People in the FIRE community love to travel. For many who become Financially Independent and Retire Early, that’s the whole point. Give up the cubicle and explore the world! Learning to travel hack will get you started.
Travel Hack = Save Money on Travel Expenses and/or Travel for Free.
Whether independently wealthy, or still working towards Financial Independence, no one wants to pay more than they have to when traveling. In this post, I’m going to share some ways to travel hack your way to savings without playing the credit card points game.
Why Not Use Credit Card Points?
You may be wondering, why wouldn’t I want to take advantage of credit card mileage points to travel hack my way to free travel?
First of all, I’m a die-hard Dave Ramsey fan. Use credit cards to travel hack? Dave would rather hack up all credit cards with a pair of scissors!
Dave’s methods helped us get out of debt. We’re not about to go back in. Even though we are debt-free, I still listen to the Dave Ramsey Show for inspiration and motivation to stay on track and out of debt.
Second of all, why do you think credit card companies offer sign-up bonuses with free mileage points? Is it because they admire your desire to experience different cultures, and want to help you out?
Noooooooo! It’s because they know that most people end up carrying debt, and credit card companies are more than happy to rake in profits by charging you interest, late fees, etc.
I know there are people out there who pay their accounts in full each month, but you two are in the minority.
Other Ways to Travel Hack . . . . .
Let’s explore some of the many other ways you can score free or reduced cost travel besides dealing with a deck of credit cards. Some of these travel hack ideas are perfect for a single person, and some work great for couples or families.
The ABCs of Travel Hacking (without using credit card points):
A – Airbnb. I love Airbnb because of the flexibility, savings, and unique places to stay. Airbnb is ideal for couples and families traveling together, and some places even accept pets.
Airbnb is less expensive than staying in a hotel. It can be cheaper to book a 7-day stay than a 5-day stay! Airbnb hosts can also give inside tips on the best things to see and do in the area that don’t cost an arm and a leg.
We look for Airbnb sites that come with fully equipped kitchens and laundry facilities so we can cook some of our own meals and do our own laundry (helping us to save more money, time, and even eat a little healthier, too).
Airbnb is my favorite travel hack for low-cost lodging!
If you’ve never tried Airbnb, use this link to get $40 in free travel credit.
B – Budget Airlines. These are no-frills flights – no food, no assigned seats, and minimal luggage. Avoid extra fees by reviewing luggage size restrictions ahead of time.
We flew Ryanair from London to Leipzig, Germany. That same fare at the time of this writing was under $14 one way!
The top ten budget airlines according to Skytrax include AirAsia, Norwegian, Jet Blue, Easy Jet, Virgin America, Jetstar, AirAsia X, Azul Brazilian Airlines, Southwest, and IndiGo.
C – Couch Surfing connects travelers and hosts in a meaningful way. You’ll stay in someone’s home and learn about a different culture firsthand.
There’s no money involved with Couch Surfing. You can travel the world like a local and get an experience that money just can’t buy.
D – Diverbo offers a free stay and cultural experience that you’ll never forget! Volunteer in a language immersion program like Diverbo and your lodging and meals are covered.
Spend a week in Spain in exchange for some friendly conversation? Yes, please!
E – Ebates. To score big savings and free cash back when making travel plans, take advantage of Ebates. I’ve used Ebates to book flights and hotels, rent cars, and even used it when I needed to purchase new luggage.
Shop with Ebates at your favorite stores, earn free cash back on your purchases, and get paid by check or Pay Pal. Simple! To get started with Ebates or learn more, click here.
Bonus: spend $25 (on things you’d normally buy anyway) and you’ll get $10 bonus cash back in addition to all the other cash back offers through Ebates!
F – Friends. Visiting friends in other countries is a wonderful way to travel. You’ll have a place to stay with people you care about. We recently visited friends in Germany, and it was one of the best vacations we’ve ever had.
G – Be a Global Freeloader and take advantage of the hospitality of others, even though you weren’t friends already. Globalfreeloaders.com is an online community designed to bring people together from around the world through free accommodations.
H – House swap or house sit. If you own a home, you can house swap. My boss and his family spent two weeks in Paris by participating in a house swap, and saved a bunch of cash.
HomeExchange.com bills itself as the “World’s #1 International Home Exchange Site” with over 65,000 homes in 150+ countries.
If you’re not a home owner, you can house sit. In exchange for watering the plants, feeding the cat, and keeping an eye on things, you’ll score free accomodations!
I – Instructor. There are many opportunities to teach abroad. Another social worker I know quit her job to teach English in Japan for a year.
If you have already invested in training and certification, you may be able to turn your hobby into a travel hack that lands you a gig in a resort community, say as a scuba instructor.
My husband and I did a lot of scuba diving when we were younger – we saved money on our scuba travels by investing in our own gear, camping on the beach in Mexico, and staying with relatives in Roatan.
As an herb instructor, I’ve led herb walks and taught herb classes across the country to pay for my travels. When I teach herb classes now, that extra cash goes into my retirement savings.
Many instructors organize trips. My yoga instructor has been organizing and leading yoga trips to Mexico for the past 20 years. She gets free travel, lodging and meals on these trips.
J – Get a Job! If you enjoy adventure and the outdoors, Adventure Work lists short and longer-term gigs around the world. Many positions offer a weekly wage plus meals, lodging, insurance, and travel expenses.
K – Knapsack. Use a knapsack or backpack instead of bulky luggage for increased flexibility as you travel. You’ll avoid excess baggage fees and size restriction penalties by traveling light.
L – Linguist. A post on the Adventure Work website listed a job for a Linguist / Walk Organizer. Imaging leading walks in the beautiful Italian Dolomites, Austrian Alps, the Picos de Europa or the Pyrenees mountains of northern Spain.
Ideal for a fit, friendly, bilingual nature lover who can speak English and German, or English and Spanish.
M – Military. It’s not for everyone, but members of the armed forces do get to travel the world. My nephew joined the Army and has spent time in Germany and Korea so far.
N – National Parks. National Parks, National Monuments, and National Forests offer paid and volunteer positions, which vary widely depending on the need of each park and your skill set.
Some of my relatives have served as camp hosts, cataloged petroglyphs, operated telescopes and led evening star shows for park visitors.
One summer I worked in an art gallery at Mount Rushmore. It was a great experience, and I got to see a part of the country that was new to me. Meals and lodging were provided, and I made some extra cash.
O – Overnight train travel. By taking the train at night, you save time and money. Get from Point A to Point B on your travel itinerary while you’re sleeping and you won’t have to pay for a hotel.
P – Peace Corps. Are you a changemaker? Peace Corps volunteers work on pressing challenges alongside community members in over 60 countries.
Peace Corps applicants should have a four-year college degree (or extensive work experience that is specifically related to the volunteer position).
You can join the Peace Corps as a single person, or as a couple (but you won’t be able to bring your kids). The Peace Corps accepts same-sex couples.
Peace Corps volunteers receive a “living allowance” which is just enough to live like the locals. But transportation costs to and from your country of service are covered, and you even get medical and dental care!
Q – Quick travel deals. Sign up to receive online newsletters and notifications from budget airlines for last-minute travel deals. For last-minute international deals, sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights tips.
S – State Parks. If you enjoy camping or traveling in a motor home, state parks offer an inexpensive way to travel around the country. Book early because campsites go fast!
T – Toastmasters. Are you a member of Toastmasters International? It’s a great personal development resource, even if you don’t plan to become a TEDx speaker.
My friends Alan and Katie traveled to the United States from the UK, and they contacted fellow Toastmasters in all the cities they wanted to visit. They were able to stay for free everywhere they went, and made great new friends!
U – Urban Backpacking is a flexible and low-cost way to travel. Basically, it involves carrying everything in a backpack as you travel from city to city, staying in inexpensive hostels.
V – VRBO. Cheaper accommodations can be found through Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO). Having access to a kitchen and laundry facility makes this travel hack a real money saver.
W – WWOOF your way around the world for free! World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is a grass-roots organization that enables volunteers (WWOOFers) to live and volunteer on organic farms around the world.
In exchange for 4 – 6 hours of work per day, WWOOFers are provided with food and lodging. Stays can be as short as 2 – 3 days, or as long as 6 months.
From the website ” WWOOFing is very rewarding, you can participate in a huge range of experiences, alternative lifestyles and learn new skills. Many WWOOFers are so inspired by the experience that they end up changing their lifestyles and even setting up their own organic properties!”
X – Help X is another exchange site that matches up volunteers helpers with farms, ranches, bed and breakfasts, backpacker hostels, etc. In exchange for 4 – 6 hours of daily work, Help X volunteers receive meals and a place to stay.
Y – Youth Language Experience through Servas. Ideal for an extrovert between 18 and 30 years old, who can speak the language of the host country well enough to get by.
Servas Youth Language Experience (SYLE) participants pay their own travel expenses, but scholarships are available.
After a one month stay with a host family and participation in organized SYLE activities you will have improved your foreign language skills and enjoyed a rich cultural exchange.
Z – Zeppelin Rides. My daughter suggested renting a zeppelin when I couldn’t come up with an idea for “z”. Book a zeppelin ride in Germany for unique, if not inexpensive travel.
It was hard to find a travel hack beginning with the letter “z” so I open it up to you, dear readers, to suggest one. My best idea is to secure a volunteer or paid position in a zoo on the other side of the world.
But then you’d have to stay in one place for a while . . .
Travel Hack Wrap-Up.
In summary, there are many more ways to save money on travel than just playing the credit card points game. Have you found a travel hack that helps you to travel more often, for less? What is your favorite travel hack?
Let me know in the comments.