3 Secrets to Scoring FREE Travel as an Undergrad — including Australia

If there’s one thing all undergraduates lack, it’s money. And if there’s one thing you need for traveling, it’s money…Or not!

My Sophomore-Senior year of college I traveled 100% for free. I usually paid for my own food, but it’s money I would have spent eating out in-town anyway! These trips included Australia, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, and more!

Read on to find out how you can travel for free too!

Internships, internships, internships!

Colors of the Wind plays from the bell tower. The grass is soft under my hands and the sun is setting over the houses below. I sit on a hill on Cornell’s campus, enjoying the peaceful breeze and beautiful music. It was the perfect end to my walk, a walk which had involved two picturesque waterfalls.

Of all the places I’ve traveled, Ithaca, NY remains my favorite city. To sweeten the deal, the month-long trip was free! In fact, I was paid to be there.

Behold, the magic of internships. Be paid to live somewhere cool!

Whatever your field, jobs for it exist across the globe. And if you’re young and inexperienced, these jobs are looking to overwork and underpay you. But if internships often take advantage of students (and not all do), then students can surely take advantage of them!

Living in a city provides a richer experience than visiting for a week! But at the same time, the 3-6 month timeframe of an internship can lessen some of the complaints of living there permanently (for example, highways that will be under construction for the next seven year). And in some cases, you are given special access to areas restricted even to the locals.

In my case, as a wildlife ecologist intern, I had special access to several areas of natural parks. I camped in a closed-off area of the Californian redwood forests (Big Creek). I’ve also camped across much of Central Texas’ privately-owned lands, which are usually incredibly inaccessible.

Over the past four years of college, I interned in California (across many natural areas), Boston, Ithaca, Western Australia, and Minneapolis. Not only did I experience many different and amazing cities, but I also bolstered my resume! A win-win!

All of these internships supplied housing. Not all of them paid for my flight, but that’s where tip number 2 comes in…

Apply this Hack to Your Life

  1. Choose an internship you’ll actually enjoy! It’s hard to take in the sights when you’re dreading work tomorrow!
  2. Make sure the pay is enough for housing in the area. Some career fields (like mine) offer free housing, so be sure to ask! Even if they don’t, they’ll likely have suggestions for you!
  3. Take advantage of apps such as Meetup and local news sources to find events the locals go to! And don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues for suggestions.

Airplane Vouchers

American Airlines gets a lot of hate. Due to “surly” staff and flight cancellations, many have gone so far as to swear off the airline.

A key reason for the hate is overbooking. Though all airlines overbook, American Airlines doesn’t seem to get it right. The call for volunteers to wait for the next flight is all too common at an American Airlines gate…

And this is why I LOVE them. Overbooking means free flights for me.

Here’s how it works…

The scene: 2019. Detroit Airport. I’m 20. My internship paid for this flight.

“We are looking for volunteers to go on a later flight. We are offering $300.”

I casually stand, pull an earbud out of my ear. Bag slung over my shoulder, scrolling to my phone, I look oblivious as I stroll to a different seat. But I’m scanning the room. No one is approaching the gate. I slip into a seat across from the gate agent.

A few minutes later: “We are looking for volunteers to go on a later flight. We are offering $500.”

I throw my hands up in a stretch, looking over my shoulder. No one has moved. A few minutes later, the gate agent picks up the phone. The offer has gone up to $700. Then, it’s $800. And finally,

“We are looking for volunteers to go on a later flight for $900.”

Someone stands and takes a step toward the gate. Immediately, I jump up. One step and I am at the gate. The agent hasn’t even finished the announcement.

Over the next three years, I used that $900 voucher for flights to Toronto, Washington, Minneapolis, and Torreon, MX.

Does that sound like more than $900 in flights? Yes! But I was able to collect three more vouchers. It’s American Airlines, after all. Free money on top of free money.

Apply this Hack to Your Life

  1. Never take the airlines up on the first offer. Voucher values increase until someone takes it. But if you see someone heading for the counter, beat them to it!
  2. If your vouchers are about to expire, book a flight and then cancel it immediately. American Airlines (and most others) will refund you completely–you’ll get a new voucher with an expiration date for a year later.
  3. Remember, you should also receive an airport food voucher and a hotel voucher (if your new flight requires an overnight stay)

Funded Study Abroads

This is the last and most difficult tip. As a university student, you’ve likely been bombarded with advertisements for the various study abroads. You’ve also likely groaned at the price. But price isn’t always a limitation.

Though rare, funded (aka free for you) study abroads exist! More commonly, scholarships exist. And if you are able to earn enough, then you can completely fund your study abroad!

I was able to take advantage of a fully-funded study abroad trip to San Miguel de Allende, one of Mexico’s most picturesque cities. A couple my university’s alumni built a replica of an hacienda and regularly invited students to stay there for free and experience the city.

It was beautiful. They also had in-house chefs cooking our three meals…Needless to say it was an unforgettable experience. (Subscribe so you don’t miss my post about it!)

Apply this Hack to Your Life

  1. Get on mailing lists and read the emails. Your university’s emails are often full of these opportunities if you only look!
  2. Get to know people in your field! The higher up they are, the more likely they are to know about these opportunities first.
  3. Bolster your resume. Volunteer in your field during the school year, get good grades, learn relevant skills! Funded study abroads are competitive, so you’ll want to make sure you’re the best candidate!

As a last little bonus tip, make good friends! It’s likely that these friends will scatter across the country (and even the world). Not only does this increase the fun of traveling, but you might even score some free housing!

All in all, a university budget doesn’t have to be the reason you can’t travel! I travelled for free for 3 years with these hacks! Including my trip to Canada in December 2019.

PS Want to meet like-minded travelers to plan a trip with? Download Floqsta’s app for free. I’ve downloaded it myself, because even as an introvert, I think group travel is more fun than solo travel! (Note this is an affiliate link, which just means I get a small commission if you download).


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