The Ultimate Guide to Free Travel Accommodation

What’s your biggest expenditure during your travels? Accommodation, right? I realised pretty early on that even the cheapest hostels were eating away a considerable chunk of my travel money.

If only I didn’t have to spend so much money on sleeping, then I could travel for much longer. But how to get free accommodation whilst travelling without sleeping in a cardboard box?

After a bit of research, some asking around, and a whole lot of travel blog reading, I realised that there are four sure-fire ways to stay in amazing places for free.

Costa Rican mountains
I’m staying in a house with this view for free right now… Read on to find out how.

Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing is a really popular way for travellers to find a free place to stay, and there are very few backpackers that don’t swear by it these days. It’s probably the easiest of the four ways too. Hosts tend to be generous and usually enjoy meeting like-minded people, totally foreign people, and sometimes just to like help a chick out.

We originally heard about it through word-of-mouth whilst we were living in Taiwan, and decided to sign up as a host – we’re always happy to meet new people and we had a spare, albeit shabby, room. We enjoyed the experience so much, that when we went travelling again, we became surfers. We’ve had incredible hosts in countries all over the world, from Hong Kong to Poland. Sometimes we’ve been squashed onto a ramshackle sofa and other times we’ve had a whole attic suite to ourselves.

Free accommodation couchsurfing in Poland
A stunning attic room where we stayed for four nights thanks to a very generous Couchsurfing host in Poland.

House Sitting

House sitting is a recent development for us. Having decided to embark on an indefinite travel adventure in Central America and needing to travel slowly in order to work and keep costs down, we got into house sitting. But being a house (and/or pet sitter) isn’t quite as easy as sending over a quick message to someone on Couchsurfing.

House / pet sitting is a big commitment and involves a lot of trust on the home owners part. Taking on the responsibility of caring for someone else’s home and pets isn’t something to do lightly, and it’s not something which everyone is suited to. It also involves staying in the same place for a longer period of time (weeks or months even) and you’re stuck there if you don’t like it.

That said, house sitting has been an awesome experience for us. Not to boast, but we’re sitting in a house overlooking the mountains with eight gorgeous dogs and a little cat. Maybe I’ve mentioned it once or twice before…

House Sit Costa Rica Exterior - Charlie on Travel
House sitting in Costa Rica, it’s a good life.

Work-Aways & Volunteering

I’ve already written about language volunteering opportunities in Europe where you can get free bed and board in exchange for speaking English, but there are a lots of different opportunities out there.

These days, there are a lot of work-away and volunteering programmes that are asking for money – but remember, you really don’t need to pay to work. People need volunteers for all sorts of things, from working on an eco-farm to rescuing baby turtles.

We had a great time volunteering as language tutors in Poland, but the next thing on our list has got to be WOOFing (working on an organic farm). Work aways are popular for many tight-budget travellers looking to learn a new skill and see a new country. Workaway and Helpx are two other websites which help travellers find volunteering opportunities. Searching Craigslist is a good (and free!) way to find volunteer programmes too.

hotel chojnik angloville programme
The hotel we stayed in when volunteering on the Angloville programme in Poland.

Complimentary Stays

Every travel blogger’s dream is receiving a complimentary stay. After nearly six months of blogging, I mustered up the courage to ask some eco-lodges here in Costa Rica to put us up, and was pleasantly surprised when a few replied with a yes!

A complimentary stay doesn’t come cheap though. I mean, sure there are no financial costs, but you still have to offer something in return. Whether it’s an accommodation review, an article for their website, social media promotion or a video blog – or all four!

Do your free accommodation dreams suddenly seem possible?

They are possible, but remember, none of these opportunities for a free accommodation just tumble into your lap. You’re not going to get that magic email unless you go looking for it first. 

When you ask for a free place to stay, whether it’s in someone’s tiny flat or in a luxury resort, you have to sell yourself. It’s not easy to do, but luckily for you my three part guide to getting a free stay is coming soon.

What are your experiences with free accommodation? Do you have any other tips for getting a free stay whilst travelling?

Charlie Marchant

Charlie is a long-term traveller from the UK who writes about simple ways to travel sustainably, including how to become a house sitter and slow traveller, eating local and vegetarian, and making responsible travel choices.

30 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Free Travel Accommodation

  1. As you said Charlie, these are some “sure-fire ways” indeed. If I could add one more it probably would be following: working in a hostel or guest house in exchange for free accommodation. Of course it depends on your language skills and where you actually are, but supporting or even taking over a seasonal business for a while might be an option as well. Take for example Scotland, I know of a some B&B’s let’s say in the Highlands that are looking for people to cover the entire business (starting from laundry, over cooking to marketing and bookings) during summer and friends have been working in hostels in New Zealand for example…
    I was quite surprised to read about the complimentary stays I have to admit! Good to know that you probably only need to ask – given you can offer them some value in return. So yeah, curious to read your first eco lodge review… :)

    1. Ah yes! That’s an awesome one! We’ve never actually found an opportunity to do it, but have heard a couple of people have loved it. Have you ever had the opportunity to work in a hostel/guesthouse?

      We were really surprised it worked actually! Especially because my blog is quite new (started in January), and I had assumed that only bigger blogs got comp stays but it just goes to show. I guess if you can convince places you have something to offer, then yes, it can work! :) I’m also curious to know how our eco-lodging will go! (We actually have 4 lined up :o)

      1. Not yet Charlie. I have been working for free accommodation before, but never in a hostel or guest house. To be honest, a B&B summer in the Highlands has been pretty tempting, but we are based and working in Edinburgh at the moment, so it’s a bit tricky. We also wanted to start with some house sits here in the UK before hitting the road again, but considering the holiday situation not really an option that will work unfortunately…
        You see, also for these comp stay opportunities and your other experiences related to housesitting and I’m glad I came across your blog.
        Suerte y que lo disfruteis! :)

        1. It sounds pretty tempting to me too! Edinburgh is a gorgeous place too though, so I guess it’s not all bad :) We helped out a few friends with house sitting in the UK but the only offer we actually got was in rural Wales (which we unfortunately had no way of getting to, from or around). There’s a big market for it out here in Costa Rica though.

          Ahhh I’m happy you say that! Glad my blogs have been of some interest :)

  2. Thanks for the idea, it’s been something that’s been bugging me the last few weeks. I’ve got to start cutting costs of accom. I had a friend who went hiking for a week through the North of India and ended up sleeping at the chai shops, that’s always an option haha.

  3. I used to do a lot of couchsurfing and I have mixed feelings about it. I may seem to be cheap, but I always bought a small present for my host and paid for our food, so at the end of the day I spent more than I would when staying in a hostel. House-sitting is awesome. Plenty of fellow travel bloggers do it. My favourite bloggers – Franca and Dale of Anglo Italian Follow Us have been doing it for ages and they absolutely love it.

    1. Yes, I remember reading your post about the problems with ‘sexsurfing’ and the such. I think the experience is also different when you’re in a couple and depending on who you stay with. We also buy a little gift and pay for our own food – though we have had some very generous people offering us breakfast and snacks – but we still save money with CSing.

      House sitting is the best! I love Franca and Dale’s blog; in fact their post on house sitting I think was the first one I read on their blog and I’ve been following them ever since. They’re a super couple =)

  4. Nice one! I have one more to add =) It’s Vipassana meditation if one is interested in meditation. They have centres all over the world and food and accommodation are provided. Courses are normally of 10 days. I’ve stayed in one of the centres in India and it was an incredible experience. You can have more info here: http://www.es.dhamma.org/index.php?id=969&L=0 It’s nice to have a break from all the traveling and reflect on where you are, who you are and what to do next. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experiences!

    1. Hi Alba! Thanks for the addition! I think it was vaguely mentioned to me once by a friend but she didn’t have all the details. I’m definitely going to look it up, thanks for the link.

      Do you not have to pay for anything at all? How do the meditation centres fund themselves?

      1. They live on donations, it depends on you =). You can leave a donation (no matter the amount) or volunteer as a coordinator in the next meditation retreat you attend. They also send books, DVDs and guides about Buddhism to fund themselves. Once the retreat is over they tell you how much it was spent during your stay so that you are aware and appreciate the effort of the ones that were there before and that made a contribution. I totally recommend it!

        1. It’s a very interesting concept! How much did they say that they spent on you in your centre? And about how many people attended the 10 days? =) I think a lot of people would love this opportunity, me included.

  5. Excellent post with great suggestions. One that I’d like to mention, is camping. It’s not suited to everyone’s style of travel, laws and regulations may vary between countries/states and there is an initial investment that has to be made but pitching a tent can otherwise cost nothing or next to.

    Jessica and I travelled much of Japan like this, a country that can quickly blow out ones budget.

    1. Thanks, Hai :) I also thought about camping, though I myself am not a big camper. Also yes, the laws vary so much… In the UK and a lot of Europe, camping can actually be quite expensive because you have to pay to pitch your tent – and in the Summer, it’s quite popular for families.

      Do you need to pay to pitch a tent in Japan? Or is it for free style?

  6. as a petsitter for 10 years I would charge to take care of the animal because its a service offered not something you get for free it takes certain people to care for pets not just anyone can do it. the other ideas are all good

    1. Hi Lorrie, thanks for commenting. I think that when you’ve got 10 years experience under your belt you can definitely start charging for your services! Did you charge when you first started out?

      We’ve only been pet sitting for a few months, and are happy to house sit for free as a way to stay/travel in a new place and experience the lifestyle there. Offering our services for free doesn’t mean that we aren’t good at caring for animals, though admittedly we don’t have as much experience as many other house/pet sitters.

      I’d love to hear more about your pet sitting experiences! :) Which country (or countries) do you pet sit in?

  7. Hey Charlie, I really enjoyed these tips – they’re great. I’ve always been a little reluctant to couch surf for some reason, but hopefully I’ll give it a try in the near future!

    1. Thanks, Bekka! I hope you will try it too. If you’re on your own and doing it for the first time, maybe try and stay with a female, a couple or a family (families are probably the best but harder to find). It will be less daunting that way – though there are many excellent, kind, generous, lovely male hosts. If you’re ever in Central America or near London, look us up and see where we are! :)

  8. Thanks for such well-written tips on nailing down those free stays! I’ve always been a huge fan of couchsurfing and I’ll keep using it as a great source for connecting with people anytime I land in a new city, but you’ve just motivated me to push myself into the world of house sitting! Currently in my first house sit in the Caribbean, I’ve made a new best friend in the dog I’m watching. All the signs are there that this is the right move to make!
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    1. Thank you for the compliment :) Oh man, house sitting is where it is at, my partner and I absolutely love it. How is it in the Caribbean? Is there a big market for house sitting? It’s awesome that you’re doing it too!

    1. Thanks, Anna :) Yes, you’re definitely right on the local culture side of things. Though some of my hotel stays – at eco-retreats, very small, family run, and we were the only guests – have been a real learning curve about those choosing alternative, eco lifestyles.

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