I am currently attempting to travel Europe for a year having left home with a grand total of just $600, and that’s not just my spending money — that’s the lot.
Out of that budget I have to travel to my destinations, eat, find shelter and, most importantly, have a lot of fun.
I can honestly say that this would not be possible without the internet, but with the internet it is surprisingly easy!
You just need a little preparation, a flexible approach and an open mind.
Below are some of the websites that I would be lost without.
Somewhere to stay
Accommodation is often the biggest expense when considering travel, but it can easily be the cheapest if you’re not focused on luxurious hotels.
It is my experience that the more expensive options remove at least half of the benefits of travelling anyway.
With a few compromises and thinking outside the box you can turn a holiday into an experience you’ll never forget.
I discovered Housesitter at the start of my journey in 2016 and I regularly go back to it.
It really appeals to me, as there is such a balanced exchange of services.
The idea is that people wanting to go away on holiday want someone to move into their home while they’re away, usually with one or more pets to care for.
It’s so simple and uncomplicated.
Just Google “house sitting” and you will find a number of websites to choose from (while Housesitter.com is my favorite one).
Most require a small registration fee, which normally lasts for a year, but I haven’t paid more than $25-30 for any of the sites that I use, and you get your money’s worth on day one of your first placement!
Once you’ve registered you need to set up a profile.
It’s important to consider that people are looking for someone that they can trust alone in their home with their precious animals, so be as honest and give as much information as you can.
Most of the websites will do some verification steps, so they’ll want you to upload a copy of your passport or get your mobile verified, that sort of thing.
I think that you can continue without verification, but this is going to reduce the amount of interest that you will have.
It takes a bit of setting up, but once you’re done the world is your oyster.
I haven’t failed to find a house sit assignment to suit my preferred dates and locations yet, but that does require some advance planning.
I usually look a few months in advance, get a couple of assignments confirmed and then work the rest of my travel plans around them.
So far I have lived for three weeks in a penthouse apartment in the most expensive part of London with nothing but a pampered puss to look after, two weeks in an farmhouse caring for two mastiffs, chickens, koi carp and a rabbit in the middle of Thetford Forest in Norfolk, and next month I’m looking after two dogs in a villa just outside Monaco.
There is, of course, the responsibility of caring for someone’s home and their animals, but there is no cost, the owners will often pay for your travel expenses and they don’t mind you raiding their cupboards for food while they’re away either.
I absolutely love it and I get to visit places that I just wouldn’t have considered otherwise.
These sits can last for anywhere from a few days up to a few months, so it’s perfect for the weekend tripper or the intrepid explorer.
What a find this was!
CouchSurfing is a website that has been around for over 12 years and in that time has accumulated nearly 15 million members worldwide.
I love it for its ethics and values.
This isn’t just about finding free accommodation for the night; it’s about sharing your life and experiences with people all over the world.
There are hosts and surfers in and from every corner of the world and they will open up their homes to travelers for many reasons.
Some just like to meet new people, some are passionate about cultural exchange, some just want to be kind and some do it just for fun.
The service is free and just takes a little bit of setting up.
As with the house sitting, it is important to have a profile that gives plenty of information about you, and getting verified is a good idea.
The website really takes you through the process to make sure you make the most of the service.
You are then ready to search for hosts in the area of your choice.
It is usual that surfers will stay for no more than a few days, but longer arrangements are possible.
The hosts will state their preferences in their own profile, so you can see early on whether or not you might get along.
Once you have either hosted or stayed with someone, they can leave you a reference, and the more references you have the easier it is to find somewhere to stay.
There is much more to this website than just finding somewhere to stay, as they have developed a worldwide community and there are regular meet-ups, events and hangouts in every city in the world.
This makes travelling alone much less daunting, as you can just check into the app and soon you will find people nearby who would love to meet a fellow traveler. I have stayed with hosts in London (UK), Malaga, Fuengirola, Sevilla (Spain) and Lagos (Portugal).
Every experience has been unique and pleasurable for many reasons, but spending time with someone who knows and loves the local area will make you see places in a completely different way.
In fact, it’s easy to forget that this is a free option, as there is rarely the feeling of compromise and in fact it’s an enriched experience that money really couldn’t buy.
3. Workaway & HelpX
These two sites are the evolution of the much discussed ‘gap year’ phenomenon.
Both sites have a global database of families, projects, businesses and communities who need volunteers.
For a small annual fee you get to browse thousands of potential projects and apply for as many as you like.
The type of work can vary from simple language exchange to babysitting, from farming to building and everything in between.
Once you have a profile and it’s been verified you can search in the country you want to visit and for the type of work that you’d enjoy doing.
Every host is very specific about what is expected and what you get in return and it is usually an excellent deal.
I am currently volunteering at a yoga retreat in Portugal.
I help out for approximately 4-5 hours a day for 5 days a week and the rest of my time is my own.
In exchange I get food, accommodation, yoga classes, use of the pool and get new friends and experiences.
My next assignment is working at a summer camp for kids in Romania and I will be in Poland at an English language school in September.
Again this is far more than a way to get a cheap holiday; it is a cultural exchange, a breaking down of borders and a way to bridge the divide between people of all ages, backgrounds and genders while learning new skills.
There are similar sites, but these are the most popular and easy to use of all the sites that I have tried.
4. Booking & Hostelworld
Every now and then there is somewhere I need to be or want to visit and no Couchsurfer or Workaway assignment is available, so I check out these websites.
There are thousands of hostels and hotels listed and you really do get the best deal by booking through these sites rather than going directly to the businesses themselves.
So far I have managed to have two nights in Malaga for $20 and two nights in Lagos for just $19.
Both hostels were well reviewed and guaranteed to be a comfortable stay and there was even a pool for me to use in Lagos.
The idea of hostels being dirty or overcrowded and uncomfortable needs to be consigned to the past.
Budget travel is big business these days, and in order to compete you have to provide a great service and I have not been disappointed.
By using booking.com you also get a loyalty card…so your fifth booking is free!
How To Get There
The most expensive aspect of my adventure has been the actual travel, but there are a few ways to keep that cost down if you’re clever about it!
When I needed to get from Sevilla to Lisbon, the cheapest flights I could find were averaging $130, which is a lot on my budget!
However, I had a few days so I did some investigating and realized that I could get a coach to Lagos ($26), two nights in a hostel ($19) and a lift to Lisbon ($29).
So for almost half the price I could get a mini break on the coast and still get to my destination on time.
Here are some of the sites that I use for this.
5. Rome to Rio
As the name suggests, this website will work out the best routes from anywhere to anywhere by land, air and sea!
It details the different travel options and gives links to the websites you need to check prices and times too.
Using this, you can see which route your bus or train might take in order to decide where you may want to pause or take a diversion to.
It gives all the price options and allows you to mix and match your choices.
I find this a really useful resource to use as a starting point with my route plans.
Coach travel can be incredibly cheap in Europe, and this site has all the major routes all in one place.
It will, of course, take much longer than a flight, but I actually prefer it.
When you travel by road you can get a real sense of where you are in the world and you can see the changing landscape around you as you travel from country to country.
It’s a great opportunity to practice the language of the country you are travelling to, or catch up on some podcasts too.
There are a few lift-sharing sites popping up at the moment, but Bla Bla Car is global and it’s really growing in size.
I love this manifestation of the sharing economy.
The premise of the site is that if you are taking a car journey and have some space in your car, then you post the journey on the site.
Anyone who is searching for a lift to and from the same destination (or close to it) will find your journey and can request a lift.
It is so simple to use and so much cheaper than public transport.
I used Blablacar to travel from Fuengirola to Sevilla in Spain.
I got picked up from my door and got dropped off right in the center of Sevilla.
This was very economical and convenient but the best part was meeting my driver Elena, and Fernando, the other passenger she was taking.
They didn’t speak much English and my Spanish is very limited, but we had a great journey using my favorite iTranslate app to communicate on the trip.
By the time I got dropped off I had two new friends and a better understanding of the language.
These are just some of the tools I use to make my personal travel dreams a possibility, and I am sure there are many more for me to find as I go.
What I love about them all is that, despite being the cheaper option, they are usually the better option too.
We can all find a cheap package holiday to a resort where we will spend time with other tourists and find lots of people speaking our language, but can we honestly say that we have experienced that country?
Getting connected to the people that live in these faraway cities is worth more than any first class ticket could possibly cost.
Happy travelling everyone!
P.S. What is your favorite cheap trip app?