Let’s say you want to travel for a long time. You’ve worked very hard to earn a lot (or a little bit) of money to fund your travels, you spent some money on a cheap flight and now you want your budget to last for a long time while you travel.
Or maybe you’re (almost) broke – been there, done that – and you don’t feel like returning home to work or asking your parents or friends to help you out so you’re looking into options on how to earn money along the road or online. In either situation, you want a place where you can stay for free for a while and still have an awesome experience in a foreign country. If you can relate to this, keep reading…
In 2011 I volunteered on a llama farm in New Zealand in exchange for free accommodation
After more than 10 years of traveling with and most of the time without money, Niko and I learned how to save money on the one thing that cost the most on the road: accommodation. In this article we present you a list of options on how to live somewhere for free! I would like to emphasize here that most options are only possible thanks to great communities of hospitable people. If the people we met through these platforms wouldn’t have opened their door for us, life on the road would have been a lot harder (like literally, because sleeping on the street isn’t very comfy). So keep in mind, this list isn’t just a way of finding free accommodation but most importantly a way of meeting awesome people with whom you can exchange stories, interests and who can teach you about their culture. If you don’t like to interact with people, there might be a few options for you, but just a few…
House-sitting gives you the opportunity to live rent-free in the home of people while they are on a holiday. In exchange you take care of the house and their pet(s) for a few weeks or even a few months. House-sitting is an ideal option if you want to work online (just make sure they have wi-fi) and/or want to stay in one place for a longer time and experience daily life in this area.
There are many house-sitting websites on which you can make a profile, pay a membership fee and connect with people from all around the world who are in need of a house-sitter. Half the Clothes wrote a great list of the different house-sitting websites, complete with their annual membership costs, advantages and disadvantages.
We were a member of Housecarers (yearly fee $50) and were very happy with their site as they have a wide range of opportunities around the world. Trusted Housesitters is the number one in its niche (annual fee $95) and offers house-sitting opportunities in more than 130 countries.
Our tips for using house-sitting: make sure you have an awesome looking profile, give enough details about yourself and have a few references to show (the owners want to make sure they don’t leave their house and pets in the hands of a psychopath who wants to use their home to hold use crazy voodoo parties, hide dead bodies or burn it down). Care for the house as if it would be your own!! And if you’re not an animal lover, don’t even bother applying because most houses will come with some furry and/or feathery companions! In this video we share one of our house-sitting experiences in Turkey!
If you happen to own a house or apartment, you could also consider to swap homes with a house-owner from another country. We don’t own a house and I don’t think anyone would like to exchange their home for our little tent (in case you are, please let us know…) but it sounds like a fun and interesting way to live abroad for free! Check out Home-exchange, HomeforSwap or Stay4Free for more information!
HOSPITALITY EXCHANGE – SPEND THE NIGHT WITH A LOCAL
Yeah, I know how that last part sounds but that’s not what I’m aiming at (although, I wouldn’t judge you if you meet an attractive local). There are many websites that will connect you with people from all around the world who offer travelers a free bed or couch for one or more nights in their house. We’ve used some of those websites during our past and present travels and have met great people who are now good friends. It’s also a fun way to learn more about the culture of a country by staying with locals and they might even show you places in their city or region that can’t be found in a travel guide!
How do those websites work?
Firstly you’ll have to make a profile. Give a detailed description about who you are and upload a few nice photos of yourself. Better not show any pictures on which you’re half-naked, wearing a bikini (girls, you really don’t want to get that kind of attention), drunk at a party or killing a puppy. First impressions are very important here (unless you’re looking for like-minded puppy-haters).
After you made yourself a profile, you can start searching for hosts. Most websites have a search engine where you can type the name of the country and city that you want to visit and you’ll get a list of all the people who would like to host you. Click on their profile and send them a request. Always mention when and how long you want to stay and why you choose them as your host (“only because you have a free bed” won’t probably convince them to take you in).
A few remarks we would like to make here:
* Always read the profile of the people you want to stay with. Get to know who they are, what they like, what you have in common… Be aware, some hosts might see these websites as a dating site. Sometimes it’s quite obvious as some male hosts will only open their home to female travelers (and vice versa) so ALWAYS read the references that other travelers wrote about the host, to avoid unpleasant surprises.
* Don’t see the hosts as a cheap way of visiting the city. We only recommend these websites if you are genuinely interested in meeting people. How would you feel if you opened your home to a stranger who barely speaks to you and uses your spare room as if it was a hotel room. If you’re not the social type or you want a room where you can be alone for a few days (we hear you, we sometimes need some personal space too), you can always stay in a private hostel room or book a cheap apartment on Air B&B!
* Be interested in your hosts. Get to know them, ask where they would recommend you to go, explore the city together, make conversation over a few beers,… And always thank them for their hospitality (buy them chocolate, offer to cook them a meal,…)
Here’s a list of websites where you can contact people from all over the world who will open their house for you:
Couchsurfing is the most known and popular platform that connect travelers with hosts. You can become a verified member for $20 per year but it’s not mandatory. However, if you’re not verified, you can only contact a limited amount of people per week. I discovered this website in 2010 and always had a good experiences with it. However, more and more people have been complaining about couchsurfing, stating that it’s not the same like it used to be, that it became more of a social media profit platform with less real travelers and more people looking for an exotic date. I’ve even heard a few horror stories about guys harassing girls, expecting sex in exchange for the free stay,… Despite all the negativity, I still think Couchsurfing is a good and well-functioning platform. Niko and I used it not so long ago and never had any bad or weird experiences. My tips: read the profile thoroughly (especially the references), be picky, exchange a few messages, maybe connect on Facebook to stalk them a little (now who’s the creep here) or contact the travelers that left a reference to your potential host , follow your feeling and if you are a solo female traveler, you might feel safer to only connect with female hosts.
If you don’t want to use couchsurfing or you want to have more options, here’s a list of alternative platforms where you can also connect with fellow-travelers and locals:
This website is the younger brother of Couchsurfing and is a non-profit open source to connect travelers and hosts. It doesn’t have as many members as couchsurfing but so far I haven’t come across any bad reviews. I think it’s definitely worth checking out!
This non-profit website was developed by a small team of activists who also created Hitchwiki, Trashwiki and Nomadwiki. They created Trustroots as an alternative to Couchsurfing, where travelers and nomads can connect with the genuine intention of helping other travelers – especially hitchhikers – by offering them a free bed for the night and exchange hitchhiking/travel stories. The community isn’t very big but is definitely trustworthy!
The Warmshowers community is a free worldwide hospitality exchange for touring cyclists. It connects hosts who are happy to offer traveling cyclists a warm shower and a bed in exchange for great cycling/travel tales. So far, I’ve only heard positive stories about Warmshowers.
Global Freeloaders is free but you can only join if you can host other members within 6 months of signing up. At the moment a few people have mentioned that it’s a bit of a non-event but I think it’s definitely worth a try.
The Hospitality Club doesn’t have any membership fees and has more than 1000 members from all around the world. You can only find other members after signing up for free. Safety seems very important here as the members have to supply their full name and passport number during the first contact to secure their identity. You can also check the reviews of the hosts.
Same concept as the above but I’m not sure if they are still very active. As a non-member I could only see a limited amount of forums and the latest topic was about a month ago.
We love the concept of TalkTalkbnb! They offer hosts the opportunity to meet travelers who are native speakers of the languages they want to learn or practice. In exchange for language classes, the hosts offer the travelers free accommodation. If you love learning or teaching languages like we do, you’ll definitely love this platform! Signing up is free and the website is very user-friendly.
The idea of Gambio: host share their home, guests share their skills. In exchange for a few hours per day helping your host to improve their skills in what you’re good at (languages, website development, art, music,…) you’ll get a place to stay and a warm welcome. Really love this concept, really love their website!
Staydu is a new social site on which you can find three types of hosts. The hosts with the red dot will offer you free accommodation in exchange for help (this can be painting a room, looking after the kids or teaching them your language), the hosts with the yellow dot will ask you to pay some money for the room and the hosts with the blue dot offer you free accommodation in their house. It’s like HelpX meets AirBnB meets Couchsurfing on Staydu. Hosts can sign up for free, travelers need to pay a small membership fee. Sounds like a great platform to me, we’ll definitely try this one out in the near future!
My Twin Place is a combination of Couchsurfing and Home-Exchange. You first have to register as a host and every time you accept the request of travelers to stay in your home, you’ll earn points. You can eventually exchange these points to stay in the house of another traveler/host. The host can provide you with a room or even a whole house! Still hoping that someone will eventually be interested in a vacation in our tent…
Servas is a worldwide network of hosts and travelers established in over 80 countries. As a peace organisation, it aims to promote international understanding through personal contacts and exchange of ideas. For a short period it offers an “open door” so that travelers can look beyond the tourist façade to join in the daily life of their hosts. To become a member of Servas, you first have to contact the Servas group in your home country. It is a genuine organization who promotes trust, respect and open-mindedness.
This website is by women for women (sorry guys, you’ll have to skip this one). For an annual fee of $45 you’ll get access to the membership list that contains information on every member of 5W, including contact details and interests. This is a great organization for (solo) female travelers who want to connect and stay with other women from around the world.
Lesbian & Gay Hospitality Exchange International is a network for lesbians and gay men from around the world who offer their hospitality to other members of this community at no charge. The annual membership fee is €25. There are currently more than 500 listings in over 30 countries.
This community is a hospitality network for people who want to host other Esperanto speakers from all over the world. If you want to practice (or maybe learn) Esperanto, this is the place to be!
If your intention is to find a romantic foreign date, you can always register on TravelHostDate. This community ensures to be a safe dating site where you can also find people to host you. At least you’ll know straight away the intentions of the other person and maybe you’ll find the travel love of your life. If not, it could be a good place to meet new friends from around the world. It sounds a bit similar to Tinder if you ask me and it’ll only be your cup of tea if you’re looking for a date who will provide you with a bed (whether or not you’ll sleep in the same bed, will depend on the date itself).
VOLUNTEERING IN EXCHANGE FOR FOOD AND BOARD
Another fun and mind-opening way of traveling and saving your budget is to work in exchange for food and accommodation. There are five main organizations you can become a member of and where you find many interesting places to stay for a few weeks, learn great new skills, meet interesting people and experience a different way of living in exchange for a few hours of work per day. Read our article How to volunteer abroad for free for more information.
Wwoof (world wide organization of organic farms)
Wwoof has per country a network of organic farms who are looking for volunteers. From big farms to little home-grown gardens in a rural setting, wwoof aims to provide volunteers an experience in organic and ecologically sound growing methods and to experience life in a different way. The host provides food, accommodation and opportunities to learn in exchange for 4-6 hours of daily help with farming or gardening activities. You also get one or two free days per week to explore the surroundings.
Although you can find wwoof worldwide, a different membership (and payment) is required for each country. So the best way is to become a member on the website of the country you are going to. Wwoof destinations is a guide to all the countries and their websites. Membership for a year costs around €40 (depending on the country).
HelpStay holds a database of farms, house holders, art retreat centers, eco-villages, hostels, lodges, vineyards, ranches, schools, monasteries,… who are looking for volunteers that can help them in exchange for food and accommodation. Certain schools even pay a wage on top of this! The yearly membership fee for a single person is €19, for a couple, two friends or a family €39.
HelpX offers a variety of volunteering work on organic and non organic farms, home-stays, hostels, boats,… Together we pay €20 for a two year membership which gives us access to a worldwide listing.
It works the same as wwoof: in exchange for 4-6 hours of daily work (gardening, landscaping, construction, cleaning) the host provides you with food and accommodation and you should get one or two days off per week.
Thanks to Help-X, Niko and I were able to live nearly a whole year for free in Ireland. We were living in a caravan, had our own fridge and cupboards filled with food and had weekly dinner with our hosts. In exchange we helped with the cooking and cleaning and the creation of a beautiful garden on the property. We combined this work with paid jobs on the side. Our days were filled and we were working a lot but it made us save a lot of money for our hitchhiking journey across the world.
We don’t have any experience with workaway but it works the same way as Help-X and Wwoof. You pay €23 membership as a single person or €30 for two people for one year and it also gives you access to a worldwide network of members.
Working Traveller is kind of the LinkdIn for travelers. It enables you to work and travel while you’re abroad and gaining good work references for a job if you ever plan to settle down. On this website you can find a job in exchange for food and accommodation but and they even have a section to find paid work. Signing up is free and you have to mention your skills in your profile. The hosts are looking for people who have skills in IT, art, agriculture, education, festivals,… Even bloggers are welcome!
I worked for food and board many times in different countries. A few times I stayed in a hostel for free, in exchange for two and a half hours of daily work. It was easy: preparing breakfast, cleaning rooms, doing laundry, checking in guests… I also got a free breakfast and certain hostel-owners even gave me weekly pocket-money, which I used for buying food. The small amount of hours I had to work gave me a lot of free time, which was a great opportunity to find an extra paid job on the side or explore the area I was living in.
I also worked on farms and in home-stays where I gained a lot of new skills. I learned how to train llama’s in New Zealand, how to take care of horses and other animals in Australia and England, how to landscape gardens in Ireland, build little sheds, make fires, chop wood, cook, …
Just be aware of one thing when you volunteer: not all the hosts are genuine. Some of them will see you as cheap labor and will barely provide the basic accommodation. If you end up in a place like that, get the hell out of there and leave a report on the website. This happened to me a few times. I had to work 8 to 9 hours a day for a small amount of food, slept in a bed full of fleas, got verbally abused by my host,… Always check the references of the people with whom you want to stay! If they have more than three negative references, don’t even bother contacting them.
It’s also good to look at how many people the hosts want. In our experience, the more people they need, the more likely it is you’ll be used as a cheap work force. But this is luckily not always the case.
OTHER OPTIONS WE TRIED
If you’ve watched our videos from our hitchhiking journey so far, you’ll know by now that this is our favourite way of spending the night! I always sleep so deeply when we camp somewhere in the wild. If we’re stranded near a road and can’t find any forest or beach to hide, we’ll ask people if we can camp on their property.
Knocking on doors
This might not always be successful but you never know. In some countries people are super hospitable and will be happy to help out a traveler in need. A family in Turkey opened their door to us for the night and we ended up staying there for three months! We never saw that one coming! You can watch it in this vlog.
Abandoned houses and buildings can sometimes offer more protection and warmth than a tent. If you’re lucky, there’s even an old couch or mattress on which you can sleep. If you don’t mind roughing it up, you’ll sleep comfortable here. Hey, maybe it could become your new home for a while …
Sleeping in airports, bus- and train stations
Definitely a good option for one night but you might not feel very refreshed the day after. I always feel ‘watched’ when I sleep in some sort of station while try to hold tight to my backpack. You’re not always allowed to spend the night in an airport or in a bus or train station and the security guide might guide you out the door. I prefer squatting or camping and only use this as a last resort.
Sleeping on a bus or train
This will save you money on accommodation while you’re traveling from one destination to another. Except for the few short bus rides to get out of a big city and a one hour train ride in Italy, we haven’t taken any buses or trains during this hitchhiking journey. In the past I took a few times the night bus to save myself some money but I felt wrecked the day after. I just can’t sleep well on a bus. It often stops, people are getting in and out and are noisy and I felt like a zombie when I arrived at my destination. Night trains are often more pricey but most of them are well-equipped to have an almost peaceful night of sleep.
OTHER OPTIONS WE HAVEN’T TRIED (YET)
Most convents and monasteries will charge a fee of $20 or ask for a donation but there are also many monasteries who will accommodate travelers without asking for money in return. If they allow you to stay for a while, it’s good to offer some kind off volunteering service in return. Here’s an excellent article by Women on the Road on What you need to know about monastery accommodation, including some resources on how to find monasteries around the world.
Niko met some travelers who always sought shelter in fire stations in Mexico. Apparently they allow travelers to spend the night in the fire station for free.
If you know any website, platform or other ways of free accommodation that we haven’t mentioned in this list, please let us know in the comments or send us an email! We will mention your advice (and name unless you want to stay anonymous) in this section!
We would also love to hear about your experiences with any of the communities, websites and other options we’ve mentioned!