How can I go on holiday for free?

Jody Thompson
Award-winning travel writer, blogs at, edits 101 Singles...

The only way you can go on a proper holiday completely for free is to win a competition to get an all-inclusive deal with flights. But there are lots of other ways you can get some – or all – of your holiday for free.

One is loyalty programmes – air miles, hotel points, getting a credit card that will get you air miles or things you can put towards loyalty programmes if you already travel a lot. Try and stick to the same airline and hotel chain and so on. You will almost certainly still have to pay some taxes and other expenses associated with it, but if you add all those points up it can reduce the cost of a holiday quite considerably.

Other big ways to get a nearly-free holiday are either house-sitting or house-swapping. Both of these, you have to pay a minimal amount to register with the website normally. It’s just like an admin fee, it’s not huge. With house-sitting, you normally have to do it for a reasonable length of time – you can’t do it usually for just a weekend – and you often have to do pet setting, though not always.

House-swapping is more flexible, but harder in that you’ve got to have a house that you’ll be able to swap. Then it’s a question of finding someone via websites looking for something that you happen to have. But even if you’re looking in the UK, in both these cases, you’ve got to pay to get there. In most cases anyway, you’re going to be going overseas. But at least it means the accommodation is covered.

Another way to get free accommodation would be wild camping. This depends if you’re happy to camp of course and there are restrictions. You’ll always need to check each individual country first. For example, wild camping in Scotland is legal with just a couple of exceptions. Wild camping in England and Wales is not, unless you get permission – except for Dartmoor. You can camp for two nights in any permitted area.

  • Wild camping in Scotland: it’s free, but you pay in midge bites

Scandinavia you can also do – it’s much easier to wild camp there. There are other countries in Europe where you can too: in some parts of France it’s allowed and in other countries it’s tolerated even if it’s not strictly legal, like Greece, where you can probably get away with it but it’s up to you whether you want to take the risk. But again, you’ve got to get there.

The next category would be volunteer holidays. Again, it depends how you are defining a holiday, as the whole point is you will be doing some kind of work while you’re out there. You’re normally going to have to get yourself out to wherever it is that you’re going. Some companies will ask you to pay to be there as well, which is fine if you’re after volunteer experience – but if you’re doing it to get a cheap holiday, that might not work. So it’s worth checking.

Also you need to check the ethical issues – sites like Responsible Travel is have already done a lot of research into what volunteer tourism is and whether it’s genuine, responsible and ethical. They don’t advise working in orphanages, for example, because there’s all kinds of problems associated with that.

One of the subsets of a volunteer holiday is called WWOOFing. it stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms and it’s particularly big in Australia, but you can do it worldwide. You’re working on a farm and you’ve got to get there, but your board and lodging is covered and you get some time off, so you can get a bit of a free holiday.

My final recommendation is a really slow way of doing it. It’s not a free holiday per se, but it’s doable: cashback sites. Something like Quidco, which I actually use myself, but there’s TopCashBack too and several others. The idea is that you’d be making these purchases anyway, and you can put the money saved towards a holiday. It’s free money, effectively. So put it in a pot, keep saving, and one day you’ll have enough to take yourself somewhere nice. It might take you quite a while, and it depends what holiday you want to go on – but it’s doable.

Travel journalist Cathy Winston edits 101 Singles Holidays and video-blogs family-friendly holidays on YouTube as MummyTravels

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How much sleep do I need every night?

Writer, Editor, Sub, Whatnot

Sleep need is individual. It's like height. Some of us are short, some of us are tall. Some of us are short sleepers; some of us are long sleepers. 

In general anywhere between four and eleven hours could be considered normal. The main issue is that you get that amount of sleep - whatever it may be. So if you're a four-hour-a-night person, you need to get four hours - which, let's be honest, shouldn't be that difficult. But if you're an eleven-hour-a-night person, getting those eleven hours is going to be problematic. 

"The way you know what the right amount of sleep for you is how you feel the next day. If you feel awake during the day you've had enough; if you feel sleepy, you haven't. It's as simple as that."

Most people are between seven and nine hours, and all the recommendations that came out last year from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend getting more than seven hours on average per night. But the idea that we should all be getting eight-hours is a myth - it's about getting the right amount of sleep for you. The way you know what the right amount of sleep for you is how you feel the next day. If you feel awake during the day you've had enough; if you feel sleepy, you haven't. It's as simple as that. 

There has been some recent work stating that women need more sleep than men because there are more activities that women carry out. Men are pretty simple, we're designed to hunt and protect, while women are designed to worry about food, children and that sort of thing. So it seems women need more sleep -perhaps 20-30 minutes more a night. But that's as an overall average. 

"In our modern society we don't listen to our bodies. We go to bed when the TV programme we've been watching has finished, or when our partner goes to sleep."

In the past we listened to our bodies. If we were sleepy in the evening we went to sleep and we woke up when we'd had enough sleep. In our modern society we don't listen to our bodies. We go to bed when the TV programme we've been watching has finished, or when our partner goes to sleep. And we get up as a social construct - we get up because we have to go to work. So we're not living in harmony with our bodies and that's what is creating the problem. 

People spend a lot of time thinking about diet and exercise and doing those correctly, but we don't think about doing sleep correctly. We don't prioritise sleep. It's the thing we do after we've done everything else. Instead of "Oh, I'm sleepy, it's nine o'clock, I'll go to bed", it's "I go to bed at 11 o'clock." But if you're sleepy before that time you should go to bed. We should be listening to our bodies. If you're feeling sleepy, you shouldn't be going to bed because of what the clock says or what's on the TV. You should be going to bed to go to sleep.

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How can I get one of these cool albino passports?

Jack Bushell  · 7

Well, firstly to qualify for this uniquely nude-toned passport (very much in this season!) one is required to lose, deface or have their passport stolen abroad, stranding them in a foreign destination. For the author, it was indeed regrettably the former, misplacing it between connecting flights. You also need a flight scheduled, whether its in a few hours or in a few days – whatever British embassy you are nearest to won’t issue one without a scheduled flight, otherwise it's not an emergency.

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I wanna get kids to start coding but how do we get it into the curriculum?

ESRC Future Research Leader Fellow, University of Edinburgh. Co-Founder of...

Hi Nevil, as you are based in England, the answer is: coding should already be in your children’s curriculum. In 2014, Computing was launched as a National Curriculum subject. You can go online here to see what is expected. You will see how coding is a key (although not only) component of this curriculum. In this regard, England is only 1 of 5 countries that have created such a computing curriculum despite the issue being raised globally. That said, there is a lot of variation in how schools have picked this up, and there has been a fair bit of criticism of this curriculum.

If you search online, you will see examples of schools doing great stuff about coding in schools. Many have benefitted from the significant number of new educational resources to help children, notably Scratch (or Scratch Jnr if younger), which comes with a lot of teacher support materials (e.g. here). Some schools are particularly energised, involving children in competitions that bring coding with other STEM skills, such as the 1st Lego League. As an engineer, you may like to look at that. The problem is, introducing computing properly in a school depends on a number of factors, from available devices to head teacher leadership. And key will be teachers – both their confidence and expertise. Some schools may already have an enthusiastic teacher, or sometimes a couple, and that is great. But to properly integrate computing across the school, and to link learning across the year groups, you need staff support and training. I would urge anyone to ask what support teachers are receiving in their children’s school.

The other issue I mentioned concerned criticism of the curriculum. Without detailing a long and contested debate, there are many who feel we should be focusing more on the thinking skills behind computing rather than the more practical skills of coding. The term ‘computational thinking’ is one that has gained quite a lot of currently of late, with one definition being: “the thought processes involved in formulating problems and their solutions so that the solutions are represented in a form that can be effectively carried out by an information-processing agent” (Wing, 2011). What this highlights is the clear link between computing and other STEM subjects that revolve around communicating solutions to problems. Many believe that the thinking skills behind computing are far more important than just learning to code. I agree with that position. When not an academic, I lead an early learning technology company. I need to understand code to communicate with the team, but I cannot code myself. I do need a computing mindset though, not just to communicate technology solutions, but more generally to work through problems logically.

So. The answer to your question is, hang in there. Schools are required to teach computing (from 5 years old) and little by little they will, given the right support. But you may be keener than this. Aside from prompting your children’s school, I would look to all the learning opportunities out of school. There are many free coding organisations such as Codeclub or Coderdojo – especially if you live in the capital. And you will may well find some more innovative digital making groups- see here. But there are also a number of free resources for use at home, such as here. There are even lots of new toys out there to engage children in programming, from as young as 4 years – from Lego to my own company’s. As an engineer, you may be particularly interested in Littlebits who are doing very well. This toys are fun – but learning will require an adult to guide.

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Is there an ideal time of day for me to study?

Professor of Education, University of Derby, and Director of Academics for...

No. There’s a common belief, based on research by psychologists, that you learn best two to four hours after waking up. I don’t think that’s true, and it’s different for everyone anyway. For instance, when I was at school, and even now, studying in the evenings and late at night has worked better for me.

Even if there’s evidence that two to four hours after waking up is the best time to learn, that doesn’t mean it’s the only time you can learn, or that you can’t overcome it through effort, or by being passionate about education. Research from University Hospital Zurich says that sleeplessness damages the brain, while other researchers say we have to let teenagers sleep late. But they’re going to have to get used to getting up earlier at some point. Life’s like that.

"Children learn all over the world in different situations – including in war zones – at all different times of the day, but do really well."

There are too many people trying to find ways to address problems that aren’t really there – such as the ‘best time to study’. Most educators feel that young people have so many barriers to learning, whether it’s their home backgrounds or their psychological make-up. They’ll ask “why aren’t they doing better?”, as if young people aren’t up for learning. It’s a very negative viewpoint.

The idea that children have different learning styles or can only learn at certain times of the day is a sign that many people have given up on teaching. It’s also a way of blaming children for not learning as well as people think they should. Behind it is what I’ve called a ‘diminished concept of children and young people’ belief that they are unable to cope with education or life in general.

Children learn all over the world in different situations – including in war zones – at all different times of the day, but do really well – and that’s because they’re being taught by people who believe in them, and believe in education.

I don’t believe there’s an ideal time of day to learn, but I do have a tip about studying. A teacher in a school I visited once told me that children in her school couldn’t retain anything. I knew immediately what the problem was – it wasn’t the children; it was the teaching. I once worked with an American teaching scheme for children with learning difficulties which had built-in repetitions – up to 170 in all, but, for someone of average learning ability you needed 24 repetitions in order to learn and retain information. The more often you say things, and the more clearly you say them, the more people will learn, so repetition is really important. Teachers and parents should remember that when they say “how often have I told you?”. If it’s not between 24 and 170 times, then it’s not enough.

What actually happens to your body when you get drunk?

Reader in Alcohol Policy and Mental Health Studies, University of Greenwich...

Actually, it’s not so much what it does to your body; it’s what it does to your brain. But let’s look at the body to begin with – and there’s two things that are happening here. Firstly, alcohol is toxic, it’s a poison and it is dehydrating the body and brain – that’s the main thing.

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"One of the reasons we become sick when we drink alcohol is our brain has told us that we’ve got too much poison in the brain, and it’s asking us to please get rid of it."

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But alcohol is toxic, and if you drink enough of it it will start to shut your organs down. People do die of alcohol toxicity. One of the reasons we become sick when we drink alcohol is our brain has told us that we’ve got too much poison in the brain, and it’s asking us to please get rid of it.

Alcohol is generally a sedative. And so it should – should – sedate you. But most of us don’t experience alcohol, at a small level, as a sedative. The reason for that is because of a concept called expectancy. We expect to have a good time, and if you expect to have a good time with alcohol you will have a good time.

"If you feel good about taking alcohol, you’ll have a good experience. If you feel bad, you’re unlikely to have a good experience."

We have learned about alcohol through our own experiences, and also what we’ve been trained to expect through our family experiences, the media and other places – in short, most people have learned that alcohol is a pleasurable drug. This basically informs how we’re going to feel and how good we are likely to feel. The bottom line is that if you feel good about taking alcohol you’ll have a good experience. If you feel bad you’re unlikely to have a good experience.

Responses to alcohol such as feeling sad, happy, aggressive, sexually aroused and so on are to do with the psychological make-up of the individual in question. All alcohol will really do is exacerbate what somebody already does or feels. So if someone is habitually violent then alcohol will probably facilitate that. The phrase In Vino Veritas – in wine life – is often used. It’s not that, but it is something similar. Essentially what it does is allow someone to be more of their true conscious and sometimes subconscious selves. Drinking will accentuate what you are feeling at the time.

The other thing to take into consideration is what is happening around you. If you’re around people who might be considered risk averse they are likely to ensure the environment remains safe. Equally, if you’re with another group of peers who are more likely to get into trouble, they might be risk takers and thus the environment may become unsafe. So all those other issues have to be taken into consideration when considering how and why people react to alcohol in the way they do. Alcohol is just part of that bigger picture.