To all the COVID-era readers, I just want to say Hi. I see you.
The number of people arriving here – not because they need to figure out how to afford travel via sleeping for free, but because they need a safe place to lay their head where they already are – is on the rise. This roof-over-head insecurity is happening for more and more of us. I am not immune.
I see both misery and magic. The misery of insecurity, the magic that might come from being forced to partner with others who also can’t get their housing needs met alone. Needing help seems like both the best and worst experience, all at once. I’ve had lots of both this year. Maybe you have, too?
The rest of this is not updated for COVID times. I’m too busy reading books like this and this and talking to people about how we can change systems that led to people needing to raise fists and search the internet for free places to sleep.
We all want to know how to travel for free or at least for cheap. Major trip costs are transportation and accommodation. I’m sure you already know about free flights and cheap flight hacks. On to free sleeping!
Free Accommodations for any Budget Traveler
I once traveled so penniless I could only afford to sleep in a bed a few times a week. Purchasing a bus ticket blew my budget so badly I had to survive for days on avocados.
So why do I think sleeping for free is the best part of cheap travel? The options usually lead to deep cultural connections and build your character!
Remember, there’s no free lunch. What you save in money, you pay in time it take to participate in the alternatives. Here are ten free accommodation options to help you travel around the world on a budget:
1. Couchsurfing: Sleep for Free on Local Couches
Couchsurfing makes travel accessible by connecting those willing to welcome strangers to their couches with people who can’t afford to stay in hotels all the time. Even better – you’ll get out of your guidebook and see your destination through the eyes of a local.
Free sleep successfully: set up a profile today, and start hosting people in your home. You’re more likely to be accepted by hosts on your trip if you’ve already given to and have references in the CS community. You’ll also develop your people-reading skills – the key to using Couchsurfing safely. Fill out your profile thoughtfully and thoroughly. Remember CS is about what you can *give* – great cultural connection, not what you can get – cheap travel. Best and worst experiences in this article. awhich I found by responding to a media call-out for stories – they published one of mine!
2. Language Exchanges: Free Accommodations in Exchange for your First Language
Whether you connect with an individual through a platform like TalkTalkBnB or sign up to a program like Pueblo Inglés in Spain or Germany, you’re swapping your English skills for a place to lay your head.
Be successful: Make a great profile or get familiar with the application process. Again, you’re not getting something for nothing. It’s about trading something other than money for a place to get your beauty rest. It’s an opportunity for the type of friendship you’re unlikely to forge with a hotel clerk.
3. Work Exchanges: Free Lodging for Manual Labor
This is my absolute favorite way to travel, and not because it saves money. Many global wanderers tire quickly of museums and waterfalls. They begin to miss home comforts and a sense of purpose that comes with responsibility to others. Especially in expensive countries, trading four hours a day to help someone else accomplish their goals is a rewarding, no-cost way to experience another culture. For more benefits, see the Work Exchange FAQs.
My favorite sites are Worldpackers and Workaway: the affordable membership covers the entire world. Much of the work is physical and outdoors, but lots of hosts are looking for less-physical indoor work as well. Here are my reviews of work-exchange sites.
Be successful: make a great profile and work hard. Hosts are giving just as much as you are. It takes plenty of time and energy to respond to messages, organize arrivals and departures, prepare space for you, incorporate you in daily-life planning, and show you their corner of the world.
4. Housesitting: Free Sleep for Pet Sitting
Housesitting is a fantastic way to combine the stability of routine with the adventure of travel. You give your time taking care of an owner’s home (and usually pets!) in exchange for an opportunity to settle down for a bit and really explore an area.
Be successful: Housesit before you hit the road so you’ll have references and a sense of what housesitting entails. A great profile goes a long way. It’s free to look, but you do have to pay for a membership to contact homeowners. The fee is worth it even if you get just a single house sitting job. For a detailed guide, read How to Become a House Sitter.
The most common house sitting websites are:
HouseCarers – international (I’m writing this while house sitting at a home I found on HouseCarers!)
Trusted Housesitters – international
Mind my House – international
See the Best (and Worst) House Sitting Websites for an extensive list of house sitting websites.
5. Home Exchanges: Let Someone Else Stay in Your House so you can Sleep in Theirs for Free!
Just because you have a mortgage doesn’t mean you can’t travel! Home exchanges are a great way to see a new destination at a significantly reduced cost. Finding direct swaps isn’t as hard as you might think, given many homeowners will want to travel at the same time you do – holidays and summer!
Be Successful: A great profile goes a long way toward matching you with like-minded homeowners. The more you can plan in advance, the better!
6. Overnight Buses/Trains: Multitask by Travelling and Sleeping at the Same Time
Who said you have to sleep in a bed?! On my most thread-bare, shoe-string travel, I regularly took night transit.
Be successful: if your destination isn’t the final stop, set an alarm to wake yourself about 20-30 minutes before predicted arrival. If you can communicate with the driver/staff, ask them to wake you in the right town. Make sure your most precious belongings are secure – the overhead compartment is not a great place for your passport, wallet, phone, camera, etc. I usually use my bag of valuables as a pillow.
7. Sleep in Airports: Arrive Reallllly Early for your Morning Flight
If the people you’ll be interacting with after your flight can handle the jet-lagged, sleep-deprived version of you, great! Arrive at the airport the night before to save on hotels. Or, if you arrive late, stay the rest of the night in the airport before setting out to secure a resting spot the next morning.
There’s a whole website to help you get the best sleep possible: Sleeping in Airports. Please be a good human and add your experience via a review (I try to review every airport I sleep in. Sometimes I even add info for airports I just passed through but happened to spot a good napping corner.)
Be successful: Again – you’ll need an alarm if you’re catching a flight. And you’ll need to secure your belongings. I use my valuables bag as a pillow connect my main bag to my body somehow. Another great reason to pack light!
8. Homeless Style
When my budget was really, really thin my travel partner and I decided to go to the bus station the night before our departure and take turns sleeping there. Turns out we weren’t the only ones. Tons of traveling locals had the same idea. There are lots of public places where sleeping is acceptable.
Be successful: there are also public places where sleeping is not acceptable (or legal!). Know the laws where you are traveling to avoid trouble with the police. Don’t be a burden – especially if your appearance makes it easy to see you’re a foreigner. If you’re the only one sleeping in a gorgeous park frequented by after-dinner walkers in a city you have the privilege of traveling to, move yourself along.
9. Camping: Sleep for Free in Nature!
Depending on your destination and the delicacy of your constitution, free camping options are a realistic cheap travel solution in many places. Let’s start with the obvious: free campgrounds. Next: farmers will often give permission to sleep on their land. In Scandanavia, you don’t even have to ask: it’s considered a basic right. In the US, you can camp free in National Forests. Similarly, Canada’s Crown Land – 88% of the country – can be camped on for free. Japan has lots of free camping, as does Australia along their endless coastline and empty outback. Note that many of these countries have a reputation for being out of reach to the budget traveler. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
If you have to pay to camp, this friend referral link for HipCamp – like AirBnb for camping – will cut your cost by $20.
Be successful: If you’re camping near farms or towns, follow the homeless sleeping tips: know the laws; be respectful. If you’re keen for a wilderness experience, try camping at home first. Learn to set up a tent, get familiar with ideal foods, know the importance of a sleeping pad (it’s not for squishy comfort; it insulates you from the ground and makes a huuuuuge difference in preventing hypothermia).
10. Sleep in Your Car: Sleep for Free in Your Backseat
Yes, this requires that you have a car. I couldn’t decide if this option fit better on the “Travel Cheap by Sleeping for Free” list or the upcoming “Travel Cheap by Sleeping Cheap” list. I traveled for a year in New Zealand, sleeping in a van for at least 30% of the nights I was in the country. Yeah, that’s right. I lived in a van. I lived in a truck, too, travelling across the U.S. with my Aussie beau, bedding down each night in the back of a Toyota Tundra.
Be successful: Start with a mechanically sound vehicle. Be really respectful about where you park. No one likes unfamiliar van people parked in front of their house, especially if they sleep in until noon or string up clotheslines up in public parks. In the USA, Wal*Mart parking lots welcome you. I’ve read gas stations in Mexico do as well. You can try to stay in other parking lots, dead-end roads, and sometimes industrial areas.
Hope these free accommodation tips help you on your quest travel cheaply around the world!
What do I do when not sleeping for free? AirBnb. Almost always. It’s an affordable way to be “at home” when traveling, which keeps me sane. This friend referral link gives you $40 off your first stay.
Happy Traveling! ♣
Stretch your dollars further! Check out:
And when the money runs out, you’ll want:
And if you’re new to the lifestyle, you’ll relate to:
- Grabbing Life by the Handlebars: Retirement Before 30
- Why a Hard-Working Perfectionist… Doesn’t Want a Job
|↑a||which I found by responding to a media call-out for stories – they published one of mine!|