Is it possible to Travel the World for Free?
I read an interesting post on the subject posted on the Matador site. You can can read it for yourself here: How to Travel For free
It sparked some serious debate amongst others who also read the article. Some were inspired whilst others thought the whole notion totally implausible or impossible. Some traveled the world using the couchsurfing network. Whilst helping to keep down one element of travel, it is not entirely free travel. Others bunkered down in caves in Mexico and fished for their supper! That was probably free and an experience but it was hard to move away from your shelter and food supply.
So is it possible to travel the world for free? Happily it is. I've done it. - numerous times using a variety of different strategies that I wanted to share with those adventurous souls who like Kerouac or Ghandi before them want to travel for free.
For the purpose of this blog I define FREE TRAVEL as when the FREE portion of the equation becomes more important than the TRAVEL experience then for me it has gone too far. Free travel generally requires compromise (although the major strategy outlined below involves NO compromise for maximum experience and is absolutely free) but I reject begging, stealing or starving as strategies for free travel.
So how did I do it?
Having traveled independently for a number of years I was lucky enough to fall into the tour leading business. For 4 years I lived and traveled through the Middle East from Morocco to Iran. Not only was it free but it was also (modestly) paid for. It definitely paid enough to have your own independent adventures when not leading which was approx. 3 months of the year.
To become a tour leader there were no specific educational requirements. You just needed to be a friendly, easy going people person who was willing to deal with the challenges of travel on behalf of a group of people who weren't. Using this method I traveled to places such as Libya, Eastern Turkey and Yemen as well as the mainstays of the Middle East - all for free. It was inspiring, uplifting, frustrating and deflating. Most of all it was free. To learn more contact any international travel company and pitch your wares. Dragoman, Kumuka, Intrepid Travel, Tucan, On The Go, Contiki - you name it, they are all looking almost all the time.
Not everyone however can stop their life to go and wander the wilds of the earth for periods of years. Some us have other responsibilities in our lives these days like jobs and families but that doesn't mean we have to give up on the dream of traveling for free.
If you are passionate about travel and famous amongst your friends and colleagues for being passionate about travel then there is a good chance you are already the go to person for all travel advice. This is who I was, actually who I still am. I will talk to anyone - all day and night about their travel dreams. However to travel for free I needed to focus my energies. What I did was contacted all my friends - very easy these days with social media. I said I'm going to Ethiopia in 9 months time - who wants to come. I will organize everything - you just need to say you want to do it. Ethiopia was the first trip I did like this - 6 years ago now. After much too-ing and fro-ing 9 friends and acquaintances committed to the travel. Be sure to set a cut off date at least 4 months in advance.
With the crew confirmed I contacted several of the companies listed above via their special groups departments. I said I have 9 people plus myself who want to do your Ethiopia itinerary as a special group. We will do it with you if I can travel for free and the other 8 can get the trip at a rate less than you advertised as your retail price. How many of the companies do you think agreed to this deal? ALL OF THEM!
So how can this be? Travel companies operate the bulk of their business through wholesalers and retailers to whom they pay varying rates of commissions. If you go direct - they are saving all this cash. As long as the company is still turning a profit they will accept your deal. I've tried with 6 plus myself and been refused - actually they didn't refuse but for me to travel for free meant my friends had to pay higher than the retail price for a special group. To convince other people to want to travel with you, you need to get them a deal, so for me that was out.
In a nutshell if you can find 8 people who want to travel with you - you can travel for free. I have just completed my 9th free trip. All have been wonderful and shared with friends, old and new.Try it! Post your experiences here of which companies gave you the best deals or contact me if you need any further help or advice. Happy (free) Travels :-)