Each morning I rise and peel myself out of the warm bed with the promise of coffee. After percolating one cup of coffee, consuming two clementines and a fresh roll, I bundle up. The dogs scamper past me as I head to the barn with the slop bucket. I feed our leftovers to the chickens and give three pitchforks of hay to the sheep. Next, I load up the wheelbarrow with wood for the stove. This is quite different from my life in the United States, where my friends are currently attending university. For three months this last fall and winter, I took a gap year to travel and to live with locals across Europe. Most of you have probably seen the links: "Travel the World for Free!" "Make Money while in Paradise!" "The Best-Paying (Legal) Job for Nomads!"
I'm here to tell you that there is a scam-free way to travel with close to no money. You could have a chance to live in a new place with locals, sleep in a private room, and eat home-cooked meals. All without spending a cent. But this doesn't mean you won't need to be motivated and work for it.
Workaway.info has been this conduit for me. Workaway is a site that matches travelers with hosts all over the world. In return for room and board the traveler works part-time (often 5 hours a day 5 days a week) providing a needed service. As a 'workawayer,' I've gardened, watched children, cooked, cleaned, taught English, made coffee, and taken care of animals. I have done this while living on the Côte d'Azur in France, among the Umbrian hills of Italy, and in the quaintest gift and garden shop in Austria.
What I found is that every workaway is different. Just by reading profiles on the website you get a feel for this. I choose my workaways mostly based on location and the reviews of previous travelers. So while I often had to send ten emails to get one positive response, I still carefully picked which hosts to contact. I found that I liked staying someplace where I could access other towns and sites easily. Also, I enjoyed when I stayed with other travelers. In some, I was keeping track of my hours, working at certain times. Others were more relaxed. But in all of them, I learned a lot more about the local culture while spending far less than I would at a hostel.
I cannot emphasize how much I liked this way of travel. This is how I explored tiny villages in the South of France, swam in the Mediterranean under a full moon, attended concerts in Vienna, learned German and Italian and improved my French, learned how to cook quiche and kraut and many other dishes, and met so many amazing people.
Without Workaway, it would have not been possible for me to travel for an extended period or have the adventures I did. Without Workaway, I would not have an 'Austrian family' or a deep weakness for fresh French bread or a view of the rolling Italian landscape imprinted on my memory. I simply would not have been able to fulfill my gap year.