8 ways to find free or subsidized travel in 2022

Grants, teaching programs and seasonal jobs can help unattached travelers looking to fund their adventures

(iStock/Washington Post illustration)

Even if you’re backpacking on a shoestring budget or hostel-hopping through Europe, you have to spend money to travel. There’s the price of eating and sleeping on the road, plus the financial toll of leaving your job, children, pets or other responsibilities behind.

Fortunately for people with flexibility in their schedules — and even more flexibility with their relationships — there are ways to finagle free (or even paid) travel, particularly for artists, scuba divers, animal lovers, teachers and lucky contest winners.

There’s always a catch, of course, whether it’s working your way through a trip or producing something to show from your experience by the end.

Here are eight ways to see the world on someone else’s dime.

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Sign up to be a sitter

Have you always dreamed of visiting Boston but can’t afford a hotel? Do you want access to the slopes of Tahoe without paying peak-season rates? Generally responsible people can find gigs caring after homes and pets. Companies like Nomador and TrustedHousesitters connect people who love to travel with people who need help looking after their homes or pets in exchange for room and board. There are blogs dedicated to this lifestyle for people looking to learn more about the opportunity before jumping into a trip.


Apply for a travel grant

Just like scientists who apply for research funding, you can try to get a grant to sponsor your travel goals. Scoring one is tough, as not many exist, and many people want free travel.

One way to find them is by entering terms like “grant” or “travel grant” into a search engine alongside topics that relate to your job, interests or field of study.

For example, a quick search of “scuba diving grant” will pull up more than $500,000 in grants and scholarships for divers, according to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors. Try “grants for hikers,” and you will find options such as the American Alpine Club’s McNeill-Nott Award, offering $5,000 a year to female amateur climbers and alpinists (applications are open Oct. 1 through Dec. 31).

There are also widely known grants, such as the Fulbright-National Geographic fellowship that offers U.S. students a paid year of “storytelling on a globally significant theme.” Grantees — or “storytellers” — get standard Fulbright benefits covering travel, health care and a general stipend, plus a reporting allowance and additional materials. They will also get instruction on storytelling techniques by National Geographic staff before they start their adventure. They will have the chance to pitch stories for the publication’s platforms. Although applications are closed for the 2022-2023 competition, you can apply for the 2023-2024 year when applications open this April.

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Teach English

An old-school route for travelers is to become an English teacher abroad. A good place to start your search for opportunities is TEFL, a membership network that provides accreditation and offers a connection to more than 30,000 employers, according to its website. Members can access jobs around the world, whether they want to work four hours a day in Moscow or full time in Santiago, Chile.

Another route is online teaching. Because of the pandemic, there are more online English teaching jobs that could enable you to work from anywhere you would like to travel. Teachers with Magic Ears earn between $22 and $26 per hour, for example.

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Study microelectronics from an RV

Roadtrip Nation is sending three people on a three-week RV trip across the country in the name of microelectronics. They are looking for applicants who want to pursue a career focused on microelectronics, semiconductors and microchips, so if you’re into AI or adaptive manufacturing, this gig is for you.

The trip — set to begin in May, although it could get shifted depending on the pandemic — will be filmed, resulting in a documentary that may end up shown on public television. All expenses will be covered, and road trippers will also get a daily stipend. Applications are due Feb. 6 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific time.


Become an ‘artist-in-residence’

For the creative set, one opportunity for free or subsidized travel is an artist residency.

The National Parks Arts Foundation (NPAF) lists opportunities that support visual artists, writers, musicians, and other creatives, typically for about two to four weeks. One such gig is the Death Valley National Park artist-in-residency program that has two residencies each year. Artists get a $3,000 stipend and are housed (and fed) in a hotel right inside the park.

For writers, there is the chance to stay in a “poet’s cottage” in Central Pennsylvania through the Philip Roth Residence in Creative Writing. The program gives recipients four months of time to work, plus a stipend of $5,000. Applicants must be writing their first or second book of fiction or creative nonfiction. The deadline for applications is Feb. 1.

Retreat to Peterborough, N.H., for the MacDowell program, which invites emerging and established artists and provides accommodations, use of a studio and three prepared meals per day for as many as six weeks. Applicants must work in disciplines including architecture, film or video arts, interdisciplinary arts, literature, music composition, theater and visual arts. The deadline for fall residency applications is Feb. 10.

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Become a flight attendant

Should a career change suit you, you may want to consider becoming a flight attendant. With airlines’ labor shortage and staffing issues, many are hiring flight attendants — and offering bonuses and extra pay — to make sure flights can take off on schedule. And, obviously, the job is all about travel.

Several big names are hiring right now, including American Airlines, United and Delta. But there are flight attendant openings from lesser-known regional and corporate carriers, too.

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Find a seasonal job

Like airlines, tourist destinations have been hurting for staff throughout the pandemic. Cool Works is a seemingly endless portal of seasonal jobs that appeal to travel lovers, including operating a gondola at a Telluride ski resort, becoming a chef right outside a national park or tending to a historic Cape Cod inn. The website features openings in categories broken down by type of job — brewery, winery and distillery, camp jobs or general labor, for example — as well as season or location, help wanted now, interesting regions and more.

If you have dreamed of shadowing a pasta maker in Italy or learning about permaculture in Malawi, you can also pick up short-term gigs working just about anywhere in the world through WWOOF, the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Founded in 1871, the organization features opportunities in more than 130 countries. WWOOF’s mission is to connect travelers with organic farmers in the spirit of cultural and educational exchange while promoting good farming and sustainability practices.


Apply to live rent-free in Sicily

In its latest marketing stunt, Airbnb is offering one lucky applicant the opportunity to spend a year rent-free in the rural village of Sambuca in Sicily. The concept was inspired by Sambuca’s 2019 “1 Euro House” campaign that aimed to solve the town’s declining population problem by enticing new investments through cheap real estate. If you win, you will have to list one of the rooms of the house on Airbnb. You may also be able to learn Italian through a mentorship program.