If you’re like the majority of college students, you probably don’t have a lot of spare cash for adventures, but you don’t have to let that get in the way of exploring the world by traveling abroad. Last summer, I spent eight weeks traveling around Europe, barely spending any money beyond my plane tickets and a few souvenirs. If you’re willing to put in the time, you can save money by finding free food and housing. Here’s how I did it, and a few extra ways you can do it yourself:
If you like kids, this is a good option for you. Families all across the world search for nannies, or “au pairs,” to come and act as a live-in brother or sister. You can find these opportunities by looking online for openings in the country you plan to visit. This past summer, I spent six weeks traveling around Italy and Switzerland with an Italian family of four. If you put in the time to look, you can au pair anywhere in the world, with the arrangement lasting anywhere from a couple weeks to a year. My main job was to hang out with their two kids, taking them to the beach and on bike rides all while helping them practice their English.
As a forewarning, if you’re thinking of heading somewhere where English is not the primary language, having a basic understanding of the language will definitely help. Some families will pay for you to enroll in a language course, but this isn’t guaranteed. As a rule, nannying abroad provides you your own room and bathroom, three meals per day and a small weekly allowance for leisure. Depending on the family, they may even pay for your flight or train ticket. If you “match” with a family, you can set up a video call with them to see if you’re a fit for their situation. If you think you’re up for it, the key is to be flexible. Your family may give you certain hours to work, or they may be less formal and treat you more like a member of the family.
Workaway is a deal between travelers and locals where travelers provide a few hours of manual labor a day in exchange for free housing and, usually, food. While this may seem like a pretty extreme way to travel the planet, you only have to spend a few hours working before you’re free to spend the rest of your time exploring your destination.
When in Italy, I spent two weeks volunteering at a hostel on the island of Ischia in exchange for a free room and dinner each night. Not only did I get to meet a ton of other volunteers and guests, but I got to explore the island like a local, immediately becoming immersed in the local culture. Workaway is ultimately a worthwhile trade if you’d like to find a group of other travelers to explore with, and you’ll often discover cool hidden gems instead of spending all your time at the “tourist destinations.”
I haven’t tried this one, but I heard about it through another traveler. Couchsurfing is an app that helps travelers in need of housing connect with locals who are willing to let them crash on their couch. You can message locals and hopefully set up a plan for your stay. Payment is not required or recommended, but it doesn’t hurt to show your appreciation for their hospitality by cooking a meal or offering a gift you brought from home. Make sure to read a person’s reviews, trust your instincts and always have a backup plan if it doesn’t work out.
If you have an open calendar for the summer and you love pets, you could try house sitting. While I’ve never tried it, websites such as MindMyHouse allow you to meet people looking for someone to maintain their home while they’re off on their own adventures, usually looking after their dogs or cats. Basically, you can score free accommodation and live like a local. Like Workaway or Couchsurfing, making a profile will take some time, but it’s worth it if you can find a match. A good tip is to record a video of yourself so that homeowners can feel safe knowing who will be taking care of their home.
If none of the above sound like a good option to you, you’re not completely out of luck when it comes to adventure. Consider taking a look at the state parks nearby, which are great places for a day trip. Ithaca has countless free waterfalls and hikes to offer you this summer. You can check out Watkins Glen, Buttermilk Falls State Park, Taughannock Falls State Park and Tinker Falls. Not too far away, you can kayak at Skaneateles Lake or Green Lakes State Park in Syracuse. If you’ve got a weekend off, try Workaway or Couchsurf in Washington, Montreal, Boston or Toronto for a change of scenery.