It’s around now that the big summer trip starts beckoning. The UK sunshine has faltered after much promise, the end of term is fast approaching and the rest of the office is starting to point out that they won’t be in next month’s meeting. 

It’s time for a holiday. There’s only one issue – the cash. 

So what do you do? While here in the UK rail bosses have reluctantly admitted that there are cheaper ways to travel (by splitting your journey into different tickets, as we already knew), we thought it was high time to go the whole hog and explore the options for totally free holidays that can do a little better than a damp trip to Birmingham New Street.

Be a leader

The standard advice for those after a free holiday is to get involved in a working one. There are certainly plenty of varied and compelling options out there, ranging from well-established TEFL programmes for the budding English teachers among you, to volunteering on organic farms through Wwoof in return for bed and board in some of the most remote or recognisable spots on Earth depending on your personal preference.

Durations range from a few weeks to months or even years. Many are reliable, fun, cheap and worthwhile. 

But for the true holiday seekers out there, for whom the whole point of a break is to actually have a break, there are a few well kept secrets you probably need to know about. 

Organising a big trip is one. As a group or tour leader you’ll often find your own travel and accommodation costs are written off by the travel company, cruise operator, airline or hotel. 

Yes, you’ll have to do a bit of admin – including liaising with the tour operator, holiday provider or travel company, confirming traveller details, arranging itineraries, insurance, that kind of thing. Depending on the provider, your group will have to be a minimum number of travellers too, and you may be encouraged or obliged to sell your group day trips and other add-ons. 

But this is a well established perk with a number of prominent businesses so it’s always worth investigating, especially if your holiday of choice is one involving a coachload of friends. 

Delivery drivers wanted

If you’re tired of the standard two weeks in a nondescript Mediterranean resort there are other ways to see the world, including for free. 

Vehicles of all shapes and sizes are transported all over Europe and the wider world for a whole host of reasons – because they’re made in one country and sold in another, or they’ve been repaired, or the owner needs them thousands of miles from their current location but can’t manage to do it themselves, for example.

That’s when an enthusiastic, yet amateur driver or sailor could come in handy – and you could be the ideal person to get that yacht, motorhome, car or van to its destination. And that destination could be anywhere from Southampton to Saint Lucia.

There are myriad websites that match up deliveries and the teams to get the job done. For boat deliveries for example, Crewseekers is one of the best known. Though its free to trawl through the database of crew required and basic details about the trips being arranged, there’s a subscription fee of £75 for six months to contact the skipper or owner. 

Some passages will involve contributing to costs like food and fuel, some will be free of charge and some will even compensate you for your efforts on board.  

If you’re more comfortable on dry land it may be worth considering motorhome or campervan deliveries. Though there’s often a security deposit involved, you’ll find you can pick your own itinerary and route for a nominal fee of, say £1 a day, to drive around Europe in a brand new bungalow on wheels. Already well known in the US, Canada and Australia and New Zealand, this is fast becoming a popular choice for Europeans, especially retirees with time on their hands. 

Travel in trust

Then there are the organisations that will simply pay for you to travel, broaden your mind and bring it back to share with others. 

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust is one of the best known, with former beneficiaries including sporting heroes, cutting edge scientists and all sorts of “ordinary” people in between.

As the trust itself says: “The fellowships provide a unique opportunity for UK citizens to travel overseas to bring back fresh ideas and new solutions to today’s issues, for the benefit of others in the UK. This allows them to maximise what they can achieve in their lifetime, both as leaders and role models to inspire others, but also in personal development terms.”

These opportunities are offered to people of any age, gender, ethnicity or religion, with or without educational qualifications, and in any occupation or none. 

Current opportunities open to almost anyone include studies into everything from rural living to emergency services.  

Then again there are also plenty of travel bursaries for those with specific backgrounds. Greece, Armenia, Hungary and Israel, for example, all have long running programmes designed to encourage those lucky enough to have the right combination of genetics to rediscover their heritage with a trip to “home” soil. 

Cheap and cheerful?

While organisation and plenty of advance planning are key to securing a free or nearly free trip, there can be hidden financial implications too. Alongside doing everything you can to ensure the company or organisation you work with is legitimate, legal and established, any kind of “non-standard” travel needs to be carefully insured.  

“More and more holidaymakers are planning their own trips and booking their flights, accommodation, and extras such as car hire separately,” says Matt Sanders, at GoCompare travel insurance. “But by doing so, they will not have the same protection that they would have done if they had booked a package holiday and can be left facing a big bill if one part of the trip goes wrong.

“Even a good standard travel insurance policy may not automatically cover the cost of your flight tickets if your chosen airline goes bust, for example. You need to look for scheduled airline failure insurance (Safi). If the airline goes out of business before your trip, Safi covers any irrecoverable flight costs if you have to cancel your plans.

“If you already have a travel policy and it doesn’t include Safi cover you can buy stand-alone cover.”

Another way to protect your holiday payments is to pay for everything on a credit card. If you’ve bought your tickets using a credit card, you’ll be protected if the airline goes out of business under the Consumer Credit Act 1974, providing that the cost was between £100 and £30,000.

“But if you use a debit card to pay for the flights, then you’ll only be covered if you can prove that you used your overdraft facility specifically to buy them,” says Sanders. “And if you paid for the tickets with cash or a cheque, unfortunately you’re not likely to get your money back under consumer legislation.”

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