The only way you can go on a proper holiday completely for free is to win a competition to get an all-inclusive deal with flights. But there are lots of other ways you can get some – or all – of your holiday for free.
One is loyalty programmes – air miles, hotel points, getting a credit card that will get you air miles or things you can put towards loyalty programmes if you already travel a lot. Try and stick to the same airline and hotel chain and so on. You will almost certainly still have to pay some taxes and other expenses associated with it, but if you add all those points up it can reduce the cost of a holiday quite considerably.
Other big ways to get a nearly-free holiday are either house-sitting or house-swapping. Both of these, you have to pay a minimal amount to register with the website normally. It’s just like an admin fee, it’s not huge. With house-sitting, you normally have to do it for a reasonable length of time – you can’t do it usually for just a weekend – and you often have to do pet setting, though not always.
House-swapping is more flexible, but harder in that you’ve got to have a house that you’ll be able to swap. Then it’s a question of finding someone via websites looking for something that you happen to have. But even if you’re looking in the UK, in both these cases, you’ve got to pay to get there. In most cases anyway, you’re going to be going overseas. But at least it means the accommodation is covered.
Another way to get free accommodation would be wild camping. This depends if you’re happy to camp of course and there are restrictions. You’ll always need to check each individual country first. For example, wild camping in Scotland is legal with just a couple of exceptions. Wild camping in England and Wales is not, unless you get permission – except for Dartmoor. You can camp for two nights in any permitted area.
- Wild camping in Scotland: it’s free, but you pay in midge bites
Scandinavia you can also do – it’s much easier to wild camp there. There are other countries in Europe where you can too: in some parts of France it’s allowed and in other countries it’s tolerated even if it’s not strictly legal, like Greece, where you can probably get away with it but it’s up to you whether you want to take the risk. But again, you’ve got to get there.
The next category would be volunteer holidays. Again, it depends how you are defining a holiday, as the whole point is you will be doing some kind of work while you’re out there. You’re normally going to have to get yourself out to wherever it is that you’re going. Some companies will ask you to pay to be there as well, which is fine if you’re after volunteer experience – but if you’re doing it to get a cheap holiday, that might not work. So it’s worth checking.
Also you need to check the ethical issues – sites like Responsible Travel is have already done a lot of research into what volunteer tourism is and whether it’s genuine, responsible and ethical. They don’t advise working in orphanages, for example, because there’s all kinds of problems associated with that.
One of the subsets of a volunteer holiday is called WWOOFing. it stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms and it’s particularly big in Australia, but you can do it worldwide. You’re working on a farm and you’ve got to get there, but your board and lodging is covered and you get some time off, so you can get a bit of a free holiday.
My final recommendation is a really slow way of doing it. It’s not a free holiday per se, but it’s doable: cashback sites. Something like Quidco, which I actually use myself, but there’s TopCashBack too and several others. The idea is that you’d be making these purchases anyway, and you can put the money saved towards a holiday. It’s free money, effectively. So put it in a pot, keep saving, and one day you’ll have enough to take yourself somewhere nice. It might take you quite a while, and it depends what holiday you want to go on – but it’s doable.