The Key to the Cities of the World

When I started researching gap years, I quickly found how expensive they could be. There are hundreds of volunteer, travel, and adventure programs that span weeks or months. The average non-luxury gap year program is about $3,000 a month. However they cost anywhere from $1,500 to $25,000. Yep, that’s right. You could easily spend a few thousand on a 20 day program or much more on a 90 day program. Most of those don’t even include airfare. So you can see why so many people hold the misconception that gap years are expensive. I did too, until I did more research.

I found an organization called Workaway. Workaway allows for people all over the world who need employees find people who will work in exchange for room and board. On the website you sign up as either a host or a “workawayer,” as I did. You then create a profile showing what skills you have, where you want to travel to, and a bit about your personality and interests. The site has a search engine that you use to pinpoint what kind of work is available at certain destinations. For example, you can click the boxes for nannying and pet care and type in Paris, choosing a 50 mile radius, and get all of the matching results for hosts. Hosts can also use a similar search to find workers.

Every host is different, but many have an extra bedroom that they are willing to give you in exchange for five hours a day, 5 days a week. Some are hostels that need receptionists and cleaning, others households that want help learning a language, and others need basic maintenance and gardening done. Many hosts will offer 1-3 meals a day or to help you learn their language. What is amazing about this site is the sheer number of users, creating a complex network with lots of options.

There is a catch, you must pay in order to contact hosts and workawayers. But £23 for two years as a single workawayer is pretty much nothing. I can personally attest that it is definitely worth it. I have sent over 40 emails to hosts explaining my skills, attitude, and interest in traveling to their countries. And I currently have places to stay in England, France, Italy, and Austria.

With an organization like Workaway, I can travel inexpensively, mostly spending money on transportation from host to host.

There are other websites that have the same approach. I have heard lots of good things about HelpX, very similar to Workaway, but mostly focusing on farmstays. With Couchsurfing, travelers don’t even have to work or pay to have a place to sleep. I personally was a little worried about the safety of this program, yet many people attest to its safety as long as you use your common sense.

Another notable way to travel cheaply is by housesitting. There are lots of sites that connect you with people across the world who need house and pet sitting. Most of the reliable and well-known sites do require a fee to sign up. I considered housesitting as a way of travel, I simply couldn’t find housesits in places where I wanted to go for the dates I wanted. Often they are either for a few days or a few months. But when you see the chateaus in Southern France that are available for free with some cleaning and gardening, it’s easy to see why some people prefer to travel this way.

Hostels are always an option, but the cost may surprise you. To stay in a co-ed room with 20 other guests is usually $50 dollars a night at a decently-rated hostel and $120 a night for a single or double room. Personally, I like Airbnb as an alternative. This website rents out provides either a shared room, private room, or entire place rentals in most of the world’s cities. Pricing ranges from $10 a night to over $1,000. But upon a few quick searches I found that $50 a night could rent me a flat of my own in the center of Paris. Airbnb confirms that the photos match the actual house or apartment. Like most of the websites I have mentioned, previous travelers have reviewed and rated each place.

So now that you have some ideas on how to afford traveling abroad or even inside the country, you see what I mean when I say that travel is available to everyone. No more excuses for sitting at home moaning about how you want to be laying on a Mediterranean beach or riding elephants in Thailand. If you know of any other creative ways to lower traveling costs, send me a line or comment below.

Yours Truly, Madison