8 Ways to Travel for Free on Your RTW

When debunking the myths of RTW travel, the first thing that is mentioned is money. As with anything in life, money is usually the first hurdle that needs to be considered. Buying a house, a car, getting your kids through college, going on vacation – all depend on how much money you have.

When traveling RTW, money is the one factor that determines how long you travel for, where you visit, and how fast you can move. Budgeting for a trip of this magnitude is difficult, challenging, and frustrating, and if you are traveling with another person, it quickly becomes the most discussed topic before, during, and after your trip.

At BootsnAll, we try to help travelers make the most of their trips. Whether it’s a week on a Caribbean island or a two-year long jaunt around the world, we like to give you all the tools necessary to put together the best trip you can. As the leaders of independent travel, we want you to travel longer, further, and more productively than you ever have before.

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When taking a RTW trip, trying to find ways to cut corners on your spending is a daily task. Finding free and cheap things to eat, places to stay, and activities to take part in is a victory for the RTW traveler. We’re always looking out for deals and ways to spend less so we can travel more. That’s why we put together this list of eight ways to travel for free on your RTW trip.


Couchsurfing is getting more and more popular among all travelers, young and old alike, and it is perhaps the best way to get your accommodations for free. Those who have never done it before are a bit skeptical, and rightfully so, as crashing on a complete stranger’s couch in a foreign city sounds like the recipe for disaster. But the couchsurfing community can’t speak highly enough about this service that pairs travelers with hosts all over the world.

Many think couchsurfing is only for young, college-aged students, but there are plenty of people of all ages who are part of the community. Even couples can join in on the couchsurfing fun, and there are many times when travelers end up with their own rooms instead of just a couch. They have a great search function, and you can search by things like age and gender, giving travelers plenty of options. There is a massive variety of hosts out there, and chances are you will have no problem finding someone that matches what you’re looking for. If you’re still on the fence, join the site and check it out. Once you start browsing through listings, you’ll feel more at ease in no time at all.

For more on couchsurfing, be sure to read Couchsurfing: Tips for a Smooth Experience. For a new company which offers a similar experience to couch surfing, think about joining Tripping.

Homestays/cultural exchange programs

If you are looking for a cultural experience while also saving a few bucks, then consider a homestay. Homestays are typically for students and traditionally meant for those in a foreign exchange program. However, if you’re older than student age and far out of college, as many RTW travelers are, you’re not out of luck. An important part of a RTW trip is immersing yourself into the different cultures of the countries you visit. Learning the language is an important part of learning about a particular culture, and RTW travelers are encouraged to try speaking the language of the country they’re in. Taking language classes, along with a homestay, is a great way to accomplish that.

Many language schools will place students with a host family during their time in the school. While this isn’t mandatory at many schools, it really assists in the language learning as the education extends far beyond the classroom. Typically host families are encouraged to only communicate in the local language, making learning the language sometimes frustrating, but full immersion certainly speeds up the process. Obviously the language classes are not free, but often room and board at a homestay is offered as part of the tuition. Travelers can really throw themselves into the culture during a homestay, save a few bucks doing it, and really get a chance to learn the language of the country they’re visiting.

Travelers can also take advantage of homestays by working abroad or simply staying with families while traveling. While homestays aren’t usually free in these cases, they can often be cheaper than other accommodation options, especially in expensive to travel in countries. They really give travelers a chance of connecting with the local culture. Many families not only cook and eat with the traveler, but will take him or her to their favorite restaurants, bars, and sites.

For more on homestays and cultural exchange programs, check out the following article and resources:

Home and hospitality exchanges

If you’re still a bit leery of crashing on someone’s couch or don’t like the thought of staying with a family that doesn’t speak your language, then you still have other options for free accommodations while traveling. If you’re looking to move to a new city for a while, then consider a home or hospitality exchange. The basic premise behind a home exchange is two people, couples, or families swap houses for a predetermined amount of time. It could be a week, a month, or a year. A hospitality exchange is similar except each person, couple, or family will come stay with each other in more of a homestay than a swap. Then that same person, couple, or family will return the favor at their home.

This affords travelers the opportunity to live in a home instead of hotels or hostels while still getting to immerse oneself in the culture of that country. Plus it doesn’t cost anything. If you find a willing participant, you simply agree on the dates and go from there. There are plenty of companies who help travelers find home and cultural exchanges, and some do come with an annual fee. But that fee is nothing compared to the money you’ll save by not having to pay for accommodations. A home exchange is great for families and those looking to travel slowly during their RTW journeys.

For more on home exchanges, check out the following sites:

House sitting or caretaking

Another option for offsetting accommodation costs around the world is house sitting. The idea is exactly how it sounds. People all over the world go on vacations, and it’s always nice to have someone watch the house while gone. Enter you, the RTW traveler, who is on the move and always looking for a cheap, and if possible, free place to stay. Pet care may be involved in some of these opportunities, but if you aren’t a fan of pets, have no fear as there are plenty of options sans animals.

Like all these options, a certain level of trust and open-mindedness is necessary, but reputable companies that set travelers up with vacant houses make it as safe as humanly possible. If you use a house-sitting service, you may need to pay a small fee, and depending on the length of stay in a house, you may also be responsible for some of the utilities and bills. But this is usually only common during long-term stays. These arrangements will all be negotiated before agreeing, and if using a legit site instead of something like Craig’s List, a contract will be signed. Having a house and living amongst locals is a fantastic way to see a different side of a city and really immerse yourself into the local culture.

Check out the following sites for house-sitting opportunities while on your RTW trip:

Working in exchange for room and board

Another popular option for getting a free place to rest your head at night is to exchange work for room and board. This can be worked out, typically under the table, at many hostels all over the world. You may have noticed western looking workers at hostels in Southeast Asia or Latin America. These workers are typically just travelers like you and I who have worked out a deal with the hostel owner or manager. Sometimes a few hours of work a day, whether it’s cleaning the kitchen after breakfast or working the hostel bar at night, can be exchanged for a free bed and maybe even a meal or two. You simply work out an arrangement that seems fair to both parties, and you could buy yourself a free place to crash for anywhere from a week to a few months.

In addition to working at hostels for room and board, you can also check out any number of organizations that set up work in exchange for a bed deals between travelers and the local community. Sometimes there are local families looking for babysitters for their children, or there are locals hoping to learn English, or those who own farms and need temporary workers. All are options that travelers can take advantage of for some free room and board for a while.

Have a look at the following work exchange sites to find the opportunity that is right for you:


Volunteering is on the minds of many RTW travelers, particularly those who don’t plan on working in while on their trip. Volunteering in the local community gives travelers the chance to give back. If you are fortunate enough to be able to quit your job to take off on an epic RTW adventure, it only makes sense to take some of your time to do something great for one of the local communities you are visiting. There are a plethora of options available for volunteer work, and you can set these up before leaving home or wait until you arrive in a specific destination. Larger volunteer organizations typically charge volunteers to work, which may seem a bit backwards, but many are non-profit organizations who have to pay volunteer service organizations to find volunteers for them. Most will usually take care of room and board for volunteers, too, so if you do have to pay, it’s for a good reason most of the time.

In addition to getting an extremely rewarding experience, volunteers also get a free place to stay and are usually offered meals. While this should never be the main reason for someone to volunteer, the perk is a good one and could keep you traveling longer while doing something great for the local community. If you don’t want to pay much or set something up before leaving, there will still be plenty of opportunities to volunteer just by turning up in a new city and asking around. If you are traveling in developing countries, the opportunities to help are endless, and it’s common to come to a fair agreement that will benefit both parties. Just remember that you are there to help, not just get a free place to crash.

For more on volunteering while on your RTW trip, read the following articles and check out the available resources:


WWOOFing, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is another option for working in exchange for room and board. The difference is that WWOOFing is restricted to working on organic farms around the world. The organization has been around since 1971, when it was started in the UK by Sue Coppard. She wanted to help out in the organic farming movement but didn’t have the means to do so, so she had the idea to offer her work in exchange for a place to sleep, meals to eat, and the opportunity to learn about organic farming. Shortly thereafter, WWOOFing was officially born.

Now it has spread to over 30 countries, and for those RTW travelers on a tight budget, WWOOFing gives them the opportunity to work and experience expensive-to-travel-in regions of the world. WWOOFing is possible in developing countries as well, and it provides the opportunity not only for free accommodation but also education. Learning a life skill like organic farming is invaluable and is surely something that will benefit you later in life. The possibilities really are endless, as there are small farms, huge farms, and farms all over the world. Volunteers have the chance to choose the situation that is perfect for them.

BootsnAll has plenty of resources about WWOOFing, so be sure to read all about them:

Get a rewards credit card for airline miles

Every single airline has partnered with credit card companies to offer rewards cards. It’s a simple concept – you open a credit card which offers airline miles and you get a certain number of miles for every dollar you spend. If you plan this far enough in advance and are planning to buy point to point airline tickets, you could get a few flights for free or a greatly discounted cost. Explore all your options – check to see which airlines you may be flying most on your trip, research credit card companies and what they offer, and choose the best one.

Many companies offer a certain amount of bonus points for signing up and then spending a certain amount within the first few months. If you think of this when you first start planning your trip, you can start paying for everything with your credit card. Bills, groceries, gas, going out, everything you can think of. You’ll obviously be on a tight budget in the months and years leading up to the trip, so you’ll have to be disciplined and only use your credit card for things you would normally buy. Then you have to pay it off each month so you’re not carrying a balance around and being charged interest. But if you have the discipline to pay it off each month and not make frivolous purchases, you can build up thousands of miles before you even take off on your trip. This can save literally thousands of dollars when it comes to purchasing airline tickets.

Read more about frequent flyer miles and the best ones to join.

Travelers, especially long term, RTW travelers, are always looking for a way to save a few bucks while on the road. When you take off on for a long trip, all those nickels and dimes you save during the course of your trip really do add up, and if you can turn those nickels and dimes into dollars, you can set yourself up to save enough to make your trip even longer.

Have you ever taken advantage of any of these free opportunities? Which ones? How did they work out for you? Comment below to share your story or read more about budget travel:


Adam Seper and his wife, Megan, decided that 50+ hour workweeks with 2 weeks of vacation a year simply wasn’t going to cut it.  So they decided to take a leap of faith and put The American Dream on hold.  In October 2008, they took off on an epic, year-long adventure, traversing the globe and traveling to 89 cities and 11 countries across 4 continents, never to be the same again.

Now Adam is going to tell you how you can plan your own epic adventure. Every week, on “Round the World Wednesday” he’ll share tips for planning, budgeting and selecting a route, plus advice on where to go and what to see and do all around the world.


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Leave a Comment

  • Zoe Goetz said at 2011-09-22T03:21:52+0000: Stop advertising Couchsurfing as a "free place to stay!" It just attracts freeloaders! It's supposed to be a cultural exchange. There are twice as many surfers as hosts! Why don't you people appeal to prospective hosts too!
  • Ali Siddiqui said at 2011-10-08T13:03:22+0000: Here is another source to add to the list, http://volunteerstays.com/ offers great way to do work exchanges in return for local food and accommodation and an opportunity to experience local cultures and ways of life.
  • Partha Nemo said at 2011-09-22T18:10:00+0000: is there any way any travel co. organise this type of RTW... I am really interested to experience once in a lifetime rtw journey.
  • Alan Langworthy said at 2011-09-22T23:07:45+0000: this website is pretty awesome. Not even sure how I stumbled upon this page.
  • Sandra Guedes said at 2011-10-18T04:07:27+0000: I have to agree with the last comment. I am happy you advertise CS, but as a CS lover, I hope people join it for the "right cause" making friends all over the world :)
  • Chris Alonso said at 2013-05-08T03:23:14+0000: Definitely there are some good options for traveling! thank you for the information!