You want to travel, but you don’t have the money to travel. It turns out that this classic conundrum doesn’t have to keep you at home. Looking to solve labor shortages, population declines and other economic issues, destinations around the world are offering people the opportunity to travel in exchange for labor, not money. Here are some of the best options if you want to travel free or even get paid to do it.
If you’re lucky enough to see one of America’s national parks, you probably had a limited time to fully see it. A day at Yosemite. A week camping in Zion. How about extending your stay to five weeks, at no cost?
Helping Hands lets you do just that. The program by the Xanterra Travel Collection, which manages the Yellowstone National Park Lodges, is offering part-time, short-term jobs for people over the age of 18 who want to experience the park in a different way.
“Being able to live in a national park is very different than visiting,” says Betsy O’Rourke, chief marketing officer of Xanterra. “You can slow down and really appreciate the environment and go back to places more than once.”
The program was born out of a need for seasonal workers to keep the park resorts running. Not every employee could work the entire May to October season, so Xanterra came up with a shorter option that feels more like a long vacation than a seasonal job. Helping Hands participants are required to work just 20 hours a week (at $10.10 per hour) and have the rest of their time to explore the surrounding natural wonder. You’ll be assigned a job in either housekeeping, a restaurant or at a front desk.
As for boarding, Helping Hands participants are given dorm accommodations, or can arrange to bring their own RV if they have one. Meals are served in a cafeteria, giving participants more chance to bond with the international group of employees. O’Rourke says the sense of community of the program is one of its most appealing parts.
“They make lifelong friends sharing these experiences,” she says. “I’m talking primarily among our employees but also even with guests. There’s a lot of interaction with our guests and they come from all over the world.”
If you’re a creative type, the National Parks Arts Foundation has an Artist in Residence (AIR) program that puts up participants in a private accommodation for a month and pays participants a stipend or reimbursement for their time. Options include Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida, Chaco Culture National Historic Park in New Mexico, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Aztec Ruins National Monument in New Mexico and Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Both the Xanterra and AIR require selected participants to pay for their own airfare to the respective gigs.
Small towns in Europe are having a tough time competing with the alluring appeal of bigger cities. Every few months, a headline pops up with another small town’s efforts to lure in new residents by offering perks like $1 homes, free plots of land to farm and more. It’s happened in Antikythera, Greece, Albinen, Switzerland, and now the region of Molise, Italy. Regional councilor Antonio Tedeschi developed a plan to offer people more than $27,000 to relocate to one of Molise’s population-deficient villages in an attempt to revitalize the local economy. That payment will be made in 700 euro-per-month payments over the course of three years to chosen applicants who also agree to start a small business in the region.
Traveling to Antarctica is not an easy or affordable feat. Most travel opportunities fall into the luxury category. The loophole to getting down to the world’s southernmost continent (for the creative set at least) is through the Antarctic Artists and Writers Program (AAW). The program was developed to get more eyes on the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) efforts there and to get the general public to better understand and appreciate those efforts. Photographers, sculptors, historians, painters, science writers and children’s novelists have been among the chosen program participants given the opportunity to travel to Antarctica on the National Science Foundation’s dime.
There are plenty of options around the globe for the taking, and for every travel style. You can search Workaway, an online community for sustainable travel and cultural exchange, to find opportunities to volunteer or work in 178 countries, like helping out at an alpaca farm in Estonia or working as an au pair in Andorra.
For travelers who enjoy farm life, there’s World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, (WWOOF). Originating in Britain in the ’70s, WWOOF was once an acronym for Working Weekends On Organic Farms but has expanded to become an international community to connect farmers and temporary workers. WWOOF volunteers are expected to work about four to six hours a day in exchange for boarding, food and the chance to experience local life in their temporary home, whether that’s somewhere familiar like California or maybe less-so like Koes, Namibia. To access the WWOOF database to find an opportunity, you’ll have to pay a membership fee that ranges from $20 to $50 per year.