Sleep for Free, Worldwide!

To all the (post?)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.  

Did you know that for every $100 increase in rent, homelessness goes up by 9%?  NINE PERCENT!

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:

Finding free places to stay is not always easy, but sometimes you can find free accommodations in the form of couch surfing! Make a friend in exchange for free lodging.

When finding a place to stay for free, why not look for a spare couch? Have great conversations and a free place to stay – it’s a win win!

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.

Other websites like Couchsurfing:
Global Freeloaders

Free sleep, safe sleep! Get to know the person you are doing a language exchange with at a local cafe, like these two gentleman, before heading back to their place! Chat over some coffee and get to know them in their native tongue.

Sleep overnight at a fellow conversationalist’s place in exchange for some friendly back and forth banter at their home, or possibly at their favorite local cafe!

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 Ingles in Spain or Germany, you’re swapping your English skills for a place to lay your head.

Other language exchange programs:
AngloVille in Europe
Speak in Italy
Vaughan Town
in Spain

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.

A place to stay for free is always nicer than paying for a hotel. Work exchanges are a great way to slow down from the hustle of travelling along with becoming fully immersed in the local environment.

Work exchange: typically manual labor for free lodging and meals. Make sure to work hard for your free accommodation.

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.

Other programs like Worldpackers & Workaway:
Caretaker Gazette
Viva Farms  
Many hostels have work trade programs as well.

Exchange time walking dogs and tending to other pets while house sitting. Be prepared to go on long daily walks like this couple with the dog!

Have a safe, free place to stay at someone’s house with a work exchange! Be prepared to become an expert personal pet sitter in the process. Hope you’re not allergic to dogs or cats!

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.

Find a safe place, possibly on the beach like this beautiful, potential house exchange! Get free lodging by taking advantage of your current house.

Exchange your home for another one in a place you’d love to explore! Get free lodging by finding someone to switch houses for a week or two.

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!

Home for Exchange

Get free sleep while travelling along the countryside. Take a passenger train safely to your next destination and sleep overnight at the same time.

Multitask by travelling overnight and sleep for free on the way to your next adventure. Make sure to hide your valuables and hide money in multiple locations, or if you’re traveling with a partner, sleep in shifts.

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.

Sleep overnight in this relaxing bedroom with a queen size bed and white sheets. Enjoy your safe, free lodging at a place like this.

When given the choice, most individuals would choose this serene bedroom over sleeping on the floor of an airport overnight. But if you’re traveling on a budget, free places to stay are also highly valued.

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.

This is a great interpretation of a great free sleeping hotel: an orange camping tent on the coast! Exchange a room at a hotel for waking up to this fantastic view of the water in the morning.

Exchange a bedroom indoors for your own bedroom in nature! Free sleep and/or accommodations can often be found at camp grounds and national forests.

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).

Sleep for free near me or where ever you choose to pull your car or van off at the end of a long day's journey. with this retro camper van, eat dinner outside while enjoying the sunset in the distance. Enjoy your free place to stay while connecting with other travelers!

Have your car or van serve two purposes: your way to get around and also free lodging! It’s a great place to choose to stay for free.

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, traveling 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:


  • January 9, 2024 at 7:19 am

    Fantastic read! Your article offers a treasure trove of practical tips for budget travelers seeking authentic experiences. I’m especially intrigued by the diverse options like housesitting and language exchanges, which not only save money but also provide a deeper cultural immersion. Your emphasis on mutual respect and contribution in these exchanges is particularly noteworthy, fostering a sense of community among travelers and hosts. Thanks for sharing these insights – they’re a game-changer for anyone eager to explore the world without breaking the bank

  • November 12, 2023 at 3:44 am

    Your methods are incredibly dangerous, in addition to being stupid. Couchsurfing is how a vulnerable woman gets sexually abused and murdered. I have never heard of pet sitting an animal to get a free night’s stay in someone’s house. This is absurd!

  • May 16, 2023 at 1:55 pm

    I used to travel around the US quite a lot. I often slept in my car at highway rest stops on the interstates. Haven’t done it for about 25 years now. Some states had started to forbid overnight sleeping in cars, but enforcement was spotty, and I was never approached about it. Do you know if this is still possible? Is there more strict enforcement than there used to be? Is it better in some states than in others? Thanks

  • March 20, 2023 at 7:03 pm

    I highly recommend these two couchsurfing communities for female travellers:

    Host a Sister – Facebook group where women around the world can find accommodations.
    Travel Ladies – mobile app connecting women who want to travel with other women who want to host them

  • October 18, 2022 at 12:56 am

    Where can I get a free van to sleep in

  • September 22, 2021 at 3:30 pm

    That’s great

  • October 6, 2019 at 5:22 am

    Hospital garages are safe as we. Any 24 hour operation. I worked at a hospital and would sleep in the parking garage all the time. They have cameras and security. It may cost me 8:00 bucks but it was cheaper than a hotel. I remember one night I partied All night did I go home no I went to the hospital parking garage or parking lot.

  • July 9, 2019 at 1:05 pm

    Absolutely none of these things work except sleeping in airports, in the summer, winter, spring or fall, anywhere, ever. When you’re black. And apparently I’ve just gotten wind of that I may be “too old” for some of these Couchsurfing hosts. I’ve been on most of these sites, including HelpX and WorkAway, for several years now and have gotten squat for the most part.

    • August 4, 2019 at 11:33 pm

      Hi Pamela I sure hope this isn’t as bad as you have found so far.
      I have five brown skinned daughters and hope their experience will be different.
      And as an older ( pink skinned) chick I’ll be interested to see how I go though it won’t be for quite some time. I’ll be heading to France in June 2020… or earlier not sure yet.

    • January 13, 2020 at 3:54 am

      Hi Pamela, apply for hosts in couchsurifng/workaway older than you, the older they are than you the most chances plus opt for hosts in rural areas or outside of town they are more likely to responde posivitely. I also have problem with age but i found that if my profile is well (i have many refs) and have a solid online presence in social media, and apply aways for hosts older than me I do get some replies that arent ”no thanks your too old”. There is surely age racism (but i dont agree ther is skin colour racsm as i met many csers who are black and didnt mention they have problems finding hosts alhough I will admit also young …). Age racism affects all skin colours…

  • December 14, 2017 at 5:25 pm

    Note: Workaway membership is only for 1 year now, not 2.

    • December 14, 2017 at 9:03 pm

      Thanks for catching that! I actually switched from HelpX to Workaway (after years as a dedicated HelpX enthusiast) and didn’t catch that little factoid when I updated this page. Corrected – Cheers!

  • November 19, 2017 at 9:32 am

    Your article on Traveling Cheap reminds me of my plan someday to do the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage across northern Spain, staying in hostel type bunks called albergues. With the reward of a certificate of completion at the end of steadily walking for weeks with a Pilgrims Passport stamped along ‘the way’ which enables you to volunteer your services in return at a albergue. Having endured hardship for several weeks you are now qualified to joyfully give back in return, serving other pilgrims who are on their own long hike from France to the Santiago de Compostela, or even further to Finisterre, the ‘Lands End’ overlooking the Atlantic. Have you already written an article about this? If so, please share the link, as I would enjoy reading it.

    • November 20, 2017 at 11:41 pm

      Hi Lin – I haven’t done the Camino, but I’ve heard lots about it from two very good friends (an Australian couple and an American woman I met in Hawaii) who both did it and loved it. Sounds amazing! Happy travels to you!

  • September 26, 2016 at 9:39 pm

    This is awesome! Bookmarked it! Some websites I already know like couchsurfing and help but there are lots more I only discovered now. Thanks for the helpful compilation!

  • September 26, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    Great list! I often host Couchsurfers and I love it. I’ve made lifelong friends from my guests.

  • September 26, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    This is a great post with loads of info and links. Awesome. I am saving this post. Although I’ve slept in the airport and on a train, I prefer a room. It definitely does not need to be a 5 star hotel, Airbnb is totally fine. Saving money is one thing and I don’t mind cutting expenses but I will always spend money good shoes and a good bed. Your on you feet most of the time and in your bed the rest if the time. I hate trying to explore a city exhausted from not sleeping ok

    • September 26, 2016 at 3:42 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it! I know what you mean about the good sleep. If you can afford it, I certainly recommend it. I’ve “wasted” entire days at destinations recovering from not having enough sleep on the way there. It’s great for budget travelers who are willing to slow down to consider work exchanging and house sitting, hey. Happy travels!

  • September 26, 2016 at 2:07 am

    Free accommodation is definitely the easiest way to cut back on travel expenses, and get to experience the local culture more!

  • September 25, 2016 at 10:17 pm

    I would really love to housesit one day. I am not into sleeping in my own car but some other tips are great- thanks for reminding me to check out the housesitting thing 🙂

    • September 25, 2016 at 10:59 pm

      I’ve slept in a car, van, and truck… I can say the car is the hardest and most uncomfortable. Van is the most comfortable, but figuring out where you’ll end up all night is a challenge!

      House sitting is great – I’ve seen so many cool places thanks to it!

  • September 25, 2016 at 8:55 pm

    Lots of great options for budget traveling. Good for when you need to get creative to stretch your budget.

    • September 25, 2016 at 10:59 pm

      I’m pretty much always stretching my budget! 😉

  • September 25, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    There are so many great websites I didn’t know about!! Currently exploring Culture Go Go. Indeed there are so many opportunities to travel on a budget) Thank you for sharing!

  • September 25, 2016 at 3:36 am

    Wow this is an interesting roundup of ways to travel without spending any money! Have you really slept in a bus station? That’s pretty brave! House sitting and home exchanges are getting pretty popular too.

    • September 25, 2016 at 10:27 pm

      Yup – accidentally under-budgeted for a trip and had to come up with some pretty creative solutions. We got permission to string our hammocks in the yard of a hostel, regularly slept in shifts at bus stations, and loved the few all-inclusive experiences that included three square meals and a bed every night. Being stretched so thin taught me a lot about what it’s actually like to be homeless and made me a lot more compassionate.

  • September 25, 2016 at 1:05 am

    Of all of these, I have willingly camped and taken an overnight train. And I have unwillingly slept in my car and at an airport. Haven’t tried the others though. I’ll give some thought to housesitting

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