However, it is also possible to travel for free totally if you work for a travel company, get rich sponsors or simply make use of the kindness of people. I have heard stories of how people hitchhiked and stayed in people’s homes for free while they traveled from Europe to Asia. See the optimistic traveler these two guys traveled around the world for 80 days without spending a single cent, totally just reliant on the goodwill of the people they met along the way.
1. Work hard to fund your travels
“Money comes when you do what you’re good at and work hard at it.”
For me, I started working since 16 years old and I traveled overseas for the first time without my family at 18. It is a totally different experience traveling with friends as there are less restrictions and half the fun is in planning your own itinerary.
I have done many different kinds of jobs, mainly working in the service industry such as call centres and Universal Studios. After my A levels, I realised I was equipped with the necessary certification and decided to teach tuition. It is indeed a profitable industry and the demand for tutors out there is very high. It pays well and you can probably earn 3 to 5 times more compared to hourly wages at a normal part-time job.
If you are not confident of teaching, you can also look out for ad hoc jobs such as being camp facilitators or organising events which would pay you a decent sum of money for the hard work that you did over the few days.
2. Learn to prioritise and cut down on unnecessary spending
I don’t understand why people like to go cafe hopping. It is ridiculously expensive, the main satisfaction derived from it is probably the nice photos of your food and artisan coffee that you post on Instagram. Of course, if you are a food blogger and travel is not your cup of tea, by all means go ahead and hop more around cafes.
Shopping is another area where money is easily wasted on; you can work one full day at your part-time job and then splurge your one day’s pay on a pay of heels or a pretty dress that caught your eye. This is retail therapy because shopping can make you feel happy, but for me I would rather spend it on travels. I seldom buy clothes in Singapore anyway, except for Chinese New Year.
Also, one last thing is expenditure on drinking and clubbing, which I have been known for, but I have forced myself to cut down on this a lot. I used to open bottles at clubs and after the night, regret on how much money I had squandered away. Buying drinks from coffee shops, supermarkets and duty-free shops are so much cheaper than in bars or clubs. Nowadays, I like to have drinking sessions at my place and only go clubbing if there is free entry.
3. Scholarships, edusave bursary, PSEA
There are many scholarships out there which will pay for your exchange or summer school programme. You don’t necesary need to be a scholar, you can also apply for the NASA (NUS Awards for Studying Abroad) scholarship which would subsidise at least your airfare. All you need to do is just to write a report of the programme after you come back from your trip.
The Temasek Foundation gives out scholarship for exchange, but only to select countries and you have to do some volunteer work in Singapore and at that country while during your exchange, which would reduce the amount of time you have for traveling. Nevertheless, it is also a good source of funding, especially if you choose to go for exchange programmes in countries that fall under the scheme such as Southeast Asia, China or South Korea.
Another form is funding is PSEA (Post-Secondary Education Account) which can either be used to pay your school fees or for school-related enrichment programmes (eg. summer programme). I used it to pay for my Cambodia field trip which is organised by the Geography department. For guys, we have a $3500 top-up as recognition of our service to the country, so instead of letting it go to waste, just use the funds to claim for your school-related travel (yes, it has got to be school-related). The amount unused after you graduate from university would automatically go into your CPF (Central Provident Fund) and you would have to wait until you’re grey-haired in order to withdraw the money.
Planning for your trip
4. Travel within the region
Even if you are limited by budget constraints, you can always travel around Southeast Asia which is rich in diverse cultures and natural landscapes. Look at your own backyard and stop thinking that the grass is greener on the other side of Europe, USA or Australia. These destinations are more often than not, less affordable when you take into account the accommodation, transport and costs of living.
Also, the money spent on the return airfare to distant destinations would already take up a huge percentage of your budget. Look at the Westerners, why are they all flocking to Asia or Southeast Asia? This is because they can survive on $1000 (or less) here for one month because everything is relatively cheaper.
5. Buying of air tickets
I usually book my air tickets about 2-3 months in advance as studies have shown that the prime time to purchase your airline tickets is 57 days, about 2 months before departure.
Most people don’t buy their tickets that early which is a mistake. The average purchase date was just over one month before departure, and by then prices would have gone up considerably. Usually, airlines would have offers to entice the buyer (such as from as low as $30, or free return ticket), but make sure you click all the way to the last step before payment to find out the total price of the air ticket, which is always higher than the advertised price that you saw.
With budget airlines, you also have the flexibility to take a certain airline (eg. Tigerair) to the destination and come back home via another airline (eg. Jetstar) because fares are charged one-way accordingly.
Another tip is to fly to less popular airports in secondary cities where airport taxes may be lower. From there, find your own local transportation to the city that you wish to go to. For example, for my graduation trip, I chose to fly to Tianjin instead of direct to Beijing international airport because the airfare to Beijing is more expensive. I paid about $160 one-way on Scoot, and from Tianjin, it is only about an hour’s train ride on the slow train or half an hour on the high-speed train which costs an additional $10 only.
During your trip
6. Dine at local places
Eat at the places where locals eat because it is guaranteed that the food will be the best and cheapest.
For example, in Singapore, hawker centres are a source of local food at affordable prices and I always bring my foreign friends here. They are amazed that Singapore is not that expensive after all.
Even while traveling around Southeast Asia, I avoid eating at restaurants even though after conversion of currency, it is still relatively affordable for me. I prefer to eat street food or at roadside stalls amongside locals so that I can stretch my dollar.
In Europe, needless to say, restaurants are definitely expensive, so the solution would be fast food or kebabs to save costs. If you are sick of eating fast food, you can choose to cook your own food. That’s how I survived in France during my student exchange by buying all my groceries from the Carrefour supermarket just opposite my student residence and cooking almost everyday.
For lunch, the student cafeteria served 3€ meals which was quite affordable as it included a salad, main course and dessert. I only indulged myself in restaurants once in each country to have a taste of the high-class food. Sometimes, I still think that street food beats posh restaurant cuisine hands-down.
7. Couchsurfing, stay with locals
With Couchsurfing, you can stay with locals in every country on earth. Travel like a local, stay in someone’s home and experience the world in a way money can’t buy. There’s a community of Couchsurfers near you.
Many cities have weekly language exchanges, dance classes, hikes and dinners. Make new friends. Couchsurfing is like a homestay programme, I started using it while on exchange in Europe as a means to save money and meet local people.
Many people find it strange that I would stay in other people’s houses, but since they open up their houses to outsiders, why not accept their hospitality and treat it as an exchange of culture along the way?
When I came back to Singapore, I also decided to host in order to pay it forward and I must say that both my surfing and hosting experiences have been positively wonderful so far.
For my upcoming trip to Mongolia, I even managed to secure couchsurfing in a Mongolian ger (nomadic tent), that would be so cool and I am really looking forward to it. While some people, especially girls, may feel unsafe while using couchsurfing, you can always choose to meet up with local people who will gladly show you around their city even if you don’t stay at their place.
Airbnb is a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world — online or from a mobile phone. Whether an apartment for a night, a castle for a week, or a villa for a month, Airbnb connects people to unique travel experiences, at any price point, in more than 34,000 cities and 190 countries.
And with world-class customer service and a growing community of users, Airbnb is the easiest way for people to monetize their extra space and showcase it to an audience of millions.
For me, I am not really a fan of Airbnb because they have many extra charges, from cleaning fees to commission, so I don’t use it at all. Some of my friends have used it as an alternative to couchsurfing as they feel it is safer when they pay the hosts for the homestay, so there would not be any miscommunication.
Hostels are a good place to meet international travelers. It is easy to break the ice here because most people share the same passion for traveling and maybe you can even find new travel partners who might be going the same direction as you.
There are many different kinds of hostels available, from boutique hostels to partying hostels. Usually, you would share the room in a 4, 6, 8 or 12-bunk dormitory. If you are sensitive to noise, lighting and want to have your personal space, then a hostel would not be suitable for you.
My best hostel experience so far was in Barcelona (San Gordi Hostels in Gracia neighbourhood) because the people who stayed there are super friendly. We had pub crawls for two nights in a row (that’s beside the point), and I also learnt how to cook Spanish cuisine such as paella and sangria. I really felt at home here as both the hostel staff and the hostelites contributed to the vibrancy of the hostel.
Book your hostels here
10. Join free walking tours
In many cities in Europe, there are a myriad of free walking tours which are volunteer-based. Usually, it would be a local showing you different parts of the city and sharing many interesting anecdotes. At the end of the tour, you can choose to tip any amount you want depending on how good you think the tour is.
If you do not wish to pay, a simple handshake with the guide would be fine or you can just walk away too. After the tour, you would have gained many insights about the city which you would never have known if you were to wander the city on your own. Thus, this can also be linked to couchsurfing where there are locals to bring you around the city, off the beaten tourist track and to see some unique sights of the city, otherwise unknown to foreigners.
HelpX is an online listing of host organic farms, non-organic farms, farmstays, homestays, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpackers hostels and even sailing boats who invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation.
HelpX is provided primarily as a cultural exchange for working holiday makers who would like the opportunity during their travels abroad, to stay with local people and gain practical experience. In the typical arrangement, the helper works an average of 4 hours per day and receives free accommodation and meals for their efforts. Usually, you would need to stay longer in the area, maybe at least a week or even a month, so that you can enjoy the benefits.
Workaway was set up to promote fair exchange between budget travellers, language learners or culture seekers and families, individuals or organizations who are looking for help with a range of varied and interesting activities. A few hours honest help per day in exchange for food and accommodation and an opportunity to learn about the local lifestyle and community, with friendly hosts in varying situations and surroundings. It is similar to Helpx, but I have not used it before.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or Willing Workers on Organic Farms, is a loose network of national organisations that facilitate placement of volunteers on organic farms. WWOOFing is learning and sharing sustainable living practices through volunteering on organic farms. It links volunteers with farms. In return for volunteer help, WWOOFing farms offer food and accommodation in addition to learning opportunities.
There are many opportunities to find work and for city kids like us who grew up in Singapore without having been exposed to farms before, WWOOFing is a good chance to explore that hidden farming talent /green fingers that you never knew.
14. Slow travels (travel deep, see more)
Many of my friends go to Europe and want to cover as many cities as possible (I used to be guilty of this). Yes, I know that Europe is small, but not as small as compared to Singapore. Train rides could take 12 hours or more across countries, or inter-city trains would normally be 3-5 hours long.
If you know your itinerary in advance, it would be recommended to book budget airlines (easyjet, ryanair, wizzair, aer lingus) as the costs of flying could sometimes be even cheaper than taking the trains! Flying also saves you time as the duration is shorter, but do note the extra time and costs involved in commuting to and from the airport.
I prefer taking flights from cities where there is a direct metro to the airport and I do not need to pay for exhorbitant fees (eg. Porto, Lisbon, Berlin, Barcelona, Munich, Frankfurt, Geneva). Now, I promote slow travels, such as spending 5 or more days in each city just to soak in the atmosphere and have a good feel of how the city is, without having the need to rush to take the next train or flight. It is a good way to explore the city in-depth and live (somewhat) like a local.
In conclusion, I have shared with you how I managed to travel so extensively using the above mentioned tips (I have only tried out no. 1-10). I am a firm believer that travel is for everyone and it is not as expensive as you think. Go ahead, travel, see the world and fulfil that wanderlust because traveling is for everyone! We learn so much more about the world, experience the kindness and hospitality of people while on the road than in the classroom. There are different profiles of travelers, from backpackers to religious pilgrims to indulgent travelers. If you are the kind of person who prefers luxury travel (such as staying in hotels and eating at restaurants), then work hard to sustain your travel lifestyle.