How to Travel — and Eat — the World for Free

Staff Writer
World traveler Michael Wigge gives his tips on his upcoming TV show
Michael Wigge shows off his knife and edible jungle fruit-eating skills.
Courtesy of Michael Wigge/ Megan Renart

Michael Wigge shows off his knife and edible jungle fruit-eating skills.

The excuse that you "don't have the money to travel" is no good anymore: after journalist and filmmaker Michael Wigge tested out how to travel the world on a zero-dollar budget, he's managed to do it.

Wigge, whose new TV show and book (both named How to Travel the World for Free) come out at the end of the month, detailed to USA Today and the Salem News how he managed to accomplish the feat with literally no money. Our biggest concern: How did he eat? (We hope he studied up on his global table manners, too.) We got exclusive tips from the bargaining traveler himself (in an email; he's on the road in Germany, of course):

Barter for food, or ask for it for free: Daunting much? Believe it: Wigge says that when he offered his services to a restaurant or shop to say, sweep the floors in exchange for food, it worked about 80 percent of the time in 11 countries. Or, if you're feeling brave, get up the guts to ask for free stuff.  "Typically I just started asking for free food, explaining that I was trying to travel the world for free," said Wigge. "If restaurant and shop owners weren't convinced by that argument, I offered them stories from my experiences traveling. The next step was offering my cleaning services... Rarely did anybody choose to not participate in this."

And hey, you might even get it for free — never hurts to ask. "When I bartered in a bakery in Belgium, each of the three baker ladies tried to out-do each other in generosity," said Wigge." I ended up with several full breads, eight buns, and several packages of cookies, enough food for three full days." Wigge said he had the best luck getting free food in the U.S. and Canada, in all sorts of settings: fast-food joints, food markets, even high-class restaurants.

Dumpster dive: Don't be afraid to get in and get dirty; supermarkets often throw out meats, cheeses, even produce that haven't expired yet. "It was a free world travelers' heaven," Wigge said. However, be warned: it's not easy. "If you want to do this as well, please watch out," Wigge said. "Many supermarkets don't like people opening their dumpsters. I did it at nighttime and quickly left." Wigge said in some cases, you may be able to ask the managers in advance, who will give you free food. 

• Eat flowers: The edible ones, obviously. The second "free traveler's heaven," Wigge said, were edible plants. When Wigge met an alternative lifestyle community in Hawaii, they showed him which fruits from jungle trees were edible. Another man living in the woods showed him the edible flowers, "After eating about 30 of them my meal was complete… yum," Wigge said.

Be open and willing: It's not always easy to travel the world for free, Wigge said. But his most memorable meal on the road was after a destitute trip through Bolivia (which he says is too poor to travel through for free). He said, "After quickly reaching Peru I was literally starving for food, since I was living on water and Coca-Cola for a while. A restaurant owner gave me a free meal after [I told] him my situation. Unfortunately, he gave me a cooked guinea pig, which is the local speciality." Even though guinea pig wasn't his meal of his choice, or something he would eat normally, "in that situation it was the tastiest guinea pig you can imagine," he said.