How To Access Free Accommodations During Travel

Hands of hotel maid putting flowers on the stack of towels

When most of us hear ‘free accommodation during travel‘, we think of CouchSurfing.
It affords us, lowly global nomads, a place to sleep when the wallet’s looking a little thin. But more than that, it provides a way to immerse ourselves in local culture by living and sharing living quarters with locals.

But CouchSurfing can be testing. Many people don’t respond to requests, some hosts are unreliable and others try to charge you (← Our friend, Chris G was charged $30 by a family to watch reality television!)
If you’re looking for more opulent digs, a little adventure, and something unique, check out these alternatives.

Care-Taking

(e.g. The CareTaker Gazette)

The CareTaker Gazette was launched in 1982 and boasts subscriptions of more than 10,000 interested caretakers. Some of the opportunities offer a stipend, many involve work-trade arrangements, but some are simply a free bed in exchange for day-to-day upkeep.

Two words of warning though: 1) it costs approx. $30/year to subscribe to the Gazette, and 2) there is often a strong bias towards older caretakers. With that said, some care-taking jobs require younger people to act as tour guides or to do the heavy lifting.

House/Pet Sitting

(e.g. HouseCarers, MindMyHouseSabbaticalHomes, AussieHouseSitters)

Do you go nuts sitting around in your own house? Then you probably won’t enjoy sitting around someone else’s house for months on end.
But, some people swear by it and if you need some downtime to replenish funds and catch your breath, house sitting may be for you. It typically involves maintaining a residence and possibly looking after pets.

Some services charge subscription fees (approx. $50/year for HouseCarers) and there’s a preference to you being local. But you can search most sites for free to get a feeling for the opportunities available in your area. It’s worth checking out if you plan to stay in one place working as a digital nomad.

House Swapping

(e.g. RoofSwap, HomeExchange, ExchangeZones)

Of course, house swapping isn’t exactly free (like beer, spirits, and speech) because you need to start with a whole house.
And even if you own your own home, it can be pretty tedious tethering your travels to the whims of a random family on the other side of the globe. Most of the time it’s just easier to rent your house out and have carte blanche of when you go and where you stay.

That said, it can be great for a family looking to base themselves elsewhere for a longer term. And it helps to know your tenants are taking the same risks as you (unlike a group of itinerant teens who drink like they’re in the Sahara).

Marine Deckhanding

(e.g. SailingPoint, CrewTraders, LuxYachts)

Okay, now we’re talking. Why stay on a couch when you can sail the world on a luxury vessel? Well, maybe because you have to work like it’s going out of fashion, but then, a yacht isn’t a couch either.

There are plenty of opportunities for crew with no experience, but you must be willing to work hard. At times it may seem more of a chore than a trip, but that’s the price to sail the world for free. If you have some experience and join a professional crew, they’re likely to pay you. Otherwise, you may receive a small stipend or nothing at all.

Organic Farming

(e.g. WWOOF, GrowFood)

It doesn’t have to be ‘organic’, but the best-organized groups (with the greatest global reach) tend to focus on organic opportunities.
After all, can you imagine your typical farmer handing over the ranch to a bunch of good-for-nothing traveling hippies?

The most popular movement is WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farmers), but there are many others with equal (or better) reach in certain areas.

There are stories of farmers taking advantage of WWOOFers by making them work excessive hours and just generally treating them like cow manure, but most reports are highly favorable. Just be prepared to work hard.

Friends, Family, and Friends of Friends & Family

Some of our best travel experiences have come from staying with friends and family. They provide a free bed that gives you a break from the constant hustle of life on the road.
Plus, it’s always a hoot to reunite with long-lost relatives or make contact with a friend of a friend of a friend.

Like CouchSurfing though, you don’t want to overstay your welcome. And even though both are generally free, they can increase your expenses in other areas.

This is especially true if you’re staying in an area for a longer period. Even if you secure most of your stay in free accommodations, the short-term accommodations are the ones that you must pay for in between and can be very expensive.
Sometimes it’s cheaper to rent an apartment for a longer period and stay with friends/family when opportunities arise.