TRAVEL TIPS: FREE ACCOMMODATION AROUND THE WORLD
Did you know that there are many types of free accommodation around the world? As a matter of fact, there are so many different options, that I’ve divided them into 3 categories: free accommodation you can obtain on your own, free accommodation at people’s homes, and accommodation where you work to earn your keep (aka volunteering).
A. free accommodation you can obtain on your own
Free camping locations are available in many countries around the world: on beaches and islands; in jungles, forests, and mountains; at national, state, local and city parks; in people’s yards; beside rivers and lakes… the list goes on.
If you enjoy being out in nature and camping, it could be well worth your time carrying a tent, sleeping bag or sheet, and sleeping pad when you’re traveling the world. I often travel with my tent. That has allowed me to climb mountains and volcanoes, visit fairly primitive islands, camp in cities, and has rescued me several times where all local accommodation was fully booked out or was too expensive for my budget. I’ve camped for free or nearly free (< $1 US) in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, USA, Canada, and Australia.
In the USA, Australia, Canada and Japan, most free camping is reserved for remote, back-country camping, meaning you have to hike in to your campsite and facilities are very basic or non-existent. Sometimes you only have to walk in a short distance, though, which is quite handy.
Temples and Monasteries
Some Asian temples will give shelter to travelers in need, especially in remote areas where there’s no other accommodation, such as mountains and rural areas with no towns. Most temples don’t actually advertise this service and you can’t really ‘book ahead’. You just have to show up and ask to sleep somewhere. It’s a great, safe option if you’re low on funds, stuck in a remote area, or just want to experience temple life.
Some of my traveling friends tell me that monasteries in Europe often do the same. I haven’t traveled extensively around Europe yet, so I can’t give any specifics, but it’s worth checking into. Do you know anything more about this? Fill me in!
Sleeping at airports and train stations
Although I don’t personally consider airports and train stations the ideal places to sleep, they sometimes work great in a pinch. Many flight situations arise when sleeping in the airport is a great options for a night: Perhaps you’ve got a long lay-over between flights, or you’re in an expensive city, or you arrive late at night, or you’re about to enter a somewhat dangerous city late. Some airports, like Singapore’s fantastic Changi Airport, have areas set up specifically for travelers to sleep. In others, you just have to scout around for a low traffic area and lay down. It helps to have a sleeping pad, sleeping bag, or blanket of some sort. Floors can be hard and cold.
As for train stations, to be honest, the only place I’ve seen this done on a regular basis is in Japan. During long school holidays, thousands of Japanese youth travel around Japan on super-long train rides. It’s common to find a whole crowd of people sleeping in one end/corner/ side of a train station, waiting for a morning train or for daylight to head out on their adventures.
I’ve slept in Japanese train stations many times during long journeys around the country. Although I felt like a bum at first, once I saw so many other middle class people doing the same, it suddenly felt fun and adventurous. Of course Japan is super safe, which made it stress free. Not sure about trying this in other parts of the world! Have you ever tried it? Tell your story below!
B. free accommodation at people’s homes
Couch Surfing and Tripping
These are online organizations that bring together travelers and locals in destinations all over the world who are happy to host travelers overnight in their homes. It’s fun and enjoyable for all involved. Travelers get a roof over their heads and get to make friends with locals and/or expats in the countries they visit. Hosts get to meet travelers from all over the world, hear great travel adventures, and show their guests around their home town. Everyone gets to swap travel tales.
Couch Surfing and Tripping do take some advanced inquiries, back n forth emails, and planning. I’ve personally found that I can’t find all my accommodation from these groups, but once in a while, I can co-ordinate with a host and meet someone new.
To get started, all you need to do is visit the couch surfing and/or tripping websites, sign up, preferably get yourself verified, introduce yourself by adding some personal data and a photo. Then you can start searching for hosts and contact them about a potential visit.
House sitting entails staying at someones’ home while they’re away. Stays last anywhere from a few days to several months, occasionally even 1-2 years. Many house owners have pets that need to be taken care of. Sometimes other duties are required, such as gardening, taking in the mail, keeping the house clean and paying utility bills. It generally amounts to free accommodation in exhange for looking after the house and/or pets.
Not surprisingly, house sitting takes some advanced planning, making inquiries, email exchanges. Often house owners require reference letters and/or police back-up checks. Sometimes they also require a cash deposit as guaruntee against damages, which house sitters will get back when the job is done.
Mind My House is the group I belong to. You can find others with a Google Search.
If you own your own home, apartment or condo, you can join various house exchange organizations and find people all over the world to exchange houses with for a few days to a few weeks. Obviously, this will also take some planning ahead, research and negotiations with other home owners to find mutually agreeable travel times, places you’d like to stay, and someone who wants to visit your town. But it’s a fantastic way to travel to new destinations in the world without any accommodation expenses!
C. Working for your keep
WWOOF: Worldwide Workers on Organic Farms
WWOOF is an international organization consisting of host farms and volunteer workers. Most hosts have organic farms, but there are also B&Bs, individual homes, and other kinds of farms that host WWOOF volunteers.
The main guideline is to work half day in exchange for room and board. But each farm is left to set up its own working hours and offerings. Hosts and volunteers then hash out the details into a mutually agreeable arrangement. WWOOFing positions could be as short as 1 week and as long as several months, though usually a 1 month minimum works best.
Most countries have their own national branch. In order to become a WWOOF volunteer, you must sign up for whichever country you’re interested in and pay their annual fee, usually amounting to $25-30 US. Quite unfortunately, you’re required to pay for each country you want to WWOOF in. However, once you start volunteering on one farm, you can usually get recommendations from other WWOOFers and perhaps exchange good farms. (but don’t tell WWOOF I told you so!)
Be really careful about checking the host farms working, living and eating conditions. I’ve noticed a lot of farms that expect volunteers to work 10-12 hours/day 6 day/week – just for room and board. In my opinion, that’s outrageous and those farms are taking advantage of a great organization to find free full-time labor. Don’t fall for it, unless you really want to work your butt off. Last year I had an awful WWOOF experience in the USA over that very issue.
Other volunteer organizations
Many other ‘volunteer’ organizations are operating around the world, however most that I’ve checked out actually require ‘volunteers’ to pay quite a lot of money for room, board, and other expenses. In my opinion, that’s not volunteering, that’s paying to work.
If you know of any other real volunteer organizations that actually don’t require you to pay to ‘volunteer’, please let me know! Comment below, comment on FB, or drop me an email. I’ll check them out and add them to my list.
Have you used any of these types of free accommodatin during your travels? If so, which and how was it?
Do you know any other forms of free international accommodation? If so, please fill us in!