How to Travel the World Absolutely Free

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As a former university student, I’m no stranger to living on a budget.

As most backpackers will tell you, the costs of traveling can quickly add up if you’re not careful, so being able to travel on a budget is vital if you want to see the world.

I’ve spoken a lot about frugal traveling already on this site (see ‘How to Find Budget Accommodation While Traveling’ and ‘How to Visit Expensive Cities on a Tight Budget’ for more information), and have seen how traveling on a budget doesn’t mean you forfeit safety or comfort or miss out on seeing the major sights.

Of course, I was highly intrigued when I saw an article on USA Today’s website titled ‘How to Travel the World on Zero Dollars a Day’, as even the most frugal of budget travelers still have to spend some money when they tour the world, don’t they?

The article told the story of Michael Wigge, a guy who, in 2010, spent 150 days traveling 25,000 miles across four continents and 11 countries.

The best part? He didn’t spend a cent.

How could someone do this? How could someone travel so far and for so long and not spend a single cent?

How He Did It

As it turns out, Wigge has a whole list of tips and tricks that enable him to travel for free. While some of Wigge’s tips are very useful, other are probably best avoided (more on those later).

His best methods of saving money were as follows:

  • CouchSurfing – One perfectly legitimate way of never having to pay for accommodation while traveling is to ‘couch surf’. After creating a free profile on, you’ll be able to sift through the thousands of people offering you free accommodation in their homes. Couch surfing is a great way to make friends in an unfamiliar area and gain access to local knowledge. For more information, check out ‘What is CouchSurfing’ and ‘How to CouchSurf Like a Pro’.
  • Biking instead of Flying – During Wigge’s time traveling the USA, he chose to cycle across Ohio instead of simply fly to his destination. Alternate modes of transport are often far cheaper than flying.
  • Working – Wigge managed to travel all the way across the Atlantic Ocean (from Belgium to Canada) on a cargo ship for free, as he volunteered to work in the ship’s engine compartment throughout the journey. Wigge also managed to go on a cruise around Antarctica (normally costing $5,000 – $10,000) for free. Wigge recalls: “I contacted all the cruise ships before I began my journey, and offered them my work for free. The Antarctic Dream hired me as an assistant to the expedition leader. The job: Cleaning passengers’ snow boots, guiding them across the ice, and rescuing penguins from overexcited tourists”. For more information and advice (if you fancy working/volunteering abroad), check out these articles: ’Working While Your Travel – How to Find a Job on the Road’, ‘A Guide to Teaching English Abroad’ and ‘A Guide to Volunteering Overseas’.


Unorthodox Methods

As well as those listed above, Wigge also employed some slightly unorthodox methods that I personally wouldn’t recommend using.

These included asking shops and restaurants to give him free food (as Wigge says “There is nothing easier than just entering a shop or a restaurant and politely asking for some free food)”, dumpster-diving for food thrown away by supermarkets (gross!) and sleeping in churches and homeless shelters (although Wigge does state that he refused the offer of staying in a Christian homeless shelter because he “didn’t want to occupy a bed that another person could really use”).

I’d personally steer clear of doing these things because I find them to be in bad taste (not to mention potentially unsafe).

Although I appreciate that nature of Michael’s self-imposed challenge of traveling on zero dollars a day (which I have no problem with per-se), I’d much rather travelers trade work/skills for money/food/accommodation than ask for a handout (unless, of course, a person actively looking to offer those things out to travelers – which can be seen in the case of CouchSurfing).

Angkor Wat Sunrise

When Does Traveling for Free Lead to Missing Out?

Although Wigge has come up with some excellent ways of saving money on the road, anyone following his methods to a tee will no-doubt miss out on some of the major highlights of each country (as I’m sure he did).

What do I mean by this? Although Wigge’s technique of shamelessly asking for things for free is ballsy and seemingly effective on shop/restaurant owners, it is unlikely to work if you’re trying to book a safari in Kenya or if you’re trying to get entry to the Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Sticking to a ‘zero dollars spent’ principle will see you missing out on these once-in-a-lifetime experiences. These are the best parts of traveling, and are what make all the long bus/plane journeys worthwhile.

Better to save money on airfare/accommodation/frivolous things and splash out occasionally on a helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon (or something similar) than miss out on these amazing experiences.

What do you think of Wigge’s incredible story? Have you ever done anything outrageous/crazy to save a few bucks while traveling, or what’s the craziest thing you’d be willing to do? Leave a comment below letting us know!

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