Posted March 3, 2012 by in Backpackology 101

Weekend Destination: Top 10 Free Vacations (2/5)

This article is part two of the five part series, “The Top 10 Free Vacations.”

You can find destinations #10 & #9 in Part One.

8. Couchsurfing Europe

Wait, couchsurfing… Is that like when you go to a stranger’s house and he feeds you dinner and tells you about his city before mercilessly raping you in his dungeon, removing your feet with garden shears, and fashioning them into slippers?


I mean, no, but some people seem to think so. It’s a shame, actually.

The truth is that, despite the amount of crime we perceive from the news, the couchsurfing program remains resiliently safe, and stands as a beautiful testament to the benevolence of strangers. And if you’re a seasoned couchsurfer already, then you might know that Europe is the undisputed Couchsurfing capital of the world. Berlin alone has over 36,998 hosts. London tops that with over 40, 680. And Paris? She takes the hospitality cake with over 48,680 gracious hosts, all eager to show you their city without asking a penny in return. (And if you can’t find anyone willing to host you, try using a different profile picture, crazy eyes).

Despite the fact that I’ve listed this as a “free” vacation, you can’t expect your host to feed you (though they sometimes do) (I always do). If they don’t, worry not! Even if your trip isn’t free, you can get pretty damned close. Cheap, delicious local fare is abundant, no matter where you are in the continent. Eat a slice of pizza by the Trevi Fountain in Rome, or fresh French bread with cheese in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. You can dine on bratwurst in Berlin, or Iskender Kebabs in Istanbul, all for only a few euros. And if you’re nightlife-inclined, simply pop into a friendly liquor store beforehand, pick up some two-euro wine, and don’t hit the clubs until your teeth are notably purple. Et voila! Dinner and a show for $5 or less.

When to Go: May-October

Length of Time: However long your little heart desires.

Cost: Free accommodation, possibly free food, but if not, its possible to eat on less than $20 per day. Airfare between cities not included, but Ryan Air offers miraculously cheap flights that cost little more than the airport tax.

Airfare Estimate: London and Dublin are the hub cities for Ryan Air, which is the cheapest way to explore the continent. New York to London, $900 RT; Los Angeles to London, $1,200 RT

7. Everest Base Camp Trek from Jiri

Hey, I’ve got a great idea. For spring break this year, why don’t you put that swimsuit away and work your body to near physical exhaustion?

Intrigued?  What if I told you it involved climbing above safe oxygen levels and risking a violent death of drowning in your own blood with a bad case of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema?

Is your heart tap dancing with excitement yet? What if I told you that you’d be climbing to the roof of the world, looking down from 18,000 feet at a vast sea of clouds, perforated by the peaks of the mighty Himalaya, and having one of the most unforgettable and cathartic experiences of your life? ANND you’ll even get in great shape and look hot by the end of it? After 23 days, I had the body of Eli Wiesel. No pain, no gain, right Eli? To be Franke, (another Holocaust reference?) the Mt. Everest Base Camp Trek doesn’t really belong on the list, because it’s not necessarily free. In fact, it’s downright expensive by Nepali standards—about $20 per day (though you could get by on $15—I did).

So why not make your once-in-a-lifetime-vacation a once-in-a-lifetime-free-vacation by doing the trek as a fundraiser for your favorite charity? A huge volume of crafty trekkers kill two birds with one stone by doing exactly that, and all you need to do is find a few sponsors (not hard! ‘I’m climbing Everest for _____’ has a heroic ring to it), and the charity takes care of the rest. Plus, it’s for a good cause! And if you’re actually considering doing the trek, don’t even think about flying into Lukla or skipping the mind-blowing, breathtakingly gorgeous high passes, which are challenging, sure, but remain the heart and soul of the whole Khumbu region. No trek would be complete without at least one (but go for all three!!). For assistance in arranging your Everest fundraiser, head on over to

When to Go: Mid-September to mid-December, and March to May

Length of Time: Starting in Jiri, looping the passes, and flying out of Lukla, about 26 days.

Cost: Free if a fundraiser, about $600 otherwise, including Lukla return flight. You could do it for less, however, (I did it in 23 days on $350), and you can sometimes haggle for free accommodation if you promise to eat all your meals at the guesthouse’s restaurant).

Airfare Estimate: New York to Kathmandu, $1,600 RT; Los Angeles to Kathmandu, $1,300 RT

To be continued next week, when we head to to the deserts of the Middle East and an isolated island adrift in the Asian tropics…


For destinations #6 & #5, continue to Part Three.

This article is Part Two of the five part series, “The Top 10 Free Vacations.”

You can find destinations #10 & #9 in Part One, destinations #6 & #5 in Part Three, destinations #4 & #3 in Part Four, and destinations #2 & #1 in Part Five.

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