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.
How to Stay for Free Around the World
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.
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?
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.
- 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.
Want to learn how to become a housesitter? HeckticTravels Shows you Everything you need to know in How to Become a HouseSitter
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.
Also see: the story of one man on a tight budget: How to Stay for Free Around the World
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.
- 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.
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.
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
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.
- 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.
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!
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.