In a recent Reddit IAmA, Ben of benwalksamerica.com talked about his ongoing backpacking tour across the US, visiting cities and exploring the country all without paying a cent. Through sponsorship, charity donations and clever use of the internet, he is managing to accomplish the dream of cost-free adventure. While not everyone can get a full ride like this, cases like his highlight the fact that backpacking can be done incredibly cheap if a little imagination is put into it.
While backpacking means reducing the normal costs associated with travel to a minimum, they still exist. Food, accommodation and insurance for backpacking are essentials that have to be considered. Camping is a great option, but not always feasible, especially in a country with restricted camp-ground rights like England. The explosion of couch surfing websites and apps have become a godsend to thrifty travellers.
Friendly home-owners list their ability to host someone for a short time, usually a night, and after a few e-mails to make sure that neither party is a lunatic arrangements are made for accommodation. This sometimes means a couch, sometimes a bed, and often the chance to meet an interesting person that enriches your travel experience.
Choosing the Place
It seems obvious but it is essential to choose a reasonable destination that fits your budget. Inter-railing around Europe is a common choice that can become financially draining when city visits are factored in, tourist-heavy locations in South Asia have many business designed to extract every last penny possible and urban areas are often nightmares to find a cheap (and legal) place to pitch a tent. South America, for example, while having a reputation for danger, can be a great choice. Many travellers speak of poorer countries being much more open towards backpackers.
Tom Turcich, another backpacker travelling on a charity sponsor currently in South America, speaks of constant offers of food and shelter in Peru and El Salvador from locals. Of course, the most important thing to consider is being safe, but an openness and willingness to interact with locals will always enrich a travel experience and often unlocks new ways of backpacking cheaply, especially in areas that aren’t already heavily tourist focused.
Like some of the people mentioned, many travellers are using the internet as a tool to help reduce costs. Charity sponsorships can mean a completely free experience, but these are rare and often involve prior work. Exploring other creative options can mean outside support that makes all the difference. Starting a blog about your travel, the reasons behind it and getting some attention may provide business support or individuals reaching out with offers of local assistance.