Will Tesco be your holiday saviour or would you prefer a walk in a rainforest? Alison Brace looks at the cheap options
Is it really possible to travel for free? We're not talking about bus passes or becoming a stowaway. This is about making holidays more affordable. As you have to travel during peak holiday times, it's easy to feel you are being fleeced by tour operators. So, here are one or two options.
How about a sponsored trek? Visit an exciting location, meet new people and raise money for charity - in exchange for a small fee. ActionAid (www.actionaid.org.uk) is organising a two week trek to the Brazilian rainforest in August.
You pay a pound;300 registration fee and raise pound;3,100 sponsorship.
The rest is free. As well as lush rainforests, unspoiled beaches and sea-kayaking, you will see ActionAid's work in Rio de Janeiro and how the money you raised is being used.
Or how about Iceland? An eight-day trek in August is advertised by www.doitforcharity.com and you can donate the required pound;2,500 sponsorship to any charity. You fly to Reykjavik on August 18 and by day three, you will be enjoying the lava fields of Domadalshraun and relaxing in hot springs.
And then there are working holidays. You could always help restore a chateau in France. If you are skilled in drystone walling, stonemasonry, leaded glass making - or simpler pursuits such as gardening or historical research - then a stint at the late medieval Chateau de St-Ferriol in the Languedoc could be for you.
You need to contact the chateau two weeks before your intended departure.
Once there, accommodation and food is provided for a five-hour working day.
If you have a spirit of adventure, Voluntary Services Overseas is always on the lookout for teachers to help on projects in 34 developing countries. If you have management experience, VSO offers summer placements for a month.
"We pay for the flight, accommodation and volunteers get a local live-in allowance," says Abbie Fulbrook of VSO Insurance. Visas are dealt with too.
If working or trekking is not your idea of fun, how else can you travel for free, or reduce costs considerably? There's always the obvious: organise a school trip. But is that a holiday? How about camping in a friend's garden? Even better, borrow the friend's house. As long as it's in some exotic location.
For a more formalised arrangement, register with the house-swapping company www.homebase-hols.com You register for a year for pound;29, two years for pound;39 and take your pick of houses all over the world. Just make sure people might want to come and stay in yours.
Becoming an air courier and carrying documents for a business is another way of travelling cheaply. Sign up with www.courier.org, pay a small joining fee and take your pick. Only a handful of flights are free, but you can save up to 85 per cent.
Of course, your free holiday could just be languishing at the bottom of a drawer. When was the last time you checked how many air miles you have, or Amex points? Do you collect supermarket loyalty points? With Tesco, pound;10 worth of its vouchers is worth pound;40 when spent with one of their selected tour operators or travel companies.
For next year, book ahead. At least nine months bags the best bargains. For more information, see www.moneysavingexpert.com, www.bargainholidays.com or look at Teletext's holiday listings.
Or you could just stay at home. Put your feet up. Enjoy a glass of wine.
Save the cash - and the hassle