5 Ways to Get Free Accommodation Around the World
|This Panamanian paradise (gardener and housekeeper included) was mine for free for three months, with house-sitting.
Would you like to travel the world but are short on funds? Maybe you want to redesign your life around immersive travel, or take a travel sabbatical. Travel is conventionally seen as an expensive luxury, but it doesn't need to be. I've traveled the world full-time since 2007 and consistently spent less money than I ever did to live in one place. One of my secrets? I get free accommodation around the world.
In my first five years of full-time travel alone, I saved over $63,000 in accommodation expenses. In 2011, I spent a total of $173 on accommodation—for the entire year. Here is a taste of five ways you can get free accommodation around the world (you can find out many more details in my new book):
Using websites like Couchsurfing and Hospitality Club, you can connect with people around the world for a cultural exchange, perhaps a meal, and often a place to stay for a few days. This is a great way to make international friends and get a local introduction to your destination.
Hospitality exchanges are a short-term way to get free accommodation, since you don't want to impose on your host. Good houseguests are like fresh produce: they go off after a few days. And although sometimes you and your host might click and an invitation to stay longer ensues, it's prudent not to count on it.
Although you can pay (big bucks) to volunteer around the world, there is also an industry dedicated to volunteering in trade for free accommodation (and sometimes food). WWOOFing (worldwide work on organic farms) is often the first thing people think of, but volunteering around the world is far from limited to organic farm work. I've painted murals, designed marketing plans, spoken conversational English, milked goats, landscaped, cooked at retreat centers, and more—all for a free place to stay. Volunteering in trade for free accommodation not only saves money, but it also gives you a local community and immersive lifestyle that can be culturally rewarding.
Housesitting is one of my favorite ways to get free accommodation around the world, since it truly provides a slice of local life and all the comforts of home (somebody else's home, that is). Homeowners are grateful for their house sitters, as they don't have to ask somebody to check the mail, water the plants, and if they have pets they'll save on exorbitant kennel fees (and animals are usually happier at home).
There are a number of websites connecting homeowners with house sitters; if you want a housesitting job you need to be quick to respond to listings and treat it professionally. Housesitting gigs can last from a few days to months, and in some cases, years.
Living on Boats
When I decided to try my hand at sailing, I had no idea it was an entire modality of free accommodation around the world. You'll find yacht owners looking for an extra pair of hands, charter boats needing some help with guests, mega yachts requiring people of various skills, and full-sized cruise ships hiring for hundreds of available positions.
I sailed the Caribbean for three months (on five boats spanning three countries) without a night on land. I stuck to smaller yachts and the odd charter sailboat; once I found my first boat to stay on (through Find a Crew)—the rest flowed naturally through word of mouth with the small yachting community.
This is the only modality of free accommodation I haven't tried (due to my not having a home to exchange). The principle is similar to housesitting, except that it's a reciprocal arrangement. Not only can you rest assured that your home and pets are being cared for, but you'll get free accommodation and enjoy the comforts of (somebody else's) home.
Some home exchange websites (of which there are dozens) coordinate three-way exchanges and work with holiday properties to meet people's home exchange requests that might be hard to fulfil with a straight two-way exchange.
Buy How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World from Nora Dunn's site to find out all the details!