I spent a month in India back in 2012 and inevitably found myself at the New Dehli Train Station. I had stayed in a cheap guesthouse, about a 2-minute walk from the station the night before and was reading and relaxing in my room while I waited for my train’s departure. As a responsible adult, I checked out of my room early and walked over to the station to ensure I would catch my train to Rajasthan. Upon arrival, and beyond the typical chaos that is New Delhi Train Station, there was more turmoil regarding my train specifically – it had been canceled. I asked a number of station staff if another was coming and in response, repeatedly received the ambiguous Indian Head Wobble. For those of you unfamiliar with this phenomenon, please google it. Depending on the context, it can mean the following:
Yes, Good, Okay, I acknowledge your presence, I understand, Hello
Beyond the multitude of different meanings, you must also take into consideration the speed, enthusiasm, and vigor of the actual head wobble – because this too makes a difference. While I was trying to understand what the hell was going on the next train left because of my inability to decode the Bobble.
Now, this next bit I don’t recommend and those of you who have had the pleasure of visiting the New Dehli Train Station are likely going to judge me…hard. But, I crossed the street, purchased a $2 blanket from a street vendor and settled in for a long night stay on the New Dehli Train Station floor with a few other displaced passengers.
The point of this long and seemingly irrelevant intro is that I didn’t have accommodation for the night, as I planned to sleep on the train and paying $15 for another night of accommodation didn’t fit into the budget. In comes my affinity with free accommodation, which of course was likely not an option in this particular scenario – however, with a little planning through the use of the ideas below you can save on your accommodation budget some nights and splurge on others. So here are my top 6 recommendations for free accommodation.
1Sleep for Free:
Couchsurfing is an amazing community of travelers and altruistic hosts who enjoy meeting travelers and showing them around their town. I’ve spent a lot of time both hosting and surfing and I’ve had nothing but great experiences and in doing so, I’ve saved a substantial amount of money.
House Sitting is another option for those who need a place to crash, have some time on their hands and don’t mind looking after a strangers home while they’re away. A lot of House Sitting sites charge a small fee to become a member but if this is an avenue you’d like to pursue, you would save a great deal of money and stay in some really cool places.
2Work at a Hostel:
When you find a place you love, start poking around at local hostels in the area to see if any of them need help. I’ve met plenty of travelers over the years working in hostels in exchange for breakfast and free accommodations. You may find yourself, checking in guests, cleaning up after the guests or doing daily tasks for the owner/manager. But what a cool gig, you can extend your stay for cheap and meet new travelers from all over the world.
Peace Corps is an excellent option for people who are looking to live abroad for an extended period of time while completing some rewarding work. Most volunteers work in the areas of Education, Agriculture, Community Economic Development, Health, Environment and Youth in Development. Peace Corps provides training in whichever sector you’re accepted in before they send you out there to make a difference.
Just recently the application process has been streamlined so the arduous process that existed before is much less grueling. Peace Corps has a full-term assignment of 27-months, which includes 3 months of language, cross-culture and sector training then 24-months in the community working on projects.
If 27-months is a bit too long of a commitment, Peace Corps has opened up Peace Corps Response to anyone who has the skills they are looking for, for particular projects. Previously Response had been only available to Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who had successfully completed their 27-month assignment. Peace Corps Response posts are typically anywhere from 3-12 months.
If Peace Corps has too much structure or just isn’t your jam, don’t fret because the world has WWOOFing. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. This is a community of farmers who offer room and board in exchange for a labor on their farm. Each farmer has different requirements and offerings, so poke around the website and see if anything looks interesting.
Do you have nautical skills? No, well I don’t either. Of course, that would be a bonus if you did but there are a ton of (mostly) free websites where boat owners are looking for a crew to help them their upcoming trip. So, if you can’t sail or help navigate the seas you can cook, clean or be a helping hand with the ropes all while traveling, learning, meeting new people and….living for free. Boat owners often ask for a financial contribution for food, fuel, etc but many simply want a helping hand. Check out these websites: Find a Crew, Floatplan, Crew Seekers and 7Knots.
5Bring a Tent:
This one is pretty straightforward but tent technology is much better than it used to be and if you can fit a 1-person tent into your bag, you’ll have a ready-made shelter whenever you need it. The “camp anywhere” concept is a little foreign to American’s since we, unfortunately, have pretty rigid rules regarding when and where we can camp. However, when you’re abroad, most other countries are far more accepting of you pitching a tent for the night as long as you leave the area as you found it. Obviously, do your research but I think you’d be surprised at where you’re allowed to camp for the night.
Kill two birds with one stone? Yes, let’s do that! This one isn’t free, per se but if you book a red-eye flight, a night train, bus or boat, you’re saving money on accommodation. You have to plan a little ahead with overnight travel so you know where you’re going and how you’re getting there upon arrival. It’s not uncommon to arrive at your destination town early in the morning when nothing is open, so be sure to plan ahead. I think my intro story is a good example of how overnight travel works, although sometimes it doesn’t work and you end up on the floor of a seedy train station.
These are my best tips for free accommodation abroad, which will not only save money but allow you to tackle new experiences, meet new people and seeing a slightly different side of the streamlined world of travel accommodations. Good luck!