How to Travel After College with No Money (12 Clever Hacks)

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So, you’re finally graduating after years of rigorous study. Way to go!

The thing is…

Diving straight into the typical 9-5 sounds pretty meh. Especially after drooling over photos of stunning destinations on Instagram and hearing all the buzz about this so-called ‘digital nomad lifestyle’…

You’ve just got one problem: 

MONEY.

But fear not, my wanderlusting friend. In this post, I’ll show you how to travel after college with no money (even if you have student debt).

Turns out, it’s not as hard as you think.

Let’s dive in.

How Do I Travel Abroad After College?

There are many ways to travel after college. Most college students have sad-looking savings accounts, so to travel successfully long-term, you must figure out how to do it on a shoestring budget. Fortunately, this is easier than it sounds. It’s also the most adventurous way to travel!

Before we get into how to travel after college with no money, let’s cover the best way for college grads to travel in general.

We’re not talking about spending a week in some all-inclusive resort in Mexico (yawn!).

We’re talking about a GAP YEAR (or at least half of a gap year).

The gap between college and entering the workforce is a perfect opportunity to fit in your adventures before your life gets tangled up with climbing the career later, starting a family, buying a house, etc.

Everyone is in a hurry to start building their career, but you have your whole life to do that! Squeezing in a year of unforgettable adventures (while you’re young and healthy) shouldn’t make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things.

person who decided to travel after uni vs someone who didn't

I’ve never heard anyone complain that they wished they would’ve started work at 23 instead of 24 (or however old you are). On the contrary, MILLIONS of people regret not living life to the fullest when they were young.

A gap year can come in many forms, but it usually involves budget travel and adventures in “cheap” developing countries. This can be done either solo or in a group, but I highly recommend doing at least a portion of it solo.

Let’s look at how you can do it as cheaply as possible.

How to Travel After College With No Money

There are plenty of ways to fund your travels, even if you’re broke. Here are some top tips to make travel possible on a student budget.

#1.) Become a digital nomad

Many people dream of the digital nomad lifestyle—traveling the world and living from a laptop. 

It may seem out of reach, but it’s actually more achievable than you might think.

man swinging in hammock working on his laptop searching for entry-level digital nomad jobs

As a digital nomad, you can work with clients all over the globe. This could be through jobs like:

But you could also earn with more bizarre gigs like selling foot pics online or getting paid to be a virtual friend

You won’t need any money saved to travel because you can earn it from wherever you want. Best of all, since you’ll be earning in a strong currency and traveling through cheap countries, your money will go much further.

And who knows?

Maybe your digital nomad side hustle will someday turn into a 6-figure income.

For more info, check out my complete blueprint on how to become a digital nomad with no experience. It is the most comprehensive free guide on the entire internet. 

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#2.) Use credit cards rewards for free flights

Flights are usually one of the biggest expenses when traveling. With “travel hacking”, you can get your flights for free. 

Travel hacking can be as simple or complex as you make it.

The simplest form is to:

  1. Open a rewards credit cards with a nice sign-up bonus
  2. Meet the “minimum spend” amount to receive the bonus
  3. Use those bonus points to buy flights
  4. Rinse and repeat

I have done this process over 15 times and have earned nearly $10,000 in free flights.

You may already use some kind of points system for your spending—whether this is airline miles, supermarket points, or cash back. The trick is to learn how to earn points as quickly and easily as possible, then maximize them on flights. 

The best part is, this can be done at no extra cost to you. You can use the card for purchases you would be making anyway. And if you make sure to pay off your balance each month (which you need to do!) you can build your credit score in the process. 

If you take time to learn more advanced travel hacking strategies, you can even find ways to bump yourself up to first-class—a luxury most new college grads would never be able to afford on their own.

Read more:
13 Travel Hacking Facebook Pages That Teach How to Fly For Pennies
67 Epic Resources to Learn the Cheapest Ways to Travel

#3.) Housesit for free accommodation

This is a fairly simple concept. You stay in someone’s house while they’re away, water their plants, feed their cat, walk their dogs, or do whatever needs doing. 

They get the comfort of knowing their fur babies are taken care of and their house isn’t in complete disarray.

You get free accommodation—ranging from basic to super luxurious.

If you have specialized skills, offer extra work, or have a trusted relationship with a homeowner, you may even be able to charge for your services.

That said, most of the time it’s just free accommodation. This can equate to thousands of dollars of savings in some cities! We’ve met several “serial housesitters” who have been traveling the world for years without ever paying for accommodation. 

There are several platforms to find housesitting jobs. This one is the most popular (and the one we’ve had success with).

Read more: How to Score Your First Housesitter Jobs for FREE Accommodation (With No Experience)

#4.) Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing is basically crashing on people’s couches around the world as you travel.

Couchsurfing.com is an entire online platform dedicated to this type of exchange.

It’s an amazing way to immerse yourself in the local culture.

If it creeps you out to stay in strangers’ houses (even if they have good reviews), there are other ways to couchsurf as well.

The most obvious is to stay with friends and family who live abroad.

If you don’t have any friends abroad, you can make them!

When I traveled solo through Latin America, I used an app called HelloTalk to connect with language-learners in different countries (Tinder can also be handy for all you single travelers 😉 )

After meeting people around the world and building friendships online, I ended up visiting several of them in person.

gringo posing with a colombian girl and her boyfriend
Her boyfriend trying to contain his excitement when I visited 😂

#5.) Buy travel insurance

You might be thinking, “But I have no money! How am I supposed to buy travel insurance?”

Speaking from experience, this is a non-negotiable.

If you get in an accident in a foreign country with limited funds and no travel insurance, the outcome won’t be pretty.

Fortunately, you can get covered for just $40 / month. This cheap travel insurance came to the rescue when I got in a motorcycle accident in Thailand and needed two surgeries (see my SafetyWing travel insurance review here).  

#6.) Travel in cheaper countries

The destinations you choose will significantly impact your travel costs.

Traveling as a broke college student in Dubai probably isn’t a good idea.

But Thailand?

Now that’s doable.

While it is possible to essentially travel for free as a college student, that’s a pretty extreme form of travel.

Odds are you’ll at least spend a little money.

And choosing cheaper countries allows you to stretch those limited funds for a longer trip.

As a general rule of thumb, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and much of Central and South America are usually more affordable. Some of these countries are considerably less touristy as well, so you’ll get more authenticity and less jacked-up tourist prices. 

This video will give you an idea of how much it costs to travel for one year.

#7.) Use creative transportation (hitchhike, bike, walk, rideshare, etc.)

Although it’s convenient to flag down a taxi, this isn’t the most affordable way to travel—especially if you’re living abroad after college with little savings. 

To save cash, you may need to get creative with transportation.

Hitchhiking, for example, is a real money-saver. 

It’s effectively free transport. All you need to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. That said, use your common sense and be careful. In some countries, hitchhiking is super common and relatively safe. In others, you may be asking for trouble. Research is your friend.

Public transportation like local buses and metro systems can also be both super affordable and adventurous.

Ridesharing is another great option—especially for routes with no good public transportation coverage.

Companies like BlaBlaCar (among others) allow you to link up with other travelers headed in the same direction as you and split the costs. 

Lastly, let’s not forget about our leg muscles.

The cheapest and healthiest way to get around is by foot (or bike).

If your destination is within walking distance, then forget public transport or rideshares—just walk. You’ll also see much more of a country on foot than in the back of a vehicle.

I once met a traveler who was on a journey from Canada to Argentina by bicycle. In some countries, this is a popular way to explore!

pros and cons table comparing different modes of transportation

#8.) Find free activities

If you’re traveling after university on a tight budget, the first thing you should do when arriving in a new destination is google “free things to do in [CITY]”.

You may be surprised at what you find.

From free museum days, city tours, hikes, and parks—you’ll have plenty to keep you busy without spending a penny.

Many countries also offer free or heavily discounted attractions on certain days. 

In New York, for example, the 9/11 Memorial Museum has free entry between 5-8 pm on Tuesdays. 

In London, the British Museum is always free.

And in Athens, access to popular attractions is free on public holidays and other special dates.

In many cities, you can also find complimentary walking tours—check out Free City Tour for more information. Just keep in mind that these “free” tours usually run on tips.

graffiti tour in Bogota Colombia
Awesome “free” graffiti tour in Bogota, Colombia

#9.) Volunteer and stay somewhere for free

Another lesser-known trick to help you travel after college with no money is to volunteer. It’s not only free, but it’s a way to positively contribute and leave each destination better than you found it. Sustainable tourism is important!

Companies like WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) allow you to stay on farms all over the world for free in exchange for volunteer work. This type of volunteerism is popular among backpackers and a great way to visit a country on a budget.

Other organizations that offer volunteering opportunities abroad include Volunteer Corps or Habitat for Humanity International. These allow you to work in developing nations and learn about different cultures. Accommodation is provided as part of your remuneration package.

WorkAway is another organization that allows people to volunteer their time. This platform allows anyone to post volunteer jobs around the world. From hostel jobs to helping run a bed & breakfast up in the mountains to babysitting kids and speaking to them in English—there are tons of opportunities to travel for free after college.

That said, before starting, make sure to read this guide: Is WorkAway safe? How to avoid WorkAway horror stories

#10.) Work odd jobs to make money while you travel

graphic with stick guy working at a bar

One of the best ways to travel after college with no money is to work as you go. 

Hospitality jobs (like waiting tables or bartending) are often shift-work, which gives you plenty of spare time to explore.

Plus, with the COVID-induced surge in pet ownership, there are now plenty of dog walking opportunities too. This can pay pretty good money and you can sign up on websites like Rover or Wag.

If that weren’t enough, freelance modeling abroad might be easier than you think as well. Oftentimes other cultures are looking for models with unique looks. And as a foreigner, you’re pretty unique!

Keep in mind that most countries frown upon people working on a tourist visa (i.e., it’s illegal). Fortunately, many countries—like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and more—have special Working Holiday visas that allow you to travel around their country and work along the way. 

If you’re looking to travel slower and really immerse yourself in a new culture, another popular option is teaching English abroad. China and South Korea are two popular options for new English teachers because they pay well and often provide accommodation. This allows you to squirrel away almost your entire paycheck to save for future travels when you finish your teaching contract.

One of the most popular English-teaching programs in South Korea is called English Program in Korea (EPIK). For more details about how the program works, check out this guide to EPIK Korea.

Hospitality, teaching English, and pet-walking are just a few of MANY ways to make money while traveling. Here’s another 117 travel job ideas

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#11.) Get a remote job where you can work overseas

Remote work has risen dramatically. Many companies—including corporate giants like Twitter and Apple—now offer employees the option to work fully remotely. This is a huge opportunity for aspiring digital nomads and those who want to see the world, but have limited savings.

You can now get a normal salaried job, grab your travel-friendly laptop, and hit the road.

computer programmer coding on the beach

You can work from Thailand, the Philippines, Costa Rica, or really wherever your little heart desires. 

Many remote jobs (and other digital nomad jobs for beginners) don’t even require any special “nomad” skills.

All you need is a mobile internet connection and an adventurous spirit!

#12.) Save and spend your money wisely

Finally, the best tip for how to travel after college with no money is to not waste the money you already have

Many students end their studies in dire financial situations. Then they add insult to injury by throwing away any money they do scrounge together on alcohol and parties.

If you’re serious about figuring out how to afford traveling after uni, put your money where your mouth is.

Skip the bar (or the new iPhone, car, etc.), and start squirreling away a travel fund. 

Remember, in some countries, a little money can go a long way. And an emergency fund is always a good idea (or at least enough to buy a flight home!).

If you create a savings cushion, your entire trip will be more fun. Instead of worrying about money and debts, you’ll be able to fully enjoy living in another country, exploring the world, and living the nomadic lifestyle.

two people happily sitting in beach chairs that cost money to rent and another guy pouting sitting in the sand because he has no money
Don’t be this guy.

Traveling Alone After College: Should You Do It?

Traveling alone after college is hands-down one of the most exciting and liberating things you can do in life.

It forces you outside your comfort zone, teaches you to rely on yourself to solve problems, and pushes you to build new relationships.

That said, there are some benefits to traveling as a group—especially if you’re looking for ways to afford travel after graduating.

In a group, you can split costs. Accommodation, food, transportation, and activities will all be cheaper if you don’t have to foot the bill yourself. 

For example, before hiking Torres del Paine in Patagonia, we split the cost of an entire house on Airbnb. It ended up running us just $8 per night per person!

four travelers eating dinner at a shared airbnb in patagonia
Splitting a cozy Airbnb in Patagonia to save money (spaghetti is another money saver!)

That said, if nobody wants to join your trip, it’s not the end of the world. You can easily find travel friends on the road to link up with. There will be loads of solo travelers in the same position as you.

Should I Travel Before or After College?

So far we’ve focused on those who have already finished college (or are close to it).

But what if you haven’t even started college yet?

Should you travel before or after college?

This depends on your individual situation. If you’re unsure about what to do with your life, then a gap year might be the best option. It’ll give you time to explore different career paths (and countries) without any pressure from school or work obligations. It also gives you space and time to determine what you want from your future.

Most importantly, when you travel the world, interesting opportunities have a weird way of presenting themselves. You may not even realize a path existed until you hit the road and start meeting new people.

On the other hand, if your heart is already dead set on becoming, say, a doctor, it’d make more sense to follow your study plan, and use your scheduled time off for your adventures. 

Either way, you’d be wise to grab a temporary job for a few months before leaving to tap up your savings account. This is what I did the summer before leaving, and that extra money I stashed away made my trip much more enjoyable.

Can You Travel If You Have Student Loans? 

You can certainly travel if you have student loans. If you have savings or work while traveling, you’ll be able to continue making your full payments. If you have federal student loans, you also have the option to switch to an income-dependent repayment plan and lower your payments. 

This is what I chose to do when I first left on my adventure. If you are not working, your income is basically zero, which means you won’t have to make any payments. Yes, your loans will continue accruing interest and you’ll end up paying more in the long run.

But depending on how much debt you have, it may not make a huge difference. You can also choose to just pay the cost of interest so your debt doesn’t increase.

Consider it your “cost of freedom”.

In the end, if you want to travel after college with no money (or a limited budget), you’ll have to make some sacrifices.

Fortunately, these sacrifices and alternative travel styles often lead to the most unforgettable adventures.

If you want to travel, don’t let money stop you.

There are plenty of ways to make it happen—now go do it!

Mitch's Travel Recommendations:
Travel Planning Resources - Everything you need to plan your trip on one convenient page.
Safetywing Insurance - This cheap travel insurance has saved me over $15,000 in medical bills.
Booking.com - Book accommodation without adding your credit card (in case you need to cancel).
Skyscanner - Find cheap flights.
Trusted House Sitters - Take care of pets in exchange for free (sometimes luxury) accommodation.
Flexjobs - Find remote jobs without having to sift through crappy ones.
Skillshare - Free trial to take unlimited classes that teach digital nomad skills.
Anytime Mailbox - Virtual mail service that can handle your mail while you’re away.
Wise - Send and receive money abroad cheaply (great for freelancers).

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