How to travel for (almost) free

Travel hacks

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Every student, budget vacationer and travel hacker will have wondered: is it possible to travel for free? It sure is, or yes, for very little money at least. Read on to discover our best tips on how to get things for free on your trip: accommodation, sightseeing, trips, flights, food and drink, and more!

Here at Kiwi.com, we love a money-saving travel hack, so we’ve compiled a whole list of them! Whether you’re a student trying to save money, or someone who wants a taste of luxury without the added cost, here are our favorite tips and tricks on how to travel (almost) for free, without compromising your experience.

Hacks for the journey

Traveling by plane

Person preparing bag of mini toiletries for airplane travel — ShutterstockMake sure you have your bag of sample cosmetics for freshening up on your flight — Shutterstock

Rather than pay for coffee, bring your own coffee powder and ask the cabin crew for hot water (this must be made available free due to its use in mixing baby formula). You could also make up a small cosmetics bag with all of those sample bits and pieces you never knew what to do with; First Class passengers often receive a pouch with complimentary cosmetics. This isn’t just to freshen you up, either — the dry air on a plane can lead to itchy skin, dry mouth (causing bad breath), and general tiredness. Take moisturizer, eye pads, hand cream and a travel toothbrush and toothpaste so you’ll feel fresh on arrival.

 

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If you’re flying with another person, it makes sense to book seats next to each other, right? Ah, maybe not! If there’s a free row on the seat map, book the window and the aisle seat and leave the middle one free. Anyone booking later is unlikely to choose that one, so you could well get a row to yourself. If not, simply ask them to switch — no one wants the middle seat, so you’ll still be next to each other, and they’ll appreciate your generosity.

Traveling by train

Empty train dining car — ShutterstockFor a more relaxed train ride, sit in the dining car — Shutterstock

Train travel, particularly in Europe, can be a great way of saving money. The summer of 2022 saw Germany offer tickets for all local and regional transport (basically any trains that aren’t express, and buses) for a flat rate of nine euros.

Even if you’re crossing borders on the fast trains, it might be worth looking at the benefits of First Class. Woah, hold on, bear with me: I know this is an article about budget travel, but a train journey between, say, Hamburg and Prague — a trip of almost seven hours — is more pleasant and relaxing with a wider seat, more legroom, complimentary drinks and fewer people. How much for the upgrade? 10 euros. Not too shabby.

Even if you don’t upgrade, people have an odd habit of thinking if they’ve booked a seat, they should hold onto it for dear life. Now don’t get me wrong, I hate it when people sit in reserved seats, but this isn’t about that. What I’m saying is, for a bit more legroom and a nicer view, head to the dining car. Big windows, tables, and the chance to have a meal, or a coffee or beer in a proper receptacle, rather than wobbling your way back to your seat with a paper cup.

How to get free accommodation

There have been websites available for years that offer places to stay for the bare minimum of reimbursement (Couchsurfing being one of the most famous), but if you don’t want to intrude on someone else’s space to that degree, consider the following.

Volunteering

Worldpackers offers free accommodation in exchange for skills. You can stay at one of thousands of social projects, NGOs, ecovillages, hostels, campsites and communities in over 140 countries. They’re always looking for people with skills as varied as languages, photography, administration, cooking, gardening, social media management, childcare and more.

House sitting

Woman on mobile video call with a small dog — ShutterstockLots of house sitting opportunities also come with pets — Shutterstock

House sitting is sort of like babysitting, except you’re looking after a house while its occupants are away. From chic, city center apartments to sprawling farmhouses, there are loads of options out there from a bunch of trusted websites, and many of the house sits come with pets too, so you get the added fun of a cat or dog friend to keep you company!

Workaway

If you’d like to learn something new while you’re traveling, consider a workaway scheme. In exchange for around five hours of work a day, you’ll get accommodation, food, and sometimes an allowance as well. It could be helping on a farm or a building project, learning yoga skills, giving classroom support, or a bunch of other things: all you need to bring is enthusiasm and a willingness to learn. Workaway schemes also allow you to sign up with a partner, travel buddy, or in a group, so you can all go on an adventure together!

Money-saving sightseeing tips

There’s so much going on almost everywhere if you know where to look. Do a bit of digging and you’ll find that most cities have a swathe of free things to see and do, it’s just that often these aren’t widely advertised.

See what’s free

Tourist taking photograph of Ancient Egyptian artifact at the British Museum — ShutterstockMany museums in major European cities are free to enter — Shutterstock

Even the biggest museums and galleries in the UK, for example, are often free to visit. Even the ones around the world you might not think have exceptions. While the Met in New York has abandoned its Pay What You Wish policy, there are still many websites for major cities — such as this one — which will not only let you know on which days which places are free (or pay what you wish), but also how much you’re saving on those days over a regular ticket. In other major cities like Paris, almost every museum or gallery is free for students, or EU residents under 26 (just remember to bring your student card and ID), and the first Sunday of every month they’re free for everyone! There’s a lot out there if you just spend a bit of time looking for it.

Walking tours

Friends on a walking tour of New York City — ShutterstockA walking tour is a very cost-effective way to get to know a new city — Shutterstock

As above, every major city — and some regional ones — offers free walking tours to get to know the place. These are generally conducted by locals who know the city inside-out, and can be a valuable insight into what to do, where to go, and things that might be a better alternative to the obvious. They’re also a good way to meet fellow travelers in a relaxed atmosphere, and as a former walking tour guide myself, I can guarantee that for the price of a beer afterwards, the tour guide will be more than happy to give you a bit more of their time and knowledge!

Public transport

Tram 28 in Lisbon — ShutterstockHop on Tram 28 for a cheap whistle-stop tour of Lisbon — Shutterstock

Some transport systems can seem intimidating, especially at busy times, but don’t underestimate the value of simply sitting on a bus or a tram to get the feel of a city. Often for mere pennies you can get a ticket and watch the city go by as you rattle through interesting neighborhoods you might not otherwise have seen. Some cities even recommend it: the Amsterdam Architecture Foundation, for example, has maps of tram routes with notable buildings marked on them, so you know exactly what you’re looking at; while Lisbon’s famous Tram 28 (Martim Moniz — Campo Ourique) passes through almost every major area of the city and is pretty much a tourist attraction in itself.

Other low-cost tricks

Money matters

Couple laughing outside of an airportRevolut is a must for smart travelers everywhere — Shutterstock

To avoid getting stung by hidden fees, download Revolut for great exchange rates and international money transfers. You can also use it to set up a daily or weekly budget, and the app will ping you when you’re nearing your limit. It’s also great for avoiding disagreements when traveling with friends: you can set up bills, and Revolut will keep track of who’s spent what and do the math for you.

Cheap flights 

Kiwi.com, of course! As we’ve previously mentioned, people seem to love our unique Search to: Anywhere feature, because it finds the cheapest prices to destinations you might never have even considered. For multi-stop trips, you have to try Nomad, our revolutionary search tool that runs on our powerful Kiwi-Code technology. Just enter the places you’d like to visit and how long you’d like to spend in each destination, and Nomad will find you the cheapest possible route between them. You can then see all the journeys that make up your itinerary and book the whole lot for one low price in one single click. Go on, try it now and see just how cheap your next adventure could be!

Do you want more travel articles? Visit Kiwi.com Stories.