University Travel: 10 Ways Students Can Globetrot for Free

Freelance travel writer and food blogger Lauren Razavi outlines 10 ways students can travel around the world for free (or almost free).

Lauren posted these ideas several year ago, but I like them so much that I wanted to share them again. 

And although Cosmic Volunteers volunteer programs abroad are not free, I still believe in sharing ideas on traveling abroad for free. We travelers are all about helping others abroad while learning about different cultures.

So, if you are ready to start thinking about and maybe even planning your summer for 2018, here are some ideas to explore about how you can travel around the world for free.

1. Cultural Exchange and Study

Each year, government departments and private organizations fund a limited number of undergraduates to go on cultural exchange programmes.

One good example is the China Study Tour run by the Confucius Institute. The study tour immerses students in the cultures and traditions of China. In order to keep the tour as affordable as possible, the Confucius Institute subsides the cost of accommodation and activities included in the tour program.

2. Teach English Abroad

Teaching abroad is a great option, especially if you are interested in going to southeast Asia.

There are small schools and community centers in places like Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines that would be glad to have you for the summer. Your role would most likely be as an unpaid teaching assistant who practices conversation and pronunciation with young children.

I suggest looking online for small schools and child-advocacy organizations in the host country, then contact them to see if they can use your help. Some may even give you free accommodations and meals all summer.

Also look at directories like Go Overseas and Go Abroad to find “free” or very cheap placement organizations. 

Most teaching positions abroad in summers are unpaid. You typically need to commit to at least a 9-month stay in order to get paid actual wages.

3. Travel Grants

There are organizations whose sole purpose is funding travel. The application process is stringent, so it is not an easy task. But the mere exercise of putting your thoughts together on paper and doing an interview can help you understand your own reasons for travel. One organization is the SPRET Educational Trust. They assist with contributions towards the cost of travel, residence and attendance at conferences, lectures and educational courses.

4. Enter competitions

This one is a long shot. But yes, there are companies running contests with prizes to fund travel abroad. If you’re a poet and you know it, there’s the Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship. Also photo contests are everywhere these days. runs a travel video contest with a $4,000 prize — that’ll buy a lot of Pho in Vietnam! (deadline is October 13 so hurry). ACIS Educational Tours has a $1,000 scholarship contest based on your artwork, photography and writing that describes how “…different cultures, communities, and places from around the world impact your daily life.”

5. Study abroad

Some degree courses automatically include a term or year away, but there are opportunities for any undergraduate to spend time abroad as part of their studies.

Launched in 2009, The Bridge Year Program by Princeton allows a select number of incoming students to begin their Princeton experience by engaging in nine months of tuition-free, University-sponsored service at one of five international locations.

Here is a list of colleges where freshman year study abroad is common.

6. Become a tour guide

Consider leading others on their own sightseeing trips abroad as a tour guide. Contact tourism boards and offices, hotels, cruise ships and and smaller tour companies.

For this type of work, you will need excellent English and an upbeat and friendly personality. You will also have to learn about — very quickly! — the local culture and sightseeing spots.

A downside to being a tour guide abroad is that you will probably be taking away work from a native-born tour guide who needs the work much more than you do.

7. Hitchhiking and Couchsurfing

Hitchhiking is now illegal, and certainly discouraged, in many parts of the US. But hitchhiking abroad is not only legal but a perfectly normal and safe part of life.

Especially in rural areas abroad, hitchhiking is often the only way for most people to get around.

This was me hitchhiking a motorcycle ride in the rural beach town of Monterrico, Guatemala in 2017:

Also consider Couchsurfing where you stay a local person’s house for free. Why? People like meeting others from different cultures, and what better way to entice them than to give them a free room!

8. Work on a farm

I’ve casually met tons of farmers around the world who would love to host you in exchange for your labor.

There are organizations online that have formalized the process of connecting travelers with farming work abroad. The most well-known is World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).

The local farms (mostly organic) usually provide food and accommodation and maybe even a small stipend — all in exchange for your (hard!) labor. WOOF does charge a small upfront fee for membership — but I think it’s worth the peace of mind know that the farm has been vetted by WWOOF.

9. Charity

Make your trip a charity event, then fundraise from the community. Many young people start with asking family and friends for funds.

Consider a faith-based mission trip — they continue to grow in popularity. Most of the congregations I know are very generous with cash donations, especially if you are partnering with a congregation abroad. It is relatively easy these days to find a congregation in places like Ghana and Guatemala who would welcome you to share your faith (and donations) with them.

For secular ventures, potential donors may be more likely to sponsor you if they know you are volunteering abroad with a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) charity so that their donations are tax-deductible. Try hard to do some sort of presentation to your donors when you return home.

10. New Friends

Make friends with people at your university — especially students from different countries. Those students aren’t hard to find these days — International students studying abroad on US campuses has been increasing annually forever.

Go to events on campus organized by international students. Perhaps volunteer alongside them. Get to know them, ask questions, learn about their life and culture back home.

Let them know you are open to invites to visit their home country in the summer. They’ll probably be proud to have you come and act as your tour guide.