For many people who enjoy travelling, accommodation is a continual and draining financial concern. Everyone has their own budget and if you are looking for luxurious and expensive hotels, I advise you look elsewhere. This page concerns travellers who are concerned with the ultimate in budget travel, free accommodation. If you are prepared to broaden your mind and look away from the typical hotel / hostel beds that many of us are used to, you will see that there is a great big world of beds available to you for very little financial commitment. Sleeping at someone’s house, free-camping, housesitting, and volunteering are all perfect examples of how you can stay somewhere for free.
Testament to this, I recently spent five months hitchhiking through 24 different countries in Europe and only paid for accommodation in four towns (mainly to meet friends on holiday). In 152 nights, I only paid for 9 nights accommodation.
The following sleeping options are only overviews, but I hope that they can help you to travel more, for less. I have tried all of the ideas that I list here, unless otherwise stated.
Free-camping / Freecamping
Commitment: Pack well
What is Free-Camping?
Free-camping is the action of finding a place to sleep in whatever location the person finds themselves in. Normally this involves sleeping outside (often using a sleeping bag and sometimes a tent), but takes advantage of the local geography in order to find a safe place to sleep. Specifically, free camping refers to the action of sleeping in an undesignated sleeping environment without an exchange of money.
Pros and Cons
Liberating beyond words
Completely free and commitment free
Lack of washing and lavatory facilities
Nothing more than your sleeping equipment (a one time fee). If you can’t afford the equipment, ask a friend to borrow some.
I have free camped under the Eiffel Tower in Paris, inside bushes in Prague, on market squares and orchards in Italy, under bridges and in fields in Poland, in abandoned buildings in Greece, various places in Korea… basically everywhere I go. Whether cycling across Europe, rafting a river, or just going for a walking weekend with my family, free-camping is my preferred method of sleeping. Free-camping gives you a complete sense of freedom because you really can go anywhere you want without having to plan in advance. It is particularly useful for hitchhikers, walkers, and cyclists who are unsure how far they will be travelling each day.
If you are interested in trying free camping, read my guide to free-camping.
Sleep at Someone’s House
Commitment: Be Friendly
This sounds obvious, but sleeping at someone’s house is one of the best ways to travel. No longer does it need to be someone that you know (although this is a great initial port of call). There are many websites which offer users the opportunity to message other users in the hope of finding a bed / sofa / floor space for the night in every corner of the world. If you would like to start doing this, I recommend that you read my Guide to Couchsurfing post. By staying with locals, you get a truly intimate experience and they will show you areas that the guide books never even knew existed.
Where Do I Find a Host Online?
My personal favourite is Couchsurfing and I highly recommend that you use this site as it is the most popular and has good safety features including a feedback system.
Hosts That You Might Know..
Also consider that with the amazing world of social networking, a simple post on Facebook or Twitter saying, “Anybody got a space on their sofa in Budapest on Tuesday?” (for example) can turn up all sorts. People move all the time and you may just find that one of your friends is where you want to go. People are also very helpful and they may hook you up with a place to stay with their friends. Sometimes when travelling, if you meet a person and tell them that you will soon be visiting their city, they often invite you to stay. Don’t be afraid to take their number and message them when you need a place to stay. At worst, they will say no.
Pros and Cons
Someone is letting you stay at their home, be respectful (it’s not a hotel)
People are diverse (for better and worse)
You can get an idea of what people are like by looking at their profile
People know the area and will show you around the areas not included in the guide books
Nothing financially, although you need to be respectful to your hosts as you are not staying in a hotel. Time wise, It can take a little time to find a bed in popular cites (such as Prague) when using the online sites.
I have met and stayed with many wonderful people in many different countries. By staying with people in such an intense situation, you can become very close with them in a very short amount of time. Staying with someone for two nights may actually result in you spending 20-30 hours in each others company. That is a lot of friendship forming time. Already I have friends that I will stay in touch with forever, that I met through couchsurfing. I also love that I have been shown many secret little areas of cities and towns that the guidebooks don’t know about.
If you are interested in trying couch surfing, read my guide to Couchsurfing.
Look after Someone’s House
Commitment: Care for the animals and house
As many people start to travel more, they have an increased need to have someone care for their home and pets. There are now a collection of websites where you can look after someone’s house while living there. Thus, you get a place to live for free, while they have someone keeping their property tidy and safe. House sitting assignments often require that the house sitter feeds and cares for the pets.
How Can I Find a House Sitting Assignment?
Online, there are many sites that offer both house sitters and house owners an opportunity to arrange a house sitting placement. Most of these require a joining fee, and after looking around, I opted to join Mind My House for it’s range of house sitting assignments. Other sites (that I haven’t tried) include: Trusted House Sitters, and House Carers. Make sure that you make a good, clean profile and present yourself well. Include clear pictures of yourself with at least one that shows your face.
Pros and Cons
Must be organised in advance.
Responsibilities to house owner regarding animals and the house.
Freedom of the house.
Work / Volunteer in Exchange for a Bed
Many businesses and homes now offer free accommodation (and sometimes food) in exchange for a few hours of work a day. My first experience of this was participating in a language immersion programme in Poland where I was ‘working’ (speaking) most of the day in exchange for three full meals and accommodation in a country hotel. My most recent experience involved 1-2 hours of tidying 4-5 times a week in exchange for a free bed in a hostel in Budapest.
Where Can I Volunteer?
All over the world.
What ‘Work’ Will I Do?
There are no limits. Volunteering placements often include farm work and teaching languages to children / adults. Saying that, helping with huskies in Scandinavia, looking after children in Romanian orphanages, building permaculture environments in South Africa, and making educational films in India are all volunteering opportunities that I have looked at recently.
How Do I Find a Placement?
Avoid costs and read my free volunteering opportunities page. This includes many links to wonderful volunteering sites all around the world. I loosely divide volunteering into charitable and non-charitiable volunteering If you want to help the world, read more on my volunteering advice page. If you just want a free bed, I highly recommend using Work Away and have had multiple good experiences from this site. It has a bi-annual membership fee in order to contact volunteer placements. However, you can view all opportunities without contacting them before you sign up. Make sure that you make a good, clean profile and present yourself well. Include clear pictures of yourself with at least one that shows your face. I have used Work Away to find volunteering positions teaching in Poland, working in a hostel in Hungary, and working on a boat building farm in Norway.
If you are interested in volunteering, read my volunteering page which includes links to useful sites.
Money is only an obstacle when you let it be an obstacle. Live your life now.