Traveling costs money. No way around that. But, there are so many things that are free about travel that you shouldn’t take for granted. Yes, you have to pay for food. Yes, you have to pay for a place to stay. However, there are so many things that cost you $0.
I’ve mentioned this before, but getting out and exploring is just as much “traveling” as flying to Paris. Maybe not as exotic and dreamy, but you don’t have to shell out thousands of dollars to enjoy exploring, especially when you consider all the free things available to travelers.
1. Audio guides and walking tours. Many cities offer free audio guides and walking tours. (Ahem, we offer one in my hometown that I worked on!) You can almost always find a free tour (or downloadable app) that takes you to some unique, off-the-beaten-track places. For example, Chicago Walking Tours offer Free Tours by Foot. (Tips are encouraged, but not required.) A lot of free audio guide apps are available to download for some National Parks , such as this one for Death Valley. It pays to do a little research on the place you’re going to see what downloads or walking tours are available. (Pun intended.)
2. Admission to some zoos, museums and parks. There are almost always some free admission to attractions in any city or country. For example, in one of the most expensive cities to visit, London, you can see most of the greatest museums for free: British Library, National Gallery, British Museum, etc. All of the monuments and Smithsonian Museums are free in Washington D.C. (Perks of our taxes already paying for them). St. Louis Zoo and the Smithsonian National Zoo in D.C. are free as well. Additionally, many cities that require you to pay for admission offer free admission days. When we visited Lisbon, we museum-hopped on Sunday and enjoyed free admission to all the major sites. Some museums may have a certain day or time that offers free admission, so even if you think it costs money, check their website. You may be able to work your schedule around so you can visit free-of-charge! Although our National Parks aren’t free (they’re not expensive, but they’re not free), there are many local city and state parks that are free.
3. Viewing the sunrise and sunset. Wherever you visit, you can find a place to view the sunrise or sunset, which happens every day and its at no cost to you. Do some research on the best places to view this in any city. For you Ohioians, someone already did the leg-work for you! Check out this article with some of the best places to view the sun’s beauty in Ohio cities.
4. People-watching. One of my favorite things to do in any city is watch people. I like to find a bench, eat a snack and watch other people live their lives. If you’re thinking, “that is creepy,” I’d like to ask you how many shows you’ve watched on Netflix, which is basically watching other people live their lives. This is just doing it in person. Tip: wear sunglasses to avoid making direct eye-contact with people, which in my experience makes people uncomfortable.
5. Finding souvenirs. Sure, most souvenirs cost money, however some are free! Many city visitor centers give away cool maps, post cards or other paper items you can take along. If you’re at the beach, shells and other drifted items make a neat take-away. I’ve found cool rocks and interesting tree pieces on the ground in parks that I’ve kept. (I’m not sure if this is always kosher, although in Ecuador, our guide tore something off the tree and gave it to me to take home. I still have it!) If you’re at a unique restaurant that you want to remember, look and see if they have sugar packets, matchbooks or napkins with their name and logo on it. I saved a sugar packet from Cafe A Brasileira because that place was awesome. And of course, my favorite souvenir: photographs. Take as many as you want… and they come with you for free!
6. Wandering. Never underestimate wandering. Some of my most treasured travel moments are the times when you have no plan, you just walk around and see what you find. You may see some interesting architecture, beautiful nature, meet a new person or see some animals. It’s fun to explore, get lost and enjoy wherever you are. And of course, it’s free.
7. Visiting the water-front. Anywhere I am staying, I find myself wandering over to the water-front areas. Not every place has this, but when they do, some of the best people watching is there, and you get to see boats coming in and out of the harbor. A relaxing, and free thing to do!
8. Meeting new people. One of the reasons I love to stay in bed and breakfasts is because you get to meet other people, and talk to them and maybe even make a new friend. In Santiago, we sat around the breakfast table with people from Mexico, Paris, Germany and Brazil. Not everyone spoke English well, but somehow between all of us, we were able to use words from different languages to carry on a conversation. Pretty cool experience, and of course, it was free!
What is your favorite free thing to do when traveling?