Will Work For Food: From One Couch to Another, How To CouchSurf During Travels (And Stay Safe)
Will Work For Food #9 Advice & Stories ...
So, you’re interested in travel, I hear? You’re in the right place.
If you’ve just stumbled upon my content—welcome. If you’ve been here before, welcome back! My blog is all about traveling the world with no money. For free. What does that even mean?
I have two very specific meanings of free that I’d like to offer to you:
Both can be done and both require work. Double whammy—you can even do both at the same time!
This is a longer post that offers many details and very specific ways to get started traveling for free. So, read on if you want to get in on the how-to! I suggest pulling out a paper and pencil for some notes.
(It’s also great if you just are curious as to how it’s done!)
After traveling across the United States last year with almost no money, I had no idea that I would be so excited to share the how-to tips with others. Before you take a trip, people ask a lot of questions. Many of them that I got went a little like this…
“Where are you going?
“How will you get around?”
“What will you do for food?”
“Where will you stay at night?”
“Won’t you get lonely?”
“What will you do in emergency situations??”
“When are you coming back?”
and sometimes, your answer looks a little bit like this:
“I don’t know.”
And that’s fine. People like to poke and prod before, during, and after. Why? Because travel is exciting. People like to hear about adventure. We meet new people, tread new tracks, and learn things that we didn’t quite know that we needed to learn.
These are the questions that we’re about to answer.
My goal in this post is to share with you some ways that you can begin traveling for free—literally with no money—and in some follow up post like this one we’ll get back into how you can embody the feeling of “free” in your travels.
To start off, let’s tackle some of those hard questions we face when traveling with little to no money in our pockets.
I can’t really answer this question for you—and you may not even be able to answer it for yourself. We all travel for different reasons; to learn, explore, run away, find adventure, connect with nature, learn different languages, make new friends… you get the point.
Sometime we don’t know why we’re heading out but we do anyway. And that is a perfectly fair response. You don’t have to know why you’re deciding to travel—the first step is to just decide that you are going to travel.
Many of us live in a very certain world. We know what time we need to get up for work, how long traffic will take to get there, when we get off, the roads and routes that we’re going to take. We at least have the framework of a plan, most days.
Travel can be the same. You can have a plan: a route, idea or destination.
You can also plan to have no plan.
You can plan to ditch the plan at a certain point.
You can not plan at all.
Yes, so many plans!
Basically, you can do whatever you want. While you’re dreaming up your travel plans ask yourself why you are going before where. It may give you some insight as to what type of spaces you’re looking for and what physical place may be best suited to meet your needs. Once you have that sorted (or don’t), focus on the where.
(A little F.Y.I; you could walk out of your front door right now with a place in mind– 7 states away– and find a way to get there. You could walk out right now with no place in mind and find everything that you didn’t know you were looking for.)
When I traveled from Virginia to Hawaii, my plan was to follow the TransAmerica Trail and finish in California. I quickly ditched that plan, loosely following the trail when I needed an anchor. I then declared that my plan was the “no plan” option. It was the best decision that I let myself make.
With that being said, we’ll jump right into our third question.
Once you do or don’t know where you’re going, how will you get there?
Well, considering that you’re doing this with little to no money there are only a few options.
Ha, just kidding!
The world is a place full of opportunities, if you go looking for them. Here are some of the most immediate ways of travel to consider:
I haven’t done this one yet but I met a woman who walked across the country with her partner. Check out their story here. I’ve also spoken with a lot of more-seasoned wanderers who walked across states, cities and countries back in the day just because. They tell me that things have changed and that it’s not as safe these days—but it’s an option.
Here is a link to a blogger that started walking across the country (more than once) barefoot to raise awareness for climate change.
I can speak from experience for this category. I traveled from Virginia to California—biking 500 miles and crossing 12 states—with/on my bike. Like I said, I ditched my plan to bike it all and let the wind take me on different adventures. But, it was handy to have a form of transportation that I could use at any time, self-powered, for free.
Read more about my experience with biking here and check out the TransAmerica Bike Trail.
Biking can be scary, dangerous, fun, hard and rewarding. It takes some preparation (or not much, but then you could run into difficult situations) like anything else in life.
So, what are the other options?
c) Traveling via Train
For options 3 through 7 you usually have to pay for a ticket or gas. Or maybe not—search for connections with people that you already know. Search for companies that could possibly employ you and give you benefits at the same time that power your travel.
When you set out and realize that you want to travel via one of these options you’ll most likely have to pay for it. Confused on how you’ll do that? No worries. Keep reading for an explanation.
I personally have only done this a couple times with friends and it wasn’t to cover long distances. There is a heck-of-a-lot of information on this subject on the web, so feel free to check it out by googling “how to hitchhike”. This is generally thought of as a more dangerous option so please do your research, follow your intuition and weigh your options well.
As soon as I have more experience to speak from—I’ll get back to ya!
i) Driving for Others
If you head over to craigslist.com and find the area that you’re in/traveling too, you can usually find people sharing rides, or people that need others to drive vehicles from point A to point B for them.
Search “rideshare” after you have selected the location and you’ll find a whole new world of opportunity.
When I wanted to get from Missula Montana to Portland Oregon I checked out rideshare and found someone my age who had a broken leg. He originally wanted someone to drive his car home for him as he flew back, but we worked it out and I ended up driving the whole way for him. He got to see his car get safely home and I got to my destination. Now that’s what we call a win-win.
PLEASE be picky, attentive and selective as to who you get into a car with or share a ride with. Follow your intuition, ask questions and don’t follow through if it doesn’t feel right. Nothing is worth the trauma of a situation like that gone wrong.
Let’s move on to our next question.
A girl has got to eat to live, right?
Yes! One does have to get nutrition to live.
There are many ways that you can obtain food when you travel with little to no money, and they go like this:
a) Dumpster Dive
Oh yes, I can already see the scrunching-up-of-the-face and hear the “ew” sounds now. It’s ok! I understand. While dumpster diving isn’t always ideal or 100% safe, I can tell you that I have never ever gotten sick and have been vegan during every single one of my dumpster diving days. I learned about dumpster diving from Rob Greenfield and you can bask in his knowledge on his website. It’s actually has a complete guide.
(I recommend checking it out even if you don’t plan on participating!)
b) Work for Food
You may not know this—but you can walk into a business and ask to work for food. The worst that they (usually) say is no.
You usually give your energy and time for money, and then give it to someone else who is giving their time and energy for money. Why not just give your time and energy for what you need?
I have asked to work for a meal multiple times and have been turned down less times than my proposal has been accepted. Some of the jobs when working for food for the day have included:
The key to landing a meal is being honest, respectful, grateful and polite.
Nerves can really get to you when you do something out of the norm, but remember that you’re not asking for an unfair deal. It’s helpful to start off by introducing yourself, telling the person of business what you’re doing (traveling), how you’re doing it (with no money), why you are doing it like that (it’s helpful to be honest or to have a good cause). Let them know that you’re asking to put in work for food.
A sample introduction may look like this:
“Hi, my name is Calen. I have a question that is a little out of the norm for you. I’m biking across the country with no money, basically to see if goodness still exist and if I can work for what I need. I was wondering if there was some work that I could do for you today to earn a meal.”
No matter what their answer is be thankful and don’t give up.
You honestly never, ever know what is going to happen. I ended up creating some connections with amazing people who took time out of their work day to spend time with me and ask questions; bought me meals or even gave me their freebie meal for the day. Honesty and forwardness can inspire and shock the general public.
Good places to ask are restaurants and farmers markets. I’ve even asked a small coffee shop before and gotten free coffee and a place to rest and reboot. I would even venture to say that asking grocery stores is free game as well. You never know who you’ll be speaking to and how they’ll want to help you! Connections cross over and interlace to weave your trip together.
Some perfect examples of how connections intertwine can be shown from some of my experiences.
One time I walked into a restaurant to ask to work for dinner. They called the owner forward so that I could talk to her. I explained what I was doing—and she said no. She did, however, let me know that she needed work done on her farm and that her brother really needed some cleaning done at his house.
I ended up working for her and her brother for days. They fed me, gave me a place to stay and I earned money by cleaning and fixing up a room at the farm. On top of that I got to connect with more people and drop into their lives for a short time. I got so much more than what I was asking for.
I fully believe in manifesting and creating my experience. So when I need something, I find it.
a) You could set it in your intention to find work and trust, letting the universe work her magic.
(yes, I know, some people think this is hippy-dippy stuff or need things in an instant.)
b) Look for work on Craigslist or literally walk into small businesses and ask them for temporary (whatever you need—for one day, two days, three hours?) work.
c) Use your skills to earn money. For example, maybe you do tarot readings or know how to fix bikes. Maybe you wash cars well. Maybe you’re like me are certified in something like teaching yoga. Find something that you can do well and reach out to people online or in person. Go to hot-spots for your skills (a park, downtown area, shop of that sort) and tell people that you’re looking for work now and why.
d) Get creative! You could literally strike up a conversation with a stranger and leave the conversation with the money and help that you need to continue on.
My advice to you: ASK for what you need. Don’t turn around at the first no.
Now, let’s move on to another hot topic on the list.
a) My favorite thing to do while traveling is CouchSurfing. What is CouchSurfing, you may ask? I’ll let you in on a gem for travelers.
It’s a network of hosts and travelers like yourself. When you need a place to stay, you look up the city that you’ll be in to find a place to crash (for free). Some cities have large amounts of hosts and others have only have a few. I can only remember maybe one or two times where there were no hosts in certain cities.
So, you’ll want to download the CouchSurfing app and get familiar with it if you choose to try it. You can click on hosts’ profiles to see their pictures, reviews, bios, house photos and info. Make sure to read the reviews and ratings left by other couch surfers to get a sense of your host and what your experience may be like.
I have had mostly wonderful experiences during my couch-surfing and I was a solo female traveler during those times. Hosts will often offer you a place to sleep, meals and even show you around. You can select your length of time and contact them before you decide to you’re going to stay.
I’ve made some amazing connections with hosts that are now my friends and experienced their towns and cities in a way that I never could have dreamt of doing without them.
On the other hand, there have been two times (to be exact) that I have felt uncomfortable. The first time I experienced this was when I stayed at a place that looked and felt sketchy to me before I got there. I had just ignored my intuition and deeply regretted it later. Luckily, I left the situation before anything escalated and found another place to stay. There is always another option. Don’t hesitate to leave.
CouchSurfing is rewarding when you are checking in with yourself and doing what feels. For more details on how to couch surf, check out this bad-boy.
So maybe you don’t feel like staying in a stranger’s home for the night or just feel like being self-sufficient. No worries, continue on!
b) Stay in a tent.
When I took my trip across the U.S., one of my most valuable possessions was my one-person tent. I could set that baby up when I needed to and had my own small space.
To be completely honest here.. I am afraid of the dark and I do NOT like camping out in tents.
But, when you decide to travel with no money, it could be a sacrifice that you’re willing to make. Make sure to start off with a tent and sleeping bag that can protect you from whatever elements you’ll be experiencing and will hold up decently.
Churches, police stations, locals and the can possibly be your friends when you’re looking for a place to set up. Ask around for good places to set up so that you don’t get woken up at 3:00 AM because you’re camped somewhere you shouldn’t be and are asked to leave.
Read more tips and tricks to finding these places here.
c) Network BEFORE you go. Or during.
Many of us have Facebook or some social media account. This can be supper helpful while you’re on the road and looking for a place to stay.
Post statuses like, “Hey, I’ll be in San Francisco tonight and am looking for a place to stay. Does anyone have any connections? Thank you so much in advance!”
You never know who you will meet or where you will get to stay. Friends of friends are your friends!
d) Look for hostels.
Hostels are like community versions of hotels. You can pay more for a private room but usually you share a large room with bunkbeds with other travelers. Hostels usually have community kitchens and other hangouts. They’re super great for getting information about the area and finding other like-minded gypsys like yourself
Hostels are cheaper than hotels—usually around $20 a night. Call in advance and ask if you can work for a couple nights of stay. Explain what you’re doing and they’ll be likely to help. It’s always worth an ask—sometimes hostels are donation-based or free.
When choosing a place to stay be smart and listen to your “little voice”. You can’t travel if you’re hurt or in a dangerous situation! Use common sense.
And now… for the less technical, long winded answers.
You may, and that’s ok. You may get to know yourself better. You can also create an opportunity to make new connections and friends through this type of travel, faster than you do with “normal” paid-for travel.
The juiciest part of travel for me is meeting new people and making quick and magical connects with people who I practice giving to and receiving from during my travels. I now have countless friends across the country from traveling “alone”.
Yes, this type of travel does involve more risk. Put in the right preparation of getting certain needed-items before you leave and you may feel ready to take on the challenge.
Get geared up! This may include the following:
Have someone that you check in with each day (maybe even around a certain time) so that someone, somewhere is updated and in tune with your situation and well-being.
And most importantly: your intuition and sense of adventure.
A helpful thing to do (especially for people who identify/present as femme) before you head out on any adventure is take a self-defense course. Many universities offer them for free. Woot woot!
Very simply: take the time to think about/prepare answers to people’s concerns with your trip. They may not all happen but it is good to be prepared knowing that trouble could come up. The more you can feel through those situations before you head off the more likely you are to come out feeling strong, unharmed and ready to truck on.
Hey, don’t look at me for this one. I’ve set you up with tips and tools that proved for a successful and fulfilling cross-country-trip-of-a-lifetime for me.
You decide when—or if— you’re coming back.
(thank you, Michael Amani, for all the great edits to this post!)