Travelling the world on a tight budget isn’t as hard as you probably think it is, especially with these 5 strategies you can use to stay in places for free. Here is our blueprint for finding free accommodation around the world. Each technique has been trialed and tested by us or someone we know and have proven to work time and time again.
These days it is becoming increasingly easier to find people who will host you in their homes for free while you travel and there are a number of websites that can facilitate this.
Couchsurfing has become the most popular of them all and it is now even used as a verb, much like ‘googling’. Hospitality Club and BeWelcome are also some other resources that will help you to find hosts in different parts of the world.
Basically, to Couchsurf your way from one destination to the next, like many people do, you need to set up an account on www.couchsurfing.com where you will be connected to hundreds of thousands of hosts all over the world.
An important part of this process is creating a detailed profile that really reflects who you are, your interests, what you can teach and so on. People need to be able to come to your profile and trust you. After all, you’re asking them for a key to their home.
We recommend that you send out your couch requests at least a week before you arrive in each place. This gives you and the host time to confirm plans and prepare. If this is not possible, there is also another option to do last minute requests.
To make a request, all you need to do is search for the city you are visiting as a ‘surfer’ and then click ‘send request’ to all hosts you would like to stay with. It is very important to read through their profiles and reviews first to make sure that you feel comfortable staying with them.
For example, we nearly sent a request to a nudist who doesn’t like the idea of anyone wearing clothes inside the house. Good job we read the whole profile!
In your request you need to be clear about why you want to stay, how many beds/couches you need, the amount of days you plan to be there (we recommend no more than 3 per host) and what you can offer in exchange for accommodation.
Don’t do the old copy and paste thing because it is likely they won’t respond. Connect with them and don’t be afraid to be yourself.
If they accept your request you can then continue to plan your arrival with each other via the messenger system or email.
If you are travelling and you want to meet new people in each place but you have accommodation elsewhere, there is still a way to utilize Couchsurfing with their community meet-ups.
These meetings can range from a nice dinner to a day at the beach to a night out on the town and it basically just gives you the opportunity to meet other travellers and experience places with people who share the same interests as you.
Couchsurfing community meet-ups are always going on in different parts of the world and you can search for them on the website.
Couchsurfing is also really safe with the option for people to review their experiences on the website and help people to choose who they stay with more consciously.
Also, if you happen to be touring by bicycle, there is a similar website called Warm Showers, which is especially dedicated to anyone using their bicycle to travel long distance.
- Read profiles thoroughly before sending requests (it shows that you are interested in the person and not just their couch)
- Be yourself in your requests and highlight why you want to visit the area/stay with that host
- Detail what you can bring to the home in exchange for a bed/couch – think cooked breakfasts, language lessons, housekeeping…
- Be respectful during your stay and always clean up after yourself
- Go the extra mile and bring a little thank you gift – bottle of wine, choccys, etc (besides you’re still saving tons of money)
- Leave an honest review after your stay and recommend the host to other Couchsurfers if you enjoyed your time
Like baby-sitting but for a house…and possibly 2 dogs and 3 cats.
If you follow a number of different travel blogs, you may have noticed that house-sitting is becoming increasingly more popular, especially with the longer term travellers who are on a tight budget.
House-sitting consists of looking after someone else’s house, and possibly pets, while they are away. This could be for just a few days, a few weeks or even a few months. You get free (and often very comfortable) accommodation while the owner can rest knowing that their belongings are secure and their fluffy loved ones are being fed.
Pretty sweet deal, right?
This is fantastic way of truly experiencing the local way of living wherever you decide to go. It also gives you the opportunity to connect with more local people whilst enjoying all the comforts and privacy of home.
In order to apply for house-sitting jobs, you need to sign up and create a good profile on a platform like Trusted Housesitters so that house owners can make sure they trust and like you enough to look after everything they own.
3. Exchange Services/Skills
A common way to travel on a budget is to exchange skills or services for food, accommodation and activities. By just identifying your skills and how you can use them to help others, you could seriously cut the cost of your travel down.
We exchange our services in order to travel more and so far it has saved us thousands of dollars. Instead of paying for accommodation, we contact hostels and guesthouses in advance to offer publicity on our blog and social media channels, mention in our videos and sometimes an agreed amount of photographs of their property in exchange for a negotiated length of stay. This is a great way to develop and sharpen your skills whilst building a portfolio for future reference.
In many cases you don’t even need to have an online presence or offer publicity. Here are some other ways you can exchange your services/skills for accommodation while you travel:
- Creating professional videos
- Taking professional photographs
- Consulting (brand, marketing, design, etc)
- Running tours
- Offline promotion
- Teaching (particularly English)
- Maintenance/physical work
A while back we did an interview with a Brazilian couple who now travel full time as “digital nomads”, exchanging their video making services and promotion in their travel vlogs for accommodation as well as physical money. You can read the interview here.
For those who like to travel long term but remain on a tight budget, helping out in hostels and guesthouses is an extremely common way to save on food and accommodation.
There are usually many opportunities to do this while you travel and the process is very simple. All you need to do is contact a number of hostels/guesthouses in your desired destination via email or Facebook messenger prior to your arrival. In your pitch explain why you would like to stay there, how long you plan to stay for and how you would like to help in exchange for food and accommodation.
Most hostels/guesthouses will require you to stay for at least 2 weeks in order for you to learn your duties and carry them out properly. It may also be a requirement that you learn some of the local language or know how to speak English. As an idea, for just a few hours per day you could be checking guests in at the front desk, helping out in the office, gaining extra publicity on social media, cleaning, cooking, bartending or even running tours.
We personally have many friends who choose to travel using this strategy because it is also a great way to meet new people and get to know the local area.
Skill/Service Exchange Tips:
- Don’t be afraid to ask! The answer is already a “no” if you don’ try.
- Utilise the internet to connect with potential partners.
- Create a script (or a pitch) to introduce yourself, give a reason why you are travelling, list the benefits of the service you can provide, explain what you would like to receive in return.
- Have a presence on Social Media as it can really help you to close more deals. An engaging Facebook page can help you to come across more serious and professional about your work whilst at the same time acting as social proof (mainly for those of you offering online promotion, video, photography, etc).
- Treat your work exchange just like you would with a normal job. Show up on time, provide a good service and be professional. Slacking off will only result in having to pay for food and accommodation again.
- Understand that while other guests are out playing, you will probably have to work. If you are the type of person who likes to be involved in as much as possible while you travel, then this may not suit you.
4. Volunteer/Work Exchange
Ever thought about devoting your time to help a worthy cause? Why not volunteer while you travel and add even more value to your experience.
There are many organisations throughout the world that need volunteers for various reasons. Whilst some charge a fee for food and accommodation, others are completely free. With most organisations you can choose your length of stay, whether it’s a week, a couple of months or a year but others may require a significant commitment of time (6+ months).
Over the past few years, however, there have been some growing concerns about voluntourism (volunteering for a short period of time) in orphanages and orphanage visits (going to orphanages for day trips). Sadly, the voluntourism industry is booming, encouraging these orphanages to verge on becoming tourist attractions. This is a huge problem, especially in countries like Cambodia where children are being taken away from their families (yes, some do have families) and put into these homes where they do not receive the nurture and support they need. The children are exploited and treated like a business, which is encouraging a significant rise in physical and mental health issues.
We strongly believe in the benefits of volunteering but we just stress the importance of doing it responsibly by researching and choosing the right organisation and project. Make sure you know the background of the organisation you are interested in, in order to make an informed decision.
There are many options out there suited to your interests. Have you thought about teaching English? Or career skills? Or perhaps you might be interested in wildlife conservation? You can find amazing volunteer programs all over the world at www.volunteerhq.org.
And then don’t forget about things like WWOOFing and the opportunities available on sites like HelpX.
WWOOFing consists of working on organic farms in exchange for experience, accommodation and food, depending on your agreement with the farm owner. First you need to choose the right WWOOF organisation in your intended destination and join their members list for a small fee. Then, once you become a member, you can access a database of organic farms which you can contact and arrange work exchange.
Generally, a working day ranges between 4 and 6 hours and you could be doing anything from wine making to gardening. The rest of the time is yours to explore and get to know the other volunteers. WWOOFing usually consists of outdoor and manual work so if you like the outdoors and consider yourself fit enough to work between 4 and 6 hours a day or if you are interested in organic farming then this type of project is for you.
Another great website to visit for many different types of work exchange is helpx.
“HelpX is an online listing of host organic farms, non-organic farms, farmstays, homestays, ranches, lodges, B&B’s, backpackers hostels and even sailing boats who invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation. HelpX is provided primarily as a cultural exchange for working holiday makers who would like the opportunity during their travels abroad, to stay with local people and gain practical experience. In the typical arrangement, the helper works an average of 4 hours per day and receives free accommodation and meals for their efforts.” ∼ HelpX
For €20 every 2 years, Helpx connects you to work exchange jobs throughout the world, with many opportunities in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
This way of travelling is very popular for those who aim to see and experience different parts of the world with little to no money. A friend from Brazil went off on a round the world journey with a mission of spending no money. His decision was made after reading some inspiring books, including Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein and The Moneyless Man by Mark Boyle. So far, his mission has been completely successful, choosing to WWOOF within a sustainable community near Byron Bay, Australia, where he receives all food and accommodation for free.
Volunteer/Work Exchange Tips:
- Narrow down your choices when it comes to choosing a destination. It is always more worthwhile to pick somewhere and stay for a while instead of moving to a new place every few days. This helps to understand and see how your work is helping and also to gain a richer experience during your cultural exchange.
- Create a budget because although you will be receiving free food and accommodation you will need money for extra leisure activities, transport or personal hygiene products.
- If you are going to do any manual work it is a good idea to travel with insurance. You never know when you might need to pay the doctor a little visit.
- If you aim to travel with as little money as possible then you probably want to skip the fees that these work exchange websites charge to become a member. Instead, wait until you arrive in the destination and search community notice boards in local cafes, shops and public halls for work exchange opportunities. Also, don’t be afraid to talk with the local people – someone usually knows someone who is looking for help.
- Pack light but practical for the type of work you will be doing. If you are going to work on an organic farm then it might be a good idea to bring boots and protective clothing. If you are going to be teaching English in a school then modest and presentable attire would be more suitable.
5. Make Friends Around the World
Looking back on the adventures we have had together so far, I am so grateful for the fact that Dan has made friends all over the world in his 6+ years of travelling.
Seriously, if it wasn’t for the friend in Amsterdam who let us take over his room in a cosy house close to the city centre, we probably wouldn’t have found anywhere else to stay for 6 weeks and would have ended up leaving. Amsterdam turned out to be one of our favourite travel experiences yet and that was only made possible by having a friend there who was willing to help us out.
If it wasn’t for all of the friends in Rio de Janeiro that offered their hospitality to us during our 5 week long journey through the state, we probably would have ended up spending double the amount or working many more hours in exchange for somewhere to sleep.
And while, yes, staying with friends has allowed us to save on accommodation, this really isn’t why we do it. The fact that we are able to build even stronger relationships with people who share the same interests and values as us and create unique and memorable travel experiences from that is what inspires and motivates us to continue doing it.
One of the main reasons why we travel is for the unique, interesting and inspiring people we meet along the way.
So how can you make friends around the world, even before you start travelling?
Well, there’s a few really simple ways:
- Going to Couchsurfing meetings – they happen all over the world and you can find the details on the Couchsurfing website.
- Become a Couchsurfing host and have people from all over the world stay in your home.
- Being active in Facebook groups – there are many groups targeted at travelling and finding “travel buddies” or people to connect with (one great one is called “NOMADS – a life of cheap/free travel“).
- Hanging out in places where tourists go (attractions, cafés, beaches…) – strike up some confidence and start a conversation… “So where are you from?” is always a great ice-breaker.
If you are already travelling and want to start meeting people/making new friends, here are some tips:
- Stay in hostels as they encourage more social activity and allow you to interact with many people with similar interests to you.
- Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation… Remember everyone is in the same boat as you and are probably looking to make new friends as well.
- Again, attend Couchsurfing meetings whenever there is an opportunity!
The methods that you see here have come directly out of our brand new eBook, Travel More (Edition Two) where we teach you tons more strategies that will help you to SAVE and EARN money while you travel – check it out. Inside you will learn exactly how to travel the world without spending a fortune and make an income doing it, just like we do!