Mega helpful list of free travel

It’s everybody’s dream: travel for cheap or free. I’ve been doing some research on it recently (I’m not claiming to have done all of these things), but I figured I’d share this list of ideas and links that I’ve been collecting for a while:


I’ve had nautical experience.

Volunteer on a yacht

You don’t have to be an expert or even have any experience to be part of a sailing crew. Duties and arrangements vary, of course, but usually you are getting free board and of course transport, while learning a brand new skill. Sometimes, experienced skippers get paid to navigate other people’s yachts from one place to another – nice work if you can get it, and a good goal to aim for.

House sitting

From what I hear, people younger than retirement age sometimes have a hard time securing house-sitting gigs. Still, there are people who seem to have cracked the formula. Here’s a couple who seem to have been doing alright:


A friend of mine told me she hitchhiked from Paris to Norway last year. This is not something I would ever dream of doing, because everything I’ve been taught about hitchhiking is that you end up murdered in the woods. However, I’ve come across a pretty awesome carshare website that links to your Facebook profile and has user-reviews, so that you can be assured that the driver is not a serial killer. If you’re a woman, you can also request women-only trips for extra peace of mind, which I think is a nice touch. The price of the trip is fixed beforehand, and you can even select the option for whether you want to have a quiet journey or a chatty one.


Despite having the pretty lame name of “Willing Workers On Organic Farms[-ing]”, it’s a pretty cool idea – basically a network of organic farms that accept travellers to exchange work for food and accommodation. Another friend worked for a while on a Japanese farm. One time, she and her friend had to pick snails off the crops and put them in sack, counting the snails as she went – there were thousands. She realises in retrospect that the counting was probably a joke but the language barrier made it difficult to detect the hilarity. But the best part was that they left the sacks full of snails in the back of the truck – only to come out the next morning to discover the snails had escaped the sacks through the night and were swarming the entire truck.


Airbnb is, I think, one of the greatest uses of the internet. Basically, people can list their spare rooms/entire homes/treehouses for rent to travellers. Like Blablacar, profiles are linked to social profiles, so you know you’re not staying in the home of a sociopath. Also, if you have a space it’s an incredible way to make a bit of cash to fund travels. I’m currently staying with my boyfriend’s parents as we’ve rented our room out to two lovely Italian boys. It’s a pretty nice way to get some extra cash, if you can swing it. If you’re the renter, it’s guaranteed to be cheaper than a hotel and nicer than a hostel.


This was my Airbnb room once… KIDDING, it’s the Palace of Versailles


Another social network of travellers and hosts, couchsurfing is pretty ace if you are happy to take what you can get. The friend who hitched from France to Norway is a very keen couchsurfer (she couchsurfed through India – again, not something I would have done), and she swears by it. Her safety tip is to read reviews and read between the lines: there could be a warning that the host is potentially a bit dodgy.


I’m not counting the kind of volunteer experience where you have to pay loads of money to spend three days in Africa – that is noble but it is not cheap. On the other hand, there are several networks where you can find yourself board and accommodation in exchange for a few hours a day work. Jobs might range from restoring a C18th French chateau to cooking for a family of 10 on their sustainable smallholding in the Rocky Mountains. You never know.


There are certain strata of society who pay a lot of good money to fly tutors or child minders to exciting destinations. You have to know what you’re doing and they usually require a degree from a good university, but it’s food, accommmodation, travel AND pay; if you think you’d fit the bill, it’s definitely worth looking into.


Everyone knows someone who knows someone who can get you a sweet deal or put you up, especially if you’re not too far off the beaten track. Put out a Facebook call-out and ask if anyone needs a house-sitter, pet-sitter or a subletter, if anyone is driving somewhere and would like company and a contribution towards petrol costs. If you’re staying at a hostel, ask if there are any jobs going in exchange for accommodation. There’s a network for finding friends of friends, too:

If you have anything to add, please do so – I want this to be the ultimate list!

Warhol's Campbell's Soup

Ways to enjoy New York on the cheap

From the first time I ever visited New York, back in January 2008, I have loved it with an abiding passion. Part of it is the energy of Manhattan – the density of people and buildings makes it feel like a true metropolis. Another part is just the idea of New York – everyone has goals and ideas and they are there getting them done. It’s a constant striving for greatness that is why they build skyscrapers there, why they put on huge musicals, why people sell off their possessions and take terrible jobs to go and live as near as they can to it.

It can be a very expensive city as well, so here are my best tips for getting the best of New York if you’re a bit strapped for cash

The ensemble of Pippin.

The ensemble of Pippin.

Rush/Standing Room Only/Lottery tickets are the way to go. I have written extensively on this in my other blog, Travels with Totoro. To put it briefly here though, New York is the international capital of theatre and if you don’t go to see at least SOMETHING, you are totally daft. Consult Broadway for Broke People for a top-notch summary of ways to get your hands on much, much cheaper tickets than the regular price. Beware: some are only for students, some are only for youth, some are cash-only. I saw one of my favourite musicals, Pippin (pictured left) in its first revival after being first played on Broadway 40 years ago for $37.50, and it was the best $37.50 I’ve spent in my life. Even if I had to get up at 5.15am to spend it.

Eat in parks

This is most feasible when done in summer. But basically, if you eat in a restaurant, there is a whole raft of unseen extras. Well, two: tax and tips. If you take away you are alleviated of at least tips. Get food from a self-serve deli or takeaway joint and enjoy the sunshine. We also packed lunches a few times for picnics in Central Park and Hudson River Park. I  highly recommend doing a grocery shop at Trader Joe’s – it’s both budget and local/organic (who knows how they manage this!) but it’s totally amazing. It’d even be worth making sure you’re in walking distance of a Trader Joe’s when you’re planning your accommodation.


Warhol's Campbell's Soup

Andy Warh-lols

Unlike in London, museums in New York have paid entry. BUT, there are certain days of the week when you can pay suggested entry fees. The Natural History Museum has a suggested entry fee (BUT you have to line up and buy a ticket, and the sign gives stupidly expensive “suggestions”. I had a very bad experience with a very mean lady behind the counter, so my advice is BUY THEM ONLINE and collect from a machine, it will probably be more polite and you won’t have to go through the social embarrassment of paying a $5 entry fee when it suggests $20 on the sign. However, it’s a pretty dated museum for the most part so I don’t highly recommend going). MoMa has free Friday nights. There are queues, of course, but it’s worth it, especially if you like Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Cezanne, or if you are sick of seeing reproductions of Warhol and want to see the original (art theory lovers: note that this is irony).

If you want to get in touch, you can find me on Google+ and Twitter. Say hello!

New York Birthday

Joint 50th: Amy and me on our 25th birthday

Joint 50th: Amy and me on our 25th birthday

One of my travel missions is to spend my birthdays in as many different countries as possible. It’s partially a challenge to make sure I go somewhere I haven’t been at least once a year, and partially something I realised when, at 24 I had just happened to have birthdays in four different countries. So, now it’s five because I turned 25 last week in the USA – specifically, New York.

What was particularly special about the trip was that I would be spending my 25th with my oldest friend, Amy, who is currently living in New York and happens to share my birthday (June 6, 1988 – if you were wondering). We’ve known each other for 20 years and went to primary school, high school and university together, so it was pretty damn special to stay with her. Here’s how we spent the day:

Got up at 5.15am to queue for cheap tickets to Pippin, one of my favourite musicals. (Post coming soon about how to nab discounted seats to Broadway shows). Amy, Jon and I sat in the line on the pavement for over 4 hours so we could be guaranteed seats to the show. It sounds like an awful thing to do on your birthday, but it is actually lots of fun. We met some lovely guys who were both professional musical theatre performers, Family Feud and Sporcle and chatted about musicals to pass the time. We were also interviewed for Japanese TV about Broadway and the Tonys (it was only a few days before the Tony Awards ceremony happened).

Following our ticket coup (box seats!) we went home for a nap (ROCK AND ROLL!), and spent quite a lot of time choosing birthday outfits before heading out to Grimaldi’s pizzeria in Brooklyn. A New York institution, Grimaldi’s does big pizza at low prices. You get a base for $14, and then add your desired toppings for $2 each. As a menu, it can’t be beaten for expediency – they don’t do salad, or even pasta, just pizza for mains, an antipasto starter and home-made cannoli for dessert. Brilliant.



Grimaldi’s is also perfectly placed for a wander around Brooklyn Bridge Park, which affords a stunning view of the skyline of downtown Manhattan, and, very small in the distance, the Statue of Liberty. It would be a great place for a picnic, as there was loads of seating, tables and barbecues, plus courts for some kind of sporting endeavour (although not much grass or open space).

Next, Amy and I treated ourselves to shopping at criminally cheap Forever 21 at Times Square and each bought ourselves a birthday dress. Then, we went for a cocktail at a small hotel bar, so we tried to get birthday special treatment. The awkward conversation went something like this:

Us: Is there anything very special on the menu?

Waiter: All the cocktails are special.

Us: But, you see, it’s our birthday, so we’re looking for something special.

Waiter: Special event doesn’t make the cocktails any better. All the cocktails are special.

Us: Right, okay, it’s just that it’s our birthday so want a special drink.

Waiter: All the cocktails are special.

We were not subtle, and it was pretty awkward. But he eventually cottoned on and brought out some mini hamburgers. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite calculate the tip in line with the waiter’s expectations so he followed us out and asked if there had been a mistake. We all felt guilty and went and gave him extra. Lesson: if you’ve been a bit demanding, always tip generously. I will do another post on tipping soon because it’s a fascinating and strange and highly annoying world.

And to top off the day: Pippin.

Pippin is a much under-appreciated and very beautiful early work of the great composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pocohontas, Godspell, The Prince of Egypt, The Hunchback of Notre Dame). It’s about Pippin, the son mediaeval king Charlemagne on a classic “hero’s journey”, feeling he is destined for greatness and trying to find it in all the wrong places.

But it is more than a simple “coming of age” story: the whole thing is witnessed – and sometimes, meddled with – by a troupe of players, helmed by the Leading Player, a kind of ringmaster (an aspect brought to the fore in this circus-inspired production), and is a meta-theatrical masterpiece. Each aspect of Pippin’s journey is introduced in the first song, Magic To Do, which also is very aware of its own theatricality:

The ensemble of Pippin.

The ensemble of Pippin.

“We’ve got magic to do
Just for you
We’ve got miracle plays to play
We’ve got parts to perform
Hearts to warm
Kings and things to take by storm
As we go along our way”

It’s dark and compelling and sexy, with a classic Broadway sound and incredible performances from some extremely talented carnies (seriously, some of the cast were 5th-generation theatre folk), and there was all kinds of clever staging, contortion, balancing, tumbling and trapeze.

I laughed and cried, gave a standing ovation IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SHOW, and couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. It is one of the greatest things I’ve ever witnessed on stage. It was the perfect way to finish the day: next birthday has a LOT to live up to.

The World’s Weirdest Festivals

Festival in Narita, Tokyo.

Festival in Narita, Tokyo.

Anyone who’s interested in travelling is usually interested in culture, and culture is an endlessly fascinating thing. I love this infographic about the world’s weirdest festivals – it gives you fantastic insight into some really bizarre stuff that some people participate in. My favourite is probably Japan’s crying baby festival. It seems at once adorable and deeply, deeply odd.

For the original post, head on over to FHR.

The World's Weirdest Festivals
The World’s Weirdest Festivals – An infographic by FHR


The first time I went travelling, I was 19, heading to New York, Germany and the UK for a month with my friend. It was amazing, but two things no-one told me was:

1. You need less stuff than you think

2. Make sure both your hands are free during transit

That's me on the right. Handbag plus shoulder bag for cabin baggage? So naive.

That’s me on the right. Handbag plus shoulder bag for cabin baggage? So naive.

I learned the hard way that you buy loads of things to wear, tipping you over the scales on baggage allowances and causing HUGE problems in subterranean train stations. I would like to now thank everyone who stopped in London and New York to help me with my stupidly heavy suitcase up and down stairs. I also learned that carry-on baggage should be as compact as possible, allowing you to reach things like passports, boarding passes, plastic bags with fluids and laptops easily.

These days when I travel, I use a small backpack for cabin baggage, and my travel motto for luggage is never to carry anything that you can’t lift yourself.