A very big thanks to Erin of Never Ending Voyage for sharing these great insights on where to stay for free around the world. We have to work harder at finding free accommodation and these tips are a huge step to helping us make our future travels more affordable while having a great adventure. Enjoy!

We have saved thousands of dollars by seeking out free accommodation on our travels. These opportunities are easier to find than you’d think and have not only saved us money but led us off the beaten track, provided some of our most interesting travel experiences, enabled us to connect with local communities and been a refreshing break from the backpacker trail.

If you want to travel and think you can’t afford it; if you are feeling burnt out and tired of constant sightseeing; or if you are just looking for a unique travel adventure, then we recommend trying these opportunities for free accommodation around the world.

House Sitting

Jacksonville_housesit

House Sitting in Jacksonville

People all over the world are looking for house sitters to look after their homes while they are away. You can stay in a whole house, often very comfortable or even luxurious, for absolutely nothing. Your role in exchange varies: you’ll need to keep the house in good condition and usually you’ll need to look after pets too.

House sitting has enabled us to visit places like Japan that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford, and has led to us visiting cities we wouldn’t have thought of. We love staying in residential areas rather than the touristy parts of town, and getting to know a place by living like a local. It’s also a great way to enjoy some home comforts while travelling. After months on the road a comfy couch, hot shower and well equipped kitchen is just what we need.

House sitting isn’t just for long term travellers, as opportunities are available for a few days up to many months. Why not plan your vacation around a house sit for an interesting and very affordable trip away?

Our Experience

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Simon House sitting in Argentina

We have looked after a puppy and large house in the countryside of northern Argentina; a spacious condo overlooking the river, with a pool and four cats in Florida; and a traditional house and three cats in Kyoto, Japan. Each of these has been for 3-4 weeks and we have saved about $5000 in accommodation costs and had some wonderful experiences.

How to Find a House Sit

Register with a house sitting organisation such as HouseCarers, Mind My House, or Trusted Housesitters, pay a small annual fee, create a profile, and keep an eye on listings that come up. When you find one that suits you apply to the owner via the site.

Tips

  • Be flexible ñ you might have to go where the opportunities are.
  • Create a detailed profile and include any relevant experience and a link to your blog if you have one.
  • Sign up to daily emails from the house sitting website and apply quickly. House sits are competitive.
  • Provide references. If you are starting out maybe house sit for a friend.
  • Keep trying if you have no luck at first. You will be more successful choosing less popular destinations.
  • The most opportunities are in North America, Europe and Australia.

House Sitting Pros: Saves money, you have a whole house to yourself, privacy.
House Sitting Cons: Have to look after pets (may be a pro!), commitment to a certain period of time.

Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing is an organisation that connects people around the world. A huge network of hosts offer their couches or spare rooms to travellers for absolutely free. It’s about more than just free accommodation though, it’s a way to meet interesting people and tap into their local knowledge. It’s a much more sociable experience than house sitting and is best for short term stays. Couchsurfing isn’t just for young travellers ñ we know families who regularly couchsurf.

Our Experience

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Couchsurfing in Canada

We have stayed in spare rooms in Argentina, Paraguay, Colombia and Canada. All our experiences have been excellent, we’ve made some great friends and seen a different side to places that we wouldn’t have seen staying in hostels.

How to Find A Couchsurfing Host

Sign up to the couchsurfing website, create a detailed profile, search for a host using certain criteria (location, number of people etc.), and send the host a couch request with your dates.

Tips

  • Host couchsurfers before you travel to get a feel for how it works and build up some references.
  • If you are worried about staying with strangers choose hosts who are vouched for and have lots of references.
  • Send a personalised couch request, saying why you think you’ll get on with the host.
  • Start with two nights and see how it goes. We usually extend our stay if it suits the host.
  • Help out around the house and cook meals for your host.
  • You don’t have to stay with someone. You could just meet for a coffee or attend a meetup that many couchsurfing groups organise (search for groups for the city you are in).

Couchsurfing Pros: Meet local people, no time commitment, saves money, access to local knowledge.

Couchsurfing Cons: Less privacy, may not be a comfortable sleeping area, might not get on with host.

Work in Exchange For Food And Accommodation

By working in exchange for your room and board you can save a lot of money on the road and have some really interesting experiences. Many opportunities are on farms but you can also work in hostels and even private homes. Usually you’ll work for four hours a day so you’ll have time to explore the area too, but make sure you agree the terms before you sign up.

Our Experience

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Simon Wwoofing in Australia

In Australia we used the WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) programme to find an opportunity in the Northern Territory. We stayed with a family and helped in their large garden in exchange for meals and our own private room, bathroom and wonderful outdoor lounge. We got on really well with the family and loved our experience.

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Work Exchange at Stables in Costa Rica

In Costa Rica we use the HelpX website to find a placement at a riding stables in a remote, untouristy part of the countryside. We had to pay $20 a day but we only worked two hours a day and got to ride horses twice a day. It was tiring but an amazing experience getting to know the horses and family, and I even got to ride with local cowboys in a traditional cabalgata (group ride).

How To Find A Work Exchange

erin_jumping_workexchange_costarica

Erin Horse Jumping in Work Exchange, Costa Rica

There are a number of websites where you can find placements. WWOOF is the most well known, focusing on organic farms and you have to join the programme for each country you’ll be visiting. HelpX and Workaway have a range of different opportunities all over the world. After paying a small membership fee you’ll have access to listings that you can apply for.

You can also find opportunities informally, maybe by asking at hostels. We arranged to stay at a lodge in the Peruvian Andes for three weeks in exchange for creating their NGO’s website.

Tips

  • There are more opportunities in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. In developing countries they sometimes charge a fee and accommodation standards are lower as they can get cheap labour locally so your services aren’t as needed.
  • Agree your working hours, days off, included meals and type of accommodation in advance.

Work Exchange Pros: Interesting experiences, spend very little money in rural areas, could add it to your CV, provides a sense of purpose, meet people.
Work Exchange Cons: Living conditions could be basic or shared, you have to work!

These opportunities for free accommodation are a great way to travel inexpensively but they are much more than that. They have taken us off the beaten track, introduced us to new friends, taught us about local cultures, and left us with some of our best travel memories.

For more advice on travelling cheaply don’t miss Dave and Deb’s helpful post on how to travel on a budget. <awe, thanks guys :-o

Erin_Simon_neverendingvoyage_small (125x125)Erin McNeaney and her partner Simon sold everything they owned and left the UK in March 2010 to travel the world forever. They run a WordPress web design business on the road and have travelled to Latin America, North America and are currently in Asia. You can follow their adventures at Never Ending Voyage, on Twitter and on Facebook.

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60 Comments

    1. Erin

      Couchsurfing has a vouching system so you can look for hosts who have been vouched for, and also look for people who have lots of positive reviews. We have never had a bad experience, or heard of anyone who has. Hope you try it Christian!

  1. Kelly Waterhouse

    Great tips in getting to fun places and not paying for your stay. I really like the work exchange (WOOF) suggestion. Very practical and a great way to really get to know people in the country you visit.

    I will pass your link on.

    1. debndave Post author

      I like the idea of Woofing as well. We’re going to have to give it a try ourselves.

    2. Erin

      It is a great way to get to know another side of a country Kelly. We really enjoyed seeing untouristy parts of Australia and Costa Rica. Hope you try WWOOFing!

    1. debndave Post author

      We’re the same way. We’ve never really understood how they worked so it was awesome to read this article. We think that one of these is in store for 2012 ourselves. I’d like to work on a vineyard I think

      1. Erin

        Ooh, I’d love to work on a vineyard too, and an olive grove. And just imagine the home cooked food if you WWOOFed in Italy!

    2. Erin

      We’d definitely recommend any of these Stephanie! Buenos Aires has an amazing couchsurfing scene if you are still there.

  2. Red Hunt

    Great article. I’ve been hearing a lot about WWOOFing recently and think it is the most reasonable way to do a long-term journey in Australia if you’re beyond the age restrictions for student / work visas.

    1. debndave Post author

      It’s hard to believe that a year ago we didn’t know what Wwoofing was, now it has become very popular. Definitely the way to go and it seems very much like a good option for Australia.

    2. Erin

      I definitely agree with that. There are so many interesting opportunities in Australia and it really helps keep costs down in such an expensive country. It’s a good option for New Zealand too.

  3. Meg from LandingStanding

    This is a great article. My husband and I just started our year-long RTW trip in Chile and just created a CouchSurfing account. It seems like such a great way to meet new people and travel cheaply. I am so glad to hear that you have had a positive experience with it… And thanks for the tips!

    1. debndave Post author

      That’s a great idea. I wish we created a CouchSurfing account before we left. I think that it is difficult now that we dont’ have a home to exchange with:)

      1. Erin

        Hi guys, it shouldn’t be too difficult for you, as there are plenty of members who don’t have a couch available. You could attend some couchsurfing meetups to meet other members and get some references.

    2. Erin

      I hope you enjoy couchsurfing on your trip Meg! We met some wonderful people through the site, even if we didn’t stay with them.

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  5. Christine

    I’ve done all of these–I’m actually villa sitting at the moment, through friends of friends! Couchsurfing and WWOOFing were both awesome ways to really interact with locals and learn more about a culture. Great tips!

    1. Erin

      Word of mouth can be a great way to find house sits, especially when you are starting out. Glad you’ve enjoyed all of these too Christine.

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  7. Christy @ Technosyncratic

    We’re big fans of housesitting, but couchsurfing isn’t really our thing (the events are cool to meet people, but we usually need our own space). We haven’t tried a work exchange yet, though; it’s something I’d really like to explore, but wasn’t sure how to get involved. Glad Erin and Simon shared these tips, as they’re very helpful!

    1. Erin

      Couchsurfing can be difficult when you need to work, so we tend to do it when we are taking some time off. We also always look for hosts with a spare bedroom as we need privacy too.

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  9. Christy

    Scott and I are looking forward to trying out housesitting. I think we would both really enjoy having a home to stay in rather than hostels. Great tips!

  10. Gavin Merritt

    Great article. We have been traveling and house sitting in Australia for a while now and find it a great life style. For 2012 we are looking at going world wide, thanks for the tips.

    1. Erin

      Glad you’ve used these techniques successfully Gavin. Europe and North America are also great places to find house sits.

    1. Erin

      Haha! It was an amazing view from that patio! WWOOFing has led to some really interesting travel experiences for us so hope you give it a go.

  11. Laurence

    Staying for free is a brilliant idea. I did wwoofing in NZ and it saved me a bunch of money in accommodation, plus you get to know the local area and people a bit better. Great article!

    1. Erin

      New Zealand has loads of interesting opportunities so it’s great you took advantage of them. We were there in the winter and couldn’t face doing outdoor work in the cold so gave it a miss.

  12. Nancy from Family on Bikes

    Great suggestions, but you forgot one – camping! We carried tents with us on our bikes and used them a LOT! Granted, that option won’t work in many places if you’re traveling on bus/train/etc, but it’s great when you have your own transport. It’s also perfect in Argentina where nearly every tiny town has a campground.

    1. Erin

      Good point Nancy! We haven’t camped since we’ve been travelling long term as we don’t want to carry all the equipment around (we travel with a carry on size backpack only). It totally makes sense when you have your own transport though.

  13. Cheryl Magyar

    WWOOFing is a really great idea and it can fit into the category of slow travel too! We have been hosts for three seasons and this year we plan to go somewhere as volunteers if events go as planned.

    1. Erin

      That’s true.We found it made a great break when we were burnt out from travelling around too quickly. It’ll be interesting to see your perspectives as volunteers after being hosts.

  14. Laurel

    I love these cheap alternatives to hostels. I’m still not sold on the couch surfing thing, but the WOOFing thing looks really cool.

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  16. Maddy @ I'm Not Home

    Excellent tips – thank you! There is also a book available in most Australian bookshops and outdoor shops, a big thick book containing maps detailing all the free campsites around the country and their facilities. It’s simply entitled CAMPS. My mates and I found it invaluable on our road trip. Everyone loves a freebie! Woohoo!

  17. Alf Welch

    South Molle Island in The Whitsundays is a spot where backpackers can work and stay for free. Check for details because the island closes at certain times of the year.

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  19. Nicole @ Suitcase Stories

    I love hearing about other travelers who house sit. We have been full time travelers / house sitters for 12 months now (although started house sitting 13 years ago). It has saved us thousands of dollars since we started our nomadic journey! Not to mention all the beautiful homes we have lived in during our travels.

    We’ve been fortunate to stay in million dollar properties, beach houses, english cottages, island homes and so much more. I highly recommend house sitting!

    We haven’t tried the other methods listed here but they sound appealing too! Something to keep in mind when we can’t get a house sit!

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  21. Absolutely Pure

    Some good tips here. In 2010/2011 house sat my way around Australia for 4 months, and stayed in a great resort in Queensland for 2 months afterwards. I found it on http://www.helpx.net have you heard of it? It includes alternatives to the highly physical Woofing!

    1. Mark Surrey

      I can say the same! Me and my friends loves to travel once a year! Even with the busy schedules we will always find time to set and plan for a vacation. Amazing and informative ideas this blog is. I wanna try CouchSurfing and working your way for accommodation and food! I think it will be fun!

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  23. Liv

    Housesitting and couchsurfing are great ways to save money you’d otherwise spend on accommodation. The increased local interaction that the working options provide surely provide a great way to meet people too.

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