How to Stay (Almost) Anywhere for Free

Monday, June 13, 2011  at 6:58 AM
By utilizing free housing opportunities, you can cut your travel costs in half (or cheaper!).  Here are the top 9 ways Chris and I get free housing while traveling.

When Chris and I traveled through eleven European countries in a month a few winters ago, our total expenditure was $600 per person.  Granted, we both started in Europe so we did not have to pay to get there, but this price included food, transportation, souvenirs, housing, entrance and exist fees, everything as we traveled through France, England, then from Slovenia to the Ukraine and back around to Germany through Poland.  Our number one money saver?  We did not spend a dime on housing for the entire month.

This is fairly common for us--lodging is not a priority for us, so we usually try to avoid spending money on lodging as best we can.  Here are our top ways to stay in almost any location for free:

Interlaken buildings by Danalynn C
Colorful buildings in downtown Interlaken, Switzerland, a city where we stayed in the attic of a hotel for free for several days.
1. Couchsurf--Couchsurfing is a great website where you can either stay on people's couches worldwide for free ("surf") or you can host travelers to stay at your house for free.  Through a series of ID verification and a review system, the set-up is quite safe and I have had nothing but fantastic experiences! 

2. WWOOF--Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms is an organization where you pay a nominal fee (when I did it, it cost me around $40 for a one year subscription) and in return you get a list of certified Organic Farms who are willing to provide room and board in exchange for several hours of work.  The specific agreement is made with each specific farm, but usually the volunteers are expected to work several hours a day for five days a week in return for a private room and two to three meals a day.  The subscription is per country, so when you pay the fee you get a list of farms, descriptions and contact information for one country.  The organization is worldwide, so you have the option of subscribing to countries around the world.  You cannot see reviews of the farms by other travelers who have volunteered there, but each farm must be certified organic to become a member of the WWOOF organization which helps to maintain safety.

3. Helpx--Helpx is a website similar to WWOOF, where volunteers trade work for room and board, but anyone can sign up to be a host (not only organic farms, as WWOOF requires).   The specific agreements vary from host to host, but generally you will be working around 25 hours a week in exchange for a private room and 2-3 meals a day.  Since this website is not limited to organic farms, you can find a whole range of hosts, from camel farmers to families remodeling their homes to large vineyards.  For this website you pay one $20 fee for a two-year subscription and you can access hosts worldwide.  Much like Couchsurfing, you can leave and receive reviews and therefore you can see reviews that other volunteers have left for hosts, which is very useful.

4. House sit--There are several websites where people list if they are going out of town and need someone to house sit for them, and then you can apply to be the house sitter.  You pay a fee to be a member of the website, usually around $50 for a year's subscription.  The downside to this method is that it is quite competitive; If you do not respond within a few hours of the ad going up then you will have little chance of being chosen for the house sit.  A house sit can range in time from a few days to over six months and the responsibilities vary--sometimes you will only have to water plants, while at other times you will have to care for animals, a farm, or perform house maintenance.

Rome Park with Ducks by Danalynn C
A beautiful park in downtown Rome, Italy.  I couchsurfed for the week that I was in Rome and stayed with a fantastic host!

5. Stay with friends (or friends of friends!)--Don't feel awkward about asking to stay with someone, even if you don't know them very well (or don't know them at all!).  Chances are, they will be excited to show someone around their town, or at the very least won't mind if you crash at their place for a few days. 

6. Sleep in Airports/Train stations--If it is late and you are already at the airport or train station, consider staying there for the night and continuing on in the morning.  Most airports and train stations will stay open throughout the night and while it won't be the most comfortable night you've ever had, it will be free and easy.

7. Camp--While you can pay for a campground, some places it is also quite easy to camp for free as long as you are safe and unobtrusive.  Beware of laws forbidding camping and of places you should not be camping, but definitely consider this as a viable lodging option (especially in warmer weather).  You do not need a lot of camping supplies for this--you can just set down anywhere if it's warm enough, or bring out a blanket or sleeping bag if it gets cooler at night! 

8. Work at a hostel in exchange for a room--This is similar to WWOOF and Helpx, except this is organized directly with the hostel and not all hostels will do this.  Chris did this in Greece and ended up staying at a hostel for the better part of a week for free in exchange for only a few hours of light work a day!

9.  If you do decide to pay money for a room, compare the costs of hostels and hotels--often a hotel will be cheaper, especially if you are splitting the room among several friends.
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