How to Live for Free in One of the World's Most Expensive Cities

Many of us backpackers put up with uncomfortable and cramped seats for long periods of time, hostels with another 20 people sharing the same room, an ever increasing hole in the wallet to experience each and every country, and an unhealthy diet merely so we can experience and learn about the world we live in. Backpackers constantly strive to find the cheapest bus ticket, hostel, tour package, and of course, food.

What would you say if I were to tell you that there is a way to do it almost all for free?

Freegan in Australia

Freeganism in Sydney

Australia is known as one of the world’s most expensive backpacking destinations,  where the large majority of backpackers will spend usually one or two years working their way around the country in order to cover their travel expenses.

On my last visit to Australia, in six weeks I didn’t spend even $1 on accommodation, less than $100 on travel and less than $20 on food. I had already used my working visa a few years beforehand and so the luxury of accumulating some sort of income while I was there was nonexistent. So I sought, and found, another way to do it. I spent the majority of my time in Sydney, one of the world’s most expensive cities. However found myself eating more healthily, sleeping better, experiencing more and spending less than the ‘normal backpacker’ lifestyle offers. The lifestyle I was living was called freeganism.

Freeganism is where both your travelling and living expenses amount to almost nothing. It's not stealing and nor is it sponging off the government; it's simply using your highly adaptable travelling skills to the best of your ability so as to not pay for things. I had little choice of whether to live this lifestyle or not as previously my belongings had been stolen leaving me with no money, no access to money and very little way of surviving in such an expensive destination.

Free sleeping

Couchsurfing

Finding free accommodation was my first step towards alleviating expenses. The main ways to sleep for free in Australia generally include camping, couch surfing, volunteering or house sitting. House sitting occupied the bulk of my accommodation needs with couch surfing saving me on various days when I couldn’t find anything else. You may think that house sitting is hard to find, but much like the universal volunteer organisations such as helpx, workaway and WWOOF, Australia is a very hospitable country in terms of house sitting as there is an organisation that opens a door to a database of houses which need to be sat, and therefore your free accommodation.

Free travelling

Travel was the next obstacle that I had to get over. It is very well house sitting, but usually the houses are in the suburbs. The choices lay in either walking or hitchhiking. Hitchhiking in Australia is not the same as in Europe. Everybody does it and so it is perceived as a little safer. I hitchhiked whenever possible, walked when I couldn’t hitchhike and sometimes would catch the bus. It wasn’t until I caught a few buses that the very little money I possessed left my purse. To get around the expensive bus fares, the purchase of a ten rider student card became a priority. 

Free eating

Freegan living in Sydney

Acquiring food is where my friends and I had the most fun. I was living with another three freegans, who all in their own rights were living such a lifestyle for various reasons. Underlying motivations differed slightly but nevertheless, we had four mouths to feed. You may be thinking that food was scarce and difficult to obtain, and that’s if we even had food. This was not the case and in fact it was quite the opposite.

We found ourselves with an abundance of delicious foods, usually accompanied by a large amount of fruit. Our best finds consisted of approximately 11 melons one day, 10 punnets of berries another day, 10 avocados another day, 4 or 5 bunches of bananas another day and an entire box of stone fruit another day. That’s not to mention untouched watermelons, pineapples and the pure wealth of greens we experienced.

We did it through effort, self motivation and endurance. Walking around the smaller regions in the suburbs of Sydney we hit up each and every vegetable shop we could find. We spoke to management or employees and plainly asked if, whatever food they were going to throw out at the end of the day, they could leave in a box for us. Some of them looked at us in an odd manner while declining and others had no problem with it. Later in the night we would return to collect the food which was left out the back for us. Some people may class this as dumpster diving but the reality of it was that it was simply using what nobody else wanted.  The underlying philosophy of why we chose vegetable shops was because we believe there is too much waste in this world (especially from vegetable shops) and we wanted to prove that ‘waste’ food is not necessarily ‘waste’ quality. 

Not once did we get ill, experience bad food or dislike the taste. We even had a dinner party on said ‘recycled food’ and not only did people not notice they were eating food that was classed as waste but they complemented its taste.

An experience like no other

Through eating, sleeping, travelling and living a freegan lifestyle, the backpacker experience turns from conventional to unconventional. It becomes one of excitement, adventure, appreciation and realisation of what one can achieve for very little money from a completely different and unexpected angle.

When I am not volunteering I am living a freegan lifestyle and when living a freegan lifestyle you will never know what is around the corner.