I don’t know about you, but lately, accommodation costs just seem too much for me. Hostel bed for 30 euros? You’re kidding, right? So I’ve been experimenting with and researching cutting down accommodation budget… to nil! Turns out, it’s quite doable, even if it may seem too extreme for some people. In this article, I’ll describe ways to get free accommodation that I personally or my friends have tried.
Bring a Tent / Hammock
This is a big one if you want to save money. If you can carry your sleeping place with you, you’re independent of the excruciating charges of the local accommodation. But there are some things to remember, of course.
First, check if it’s legal to put up a tent just anywhere in the country you’re visiting. There might be rules and you might have to ask the land owner’s permission to do so. Good news is that most will say yes if you promise to be quiet, not light a fire and not leave any trash behind you. And if you’re so far away from people that you don’t know who to ask, you’re probably fine anyway. Remember, that in national parks camping without a special permit is always forbidden.
Second, this method works very well with traveling by car, biking or hiking, but if you’re on foot and want to visit sights in big cities, you’ve got a problem. Luckily, a lot of cities (I’ve tried Paris and Amsterdam) have camping grounds quite close to the city center. Yes, you’ll have to pay a little to pitch your tent there, but you’ll have the benefit of a shower and a great location.
And finally, check the weather! You might be very tough, but camping in sub-zero temperatures is not fun. Not fun at all. On the bright side, if it’s summer and the weather is good, you can have a free shower in rivers, seas or lakes. Just choose a biodegradable shampoo!
Work for a Bed
So many stories about travelers who wanted to stay somewhere longer but didn’t have money… What did they all do? Find work! Tourist season is a hot time for unqualified labor, and it’s not a problem at all to find a gig cleaning in a hostel for a couple of hours a day for a free bed. Another option is finding seasonal work on a farm, which usually comes with some kind of rural accommodation.
There are webpages for this kind of searches (Workaway, WWOOF, to name a few), but it’s also OK to just ask around. I have a friend who spent a couple of weeks sleeping on the floor in the famous Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris. What did he do for it? He just showed up and claimed he was a writer. His responsibilities were sorting books for a couple of hours a day, and the rest of the day he was completely free to explore Paris and hang out with others accommodated there, all hot girls if you’re to believe him.
Couchsurf / Friends
After a long enough social life, you’ll come to a point where you almost always know somebody in the place where you’re going. Don’t hesitate to contact them before the trip! Even if they won’t invite you to their sofa, you might get useful info or meet for a couple of drinks in a place only a local knows.
If you do get invited, be a good guest! Bring a bottle, cook, buy food and don’t be inconvenient. But don’t apologize too much either. If you’re already invited, chances are your host is having fun too. I know I love hosting people and showing them around!
If there’s nobody you personally know at your destination, there’s always Couchsurfing. It works the same as staying with a friend, but you meet this friend online just for this trip. Now, I personally have never successfully used Couchsurfing for accommodation. There are too many guys with questionable propositions there for my taste, but I’ve heard success stories and hosted a lot of nice people myself.
If you travel by night buses or trains, you don’t need accommodation. The trick here is to choose tickets so that you board in the evening and arrive at your destination in the morning. If you fly, but early in the morning, you can sleep in the airport, and here’s a guide to that.
I’m not a very big fan of this method and only use it sparingly, mainly because you usually can’t get good quality sleep in these conditions. Your seat doesn’t recline enough, there are crying babies, chatting Spanish ladies and somebody watching a movie on the next seat. And comfortable sleeping berths in trains may cost so much that it’s actually cheaper to stay in a hostel and travel during the day. But in case you do find a cheap and convenient night ticket, go for it! Just take a sleeping mask and earplugs. You can thank me later.