Isn't it illogical that a big part of our budget is lost on sleeping, that means while doing nothing? Of course everybody wants to have a good sleep, but how much are you willing to reduce the length of your travel to have a comfy bed?
And believe me, there are plenty of other options that will provide you with free accommodation, new friends, and some nice extra experiences. And the best part is that you don't have to give up on your sleep! Read the rest of the guide to learn how to find "Free sleeping" options, using a hospitality network, a help exchange or another of the possibilities suggested.
1) Use a Hospitality Network
This first tip is the one that we mostly use: in fact we probably sleep 90% of our nomad nights this way. For the little people that don't know anything about them, it's something like a hospitality exchange, but without the exchange :)
In fact if somebody is hosting you, than you are not obliged to host him in return, since it's working like a network by the transitive property, he will be hosted by someone else somewhere else in the future. You actually don't even have to host at all, if you can't, you can use it only for being hosted. Remember that even if we are talking here about free accommodation, using a hospitality network usually goes beyond that, creating a bond with your host that is expecting a nice experience in return: it's not an hostel with free sleeping included.
There are several websites, and in all of them you need to create a profile, put your photos and fill in your information. There is usually a security system made of feedbacks, that you leave after meeting in person with your host. You can start exploring a hospitality network from this list:
It's the ethical alternative to Couchsurfing, where a lot of members are moving from. It is, and it always will be a no profit hospitality network, thanks to the status of the organization behind it. Unfortunately there isn't still a "critical mass" to be able to switch completely to it. http://www.bewelcome.org/
A pioneer hospitality network, but unfortunately it got stuck to decades ago. The website received no improvement for long time and the users are constantly abandoning it for the other options. Plus also here are starting to appear advertisements. The only advantage is that the chances to find "real travellers" here are higher, compered to Couchsurfing that got mainstream and is invaded also by people looking for dating and social life. http://www.hospitalityclub.org/
Not a proper hospitality network, at least not on-line, but as a last resort, asking hospitality to squats and social centers, could provide you with a free roof to stay.
2) House sitting and Pet sitting
There are a lot of people around the world that are in need of leaving their houses unattended for medium or long term (anywhere from one week to six months), because they are going in vacation, going to work abroad or whatever other reason, and they need somebody to take care of their houses. Often they have a pet to take care of, other times you have to water their plants or just to control their property. In fact a good percentage of the announcements in this category are for luxury apartment. The deal is that you can stay there for free, like a free rent, in exchange of your presence. Sometimes there are some conditions or some small jobs that you are required to do while staying there, like feeding the animals, cutting the grass, cleaning the swimming pool; others you don't have any requirements. Expenses like electricity and gas, sometimes are paid by the owner, other times by the house sitter
Doing house sitting it's a good way to slow down and take some rest after some weeks of frenetic travel; you won't have to worry about your free sleeping for a few weeks. We house sat a couple of times for friends and acquaintances, but there are also specific websites to look for an assignment. Unfortunately none of them is free and they require the payment of a yearly fee.
Trusted house sitters
Is the most expensive of them all asking 59€ per year. It's quite a lot for a budget traveller, but if you'll use it constantly, it can save you a lot of money. It is well spread around the world, with a huge presence in UK, and the website is well made and efficient. http://www.trustedhousesitters.com
Mind my house
With 20$ per year, it's much cheaper than his competitors, and recently the design and usability of the website was improved. Despite this, the main disadvantage is that the announcements are not archived after they are assigned or cancelled, they are still appearing in the search result, so you have to pay and contact the owner to know if the assignment is still available. Otherwise it could easily reach the top of the category. http://www.mindmyhouse.com
With 50$ per year also House Carers is not a cheap option. But if you are planning to go to USA or Australia, and use it extensively, there are plenty of announcements to satisfy your thirst for free sleeping (apart from the subscription fee). http://www.housecarers.com
Luxury house sitting
Strangely it is the cheapest of them all with 10$ per year, but the number of announcements is much lower than the rest. Still a good idea to give a look from time to time, and spend a free vacation in a luxury house! http://www.luxuryhousesitting.com
Groups and forums
In Couchsurfing, Lonely planet forum and other sources, there are special groups dedicated to house sitting, where it's possible to find an assignment in a more informal way.
3) Help exchange
When doing an help exchange usually money are not involved, it's rather an exchange of services, also known as work exchange: you receive food and accommodation in exchange of some hours of work per day. The rules are not strict, and can vary widely, so you have to clarify it with your host before going there, to not have bad surprises. Commonly are required 4-5 hours of work per day, 5 days a week in exchange of food and free accommodation: but some may not give you food or ask for 30 hours of work per week. It's like doing free volunteering for the project of a friend that you still haven't met and in exchange he is giving you a shelter and feeding you. These are the most popular websites for help exchange:
Help Exchange is a platform where it's possible to find any kind of work assignment, from gardening to art and web design. The website it's quite basic, but it still has all of the functions that you need, and it is constantly updated. The fee is 20€ for 2 years, but if you contact us we can send you an invitation and you'll pay only 12€: note that we get nothing in return except good traveler karma! http://www.helpx.net/
Very similar to Help-X, with a more nice looking website: also here it's possible to find an help exchange assignment in different areas of interest. To start looking for your work exchange, the fee is 22€ for 2 years. Not free but not bad for two years of free sleeping and food. http://www.workaway.info/
http://www.wwoofinternational.orgIt's an help exchange network well spread all over the world, aimed at volunteering in organic farms; in fact the meaning of the name is World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. People working there have a clear identity and call themselves WWOOFers, while the action is called WWOOFing. There is a central website and regional websites as well, and according to the country where you are planning to volunteer, you may need or not to pay a yearly fee. Work in the garden is required in exchange for your free accommodation, and sometimes food.
4) International programs
Sometimes it's possible to be enrolled in international programs that are partly or completely financed by public or private institutions. It's an interesting experience where you can meet a lot of nice people and learn something new. Age limit and country origin may apply.
Youth in Action
Youth in Action, is financed by European Union and it's often restricted to people below 25 years of age, even if some of the projects have no age restriction, so it's still worth to try. The organization is paying for food and accommodation, plus 70% of the travel expenses to reach the place. Sometimes there is a participation fee, others it is completely free. It's during one of this workshop that me and Oti met for the first time. http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/youth/
Grundtvig programs are similar to Youth in Action, but without age restriction. Plus you have free food, free accommodation, free transportation and even the program fee is completely financed by the institution! Too good to be true, that's why you can apply only once every three years. http://ec.europa.eu/education/lifelong-learning-programme/grundtvig_en.htm
5) Wild Camping
If none of the techniques seen above worked, you still have the option to use your tent or shelter to sleep in the bushes, or even in the cities if well hidden. it's the oldest technique, but probably still the most successful for free sleeping. Be careful because wild camping is illegal in most countries.
6) Spontaneous invitation
Last but not least is the chance to be invited by someone at his place. This is nothing that you can plan in advance, but something that you'll remember forever. You have good chances of this happening a few times during your trip, if you are hitchhiking and you are able to built a relation and look reliable in the eyes of your driver. But that's not the only possibility, because we were invited also while browsing internet in a supermarket or just standing on the street while it was getting dark. People are supportive when they see that you need help, and you don't even have to ask. Free sleeping is the last of the things, because you are going to be overwhelmed by the generosity of spontaneous people!
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You can read the other guides to become a professional gypsy traveller in the travel tips section.