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How to make the most of your resources (i.e. How to get free stuff!)

Students or not, it’s always nice to get things for free, especially if they’re useful and provide a nice distraction from working on our PhDs. Don’t worry, I have some tips for getting free PhD and travel-related stuff too!

Paris in Boston London National Gallery
National Portrait Gallery in London – Always free admission!

I’ve compiled some places, both online and in person, where you can get some great things for free. These are suggestions for when you’re in student mode, planning your next trip, or in desperate need of a break from all that work.

First, let’s start with your spare time (and you WILL have some)! It’s essential that you take some time away from your PhD to relax, and here are some ways to unwind at no cost.


If you’re from the US, chances are you already have a US credit card or PayPal account. That’s all you need to download free digital entertainment from companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon. Download once and you’ll always have access to the files via the cloud, even if you delete the files on your computer.

Free TV shows:

iTunes – They offer pilot episodes of new and older shows and the first episode of select shows during the start of a show’s premiere week.

Google Play – Similar to iTunes (there’s definitely some overlap in TV shows offered). Tip: When you download TV shows from Google Play, they are automatically added to your YouTube account under “Purchases” as long as all your Google accounts are linked.

Free ebooks:

There are thousands of books available under the public domain.  Here are good places to start:

Amazon – Free Kindle books.

Google Play – Free ebooks; website also shows ratings to give you an idea of feedback from other readers.

Gutenberg – Free ebooks to download or read online; you can search for specific books or  browse for books alphabetically by category.

Feedbooks – Nice, clean interface; free ebooks are separated under fiction and non-fiction, under helpful categories.

Open Library – Over 1,000,000 free ebooks available.

Hoopla – if you have a US library card you can link it to this website and download ebooks and stream movies for free.

Overdrive – Similar concept as Hoopla.

LibriVox – Free audiobooks.

Free music:

Again, check at least once a week!

Google Play – They usually have full albums available for download in many different genres, many of them best-sellers. In the past, they’ve offered the complete Frozen soundtrack, Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas album, and Elvis’ #1 Hits album for free.

Spotify – Stream music for free.


Free travel guides:

TripAdvisor is a great place to start when you want curated travel guides. While they used to offer downloadable pdfs that provided a nice overview of major destinations, they currently offer customized online guides based on a traveler’s itinerary. These highlight the most popular sights, attractions, and landmarks, and they also have guides for people traveling as a family, with friends, or solo. If you can’t find a guide that fits your travel plans, TripAdvisor has an option to “Request a free guide that’s Just for You”; this allows you to indicate whether you’re traveling for business or leisure, whether you’re traveling alone, your travel style, and your interests.

Free guided tours:

Visitor/Tourist Information Center: Whether you want to explore your new city that will be your home for the next few years or are visiting a new city as part of your travels, make sure to check their visitor’s center to see whether they offer free guided walking tours. Even if they don’t, a stop by the visit center can give you more information on what the city has to offer – and hey, those brochures are free and make good souvenirs!

Tour companies: Utilizing TripAdvisor to see the top ranked attractions in your destination can yield some great free guided tours organized by locals. These tours are usually walking tours to a city’s historic and must see buildings and neighborhoods. These tours are perfect if you want to get an overview of a city when you don’t have much time or money, but they also gives you an idea of what areas in a city you want to spend more time in if you’re staying for a few days. Definitely check out the tour’s ratings and reviews to make sure that the tour is legit, and stay away from any that have meeting points in out of the way areas!!

One tour that I tried and can 100% recommend is Free Tour Stockholm. I found this free guided tour through TripAdvisor and it did not disappoint! As advertised, the group met at a designated location that can easily be found. The best part is that reservations aren’t required so if your plans change, no big deal, you can always join the next free tour. The tour was around 2 hours, so it’s enough time to see the major sights, but not too long that you start to feel tired.

Free travel/tourism apps:

Travel+Leisure and CNTraveler have tested many travel apps and found the best ones for touring. These are great for those who like to explore places on their own or like to wander to places off the beaten path. Travel host Rick Steves offers apps with tips and guides from his many travels to Europe.

Major cities also have dedicated touring apps just for their city, so make sure to check those out too! Ulmon is an amazing app that offers free offline maps with no roaming charges. If there is an Ulmon app for the city we are traveling to, we always download it. It makes it a ton easier to randomly roam the less traveled side streets without the fear of getting lost.

Free stuff at events:

Whenever you travel, always check to see if there are any festivals or events going on at the same time. Sometimes luck is on your side and your trip coincides with annual events like Fashion’s Night Out in London or the Open Doors Day of the European Commission in Brussels.  It’s times like these where wandering around with no set itinerary pays off big time!  I scored food, good quality reusable bags, and usb drives at these events. Believe it or not, there are even free events at the Olympics!!! But I’ll talk about my experience at the London Olympics in more detail in an upcoming post.

London Fashion's Night Out

 Brussels European Commission

Free museum admission:

Check to see if museums and galleries have admission fees (most London museums are FREE!) and schedule your trips when they have free admission. Most notably, many of Paris’ museums are always free on the first Sunday of the month, but make sure to arrive early as queues tend to form quickly.


Free workshops/software and skills training:

Many universities offer workshops on how to use research-related software like SPSS, NVivo, R, LaTex, and EndNote. They might also offer training on how to prepare posters for conferences, improve your presentation skills, get along with your supervisors, and network through social media. Definitely check your university’s Graduate School or researcher development programs to see what they have to offer and take advantage of this great opportunity to improve your research and transferable skills!

Free/Discounted software:

If you are still a university student, check whether you get free/discounted rates for Microsoft Office, Photoshop, or other programs that you might need for your PhD studies. Some companies may also offer discounts for students. Tip: Install these programs before you go, as sites may be blocked or inaccessible once you are abroad. Just something to keep in mind!

Free items from your university:

Your university’s orientation/welcome week/fresher’s fayre, etc: This is a good place to get free food, reusable bags, reusable mugs, and other things with your university’s logo on it. Jobs fairs are also a great way to snag some free swag!

Free research-related books:

Visit your university’s library to inquire about having them order any books you need for your research – they’re always willing to expand their research collection, and you might be able to get the research materials you need for free! I was able to get a few books ordered through my library for my research, and future researchers will have you to thank the next time they need the same materials!

This list is by no means comprehensive, so leave a comment if you have any suggestions!