How to Travel for Free in South America

Advice for those into slow travel - and how to travel for free in South America.  How to find free accommodation and even get free transportation!  Smart ideas about how to subsidize your travels in South America.

Jesus did it….. travel for free that is. You might just be able to do the same. Here’s some tips and resources for travelling on the tightest of budgets….

1. Get a job as a deck hand of a boat

Boat work - easily obtainable for personable chefs.

Wealthy folk that have boats often spend months on end sailing around Latin America, in particular the Caribbean. By getting a job as a deck hand (ie. someone who helps out) on a boat, you’ll get free transportation to the region, a wage, and you’ll visit many amazing island destinations en route.  Hands down, this has to be the best way to travel for free in South America.  To get a job as a deck hand, it’ll help if you can bring some useful skills to the boat - either in the form of cooking or perhaps you’ve experience sailing or perhaps you’re fluent in Spanish.  I suspect that girls who are great at cooking with have more luck than guys in aquiring deck hand work.  Read the following interesting article in The Times for more info about what to expect, or check out the site to see what jobs are going on boats. Many deck hand jobs won’t be advertised online - you’ll have to ask around in ports to see what’s available.

2. Free Accommodation

Rio Favela
A favela in Rio is not where you want to end up….. so check the location of your free bed!

A remarkably large number of people all over Central and South America are very happy to offer interesting travellers free accommodation in their homes.  Latin Americans are a friendly and welcoming bunch of people, but do take care with whom you stay. A few websites advertise such free beds - Couch Surfers being the best known.  You might also want to check out Global Freeloaders as well as Hospitality Club for even more free accommodation options. 

3. Work an Organic Farm

This could be a long or short term choice, and is a good way of pro-longing your stay in a country if you’re almost out of cash as you’ll get to live for free and potentially be paid a small wage. Check out the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms website, or maybe check Grow Food.  

4. Get a Job or do Volunteer Work

There’s loads of South America job and volunteer work websites out there - Transitions Abroad is a great starting point for volunteer work.  Craiglist is very good for rather random paid work - all sorts of jobs in South America get advertised there.  To get a job it’ll certainly help if you’ve already learnt Spanish (or Portuguese in Brazil’s case).  If you’ve skills to bring you may well find a job with patience, otherwise a volunteer work position will be easier to obtain.  Getting a job teaching English is often quite easy.

5. Hitch Hiking

Hitch hiking is easy almost everywhere in Latin America (except in Colombia, where it’s difficult and rare). Wherever you are, you’ll have more luck if you’re a girl. If you’re a guy travelling with a girl/girls, always get them to do the standing on the side of the road bit - guys should sit quietly out of site and then spring into view once the vehicle has pulled over. From my experience, you’ll at least double your chances this way!  Take note that many countries use different hand gestures to hail down passing vehicles - it’s not always a simple case of sticking your thumb out!

6. Start a Travel Blog

It takes a while to start earning income from a travel blog, but it’s feasible if you’ve a little experience with websites and you write useful articles and trip reports. Simply go travelling and write genuinely useful advice for other travellers about all the destinations you visit.  I make enough advertising income from this site to subsidize my own travel expenses day by day in South America… I could theoretically travel forever if I chose to!  If you find the thought of setting up your own website too daunting, try writing articles on websites such as Hubpages or Squidoo and earn an income from the ads on them.

7.  Travel With a Skill

When I was at school I had a lecture from an eccentric 60 year old who’d spent the best part of his life travelling around the world paying his way as he went along.  He’d been travelling pretty much non-stop for 30 years because he was a great photographer - he just travelled the world, taking amazing photographs and then selling them to people or photo distribution companies.  I’ve no idea how he pulled it off, but he did!  Maybe you’ve already got a such a skill that would pay your way around South America (eg. photographer, artist, magician etc). If not, develop a skill! Such as…..  

8. Become a Professional Black Jack Player!

I think the most entertaining skill to teach yourself would be to learn how to be a professional black jack player - black jack is the only way it’s possible to win long term in a casino (poker’s potentially an alternative, everything else is a waste of time).  You’ll have to be damn smart and good at maths for this one.  A friend of my Dad’s is a professional black jack player - he’s been banned from a range of casinos all over the world as he keeps winning at Black Jack.  It’s all about counting cards - by some books about it, then go travelling in South America for free!     

There’s some food for thought I hope……………     

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