Canada's Globe and Mail broke the story open, and now everyone with a guitar may be begging to sign up: Via Rail, Canada's national railway, grants free train tickets and meals to musicians and singer-songwriters in exchange for on-board performances.
The Canadian transcontinental ride through the Rockies is already one of the most distinctive voyages that North America has to offer, and since 2009, the railway company has embellished the panoramas of mountain and prairie with gentle performances by Canadian artists. If you have a talent and a little bit of experience, you stand a chance of riding for free from Toronto to Vancouver. If you write your own songs, even better—Via makes a point of promoting Canadian talent.
It's not just musicians, either-- anyone with a talent who can entertain or inform passengers—in both first and economy class—on the long, four-day journey across the continent will be considered. Artists must apply to Via directly, although hurry, because now that the word is out, competition for slots is bound to stiffen: www.viarail.ca/en/contact-us.
But if you're not a Canadian artist, fear not. There are other ways to trade talent for travel, even if your talent is merely the possession of a Y chromosome.
The Gentlemen Host program supplies charming, gallant fellows to unaccompanied ladies traveling on about a dozen cruise ships, including those of Cunard.
In exchange for passage, sometimes charged at rates as low as $30 per day, plus free airfare and shore excursions, Gentlemen Hosts make dinner conversation and ask solo ladies to dance. For that, any nationality will do, but men should be between 40 and 68 years old, personable, single, look good in a tuxedo (jeans are not permitted), and not have two left feet.
There's one cardinal rule, and it may dismay some guys: Interactions are to be strictly courteous—not so much as a peck on the lady's cheek is permitted.
They are recruited through Compass, a speaker's bureau: http://compassspeakers.com/gentleman_host.html. The same company also books proven experts for on-board speaking engagements. So if you're a college professor who can speak about the classics or astonomy, your chances for a free cruise go up—and unlike a Gentleman Host, you won't even have to dance for your supper.
Train singer Glenna Garramone.