Accommodation is often the most expensive part of a trip. Simply having somewhere to sleep and store your belongings can take more than fifty percent of your overall budget. Fortunately there are plenty of ways to reduce your accommodation costs, potentially all the way to zero.
Note: There are many other sites out there other than the ones we have linked to here. This is not meant to be a definitive list but hopefully it is enough to make you aware of just how many options there are.
We do a lot of house sitting. Out of the last twelve months we've spent approximately six months house sitting. In exchange for a place to stay we care for pets, water plants, collect the mail and keep the house tidy.
You need to be prepared to deal with eventualities that include everything from a sick pet, a fire, a break in and who knows what else. People are trusting you with their home and their beloved pets. Responsibility is the name of the game.
These are the main two house sitting websites that we use.
There are however a lot more house sitting sites out there. See our travel resources page for more.
Swap Work For Accommodation
There are sites that facilitate introductions between people willing to provide labor and people willing to provide room and board. You work a few hours a day and in return receive a free place to stay.
The specific terms are completely open to negotiation. Make sure you define them very clearly up front. That will save on arguments later.
Work hard for your host but be prepared to stand up for yourself and even to simply walk out if the host is genuinely unreasonable. You are not their slave and can leave any time you want. Similarly they are not a shelter for homeless backpackers and can boot you out if they are not happy with you for any reason.
Define what is expected of you, define what you will receive in exchange, make sure you deliver on your end of the bargain and you shouldn't have any major problems.
Sign up and search for hosts. Typically stays are only a few days in duration. That means its not so great for slow travelers such as ourselves so we have never actually couch surfed. If you don't mind bouncing around place to place it can work well. I'm sure there are exceptions but couch surfing seems to be particularly popular with people in their twenties.
Most people know about couch surfing but there are some other alternatives. We have never used these either but it doesn't hurt to know what else is out there.
Also known as home exchange, this is when you go and stay in someone's home in another country while they come and stay in yours. It's much like house sitting except while you are house sitting for them they are effectively house sitting for you. I'm not sure if that makes it twice as easy or twice as complicated…
With all of these sites, whether it be house sitting, couch surfing or whatever, make sure to read the reviews when they are available. Many sites offer guests the chance to review hosts and vice versa. People are often reluctant to say negative things as the reviews are not anonymous so read between the lines a little.
For couch surfing and similar, counter intuitively, a host having a huge number of reviews may not be a great thing even if they are generally very positive. People who play host to large numbers of people sometimes do so because they have found a way to derive financial benefit from an ostensibly free arrangement. For example, convincing guests to purchase food that won't be eaten until after the guest has departed or booking so many guests, each of whom will naturally treat the host to a meal, that the host doesn't ever have to pay for food.
If you find yourself staying with a host like this, chances are you will still be better off financially. However given the choice between staying with a host who is interested to meet you and to show you around and staying with a host who is using a parade of guests to reduce their food bill, I know which one I would pick. Don't assume that a bazillion reviews is a good sign. A handful of genuine sounding positive reviews can be plenty.
If you're going into house sitting, helpx or similar make sure you define the terms extremely clearly. There's no such thing as a standard house sit or helpx gig. It is all up in the air until you and the host define what each party will do and provide for the other. Communication is vital.
As a married couple in our thirties house sitting has been fantastic. It is however not for everyone. If you are young and single you are probably going to have a hard time finding people willing to hand over the keys to their house.
For the young, couch surfing may be more your speed. Its a great way to get yourself some free accommodation and to meet other travelers to hang out with.
If you have an established home and are simply looking to take the occasional vacation, check out house swapping. It takes some planning and may result in you going somewhere that you never would have thought of. That can be a negative or a positive depending on how you look at it.
Regardless of your stage of life if you feel like you can take on farm work, teaching someone's kids English, caring for animals among other things then take a look at helpx, woofing etc
There are enough options here that, hopefully, there is something that will work for you, no matter your situation.