6 Ways to find free accommodation when you travel

Today, I’d like to introduce you to Justin Carmack, a travel blogger, divemaster and overall lover of freedom and adventure on the road. In 2010 Justin sold all his things and left home; traded his possessions for dreams – dreams of traveling the world, getting lost, and living life free and to the fullest. He writes about his adventures on the road at True Nomads. Here he’ll give you some ideas on how find free accommodation when you travel throughout the world. 

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new friends

Friends gained while traveling are friends beyond the initial stay. This group of friends originally met in Estonia, but got together again in Guatemala!

For the last four years I have been traipsing around the world, seeing and doing things I never imagined possible. Since I have not inherited money from a rich relative, and basically am usually broke, I have come up with some pretty tried and true ways of seeing the world on little money. Recently I traveled Europe for three months, and didn’t pay for accommodation once, saving me untold amounts of cash. I also never paid for transportation, but that is for another post. Here are 6 ways that I have learned to sleep for free on my travels:

1. Couchsurfing.org

I would say this is by far the easiest and best way to get free accommodation around the world, and the community is growing fast. This has to be the best resource for budget travelers out there. Even on really short notice, I was almost always able to find a couch/host/spare room on the website in all the cities I visited in Europe. Having an established profile with lots of references from previous hosts really helps make you look less serial-killerish, and get more accepted requests. For me, Couchsurfing is definitely not only about a free place to crash.

I can honestly not think of a better way to meet up with like-minded locals and make new friends in a strange country. Almost always your host is keen to hear your great stories, and is eager to show you their city in a way only a local could. People pay lots of money for tours and experiences like these!

Be aware there is a certain etiquette you should know when Couchsurfing. First of all, don’t show up and pass out, and be completely unsociable. This couch isn’t completely free – you pay with your company and stories and friendship. But in the end, you almost always end up making good friends right along with saving a night (or week) of accommodation.

2. Volunteering

If you are going to a place and you fall in love with it and want to stay for a while, then it won’t work to couchsurf for weeks or months. But you can’t afford to be in Prague or Perth or Panama City for months on end, paying for a hotel either. The way I got around this was finding volunteer hostels anywhere I went. I spent nearly a year working at hostels around Europe, as well as some in Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Australia. I even volunteered at hostels on some of the best beaches in Costa Rica.

Work/stays are easy to find and, in fact, these days most hostels have foreign travelers working for a bed. It’s a great way to stay in one expensive city for an extended amount of time, and you will also be forced to meet a ton of other travelers who are coming through the hostel. And since you’re only volunteering, the work wont be too much or too hard.

3. Networking/friends

Depending on where you are and what your schedule is, it can be easy to just bundle up and sleep wherever you happen to be.

Depending on where you are and what your schedule is, it can be easy to just bundle up and sleep wherever you happen to be.

This is pretty effective, especially if you are good at making friends. After just a short length of travel, you can meet many new people from all over the world. For instance, I volunteered at a hostel in Perth, Australia for a few months. There I was able to meet many new and lasting friends from all corners of the Earth.

I always made sure to get their Facebook or at the very least their email, and to always keep in touch. And it worked! The next year I was traveling Europe and stayed in Germany, Estonia, France, and Romania for free, with people I had met in Perth, and kept in contact with. They had heard I was coming to their city and offered me a place to stay! It was a free bed/couch, plus a fun little reunion.

4. Camping

Camping sounds like a no-brainer, but how many travelers actually put it into practice? Depending on where you are traveling, carrying a tent can give you the option of crashing anywhere and saving lots of money. I carried a tent throughout Africa, and I was able to camp either in public lands, cheap campgrounds, and even at hostels and guest houses. The guest houses offered a camping option for around $2 to people with their own tents, and that saved loads. Even if places don’t offer the camping option, you can always ask if they have a yard or something. Any kind of free accommodation is a good thing!

5. Bumming

Bumming around isn’t too popular, but sometimes unavoidable. If you are a huge fan of saving money or are on a small budget, you could just call it “good planning” instead. For instance, if I have a flight really early in the morning, I have been known to just go to the airport that night and find somewhere to sleep, saving that night’s accommodation. Maybe this sounds bad, but so many people are doing the same that it’s basically socially acceptable. In Brussels last week, I even saw business men stretched out on the floor for the night in a terminal.

Another way to save a night’s rent is to plan overnight transportation. If I need to get from city A to city B, and it’s a long train or bus journey, I will save two birds with one stone and buy the overnight trip. Then, for the price of a ticket I would be buying anyway, I get a bed for the night AND I get to my next destination. Other places I’ve bummed around for a night are train and bus stations, parks, and all-night night clubs.

Sleeping in an airport before an early morning flight will save on $$$ that would otherwise be spent for a hotel.

Sleeping in an airport before an early morning flight will save on $$$ that would otherwise be spent for a hotel.

6. House sitting

House sitting has to be one of the best resources there is for long term travelers, who want to stay in one place for a while. Basically for the price of a house sitting website membership, you can stay for free at awesome places around the world, in exchange for taking care of the place and maybe some pets while the owners are away.

I have met travelers who have stayed free for months on end at big houses on beaches in Aruba and Barbados, in downtown Paris, and in many other places that would cost a fortune to stay in hotels long term. It is definitely worth being a member on a house sitting site and looking through listings in places you want to go.

Do have more suggestions or cool stories of ways you found free accommodation when you travel? Let us know! We love to hear other traveler’s experiences!

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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5 Responses to 6 Ways to find free accommodation when you travel

  1. Zorica December 28, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

    I love Couchsurfing as it helped me meet so many cool people around the world and I love the fact that every city has Couchsurfing meetings so even if you’re in your hometown you can meet many interesting travelers and maybe even make friends. That of course can be useful as they could host you once you visit their place of residence.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel January 17, 2015 at 8:53 pm #

      Couchsurfing is great. We’ve met a lot of great people that way!

  2. Flip Flop Mens March 11, 2015 at 6:45 am #

    This has been really helpful thank you, I most definitely will be trying Couchsurfing.org. Thanks for sharing

  3. Tim April 19, 2015 at 4:02 pm #

    House sitting is my personal favorite: cute kitties and a free place to stay? Sign me up!

  4. Vir y Ale - Por las Rutas del Mundo June 13, 2015 at 12:32 pm #

    Our next step is house sitting! Thank you! Very good tips! 🙂

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