A lot of people ask me how I manage to afford to travel as much as I do on a student budget so I thought I’d compile a list of some tips I’ve picked up along the way, starting with accommodation.
Workaway is a website dedicated to volunteer exchanges around the world. They usually require 20-24 hours a week of work in exchange for accommodation and food. You can do a range of different exchanges from yoga retreats in Hawaii to working on a llama farm in Berlin.
I have done four different exchanges in four different countries and have had very positive experiences with all of them, each with their own advantages. Working in hostels in San Francisco and Montreal allowed me to stay in cities where hostels are quite expensive for six weeks for an average of twenty hours of basic cleaning work a week. A big perk of my hostel job in San Francisco was to be able to partake in the hostel activities like movie night, wine and cheese night and cocktail party Saturdays for free. In Montreal the biggest perk was being in a room with a group of wonderful work exchangers from all over the world who I hung out with a lot of the time I was there.
In Czech Republic I worked on renovating an old railway station an hour away from Prague. This was an interesting and rewarding experience unlike the usual touristy Prague experience. In Mallorca I taught guitar to a lovely 8 year old and stayed with her family who kindly showed me around the island for two weeks.
Pros: Allows you to stay in a country/city for longer time periods and allows you the opportunity to spend time with people who know the city well, meet other travelers and have interesting and unique experiences.
Cons: I guess having to commit to a work exchange could be considered a con if you prefer to have greater flexibility on your trip, although I found that my workaways all lead me to doing other more exciting things after.
Advice on applying: Be enthusiastic. A lot of the placements are from small businesses or personal projects and as exciting as the prospect of exploring their city is, it is important you respect their business too and take an interest in what it is they are doing and trying to accomplish.
^Workaway @ USA Hostels: San Francisco^
^Workaway and home @ Karez, Czech Republic^
Couchsurf is a website which allows travelers to contact hosts in different countries and request to stay on their sofa for a couple of nights during their stay.
I cannot emphasise enough that Couchsurf is not just a free place to stay, it is a community of travelers helping each other out and exchanging cultures.
I have had some wonderful experiences with hosts in San Diego, Toronto and New York and have made some great friends as a result of it. By staying with a local you will have the chance to find out about the parts of the city left out the guidebooks and can delve straight into the culture of the country first-hand.
Having such great experiences has inspired me to host travelers in my home town too and this is a great way to hold onto some of the traveling spirit when you aren’t traveling yourself. It is also a fun way to keep a fresh and positive view of your city when you share it with people who are looking to experience the best of it and have a great time. From what I gather, a lot of the hosts on the couchsurf community host because they have felt the same inspiration from hosts they’ve had in the past.
Pros: Great way to meet locals and make friends, it’s free to sign up and free to participate.
Cons: There is a risk factor. Although I have personally never had a bad experience, there is the possibility you don’t feel comfortable with your host or that they don’t show up. I would recommend keeping in mind an emergency back-up hostel in case things don’t go to plan but it is unlikely you will need this. If you are nervous, start by staying with hosts with twenty or more positive references.
Advice: Read the host’s profile before you ask to stay with them. It sounds obvious but I get a lot of messages from people who just copy and paste a request asking if they can sleep at my house for two nights. Having a stranger stay at your house is a big deal and if you can’t even be bothered to read my profile before you ask me for a favor, it’s not really a good sign! References are also important. Ask a couple of friends to write you one when you first join so hosts can see that you are a real person.
^Couchsurfing with students @ San Diego^
^I couchsurfed somewhere in this skyline! @ a fraternity house in Toronto^
Sometimes things don’t go to plan or you end up somewhere spontaneously and find yourself desperately in need of somewhere to stay for the night. Hostelworld is a great way to find all the hostels in the area and from what I am aware, they give you the cheapest price. If you are travelling Europe you can find hostels in many countries for a fiver a night with hostelworld.
Pros: Fun way to meet other travelers. Lots of hostels also have activities like bar crawls which can be fun. It’s also nice having a guaranteed bed for the night and shower!
Cons: Security can sometimes feel like an issue but most hostels will have lockers so just make sure you bring a padlock. A lack of privacy can also be a problem for some people but most hostels will offer single sex rooms as well if this is an issue for you.
Advice: Read the reviews and check out what activities the hostel offers when you get there so you don’t miss out on anything fun. Also check the free food section of the fridge or cupboard. Most hostels have one and I have had great fun trying to make a communal meal out of what I find in the free sections!
^Grafitti hostel @ Barcelona^
I haven’t done enough of this but it is very handy having a tent as back up if you are taking the road less traveled. There are usually a choice of campsites wherever you are visiting and if you don’t feel like paying, depending on where you are you might be able to find a park or beach to camp on for free. When I was traveling in California, my travel partner bought a tent and we often camped out on the beach. As we got further South and the temperature increased we didn’t bother with the tent and just slept with our sleeping bags under the stars.
Pros: Camping is fun! If you have a tent you always have a back-up.
Cons: It can be a pain lugging camping gear around and it isn’t always the most comfortable.
^Camping out for the night @ Pacifica, California^
^Sleeping under the stars with new friends @ Big Sur^
Use your connections:
Stay with friends! I feel that in English culture we often feel embarrassed to ask for favors but why not go ahead and ask the Swedish girl you met briefly in college but are friends with on Facebook if you can stay with her for a weekend? You have nothing to lose! Traveling can give you the chance to explore connections you didn’t nurture before and if you still feel awkward, find a way to earn your stay! Luckily for me I had the chance to stay with a good friend from Brussels on one of my trips.
^Thanks for the adventures in Belgium Theo!^
I hope some of this was useful to those new to traveling and if you have any extra tips, let me know in the comments section!