Are you think of taking a trip but not sure of how to find cheap accommodations for travel – or even, perhaps, free ones? A lot of people know of standard accommodations like hotels, motels and campgrounds, but not many people know that there are tons of other places you can look for inexpensive accommodations. There are even organizations that will help you experience cool things like working with animals or volunteering with kids! Here, I’ll take you through my roundup of the best places to find cheap (or free!) accommodations for travel.
1. Work Exchanges
Work exchange programs are exactly what they sound like – an exchange of work (yours) for lodging and sometimes meals (your hosts’!). Below are a few of the more popular work exchange programs for you to try out!
I’ve mentioned before that one thing I was really looking forward to on this trip was “WWOOF“ing. No, it’s not a sound a dog makes (okay…yes it is), it’s an organization that stands for WorldWide Opportunities in Organic Farming. WWOOF is a super cool website that connects you with families that own organic farms and need help with tasks! In exchange for working approximately four hours a day, WWOOFers are given a free place to stay and even, sometimes, free meals. The site lets you filter down the type of farm you are looking to work on, and even lets you put in things like food preferences (for me, vegan!) and whether companion animals (hello, Hello Elizabeth) are coming with you.
Helpx is similar to WWOOF in that it is a work exchange, but it’s broader than WWOOF – a Helpx family could be in need of anything from farm help, like WWOOF, to child care, to even social media or business help. Helpxers work approximately the same hours as a WWOOFer would, depending on what you agree with the family upon and what the varying needs are, but the basic idea is the same: a few hours of work in exchange for a place to stay and often, some really cool experiences!
Workaway is another popular work exchange just like Helpx. Here, the activites can range from helping out on a vineyard to helping teach kids in another country. I haven’t personally used Workaway yet, but I have heard some really good things about the site and know some people who have had great experiences with it!
2. Hospitality Exchanges
Hospitality exchanges, unlike work exchanges, are just the exchange of places for people to stay on a global “marketplace” or website. Here, no work is required, but the accommodations are subject to availability and the kindness of people opening their homes!
Couchsurfing.com is probably the most famous hospitality exchange and it’s pretty simple – people letting you “surf” on their couches for free! On Couchsurfing, there’s no need to also open up your home to couchsurfers (although, it is encouraged), and it’s a really great way to meet locals! So far, I’ve met some great people through Couchsurfing and hope to continue to use it to meet more people and make new friends.
Global Freeloaders is another organization very similar to Couchsurfing – the difference is that here, it really is an exchange! Global Freeloaders asks users not to sign up unless they will be in a position to host a guest within 6 months of signing up. I did not sign up for this program (for obvious reasons – no home!) but I do think it’s massively cool if you are able to have someone stay with you for a bit. It’s a great option for when you have a home base but want to travel cheaply!
Housesitting or petsitting for someone is something I never even thought about before I began this journey. There are a few big organizations that match potential housesitters (you) with people needing someone to care for their animals or watch their home while they are away.
TrustedHousesitters.com is a website I’ve already used to score a housesit in San Diego for ten days – and it’s pretty simple! There are listings of people looking for a housesitter, you scroll through them and apply. The criticisms I’ve heard of this website are that it’s very new to the States, and doesn’t have a lot of U.S. listings, but I haven’t found this to be a problem so far.
And, ta-da! This one solves the (potential) problem with Trusted Housesitters. Housesitters America is only meant for house sits in the States and although I haven’t used this one yet, it looks pretty promising and I may try it very soon!
4. Short-term Rentals
Many people have been turned on to the short-term rental craze, because, well, the travel industry is changing and hotels are getting too expensive!
So far, the most well-known of the short-term rental websites is airBNB, which has a range of options and accommodations for any budget and any personality! In fact, Holly Elizabeth and I just found a week-long doggie-friendly rental in Tempe, AZ for $138 (for the entire week!) and another one in Vegas (with two vegans, to boot!) for $145. When I first started this trip, I didn’t plan to do a lot of airBNB-ing, as I wanted to stay mostly on farms, but with my freelance writing expanding, that’s going to have to change and I’m super thrilled airBNB exists!
Flipkey is very similar to airBNB and is actually owned by TripAdvisor. It has listings everywhere and listings have to be verified by the site itself. Flipkey also has daily deals – so for a budget traveler, it’s a great alternative to airBNB.
Homeaway is another great option for budget travelers, and it’s one of the biggest, as well. Homeaway also owns a few other rental websites like VRBO and VacationRentals.com, so they are definitely a company that’s been around the block in terms of vacation accommodations.
Believe it or not, hostels actually exist in the States! (Yes, I was surprised myself!) And there are some good websites for finding the perfect hostel!
Hostelling International has a USA-focused website, which lists several hostels across multiple states. I particularly like HIUSA, as part of their company belief is the idea that traveling can create a more tolerant world. HIUSA also has free events for travelers on their website and seems, overall, like a great company.
Hostels.com is the big boy for finding hostels everywhere, and they have a States-focused page, as well. I’ve not yet found a company that has more listings than Hostels.com, and although I likely won’t be using the site (not many puppy-friendly hostels around, unfortunately!), it’s a great option for solo-travelers looking to save some dough!
Hostelbookers is very similar to Hostels.com, in that it is a broad site listing hostels all over the world. They also, however, have a dedicated U.S. page which seems to have a pretty solid listing of hostels within the States.
Of course, there is always the option of staying a hotel, or motel, or campground, and sometimes, you can find really great deals! Sites like goSeek.com and Dealbase.com are often really great resources you can use for finding cheap accommodations for travel.
I love that it’s 2016 and there are so many options available for seeing the world. No matter how you find cheap places to stay, get out there and travel!
P.S. Want to know more about how you can start living the travel lifestyle? Check out my book, “Quit Your Job & Travel The World”, available now on Amazon!