Leave your Monzo at home - we're heading off on holiday for FREE!
Budget airlines are cheap, but cheap is not free. Hostels are inexpensive yet, indeed, they require expenditure. Supermarket value foods go easy on the wallet, but if you try to leave Tesco Extra with a handbag brimming with ill-gotten scotch eggs, you will soon enough find yourself being rugby tackled into a pyramid of toilet rolls by a stout security guard.
Yes, travel at any level of comfort typically costs money, but – and you saw this twist coming, didn’t you, you bright spark – there still exist ways to travel the earth for no money at all.
Here’s the thing, though: you’ve got to be prepared to get weird. Stinky and weird.
Phase One: Fucking Off Effectively
Imagine you and I are best friends, and after a heavy night on the booze we wake up next morning and decide to head out on a grand adventure, despite the fact our geographical knowledge is flimsy at best, we haven’t got a single penny between us, and I am, for all intents and purposes, a moron.
First, we must pick a destination. Let’s say, oh I don’t know, Paris. Neither of us have a single bean in our beanpurse, and as we set out from our home we link arms and skip down the road in good spirits, like in that film where the young Kansan girl crushes an old woman with a house.
And thus our journey begins… with a spot of hitchhiking.
[LIFE-SAVING CAVEAT: I have never had a bad time hitchhiking, and would therefore personally conclude that it is fine and great and nothing bad ever happens. HOWEVER, I have never been to Wales, and using the same logic I could conclude that Wales does not exist (though it probably does). What I’m saying is: hitchhiking isn’t for everyone, getting in a stranger’s car is obviously a risky business, and if you’re going to do it, use your noggin - don’t climb into the car if the driver is gibbering/screaming/salivating beyond an acceptable amount, etc.]
We make our way to the outskirts of the city and we find a service station. We strap on our most affable smiles and approach truck drivers; we ask their destination and if they would mind awfully if we hopped in. Failing that, we draw up a witty sign and stand by the services entrance, our expressions striking the perfect blend of forlorn and hopeful.
The key to being a good little hitchhiker is to pay your way with good conversation. People who give you a lift are hoping for an interesting and pleasant character to climb into their vehicle, so be cool. Your ride will not last very long if you clamber into the front seat, crack open an egg sandwich, throw your psytrance playlist on the radio and fall asleep with your mouth open three minutes in.
Phase Two: Hopping Borders
So it’s been a few hours and after setting off at dawn’s crack, we’ve managed to make it to Dover. We’ve politely tapped along to the Hungarian truck driver blasting Korn’s Greatest Hits for the past four hours, and now we have been deposited in the coastal town.
When it comes to crossing the Channel Tunnel we have several options. We can try hitching again, or we can cycle the tunnel for 20 quid (which is not free). We could also try to flirt our way onto a boat. Maybe we could even swim to France, like David Walliams did that one time for a laugh. However, because we do not have bicycles upon our person in this narrative, my flirting consists entirely of nervous laughter and deeply uncomfortable silences, and I am deathly afraid of any body water I cannot see the bottom of (fucking eels man), we shall opt to hitchhike once more.
Phase Three: Camping It Up
We are in France now, and it has been a long day. Let’s go camp somewhere!
Many countries have free camping spots; some are very strict, some countries don’t seem to give two shiny shits where you chuck your tent.
Not the foggiest how you’d go about finding a free camping spot? Well you’re in luck, as Wikicamps is a decent app for seeking out places to rest your weary heads.
Phase Four: Not Starving
Look, you’re going to have to ditch your pride, alright? If you want to scoff for free, you’ve got to be willing to get creative. Here are your options:
1. Dumpster diving: It’s not glam, but dumpster diving saved me from a pitiful death during my poverty-stricken student years. Most supermarkets throw a shit ton of perfectly good food out at the end of every day, so all you have to do is head out back and have a good rummage. Stock up on as much as you can - just eat it fast, as it may be close to expiration.
2. Hippy joints: Earthchild-types LOVE sharing food, and there are plenty of pay-as-you-feel restaurants out there (seriously, they’ve sated my rumbling stomach more than once, and the Guardian even have a guide to the best around the world). Alternatively, if you can find a café where at least two staff are wearing harem pants, you’re onto a winner. Simply explain your plight and watch the hummus materialise.
3. Restaurants: A little demeaning, perhaps, but equally viable. Asking kindly restaurant owners if you may feast on their daily leftovers might not work every time, but it’s certainly better than not trying at all or, even worse, paying.
Phase Five: Inner City Slumber
After a large, bin-sourced meal and a snooze, we hitch the rest of the way into Paris.
“But wherever do we rest our weary heads?” I hear you cry.
Well, shut up a moment and I’ll tell you.
We couch surf, we use Workaway (working short hours in exchange for accommodation and food), we find a working hostel, or we hit up friends of friends.
Couch surfing is by far the easiest method at your disposal. It’s quite simple: you create a profile on the CouchSurfing app, browse potential hosts in the area, and hurl a few feelers out. Response time is pretty rapid; more often than not it’s perfectly possible to arrive in a new city and have a free place to stay sorted in a couple of hours.
One thing is important though: the vast majority of Couchsurfing hosts expect you to hang out with them and make an effort. Again, be cool. Don’t have a waterfight in their living room and shag on their bed the minute they leave the flat.
Phase Six: That’s Entertainment
Yes, every city has its attractions and many of them are cheek-slappingly expensive for the average, loves-an-avocado millennial. However, because we are very clever free travellers and have done our research, upon our arrival in Paris we already know that many museums and galleries are free to those under the (rather arbitrary) age of 26, including the mighty Louvre. Over in Berlin, we may observe the Bundestag and the East Side Gallery for free, as well as several abandoned buildings. In Barcelona, we are free to stroll the Gothic Quarter, as well as visiting the Sagrada Familia and Casa Battlo. Delicious.
Phase Seven: There Is No Phase Seven, That’s It, We’re Done
And now we have travelled right across Europe together, it is time for our hungover spontaneous journey to draw to a close. Monday morning’s sunrise is hours away, and what was a standard Friday session somehow spiralled into a transcontinental odyssey. But we have succeeded: we have travelled, we have adventured, we have lived - and the best part, my friend? We have spent nary a doubloon.