17 Ways To Get Free Room And Board And Travel On A Budget (2023)

free room and board at my German host family's home
The home of my host family in Germany where I received free room and board as an exchange student

Traveling can certainly be expensive but it doesn’t have to drain your bank account, especially if you know how to get free room and board while traveling.

If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I wish I could travel on a dime”, indeed you can, and indeed I have time and time again. Of course, there are some obvious ways to get free room and board, like staying with family and friends, networking to stay with friends of family and friends, using miles and points to redeem free stays, or working in the travel industry, for example as a flight attendant.

Instead, this post will focus on 17 unique opportunities to lighten the load on your wallet for your next dream vacation. Many of the opportunities discussed have a dually rewarding cultural exchange component that allows you to immerse yourself in another culture, an aspect that has always been life-changing for me.

1. Au pair

Au pair translation = live-in nanny. In addition to receiving free room and board, au pairs often receive a weekly stipend which varies by country and family.

I was an au pair for a family in Sydney, Australia for 3 months. My host family provided me with my own room, all of my meals, and paid me a weekly wage in exchange for 40 hours of childcare per week.

I had always considered being an au pair in Germany in an attempt to become fluent in the language, however, after meeting a friend of a friend who had been an au pair in Australia, I began to shift gears. I had already been to Germany twice but never to the south Pacific, or east of Istanbul at the time for that matter, thus I opted for Australia as a way to travel somewhere new and farther away while being compensated.

I ended up finding my host family on Facebook of all places. My friend’s friend had also found her host family on Facebook and raved about her experience, so she added me to a bunch of au pair Facebook groups. I found multiple national, regional, city, and suburb-based au pair Facebook groups in Australia.

After determining that I wanted to be in the Sydney metropolitan area, I was able to narrow down my search to just a few Facebook pages. After finding a family that caught my eye, reading about them, and viewing their pictures, I was able to further vet them by continuing to their AuPairWorld profile. They seemed legitimate so I messaged them and after receiving an emphatic reply, we set up a FaceTime call. My parents got to meet them virtually as well which helped to settle their nerves. After sorting out some logistics with my soon-to-be host family and applying for my working holiday visa, I was on my way down under!

Farewell brunch as an au pair with my Australian host family
Farewell brunch as an au pair with my Australian host family
A day in the life of an au pair
My Christmas photo shoot Down Under with my little love bug

Au pair arrangements can last for any amount of time up to the maximum length of stay granted by each country’s visa. For example, as a US citizen aged 18-30, I would have been able to stay in Australia for a maximum of 12 months under a Working and Holiday visa. In Australia, if you choose to spend a minimum of three of your 12 months doing ‘specified work,’ you may qualify for a second visa for up to an additional 12 months. See below for the approved industries and areas for specified work in Australia in 2023:

Subsequently, if you choose to spend a minimum of six of the 12 months of your second Work and Holiday visa in Australia doing specified work, you may qualify for a third 12-month visa. See more about this towards the end of the article under the WWOOF section.

In addition to au pair groups on Facebook, you can search for host families on aupairworld.com, aupair.com, greataupair.com, interexchange.org, findaupair.com, and gooverseas.com. I personally have only had experience searching on AuPairWorld and au pair groups on Facebook, and thus can only vouch for my experiences on both of those platforms.

2. Exchange student

As a high school student, I participated in a cultural exchange program organized by my county and sister city in Germany called the Yorktown-Zweibrüken Student Exchange Program. I was selected as one of 10 students from my county and was matched with a German student my age and her family. My airfare and travel expenses for trips arranged by the program were covered in full by my county and our German sister city and free room and board was provided by my host family.

My German exchange student came to visit and stay with my family and me first for three weeks. She attended school with me on some days and went on field trips with the other German exchange students on other days. My family took her on a road trip to New York City to introduce her to the Big Apple so that she could experience the city that never sleeps.

In return, I went to stay with her family for three weeks and was able to travel around her region of Germany, Paris, and go on a trip with her family through the German countryside in Bavaria to Neuschwanstein castle and the Bodensee. Being an exchange student was an incredibly formative and enrichening cultural experience. It’s also the reason I enrolled in German language classes in college. I was fortunate to be able to return to Germany after college and visit my exchange student and her family while speaking a bit of their mother tongue.

Cheering on Germany in the 2008 World Cup with my German exchange student
Cheering on Germany in the 2008 World Cup with my German exchange student
Having fun with "Lady Liberty" in the Big Apple
Having fun with “Lady Liberty” in the Big Apple

In addition to high school exchange programs, there are exchange programs for college students as well. If this sounds like something that you’re interested in, I would highly recommend it for an enriching cultural exchange if you have access to participation in an exchange program.

3. Fundraise

While in high school, I had the opportunity to travel to the UK to perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The Fringe Festival is the world’s largest arts festival with thespians from all over the globe who descend on Edinburgh, Scotland for a three-week period every August. I attended York County’s School of the Arts, a fine arts magnet program that took a group of students once every four years to participate in the festival. My magnet program organized fundraising events for us to gain monetary support in order to reduce each student’s individual cost for the trip, essentially providing us with free room and board.

The cast of High School Musical at the Fringe Festival
My castmates and me outside of the venue where we performed High School Musical at the Fringe Festival
sightseeing in London
Doing some sightseeing in London during our trip to the UK

You could also consider setting up a GoFundMe account to gain support for your wildest travel dreams. If you participate in a specific challenge or support a cause through your trip, people will likely be more willing to donate.

4. Grants

While in college at the University of Virginia, I was a mentor to a local middle school girl through the Young Women Leaders Program (YWLP). Through my affiliation with this mentoring program, I had the opportunity to participate in program development for our sister sites in Cameroon through a research grant. My team and I received funding for our travel, free room and board for three weeks in Cameroon, as well as funding for our research initiatives and program development materials.

"big sister" mentor training workshop in the Islamic High School, Kumbo, Cameroon
The classroom where we held our “big sister” mentor training workshop in the Islamic High School, Kumbo, Cameroon
Bonding with some of the "big sister" mentors-in-training
Bonding with some of the “big sister” mentors-in-training

This was a great opportunity to travel to a new continent; broaden my horizons; learn immensely from locals of all ages, religions, and languages; dabble in research and publishing; as well as make a positive impact. If you’re currently in school and interested in a similar experience, seek out grant opportunities through your college or university.

5. Scholarships

My parents cut me a deal when I was in high school that if I went to college in-state, they would (very generously) cover my tuition. However, if I went to college out-of-state, I would have to pay the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition.

I have always been a fairly indecisive person, so to maximize my options, I applied for basically every scholarship I qualified for in case I decided to attend an out-of-state school. When it came down to decision day, I opted to stay in-state and attend my parents’ alma mater and join my brother who was currently attending (go Hoos!). I was also pleasantly surprised to find out I was granted a huge chunk of scholarship money for my scholastic achievements and service engagement in high school. My parents (so graciously) told me I had worked hard to earn the scholarship money and therefore it was mine to keep to spend how I wished.

When I heard about Semester at Sea, a study abroad program on a cruise ship, I was hooked. My scholarships funded a 2-month long voyage across the Atlantic to 11 Mediterranean countries and back, providing me with free room and board and a plethora of life-changing and formative experiences. It was the first time I dabbled with solo travel, although almost always in tow with fellow shipmates. However, the handful of solo experiences abroad gave me confidence and laid the foundation for future solo adventures worldwide.

A day in the life on board Semester At Sea
A day in the life on board Semester At Sea
Our last sunset as we completed our Atlantic crossing headed towards Boston, MA
Our last sunset as we completed our Atlantic crossing headed towards Boston, MA

6. Travel contracts

The medical field is known for travel contract opportunities, especially in the realm of nursing and therapy. As an occupational therapist, I’ve completed several travel contracts from Virginia to California as a way to explore new areas. The pay for travel contracts is also quite lucrative and comes with housing, meals, and incidentals stipends as well as great tax breaks.

Driving cross-country from Virginia for my occupational therapy travel contract in California
Driving cross-country from Virginia for my occupational therapy travel contract in California

7. Meetup

Meetup is a site where you can join groups based on your interests and hobbies, i.e. backpacking, photography, health and wellness, tech, language, and culture – you name it, you can probably find it on Meetup. And if you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, you can always start a group of your own.

While Meetup groups are not typically a vehicle for free room and board, I was actually able to join a camping trip on one of my weekends off while I was an au pair in Australia. The group consisted of about 20 Aussies and myself. We camped in the Blue Mountains at a free campsite along a stream – so there you have it, free ‘room’. 

I was able to borrow all of my camping gear from my host family, so my only expenses were my own food and splitting gas with the bloke who so kindly offered to give me a ride. We even saw kangaroos hopping around in the wild on one of the hikes we went on – a major win! This was a fabulous, low-cost experience with locals that allowed me to experience the great outdoors in Oz in a way that I otherwise would have been unable to do since I didn’t have my own transportation or a group to camp with.

Hiking in the outback with the Meetup crew
Hiking in the outback with the Meetup crew
Hiking in the outback with the Meetup crew
A momma kangaroo with baby in pouch
A momma kangaroo with baby in pouch a stone’s throw away from our campsite – see the legs sticking out??

Think outside the box with Meetup while traveling and you will likely be surprised by what opportunities you can find.

8. Camp

Many countries offer free camping opportunities in one form or another. As I mentioned above in the Meetup section, I was able to camp for free in Australia. In the United States, you can camp for free on BLM (Bureau of Lang Management) property and typically in National Forests and Grasslands. Scandinavia and parts of Europe have a “Right to Roam” policy that provides the public with the freedom to camp on any publicly or privately owned land for free.

An Aussie "swag" AKA bivy sack
The Aussie “swag”, or bivy sack, I borrowed from my host dad. It’s basically a sleep sack that’s ventilated and fully enclosed.
campsite by the river
Not a bad view to wake up to!

9. Work exchange

Another option for getting free room and board while traveling is by offering your time, expertise, and help with odds and ends for a few hours a day through a platform like Workaway or Worldpackers. Some hosts even provide meals, a wage, and/or free access to local activities.

helping out at reception
Work exchange jobs include tasks like planning events, assisting reception staff, general maintenance, gardening, and community projects

While I was in Bagan, Myanmar, I met someone who was temporarily leading events and tours at our hostel in exchange for free room and board through Workaway. This was even further beneficial for the cinematographer who was trying to capture all of the magical sunrises and sunsets over the ancient land of thousands of pagodas, thus he would have been searching for the best vantage points and viewing experiences on his own anyway. Workaway also provided him the organic opportunity of learning from others staying at the hostel about different photo ops in the area all while living for free.

10. Couchsurf

sleeping on a couch

Couchsurfing connects hosts who are willing to open up their homes with travelers looking for a free stay accompanied by local, insider knowledge. The Couchsurfing platform includes hosts offering couches, rooms, tents, yurts, etc. – all for free. Hosts and travelers make profiles and receive reviews from stays to help with the vetting process. Many cities have weekly Couchsurfing organized events including language exchanges, dance classes, hikes, and dinners.

11. Teach abroad

a teacher writes on the chalkboard

Most teaching opportunities abroad are for teaching English unless, of course, you’re fluent in another language. Many countries require one of four teaching certificates: a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language), TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), or CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults). However, there are at least five countries and one region that don’t require a special certificate including Thailand, South Korea, China, Japan, Spain, and Central America. There are also many TEFL programs around the globe that provide teachers with free housing or a housing stipend.

12. Camp counselor

playing twister

While definitely an option for those who want to travel within their own country, being a camp counselor abroad could open up additional travel opportunities. A friend of mine was a camp counselor at The American School In Switzerland (TASIS) and received free room and board in addition to her wage and subsidized airfare. Not only did she get to experience life in Switzerland but she also met her now husband!

13. House-sit and/or pet-sit

house sitting and pet sitting

If you’re the kind of person who prefers Airbnb stays to hotels, then why not look for a homey house-sitting and/or pet-sitting gig? These gigs will provide you with ‘free room’ in exchange for looking out for someone’s house and/or pet while they’re away. This is a great option, especially in more expensive cities where accommodation can significantly increase your daily cost of living. There are many house and pet-sitting platforms, and most listings across platforms require the care and love of pet(s) to varying degrees – dogs, cats, hens, goldfish, etc.

TrustedHousesitters is the largest, most well-known house and pet-sitting platform and is a great place to start searching for your first house and pet-sitting experience. I’ve partnered with TrustedHousesitters to promote their value exchange for pet and travel lovers. By creating a free email account or a paid subscription to the platform through this link, I will receive a small commission. Thank you in advance for your support!

14. House exchange

house exchange

Friends of ours frequently do house swaps with others in places they’re interested in visiting and have had good experiences doing so. It’s a great way to have someone watch your house for you while you’re gone without having to pay any favors and while also receiving free accommodation while traveling. Some house swap websites are Love Home Swap and Home Exchange.


Have you heard people throw around the term “wwoofing”? I was completely caught off guard the first time I heard this until someone explained it to me. WWOOF quite literally stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms and offers just that, opportunities to those who want to live and learn on organic farms. There are WWOOF opportunities in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Oceania.

tilling the farm

As a “wwoofer,” you are expected to help on the land for four to six hours per day in exchange for free room and board. I met a lot of people while I was au pairing in Australia who were planning to spend three months “wwoofing” to get their visa extended for an additional 12 months. WWOOF organizations are one of the approved qualifying industries and areas of specified work for visa extension in Australia. Three months tilling on a vineyard, anyone?

16. Language exchange

foreign vocabulary sheets

Stay with a host of a language exchange for free and work on getting fluent at the same time through a platform like Lingoo. There’s no better way to learn the lingo than to live in the country where it’s native and with a local who’s fluent.

17. Diaspora youth programs

kids bonding while walking along the water

Popularly associated with the 10-day expense paid Birthright trips to Israel for Jewish young adults aged 18-32, there are other diaspora youth programs through many other organizations and countries. Other programs include the African Diaspora Alliance serving the Baltimore, MD community, Birthright AFRICA, Birthright Armenia, Birthright Macedonia, Heritage Greece, Love Boat Study Program for youth of Chinese and Taiwanese descent, ReConnect Hungary, and TuCuba.

Choosing one of these options for free room and board while traveling will help you reduce your costs significantly and may also provide you with a meaningful cultural exchange with experiences and memories forever etched into your heart.

What method of free room and board inspired you the most? Are you familiar with other ways to get free room and board while traveling? Let the Good Dimes community know in the comments below!

Looking for more content on travel savings hacks?

Check out my post on the 43+ ways to save money on a cruise.

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