How to Stay With Locals for Free?

Travelling to every country in the world on a low budget can often be a challenge. A night in a comfortable hotel might make you go out of the budget, and sometimes there is no public transport to reach a city from the airport. One of the times this happened to me was in Suva, Fiji in 2015. I arrived late and had two nights there, but nowhere to stay, and for transport, a taxi would be the only option except hitchhiking. Instead of hitchhiking in the dark, I decided to talk. 

I talked to a local man at the airport about myself and my situation, and after a few minutes, he offered me transportation and a place to stay. In this travel tip (Free Accommodation), it’s important that you trust people and that you are not afraid of rejections. Asking people is one way to get free accommodation and a way to start a conversation could be “Do you know of a cheap place to stay here?”.

Of course, this ‘tactic’ involves risk, and there are certainly places in the world where I would be more likely to ask for free accommodation in the streets than others. However, life is a risk in itself; many things can happen at any given time. You don’t have to say yes to a place to stay the first moment you start talking, but rather decide if the person chooses to offer you a place to stay. It gives you some time to determine if it’s a person you actually trust. 

You can also do a social media post about your situation or send a message to someone you think might know a person in the destination you are visiting. I did just that on an evening in Sydney, Australia, and shortly after, one of his friends picked me up.

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Couchsurfing is the only website I have used for free accommodation, and it’s also the most popular website of this kind. Couchsurfing’s website says they are “a global community of 14 million people in more than 200,000 cities.”  To have success with Couchsurfing, I recommend spending time setting up a good-looking profile.

I would highly recommend including information about yourself, so hosts can get to know you before making a decision. Adding a link to your Facebook profile might make you more trustworthy, but the main thing for both the host and the Couchsurfer is feedback. It’s also a good idea to check the profiles of the ones you contact and make the messages personal instead of sending many cold messages.

After setting up a profile, it’s essential to check feedback from other travellers and then contact the hosts. Don’t expect fast replies on Couchsurfing and it’s best to write to at least a few in each destination, as I’m sure a lot will say no or ignore the request. The downside with Couchsurfing is the time you spent trying to organize accommodation, that you often don’t know how it’s going to be, and the lack of privacy. 

With Couchsurfing, you pay with your time, both beforehand and during the stay. However, often the company is great and can be a great cultural experience. I think it depends a lot on how fast you travel. If you are in a rush, it might be a stress factor. However, if you travel slow, it can perhaps be the very best way for you to travel.

With Couchsurfing, you at least should spend a fair amount of time talking to your hosts, and it’s also a good idea to help with something if there is an opportunity. You might even bring a gift. A Couchsurfing host in Australia specifically asked for wine in 2009, but that was the only time I received such a request.

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Another option of free accommodation is to take care of other people’s houses while they are away. You can also volunteer, which could be practical for more than the usual short stays you can expect with Couchsurfing hosts or if you talk to strangers in the streets. There are several other websites you can use, but my experiences are limited to Couchsurfing.

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