I travelled the world -- from Europe to Antarctica -- without spending any money at all. I crossed eleven countries, travelled through a variety of climes, slept in forty different homes and acquired free food in more than 500 stores and restaurants. Net cost: $0.
Here are a few things you can do to earn your way around the globe.
If you want to travel by plane but don't feel like spending money on a ticket, here's an idea to try out: Host a pillow fight.
I was ready to head south to Central America from San Franciscon. Unfortunately, a military coup in Honduras had rendered overland travel impossible, meaning I needed to fly, which cost $300. I offered a unique service to earn the money needed: I took two pillows from my couchsurfing hosts and offered pillow fighting to passerby for a little donation.
San Franciscans really seem to be in need of a good pillow fight. A young man in Dolores Park took a pillow and hit me in my face as hard as he could -- I didn't even have a chance to fight back. Two businessmen opted to fight each other on their lunch break and gave me $20 to stay out of it. People started queuing up in Golden Gate Park to take part. The business model worked well: I earned enough to fly over to Costa Rica. And as a pillow-fighting pro, I can now differentiate between the various techniques: The Windmill, The Sword Fight, The Shot-put, The Deceive, and the good old Strangling.
I wanted to visit Machu Picchu in Peru, but since I couldn't spend money on a five-day hike through the Andes, there was only one solution: Apply as a porter and carry tourists' belongings to the Inca town. I carried 50 pounds of weight in an altitude of over 14,000 feet.
There are hiking agencies all over the world: in the Himalayas, the Andes, the Alps, Mount Kilimanjaro in Eastern Africa. Hiking agencies always welcome people who work for free. Just convince them that your physical strength is top-notch, you're dedicated to the job and you're a reliable resource for tourists.
I unfortunately had a hard time keeping the pace of my Peruvian colleagues on day three of the expedition because of some lack of physical strength on my part. I really suffered for two days in that high altitude, but I still made it happily to Machu Picchu.
You want to travel by plane for free, but you don't want to organize a pillow fight? Here's one idea I tried out in Panama: contact your national ambassador in the country of your departure and politely ask for an appointment with either the ambassador or an assistant. In most cases, you will get a positive answer, since embassies do have some responsibility for their citizens. I offered the ambassador in Panama my service as a butler. After long discussions about the sense and nonsense of this idea, I was granted the opportunity to work in his mansion for a day as his butler, serving wine, cleaning the mansion's pool, cleaning his shoes and even opening doors for the repudiated man. I earned enough for my next flight.
You might stay in a city or a region during your travels and experience a hard time getting food and drinks for free. Not to worry--if your ideas for another job are unconventional enough, you'll earn your beverages faster than you can imagine.
I stayed in Las Vegas for a while for free. But this commercialized city is not terribly accommodating for a free-traveler. Even tap water is undrinkable, since it contains a very high level of chlorine. So I developed a useful service for tourists: The Human Sofa. Passerby were offered to sit and relax on my back for just one dollar while I was on all four limbs. My cardboard sign read "Relax for one dollar by sitting on the human sofa!" which I hung from my neck. Sweating tourists found this service in the heat of 100 degrees to be very helpful. So I helped them, and in turn they helped me survive.
The human sofa might be helpful for tourists to relax, but what if they need to climb a hill? Here is where you come in again with another service that will help you to get food or direct money: The Hill Helper.
San Francisco, home of the hilliest of hills, is where I offered my services as Hill Helper for the first time. I drew a large sign with my offer on a large piece of cardboard, which hung in front of my stomach. I then stood at one of the most extreme slopes in San Francisco: The world-famous Lombard Street, with an incline of a whopping 27 percent grade. As the Hill Helper, I pushed groaning tourists up the incline by holding their back with my hands. They leaned back and put their entire weight on my hands to be pushed uphill. It was real backbreaking work (my back, not theirs).
This job is an easy one to find: Hills are everywhere, from the steep slopes of San Francisco to the beautiful mountains of Rio de Janeiro.
A Hill Helper has, for the record, also been spotted in the Himalayas.