How I Traveled the World for 18 Months and Spent $1,038 on Accommodation

For a year and a half, I traveled between nine countries and spent $1,038 on accommodation. Pretty good, if I do say so myself. This is exactly how I did it.

I was about two years into my initial journey when I realized that the most expensive piece of my trip was consistently my accommodation (took me long enough, wouldn’t you say?).

In Australia and New Zealand, a cheap dorm room in a hostel can cost between $20-$30 per night, and in the USA, a cheap bed will cost you at least $35. Add that up over a series of months, and you’ve got some serious expenditures to take care of.

For 18 months of my journey, I traveled the world on a limited budget, spending next to nothing on my accommodation. With the right travel style and mindset, pulling this off is actually an attainable goal.

As with everything in life (and especially in travel), nothing just happens the way you want it to. You have to create the right situations for yourself. It’s not always easy, and sometimes it’s downright stressful. But if you work towards the right goals, and work towards finding the best way to accomplish them, achieving those goals is next to guaranteed.

Work and Travel

Pai, Thailand
The sun sets over beautiful Pai in Northern Thailand

I’m a big proponent of working while you travel. I like to travel slowly, taking in the local cultures and meeting the local people, while exploring the area and refilling my travel fund. As a cocktail bartender, I’ve been working around the world, often staying in different places for a few months at a time. Upon my return to Wellington, New Zealand in 2012, I arranged for my employer to cover my accommodation. As it turns out, they had an apartment that wasn’t being used; all I had to do was ask and they agreed to let me stay.

As a “global employee,” many employers will provide accommodation. Whether you work in a bar, on a farm, or you teach English abroad, all of these options can be arranged to include housing.

For two months I stayed in Wellington rent-free, but with pending visa complications, I made the quick decision to jump ship. Without even knowing where I would go, and with very little money at that time, I got in touch with Liz, a lovely bar patron of mine whom I met the previous year.

She lived in Brisbane, Australia, and quickly I booked a ticket.

Duration: Two months
Cost: $0

Trust Strangers. And the Universe.

Lantau Island, Hong Kong
Lantau Island, Hong Kong

I spent a week in Liz’s guest room, at which point she kindly asked me to remove myself from her household. During that week, she had introduced me to a number of her friends, whom I then asked for couch space. Nikki, who actually lived down the street, had no problem letting me crash! For three months, I cleaned the house and kitchen in exchange for a bed which she set up in the living room.

Couchsurfing is a great way to sleep for free. I’m not talking about using the website, though. Just use your own personal network! A single person, Liz, changed my entire journey, and I couldn’t have completed it without her.

Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.

I didn’t have a clue where I was going, where I would sleep, or how I would survive. I put my faith in the universe and, in doing so, put faith back in myself. I flew to a completely different country without a plan.

In trusting both strangers and the big scary world around me, I found not only a place to sleep but excellent new friends.

Duration: Five months
Cost: Still $0

Teach English Abroad

Teaching English in China
Teaching English in Xi’an, China

After three months in Brisbane, working under the table at a local nightclub (it can be done!), I took up a contract teaching English in China.

Most, if not all teaching jobs in Asia, come with accommodation included in the foreigner job package.

I stayed in central China for six months, teaching English to four-year-olds. I spent quite a bit of time traveling around the country, too, utilizing my school breaks to see as much as I could. It was then, during my short travels, that I actually spent my first dollars on housing. I visited numerous provinces around China and went to Singapore for ten days. All in all, I paid for about one month of accommodation in hostels, priced between $2.50/night and $25/night.

Duration: 11 months
Cost: $386

Keep Working

Koh Rong, Cambodia
The island of Koh Rong, in Southern Cambodia.

When I decided I was done with teaching, I returned to my normal “day job” as a cocktail bartender and I moved to Beijing. I spent one month living in a hostel there until I finally nailed down the job I was looking for. I landed a three-month contract at the best cocktail bar in the city which, once again, included accommodation in the package.

The best way to lead a location independent lifestyle is to be good enough at something that you can do it, and make money doing it, from anywhere in the world. And it’s even better if your particular skill set can be applied to short-term contracts, which doesn’t tie you down to one place for very long.

Duration: 15 months
Cost: $606


Waterfall in Southern Laos
A gigantic waterfall in Southern Laos

I had spent almost three-and-a-half years abroad at this point, so I decided to return to America, where I would spend time reconnecting with family and friends. But first I would travel for another ten weeks in Southeast Asia!

I visited Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, and I paid full price for accommodation over the entire ten week period, which added up to $326 in total. I stayed in guesthouses and hostels and spent an average of $7 per night.

Sometimes, it’s important to just splurge! Don’t get too caught up in your finances, because you’ll never enjoy the world around you.

I spent my time in Beijing saving for my trip around Southeast Asia, knowing that I would be paying full price for accommodation, and I ended up having an unforgettable experience.

Duration: 17.5 months
Cost: $1,038

Call on Your Friends

After a ten week whirlwind, and landing back on familiar ground (or very unfamiliar ground, as life would have it), I stayed with my sister, and then with my mother. I quickly took off to road trip the States for a month, during which time I called only on my friends! I met up with people I hadn’t seen in more than ten years, and I reconnected with people that I had actually met on my travels, on the other side of the world. Old friends and new friends alike opened their homes to me, provided me with couches, beds, and teddy bears to cuddle with, and I never once had to worry about where I would sleep.

Duration: 18.5 months
Cost: Still only $1,038!

The number one thing to remember about traveling, and this is probably the hardest part, is that sometimes you just have to ask. You’ll never get what you want out of life if you don’t ask people to give it to you.

This goes for friends, strangers, and professional acquaintances. Sometimes you just have to go out on a limb and trust that people, and the universe, are looking out for you. You may not have met these people yet, but I guarantee they’re out there.

And you might even get some free accommodation out of it!


About the Author

Jeremy Scott Foster

Jeremy Scott Foster is an adventure-junkie, gear expert and travel photographer based in Southern California. Previously nomadic, he’s been to ~50 countries and loves spending time outdoors. You can usually find him on the trail, on the road, jumping from bridges or hustling on his laptop working to produce the best travel and outdoors content today.
  1. Great post! As for teaching, you are absolutely right! China needs a lot of foreign teachers here and you can get paid a lot if you decide to stay here for at least 6 months. You also get a free apartment and food which is amazing! For the rest of countries you can always do couchsurfing! 😀

    1. The foreigner job package can be pretty sweet! My only advice to anyone who accepts one is to do their research because it can be easy to get conned into signing a bad one!

  2. So what you really meant to say was “travel the world for a year and spend $1,038 on accommodation, and then spend another six months relying on the charity of others”.

    It’s just a shame you felt you had to couch your article with inflated numbers, because there was actually some decent advice hiding between the half-truths. Oh well.

    1. Is it inherently wrong to rely on the kindness of other people? There are good people everywhere and, in an effort to better ourselves, I believe it is our worldly duty to help others who are in need. I have asked for assistance, but I have also repaid it in droves.

      1. Forget that guy. It doesn’t seem as if you relied on charity at all. You mentioned cleaning and helping out in exchange. Value for value.

        1. Thanks, Will! You’re absolutely right. I did everything I could, at every corner, to make my time there worth it to them. I was, and still am, deeply indebted to the people who looked after me, but I definitely did my part to repay them.

    1. But it can also be very expensive! These tips may not work for everyone, but if you really try, it can, indeed, be done on a dime!

  3. Great article, but can’t believe you forgot to mention the best pillow you ever had (free of charge, of course)

    1. Sorry, Ern. I didn’t mean to neglect you, but you can’t always be the center of attention. Sometimes that’s my job.

      And thanks, Morgan, for making this incredibly flattering photo of me so very, very public.

  4. Hey Jeremy! To reiterate what Will below said, from the couchsurfing’s host’s side, what you did was a good exchange. I actually use the website, and have hosted 30 people in Chicago. As long as my surfer and I had a good rapport and they were willing to cook dinner once a week or something, the cultural exchange and help around the house make it all worthwhile. Most of the time my surfers stay less than a week, and sometimes I’m disappointed that they’re leaving. You were a good guest, and were invited to share living space and an experience. In fact, when I went to China last fall, it was to visit a girl who stayed with me one week in February 2013!

    I know that teaching English in Asia usually includes accommodation, but I wondered if anyone knows anything about teaching in Europe in non-EU countries or South America? I know that as a North American, I’ll never get a visa to teach in the EU thanks to Great Britain. My research seems to show that non-EU countries in Europe tend to be more of a crap shoot, and take a lot more research due to foreign teachers getting taken advantage of more. It is likely I will end up in South Korea for one year, so just wondered if any readers or you had more info outside of Asia?

    Thanks for writing about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it; your blog is what inspired me to get my TEFL certification and finally start teaching to travel the world!

    1. So great to hear from you, Jennifer, and thanks for validating my experience over the past couple of years. I truly believe it was a beneficial and fun situation for all parties involved. Some might call it being a freeloader, but I think my work around the house and my other contributions more than made up for it.

      As for teaching English, I don’t know much about it outside of Asia. South Korea is definitely one of the more lucrative places to teach, so I’d definitely keep that close to the top of your list. Have you checked out Dave’s ESL Cafe? That’s a really good resource. Just make sure you cross your T’s and dot your I’s.

      I’m so happy to hear that my blog has inspired you and that you are fulfilling your dreams to travel the world! Don’t ever hesitate to get in touch!

  5. I like that you do your own couch surfing instead of using the website. We reduce our costs by house sitting 🙂

  6. Great read. I used couchsurfing only once, and then I stayed with someone who a friend already had tested out, so to speak. 🙂

  7. Great effort Jeremy and thanks for sharing. We try to use Couchsurfing as much as possible. We love meeting local people and exchange stories and travel tips. We were hosts when we were home in Australia and loved being on the other side too. We have talked about Teaching English aboard. It’s a qualification that we would both love to have and it would be such a rewarding job. Of course the accommodation and pay would be a bonus. It would definitely keep us on the road longer. 🙂

  8. That is pretty well done! Couchsurfing is an excellent way not only to save money, but to get to know the culture and new people. Great tips!

  9. Great read, thanks for sharing and inspiring many others that want to travel and think that is too expensive. We (me and Dale) are quite budget travellers and have been reaching out for friends’ help and hospitality, we’ve also volunteered, we are huge fans of Couchsurfing too and have been house and petsitting quite a bit too. There are so many ways to avoid breaking the bank and still travelling 🙂

    1. Those are all great ways to stay on a budget when traveling. I haven’t gotten into housesitting much, yet, but I’m looking forward to trying it in the future!

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