, and may occasionally have someone stay with them and share great stories and a drink."
This is a very common result on Google searches but is obviously centered on traveling cyclists. You have to pick a membership level each year. You can choose the free trial membership which costs nothing, but donations are highly encouraged since it's a non-profit. Since I'm not a cyclist, I am not registered on this site nor have I explored it. There do seem to be plenty good reviews of it on Google though, so if you have a fondness for cycling, this site might be a wonderful option to look into!
*As with anything, please use your intuition and judgment when using these sites. Be safe and take precautions to make sure you are picking a good host. Look for hosts with good references/feedback and hosts that you can Skype-call beforehand to get to know and make sure you are making the right decision. These sites rely a lot on trust and the good nature of people, so be aware of that.
I've seen many names for these, but the primary idea is either you watch someone's home (and possibly pets) while they are on vacation, or the two of you switch homes for vacation. House-sitting is great because you get to travel to the location you want, but instead of living in a hostel or on someone's couch, you're living in a potentially beautiful house. Many home-owners will let you use their pool or anything else they have available (i.e. tennis courts, or possibly their car). Some home-owners will leave their pets at home while on vacation, and you will be expected to take care of them too. Home-swapping is an option I only recently came across. Instead of you just leaving your house to watch some other person's house, the two of you "swap" houses for your vacation. That way you both get to travel and explore the location of your choice, while your house is being taken care of/watched over. Obviously, a lot of trust and respect is involved in these options. Here are some options for this type of exchange:
HomeExchange-- "Travel anywhere, like a local, stay for free. Our members use their homes to save thousands when they travel. Join today and browse 5500+ home exchange and house swap listings in 150+ countries."
Apparently the world's #1 international home-exchange site. It's $150/year, but there is a 14-day free trial period that allows you to everything a paid membership would allow you to do. They include this guarantee, "If you don't do an exchange in your first year, you get a second year free!" So despite the large fee, it does seem to be a well-trusted site that is easy to navigate (and find help). There is a 24/7 live chat available and the site includes homes that are pet-friendly, so instead of leaving your pets at home, you can go on vacation with them.
This site has an "exchange agreement" that they recommend both families sign (like a contract) to ensure clear communications and avoidance of any misunderstandings. This is a home-exchange site, so you are expected to open your house to the family of the house you want to vacation to. Therefore, along with messaging homes/families you're interested in, you are to advertise your own home too, and there is a lot of information on the site on how to do that successfully.
HomeForExchange-- "Home for exchange is a marketplace for non-commercial home exchange. You stay in their home while they stay in yours."
There is a 10-day free trial, after that your membership will continue on an annual basis and you will be charged $65 for the first year. (For two years it's $100, and for three years it's $130). It's probably one of the cheapest options and has many good reviews. You can browse listings before making an account.
HomeLink-- "As the world's original home exchange organization, we offer a huge variety of home swap homes in over 80 countries around the world and the USA. Our organization has pioneered the global experience of home exchange vacations."
There are three membership options: 1-year (115 euros), 2-year (195 euros), and 3-year (265 euros). Like HomeExchange, they have guarantee that if you don't find an exchange in the first year, they will give you a second year free. You can browse homes before becoming a member.
Stay4Free-- "Home exchange is when two families agree to exchange homes for a period of time for vacation. There is no time limit: it could be for a weekend or 12 months. There is no place limit either: the exchange can be within a country or between different countries. A key characteristic is that nobody pays anything; your stay will be free."
There is a 14-day free trial then you can choose a standard membership ($12/month), plus membership ($14/month) or pro membership ($35/month), the bigger the membership, the better the rewards. However, the plus membership looks the best to me and seems to be the most popular. The pro/plus memberships also provide the guarantee (that if you don't find an exchange the first year they'll renew your membership for a whole year, free of charge). As a non-member you can search for listings.
MindMyHouse-- "We've provided all the tools for home owners and house sitters to find each other from around the globe (or around the corner). And it works!"
Home owners join for free. House sitter memberships are the cheapest on the web at only $20/year. This site also provides a house-sitting agreement that both parties should sign and review. This site seems to be mostly centered towards home owners, as you can search for house sitters before making an account (but not for home owners). Although the listings seem to be limited, apparently many housesitters start with this site (probably because it's the cheapest) and have good reviews of it. (Note: this is not a home-exchange; this is someone traveling and you staying in their house while they are gone. So this is actually a really great option if you don't exactly have a home to exchange but need somewhere to live anyway).
TrustedHousesitters-- "We connect home and pet owners who need a sitter with trustworthy people who want to house sit; reliable pet lovers and experienced home minders who are willing to live in your home and look after it and your pets while you're away (usually for free)."
This site is very well-known and therefore has many good reviews. Depending on whether you're a homeowner or housesitter, you choose a different membership. Both versions have the annual plan available. Annual plan is $96/year. Or you can choose the combined plan (which allows both a homeowner and homesitter membership) which is the same price as the annual plan and is therefore the best value. On this site, before membership, you can search both housesitters and homes to sit. It's a very pet-friendly site, assuming that most of its members have pets or are good with pets.
*Although most of these sites seem to require a pricey membership, in the long run it is definitely cheaper than most experiences vacationing abroad. After the membership fee, you just have to pay for flights, food, and spending money, but you don't have to rent/buy the house you live in. So you basically get the opportunity to live somewhere gorgeous in the country of your choosing without buying or renting it. Definitely a unique opportunity if you decide to do it.
Here are some useful sites:
4. VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS:
Volunteer programs are a nice way to vacation to your dream destination while also doing something to help the world around you. Most volunteer programs cost at least a couple hundred dollars, but considering everything that's included in the package, it's a pretty sweet deal and can be a great option if you want a meaningful vacation. The International Volunter Programs Association (IVPA) answers the common question of "Why pay to volunteer?": Most of the programs that offer international volunteer opportunities charge volunteers a fee in order to cover their year-round coordinating and operational costs. Many also need to raise funds to contribue materials and other resources to the overseas project. By volunteering abroad, you are making a commitment to fundraising. (There are some free volunteer programs but they are few and far between).
Idealist-- "We connect idealists with opportunities for action."
Idealist is a site that has jobs, internships, and volunteer programs around the world listed. It's basically like a Google for great travel opportunities.
GoEco-- "Created by experienced volunteers for people who are eager to travel and contribute to the community, wildlife, and environement they visit. Based on years of practice and in-depth field reports, GoEco presents you with a careful selection of excellent yet affordable volunteer and ecological minded vacations."
Basically, if you like animals and/or conservation, I'd really recommend you take a look at this site. There are also several non-animal-related opportunities on this site (like teaching, childcare, and community work). Most of the programs cost from $450-$2000 but they are all-inclusive, covering your board/room, food, training, wifi, and sightseeing opportunities. The price depends on how long you intend to stay.
It's exactly what it sounds like: a site that lists free volunteer programs/opportunities around the globe. You can search by location. Each one lists the stay duration expected, how many hours you are expected to devote, what they pay for, and what you need to pay for (usually you are expected to cover your own flight, internal transport, travel health insurance, pocket money, visa, etc). They also include requirements. Most require you to be at least 18 and some might require a bachelor's degree.
OneWorld365-- "Ignite your wanderlust by searching our unique trips and volunteer opportunities in over 100 worldwide destinations."
Similar to GoEco except there are many non-animal projects. They list volunteer programs, jobs, and other interesting opportunities.
Cultural Homestay International-- "CHI is a non-profit educational organization that promotes international understanding and goodwill through people-to-people exchanges."
Although this site also has some USA internships and an international Au Pair program, I've included it on this list because of their ECVA program. The ECVA (English Conversation Volunteers Abroad) program lets you live with a host family, with full room and board, for 1-3 months. In exchange for that, you just have to share your native language with your hosts for 15 hours/week. (They also ensure plenty of free time so that you can explore the country you're staying in). No prior teaching experience is necessary! These casual English conversation lessons usually run 5 days/week, 3 hours/day. CHI provides you with tutoring materials, but most of our hosts that are learning English as a second language (ESL) simply want to practice speaking English with a native speaker. It's that fun and easy!
The program cost depends on where you choose to go and how long you intend to stay (staying longer is actually cheaper in this case). For example, Japan is $23/day whereas Vietnam is $10/day. You can earn college credit. The only requirements are you have to be at least 18 years old, be a native speaker of English (or completely fluent), and be a high school graduate (though some college is preferred). The ECVA program runs year long so you choose your departure date.
Here are some useful sites:
There are several more options and opportunities all across the internet, and more are cropping up every day. I'm sure if you are determined, you'll find the perfect opportunity for you to travel in a economical way.
You can always, of course, look into scholarships and grants to help pay for your travels (if you can prove that they're destinations/programs that will help you and others). Or you can try to get yourself funded with Indiegogo or Kickstarter (if you're good at fundraising).
The sky is the limit! Just remember--if you want to travel you can!
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