Budget Long-Term Travel

If you can't tell, I've not only traveled a bit but I've also done a ton of travel research over the years. My last post was a long one chock-full of general advice. This one's going to be a more narrowly-focused advice article that should be helpful to anyone who wants to travel and save as much as possible. I'm talking hobo-style: hitch-hiking, camping, sleeping in airports, couchsurfing, & all that jazz.

*Click here if you're looking for New Zealand-specific advice.*

Sleep Where You Land: Airport/Train/Bus Stations

  • Check out sleepinginairports, an awesome site that let's you look up an airport and find out if you can sleep there, and where the best places to sleep are.
  • Also helpful for any layover or long-term stint in an airport is this map of airports and wifi passwords for their networks.
  • Emmett and I have slept overnight in a few airports (Keflavik, Auckland, Melbourne Tullamarine) and napped during daylight layovers in even more (Charlotte Douglas, LAX, Charles de Gaulle). It's doable, for sure. Not very comfortable, but doable.
  • Tips for airport sleeping: Use your towel or a big jacket as a blanket. Sleeping on the floor is cold, avoid it unless it's the only option. If you have to sleep on the floor, find a distant corner that you can kind of hide in. Try to find a bench seat or better yet, a booth in a mostly closed food court area. Have earplugs and/or a sleep mask to block out general airport din and harsh overhead lights. 
  • Tips for sleeping in train or bus stations: Same as above except I would pretty much avoid sleeping on the floor even more in a bus or train depot than anywhere else. The floors are usually dirtier there than anywhere except maybe a toilet. Sleep sitting up if you have no other choice. Most European train stations are open all hours, and are easy enough to sleep in. We had no trouble in Scandinavia and North Germany. Again, don't expect to be comfortable.
 Wondering which train station we'll sleep in tonight...

Wondering which train station we'll sleep in tonight...

Book Overnight Transportation & Sleep There

Take a flight, a bus, or a train that travels overnight and wake up in your final destination. It's unfortunate to miss some of the sights out of the window but it's one less night paying for a bed somewhere. Norwegian Rail was by far the most comfortable transportation to sleep on. They give you a free blanket, sleeping mask, earplugs, and inflatable pillow on overnight trips. We kept them for the rest of our travels and used them a lot. I still use the inflatable pillow now when I'm sleeping on planes or in airports.

Couch Surf

  • Couch surfing is a great way to meet locals and stay somewhere for free. There's the eponymous couchsurfing, which is the most popular. But there's also BeWelcome. 
  • Tips for surfing: Use caution and make sure that the person you're trying to surf with is legitimately just a generous person willing to share their couch. Try not to surf with anyone who has almost zero pictures and no reviews from other travelers. Same goes for people hosting, I wouldn't want to host someone with zero reviews. So if you have none, consider getting some. Maybe at least one person you're facebook friends with has an account? (Couchsurfing's site can connect to your facebook account and tell you who's a member). Write reviews for your friends, it works even better if you're traveling partners. Lastly, if absolutely no one you know is on couchsurfing but you want to get a review, meet up and hang out with other members by joining a local couchsurfing group in their networks section. When we were in Copenhagen, we tried to stay with a guy who's house was full but he invited us and some other surfers from the Copenhagen group to go out to a concert. We did and had a great time.
 Warming our toes next to a beach fire made by our couchsurfing hosts in Norway.

Warming our toes next to a beach fire made by our couchsurfing hosts in Norway.

Working in Exchange for a Room (or Better Yet, a Room and Board)

  • There are many websites that are volunteer networks that can connect people who need work done and want to meet foreigners with people who want to work, meet locals, and stay somewhere for free. There's WWOOF, HelpX, Workaway, and Servas.
  • Which network is the best? I encourage you to check each of them out, but know this: WWOOF is for organic farm volunteers only and you have to pay a membership fee for the WWOOF organization of each country you travel to. If you're going to more than one country and want to volunteer, you'll have to pay to sign up at each new WWOOF website.
  • Servas has a strict screening process for joining including letters of reference, etc. That makes it one of the safer networks for sure but is a little time-consuming.
  • Helpx and Workaway have annual signup fees of around 30 USD but they also allow you access to hosts from all around the globe.
  • HelpX is my favorite and I'm a current member. See here for more about some of my experience. 
  • You could also walk into a hostel (it's easiest in the offseason) and ask if they need any help around the place in exchange for a bed. You'd be surprised.


  • The two best sites for finding out more specifics about hitch-hiking are hitchwiki and the hitching subreddit. 
  • It is illegal and generally unsafe to hitchhike in the USA and Australia (among other countries). I would never do it in either of those places. I would consider potentially catching rides with friends made at hostels along the way but would likely never stick my thumb out to strangers there.
  • Hitch-hiking is pretty common in many parts of Europe. Emmett and I only did it once in the Lofoten Islands of Norway, where it was very easy because there's only one thoroughfare. If you look into it online, though, younger Europeans are really into it. They even have an annual competition.
  • *Update* I now have an entire post on how to hitch-hike in New Zealand.
  • General Hitching Tips: Have patience, trust your instincts, & don't be this guy. More tips on how to hitch can be found in my NZ-specific post I mentioned above but could also be applied to other places beyond NZ.
  • Lastly, I can only recommend hitch-hiking in Scandinavia and New Zealand because those are the only places that I feel comfortable giving the ok. I'm sure other places are great for it, though.
 Our view from the backseat of a big van that picked us up outside of Alexandra, NZ.

Our view from the backseat of a big van that picked us up outside of Alexandra, NZ.

Dumpster Diving

Haven't dumpster dived yet, but I'm optimistic. I've only attempted it in countries where supermarkets tend to lock up their dumpsters. This dumpster diving wiki seems like a good place to start if you want to get into it. (Side note for those who are grossed out: people tend to "dumpster dive" to get food that's still packaged and expires the same day. The stores are required to throw it away even when it's still perfectly edible).

Alternatives to Flights: Overland Travel / Joining a Ship's Crew/ Traveling by Cargo Ship

  • Check out the overland travel wiki. I haven't used it but I'd love to do more overland travel, especially in Asia and the Americas.  
  • There are a handful of crew-finder sites where boats traveling to international and domestic harbors need crew members (CrewSeekers International, Crewbay, Find a Crew). I haven't used any and it seems like there might be some pricey sign-up fees but this could be another cool way to get around.
  • I'm not as keen on this last option, traveling by cargo ship, but Emmett is enticed by the idea. I'm not sure I'd enjoy the amount of time it would take. Seems monotonous to me. It's also pretty expensive, all in all. But if you're up for a pretty unusual journey or want to bring as much luggage as possible somewhere else, check out the resources listed at the link above.


  • Camping will always be one of the cheapest options for accommodation. If you bring your own tent & gear or get them when you arrive, a campsite is way less expensive than a bed or a room somewhere. 
  • Most importantly: CAMPING IS FREE in some countries. In Scotland, Scandinavian countries, and others they have a philosophy where you can "wild camp" on private property - generally as long as you are out of sight of a residence and unheard. In New Zealand, there is "freedom camping" on public conservation land. Even in the U.S., you can camp for free in many places by doing "dispersed camping" in National Forests or on public land. Definitely look into the laws about camping at your potential destinations before you go. This can be an excellent way to see countries for cheap - especially ones that are notoriously more expensive. 
 Our tent in Reykjavik, Iceland. It was heaps more cheap to camp in their city campgrounds than to stay in the uber-pricey hostels.

Our tent in Reykjavik, Iceland. It was heaps more cheap to camp in their city campgrounds than to stay in the uber-pricey hostels.

This Book: Work Your Way Around the World

- Work Your Way Around the World is a UK-based book which frequently releases new editions. It is an incredible resource. It's got listings on how to find work virtually anywhere (including volunteering). I really appreciated the sections on New Zealand that had charts detailing fruit-picking seasons by region, which is a common temporary job for working holidayers.
- The same author, Susan Griffith, also has a book about Teaching English Abroad that I've heard is just as comprehensive if that's something you're interested in.

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