Article Words : Louise Spratt | 11 December

5 alternative ways to travel

For the first-timer, travelling is an exhilarating yet daunting concept. Where on earth (quite literally) should you start? Here's a few alternative ways to see the world

While the free-spirited explorer is blissfully unaware of where they are headed, how they will get there or where they will sleep, the no-hassle traveller might prefer to have every aspect of the trip planned in advance. Especially if they're just starting out.

Travel doesn't have to be limited to the backpackers’ trail or a travel company’s package. First-time travel is now easier, safer, and more varied than ever with alternative approaches opening doors to everyone, whatever the type of traveller they are, or will become…

The environmentally-friendly: WWOOFing

Though the acronym suggests travel for dog-lovers, this network of international organisations is actually aimed at those interested in learning about sustainable lifestyles and organic cultivation. Pick strawberries, harvest coffee, feed livestock, make wine and more, on farms all around the world.

Since 1971, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms has linked enthusiastic volunteers with host farms as a means of spreading the word about ecologically sound living. Volunteers can participate in the daily running of organic farms in over 30 countries spanning the continents and, in return for their assistance, are provided with accommodation and food on site.

Although there is no single membership fee, the participation costs range from a reasonable £6 to £30, and some destinations even offer free membership making WWOOFing an economically viable option for the traveller who is keen to muck in.

The social networker: Couchsurfing

What differentiates Couchsurfing from many other travel organisations is its mission to build a global community and to make travel accessible to everyone. The concept is simple: sign up to a social network and surf your way around the world by staying with friendly, like-minded people for free or by offering your own sofa.

Not only does this exchange of accommodation remove the exclusivity from exploration, it also encourages the connection of cultures and allows visitors to benefit from local insider knowledge that no guidebook can compete with.

Creating a profile on the Couchsurfing website is free and easy with subheadings detailing languages spoken, personal philosophies and basic information facilitating the matching of hosts and surfers. Hosts are not only required for accommodation, their services as tour guides in their city and coffee or beer companion are also greatly appreciated, while surfers can socialise on the regularly organised activities including drinks or games nights, day trips and language exchanges.

The career-focused: Leonardo da Vinci

Part of the European Commission’s ‘Lifelong Learning’ scheme, the Leonardo da Vinci programme funds ten-week internships and practical projects to encourage individuals to gain vocational training abroad. Open to citizens of the EU who have graduated from university, successful applicants benefit from funded accommodation, return flights, insurance and a two-week language course.

For those torn between the desire to travel and the need to gain valuable work experience for the future, this programme is the ideal option: participants not only learn about the way of life in another European city, they will also enhance their CV with new professional skills and certification.

Participants are required to attend an interview as part of the application process to ensure they have the suitable skills and potential for their chosen internship. Placements in a range of sectors including Business, Tourism, Marketing and Journalism are offered and applicants can opt for their preferred destination.

The culture vulture: Language schools/host families

Travelling doesn’t have to mean constant border hopping. For the first timer, such hectic itineraries can be too ambitious. A great way to dip your toes into new cultures is by spending quality time in one country, instead of a fleeting visit.

Taking a language course and living with a local family is an enriching way to really experience your destination; learning a language will not only open doors to you in terms of your career, it is also the best way to integrate yourself into another culture, to understand the natives and what makes them tick.

Opt for the host family accommodation and you will have more opportunities to practice the lingo and more support than if you were to stay in a student residence (the host “mum’s” cooking is also an advantage). The routine of the language course provides both security and new experiences; morning classes allow students to relax and socialise in the afternoons, while organised weekend trips are a great opportunity to discover more of what the chosen country has to offer.

The brave and the bold: Carpooling

If train travel seems like an overrated expense and cramped coach journeys are your idea of hell, then why not hitch a ride? No thumb-waggling required: Carpooling, and other similar websites such as Go Car Share and Bla Bla Car, provide a social network for travellers looking to share their journeys.

Drivers offer seats while passengers can seek drivers with the same destination in order to split petrol costs, provide company on tedious journeys and, even better, to go green by reducing CO2 emissions. Not only is car sharing a cheaper, more flexible option than most forms of public transport, it’s also an opportunity to meet interesting people along the way and share travel stories.

There is the obvious safety issue of getting into cars with strangers, so familiarise yourself with the website’s code of conduct or steps to take in the event of a problem and try to be a smart judge of character. The social network format provides you with photos and information about the users so you can establish contact and communication with driver or passengers before accepting.

What started as a hands-on approach of improving language skills, soon developed into a snowballing obsession with travel for Louise Spratt. Her love of everything Hispanic has thus far carried her to mountains and jungles in South America and currently to the life in Spain, but there’s still a whole world out there for the trotamundos (globetrotters) to explore... Take a look at Louise's website here.

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