Before we get into exactly what you can get and how you can get it, the main strategy for getting free things is to be polite. Working in hospitality can be stressful, and most workers have no incentive to go out of their way to a rude or entitled customer. Whenever you interact, be polite and leave a tip as a gesture of thanks for good service.
Free extra nights at your hotel
Some hotels offer free nights if you extend your stay. This is especially popular in the Pacific Islands in destinations like Fiji. For example, if you stay for five nights at Mantaray Island Resort, the hotel will let you stay for two extra days free. While not all hotels advertise this, you can ask if they are happy to offer any specials if you extend your stay. This is a great strategy to do during low season, when hotels are less likely to be fully booked.
Free hotel upgrades
If you’re on holiday celebrating a special occasion, let the hotel staff know. Sometimes, they’ll offer complimentary upgrades or bottles of champagne.
It also never hurts to ask – so long as you’re polite about it. Dressing up, showing your loyalty card, and leaving a small tip certainly won’t hurt your chances. Read reviews of the hotel in advance to see if anyone has recommended a specific room and if so, ask for that one.
Most desk agents have seen it all when it comes to people hoping for upgrades – strategies like complaining about something petty, casually mentioning your 56 Instagram followers, or faking a honeymoon when you’re fighting like you belong on a mid-day reality TV show. Good manners and a direct, polite request is a small action that can upgrade you from the standard to deluxe room.
Free water at the airport
Australians cannot travel with more than 100 millilitres onto the plane. However, you are allowed to carry an empty bottle through security and refill it at one of the water fountains inside the airport. Your days of paying $6 for a small bottle of water before a flight are officially over.
Free flight upgrade
Like getting a hotel upgrade, dressing well and asking politely is your best chance of getting bumped to the front of the plane. Many airlines also offer an opportunity to bid in advance for an upgrade, where you can get moved for much less than buying a business class fare at full price.
Kids eat (and stay) free!
If you’re a travelling family, there are many restaurants, hotels, and attractions that let children eat or accompany an adult, for free! Hotel chains like the Holiday Inn, Apex Hotels, and Heritage Hotels let children eat and stay free (under certain conditions).
Free museum admission
Many museums are open to the public for free during certain days or certain times of the year. In the United States, museums often have free admission on Tuesdays. If seeing a museum or gallery is one of your highlights, look online in advance to see if they offer any free days and plan your trip around that schedule.
Even if admission is not free, there are often free events that showcase sections of the museum that are free for the public. Even world-famous museums like the [Prado] (https://www.museodelprado.es/en)in Madrid and the Louvre offer free admission at specific times.
In Sydney, museums like the Nicholson Archeology Museum, the Sydney Observatory, and the Reserve Bank of Australia offer free admission. There is also the National Gallery in Melbourne, the Aboriginal Art Gallery in Perth, and more all throughout Australia.
Free walking tours
‘Free’ walking tours aren’t technically free because it’s polite to tip at the end, but they are a great way to experience a new city from the eyes of a local without spending much money at all. Walking tours often have a theme, like food, culture, or top highlights, where you’re led by a trusty guide to places you likely wouldn’t have discovered on your own.
The real benefit is that during the tour, you’ll be able to ask your guide for insider advice on free things to do. The tours tend to be led by university students, retirees, or folks who have lived in the city for a long time. They’ll know where to go! Simply search for "free walking tour + (city)".
The Global Greeters network is also a program where volunteers around the globe offer to guide tourists around – for free! They have guides in nearly every country.
Free audio guides
Are you more of a D.I.Y. traveller who’d prefer to sightsee at your own pace? There are a handful of free audio guides where you can simply click play and wander to your heart’s content. Check out iAudioguide app or look on the tourism board’s website of the destination you plan to visit to see if they’ve developed one.
Free stays with Couchsurfing or home-exchange
One of the most authentic ways to see a destination is through Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is when you stay with a local in their home for free. The idea is that someday, you might host your Couchsurfing buddy in return or teach them something about your culture.
Every Couchsurfing situation is different. Some hosts expect you to hang out together for your entire stay while others will give you a pair of keys to come and go as you please. You can also try other exchange sites like Trusted Housesitters or Housesitters, where you look after someone’s home or pets while they’re away. Home Exchange is a website where you can swap homes with people to get an experience of what life is like in a different part of the globe. WOOFing is a program where you work in exchange for food and rent.
National park admission
Like museums, many countries offer free admission to their national parks during holidays or certain times of the month.
The United States has over 400 national parks – many are free – but the ones that typically charge a fee, like Yellowstone or Yosemite, are free on certain holidays. Canada allows anyone aged 17 and under in for free all year round. European national parks like Jotunheimen in Norway, Vatnajökull (Europe’s largest national park) in Iceland, Olympus in Greece, and Gran Padariso in Italy are all free for adventurous travellers.
About the author
Chantae Reden // Chantae Was Here
Chantae Reden is a journalist who writes about adventure, politics, extreme sports, and travel. She believes every stranger is a potential friend. You can find more adventure writing on her blog, Chantae Was Here or on The Salt Sirens, her ocean-sports website.