Original article on www.vagabondjourney.com
There are plenty of tactics which the traveler can employ to get the services, amenities, and goods that they need to continue wandering for free, or without the exchange of money. From trading work, to pulling grafts, to working jobs that provide free housing and food, to running scams, to utilizing public services, this is a page that will document the strategies and tactics that I have found to get things for free on the open road.
For the traveler, not spending money is just as essential as earning money. Finding ways to get accommodation, food, transportation, and entertainment for free is the hallmark of successful world travel. Always remember, a dollar that is saved today is a dollar to travel on another day.
One of the prime ways to land free accommodation in hotels and hostels is to work for it. Mostly, you trade the time of your life by working for a free bed. In point, during most of the year many hotels have more rooms than guests to fill them, so they do not loose much by taking you on as a trading guest. The main way to get a free bed in a hotel or hostel is to trade work: you offer to take a non paying job for a certain duration, and then you can live for free. When employing this tactic, I would highly recommend setting formal working hours with the owner in advance, least you find yourself being pressured into working all day long (it happens, believe me – often not worth a $10 dorm bed).
This method can also be used on farms, where you agree to work a certain number of hours per day for a place to stay. Food is often included in this deal as well. These arrangements can often be set up by going from farm house to farm house offering your services or through organizations such as WWOOF (linked below).
Another way to get free accommodation is to trade for it. For a stretch of my travels I was trading webpages for dorm beds and hotel rooms. I would often get a free place to stay for two weeks to a month while I worked on the site maybe an hour or two a day. This is also a good way to become established at a hostel enough to be offered a work/ bed arrangement like outlined above. I have often used the Hobohideout.com Traveling Webmasters program to set up such website for accommodation trades, and there is another similar program for South America at The South America Tourist.
Often times organizations which take volunteers provide free accommodation. This works for long term volunteering as well as short term. Even for two or three day music festivals and other similar events volunteers can procure a place to sleep for free, or at least a secure place to camp.
This may sound strange, but hostels in many places of the world rely nearly 100% on clients from websites such as hostelworld.com and hostelbookers.com. Both of these systems rank hostels in accordance to feedback derived from their guests, which often puts the hostel into a very precarious position: if a guest does not get what they want they can do the hostel great economic harm by bashing them on these sites with poor ratings. Therefore, many hostels are now bent (sometimes obsessively) on making sure there guests have a good time. This is often to the point that they will offer certain “fun” guests a place to stay for free if they take responsibility for showing other guests a good time.
The duties of a fun manager often consists almost solely of taking groups of guests out to the best bars and clubs around the city during the night. If everyone gets drunk, laid, and has a good time, then the fun manager did their job. This job is best performed by very personable, friendly people who enjoy nightlife.
To get a job at a fun manager, just show up at a hostel as a paying guest, show the management that you are a “fun” person, make the rest of the guests like you, and then after two or three nights request a free bed for doing fun manager detail. Very often you will be successful.
Camping on the sly
This basically means sleeping outside for free outside of the auspices of formal campgrounds. This can be done in many ways, from requesting the permission of landowners to set up a tent on their property to sneaking around and sleeping under a tarp or some other quickly made shelter. For more on this strategy, go to camping on the sly definition or How to Sleep Outside for Free.
There are now many thriving sites such as Couchsurfing.org that allow users to arrange free home stays with people all around the world. This is often a great way to meet new people, see behind the doors of a new culture, and to get a place to stay for free. But be warned that setting up these exchanges often take a decent amount of time and effort, as you need to set them up well in advance and maintain contact with your host until your arrival. Refusals are now very frequent, as these hospitality sites have become very popular, and unless you are a buxomy blond it often takes sending between 5 and 20 requests before getting accepted (in popular cities, plan to send at least 50 requests). For setting up longer duration journeys relying on hospitality sites for free accommodation, expect to put at least an hour a day into arranging stays.
Regularly using these hospitality sites also makes traveling a little more restrictive, as you need to have somewhat firm arrival and departure plans set up in advance, and if these change you need to contact your host — which could be an annoyance to them.
Utilizing this way of obtaining free accommodation is often much easier to do with your own laptop computer and cellphone. In point, to more seamlessly use sites like Couchsurfing it is highly recommended that you travel with a cellphone that is set up for use in the country you are in. The cellphone is now how people communicate, and very often your host will want you to telephone them when you arrive in their city or they may want to telephone you to provide additional directions, meet up points, etc. Some host will also be less prone to offer you a place to stay without a cellphone, as this makes the arrangement more difficult for them.
As far as a computer is concerned, if you don’t travel with your own laptop expect to make trips to the internet cafe every day. This is a hassle and an additional expense.
Home stays can also be arranged the old fashion way: make friends, stay with them, ask them if they have other friends where you are traveling, request to stay with them.
House/ Pet Sitting
This is a great way to get free accommodation around the world. I have met people in various cities around the globe who were staying rent free in apartments and homes just for watching over the place or taking care of pets when the owners were out of town.
You can generally get these gigs through word of mouth, looking through newspaper classifieds, online message boards, or through using various websites (most of them pay to use) that are designed specifically for this purpose.
Bus and train stations can be used as all night pit stops. I have no idea how many times I have opted to save money by just sleeping in the station hotel. Be sure that the station is going to be open all night long before trying this, and be very cautious in terms of security as many stations are not the best places to be after dark. For more on this go to Bus station hotel.
Sleep in an airport
This is probably one of the best free accommodation strategies there are. When in a big city and the hostels want too much money, like in Europe — no, $20 per night is not cheap for a dorm bed — just hop on a local bus and ride to the airport. This works better in big airports, as you can wander from terminal to terminal until you find a good place to bed down. I have used this method far too many times to count. For more on this, Sleeping in Airports is the best site there is.
Food is often a much cheaper expense in travel than accommodation, so the effort and energy put into getting it for free should be used in inverse proportion to how much it would cost otherwise. In point, if you can eat in a country for a few bucks a day, it may not be worth the hassle of using some of the methods outlined below unless you really do not have any money.
I learned this tactic well in my early days as a moneyless squatter punk, and in its simplest form consists of collecting edible food from dumpsters. As a general rule, look for boxed, canned, or otherwise good looking (and smelling) food in the dumpsters behind supermarkets, bagel and donut shops, pizza restaurants, and coffee bistros.