How to find free accommodation on your travels
This article is for backpackers and independent or solo travellers who need to stretch their budget as far as possible.
Couch Surfing (you might get a bed!)
Stay in a host's home for free, sleeping in what ever spare space is available, bed, couch, or floor. There are plenty of online communities and not for profit organisations allowing hosts and guests to get in touch with each other. It's a good way to meet people in the country your visiting, if your lucky they involve you in the local entertainment or at least point you in the direction of things you wouldn't normally see as a tourist.
One word of caution most sites have minimal/non existent vetting procedures for hosts and guests.
The Hospitality Club Thousands of members, membership is free.
Couchsurfing.org Free, covers over 230 countries and territories.
globalfreeloaders.com Free to join, you are expected to be a host as well.
Servas International the best vetting process out of the sites listed here. Both guests and hosts registering with the site are interviewed as part of the vetting process. This takes time so you can't organise somewhere to sleep immediately. You also have to pay a fee to cover the cost of vetting.
Drawbacks: (added 14 Dec 2011, as a result of a Couch Surfing experiences post by "Judith" on Yahoo Answers)
Spending hours on your computer, finding and arranging each stay.
Couch Surfing hosts changing their mind at the last minute. Leaving you with nowhere to stay and hunting for accommodation at whatever cost.
As well as the practical aspects; the worry that your next host could let you down might impact on your enjoyment of the vacation. It may cost, but if you book a hostel you can be almost 100% confident that there will be a bed waiting for you.
Working for your board and lodging/volunteering
The links below provide contact details of hosts offering a roof for your work. You may have to work hard for a number of hours each day, but could end up gaining a better insight into the country you are visiting and in some cases be helping charitable or ecological projects. Examples of work and locations range from helping out on organic farms in Australia, through decorating a new hostel in Moldova, to helping out on a reforestation project in India.
Volunteering: don't assume volunteering will provide you with a cheap holiday. We think many "voluntourism" companies offer little more than overpriced experience packages that do little for the area you are visiting. Even volunteering through legitimate well run not for profits can be expensive. We'll cover volunteering in a later blog.
Not an area we are familiar but you could check out:
stay4free.com to quote from their website: "Basically it means you stay in someone's house, flat or apartement for an agreed period of time, while they stay in yours, at no extra cost. For instance you go to New York for a week, to stay in Ben and Mary their house, while Ben and Mary stay at your place at the same time."
Sleeping at airports
sleepinginairports.net speaks for itself, has reviews and advice by airport.
Sleeping on trains
I bought a 30 day USA Rail pass and used it to go coast to coast across the USA, stopping off at various towns and cities enroute. Unlike British and European railways, the seats were very wide comfortable recliners and as eighteen hour plus journeys were not untypical I saved on hostel costs by sleeping on the train.
Sleeping in a seat on European trains is nowhere near as comfortable as cross-country Amtrak, but if you are happy sleeping on a UK train overnight you should not have a problem sleeping on a European train.
Sleeper Cars - okay not free but in parts of Eastern Europe very cheap. Why pay to sleep in a hostel overnight and then travel during waking hours? When traveling solo with an expensive laptop I have even used first class sleepers (Bucharest - Chisinau, Moldova; Istanbul - Plovdiv, Bulgaria; and Odessa - Przemysl, Poland) these were 2 berth, inexpensive by Western standards, and I only had to share on the Moldova train.
Some years ago I read of thefts taking place on Polish overnight trains, even from people in locked sleeping cars, so check out the latest travel advice by country (from the FCO) on our trip planning dashboard, and your Travel Guides (left sidebar) for the current situation.
Hostels, avoiding booking fees
Working for your board, and couch surfing are great, but can restrict your flexibility and free-time. If you are on a gap year, and travelling country to country you will probably end up sleeping in hostels much of the time. Check out our review of hostel-booker sites to see which we rate on choice, hostel reviews and fees.