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HOW TO: Access Free Accommodation During Travel

by Globetrooper Todd | 26 Responses
Couch Surfing

When most of us hear ‘free accommodation‘, we think 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 (← 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.


(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. See the write up in Time magazine.

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 (clearly they haven’t met this lady). With that said, some care-taking jobs require younger people to act as tour guides or do 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 organised 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 travelling 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 favourable. 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 accomm, the short-term accomm that you must pay for in between can be very expensive. Sometimes it’s cheaper to rent an apartment for a longer period and stay with friends/family when opportunities arise.

Couch Surfing

(e.g. ServasGlobalFreeloaders)

I already spoke about CouchSurfing, the website, in the intro, but these are other CouchSurfing-esque websites if you like the concept of local immersion and living with local people.

Posted in How-To Guides, Travel Hacking | July 8th, 2010

26 Responses to HOW TO: Access Free Accommodation During Travel

  1. Great choices you got here!

    Although I haven’t tried most of them, I have to say I’m pretty convinced on the benefits they can give to your travel, in addition to saving money. I have done couchsurfing many times and for me this is the easiest (and laziest) method to get free accommodation. My tip for it to work well is to be extremely picky with who you want to stay and get to a clear understanding of how long you will stay and where you will stay (meaning an actual couch, air mattress, bed, floor, etc.). Most couchsurfers are in it to be part of a world wide community, so the odds of being charger are slim, but, I have seen couchsurfers charge for whatever reason.

    I’m definitely looking forward to do some Marine Deckhand… Now, I just need to know where those sails could take me. :D

    • Hey Norbert; great to hear from you. Another option for travelling on the water is to jump aboard a container ship (opposed to a luxury yacht). More hard work, but a different experience altogether. And thanks for the tips re couchsurfing. PS Our couch in Montreal is available to everyone here!

      • Oh yes… I’ve heard about the container ships. For some reason container ships make me I picture myself all dirty and with a huge wrench in my hand… lol (can’t take that mental picture away). But I’m sure it must be fun and unique.

        Hey thanks… my couch in NYC is available too. :)

  2. The Marine Deckhand option is the most intriguing to me even though it’s hard work.

    I wasn’t aware of all these options and because I will be on a tight budget I’ll definitely be taking advantage of them.

    • Hey Nick; thanks for dropping by. Love the concept of your blog. I think many career travellers are introverts. A lot of them travel to stretch themselves, but I also think introspection leads to a thirst for understanding other ways of life. All the best.

  3. I’m doing my first couchsurfing experience in Panama City next week, should be interesting! I’d like to try WWOOFing as well as I’ve heard a lot of good things about it.

    • Hey ayngelina, would love to hear how it all goes and whether you’ll keep doing it regularly. Good luck. :)

  4. I have always wanted to try house sitting. My job just requires me to have internet, so it would be a nice way of working and living for free essentially. Thanks for the information!

    • And if you’re lucky Suzy, you’ll get a chance to look after a big fluffy dog too :) I always wondered why people didn’t just leave their houses vacant; I would had thought there’s less risk in that. But of course many do it because of pets. Many animal lovers can’t imagine leaving their pets at a boarding kennel.

      We would love to hear how it goes if you give it a try.

  5. Hey, great article rounding up the various options. I also like the fact that you point out some of the potential pitfalls with them.

    • Thanks Jools. And love the look and feel of your blog. Thoughtful content too. After a day of culling my RSS feed to about 10% it’s previous size, I’m going to have to add it :)

      By the way, if you like train travel, you should check out this trip Granted, it’s not exactly ‘slow travel’, well okay, it’s a race. But 30+ people going should make it a blast.

      • Hi Todd, thanks for that, yeah Lauren contacted me about that Indian trip. It’s not for me just now, though it does sounds like great fun!

        Yes, please do subscribe, it’s awful lonely out here sometimes! :(
        Mine is not just slow travel though, it’s rail trips in general, independent travel, basically alternatives to package holidays. I’m going to be mentioning you guys soon in my round up of great trip planning sites, this knocks spots off Tripit and all the others, well organised and very clean-looking. And have been plugging you a bit on twitter too!
        Keep it up :)

  6. There’s also Workaway. I’ve been thinking about it, but haven’t used it yet.

    I’m currently couchsurfing in Barcelona – my third visit to the same host, who’s become a good friend. In 5+ years of using couchsurfing, I’ve had countless positive experiences.

  7. Great compilation. I tried to always as much as I can get free accommodation when I travel. It saves me more money for souvenirs.

  8. House sitting can be great. I’m retired and became a resident of the Republic of Panama. While searching for a place to rent, I wanted searched Craigslist and found a small “casita” in a town called Potrerillos Arriba in Chiriqui Province. It’s up in the mountains about 35 miles from the Costa Rican border.

    I had been corresponding with a lady who blogs about Potrerillos. I wrote and asked if she knew who owned the house. Potrerillos is a small place of about 1,000 people so everybody knows everybody else. As it happened the people live right across from Joyce. She said they were essentially looking for someone to house sit their property and that house sitters don’t pay rent. (Well, I thought $200/month for a furnished small house was a bargain, never the less.) Joyce said she knew of several gringos (by that I mean anyone who isn’t a native-born Spanish speaker) who might be looking for a house sitter.

    Three days later I got an email from just such a couple. They live in Panama for six months of the year and spend the “rainy season” in Taos, New Mexico. I provided them with a resume explaining that while I never house sat before I have experience maintaining high-priced properties in foreign countries. I think being the captain of a million and a half dollar custom-built sailboat on the French Riviera for three years qualifies me to make such a statement. I offered three references and a deal was struck.

    Since the middle of May I have been living in a large, four-bedroom house 2,600 feet up in the mountains with a view from the front porch that looks down on the Pacific Ocean and from the back porch the highest point in the country looks down upon the house. I pay for the utilities, electricity (running $20/month), internet connection ($50/month), satellite t.v., which I hardly watch ($35/month), gas for cooking (so far $10/month) and a maid who comes in once a week to do the cleaning ($10/week for a five hour stint).

    The owners return the middle of November and I’m moving to the small village of Boqueron where I’ll be renting a furnished house by the side of a small river for $200/month for the next six months. The owners of this house have already asked me to return next year when they go back to Taos. Who wouldn’t want to live here for what it costs me? On top of that, the people who own the house I’ll be renting have broached the possibility of me returning to their place after my second house sitting stint is up.

    House sitting can be a great way to live.

    • Sounds amazing Richard. The more we travel to “exotic” countries and see that there are low-cost paradises everywhere, the more we question why we’d ever go back to Sydney (or similar) to pay $2k per month for an ordinary place amongst the rat race.

      Never really thought of Panama though; I guess being from Aust we tend to think of Asia more than Central America. But thanks for the costing details. We went to similar detail in this post:

      Anyway, thanks for sharing Richard, I’m sure many others will appreciate it too.

  9. I did stay with my friend’s family in China that was so much fun , rest of the times , I spend the nights on Bus/Airplane/Trains on travel and enjoy the serenity during the day …still I am going to apply for Care-Taking , it’s worth it if it’s 30$/year :)

  10. My boyfriend and I are currently house-sitting in Hong Kong for a friend of mine over Christmas and New Year’s. We thought it would be a great place to spend the holidays and since we were house-sitting and on a tight budget after a year of traveling, we’d be able to afford it. WRONG! My friend is making “the big bucks” here and wanted to take us out. Early on in the evening, we insisted that we pay for his dinner and drinks as thanks for letting us stay in his house. The bill ended up being far more than any hotel/hostel would have cost us! Yikes! But still, it’s a great experience and one big night out isn’t going to break the bank in the long run.

    • Hey Connie. I can definitely relate! Sometimes there is still a ‘cost’ that comes with free accommodation, whether it be getting your host a small thank-you gift, a dinner out or spending 24/7 with them (when you’re supposed to be working). All these things can blow out your reasoning for the ‘free accom’ in the first place. Most of the time, they’re good experiences though.

  11. For house sitting you may also want to try:

    And for house swapping:
    (if you’re looking for a stylish/chic swap)

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