House-sitting is my favourite form of free accommodation since it’s complementary to my existing career as a freelance writer (something I can do from anywhere in the world with an internet connection).
The basics are simple: You take care of the house, pets, plants, yard, livestock — whatever the homeowner needs done for the place to run smoothly in their absence. In exchange, you live a slice of local life for free, enjoying the comforts of home — somebody else’s home, that is.
Couch surfing is the name of one of a few websites that specialize in hospitality exchanges: connecting travelers with locals offering some hospitality, friendship, and often, a place to stay.
Don’t initially expect to stay for more than a few days (unless you’re invited to stay longer); as they say, good houseguests are like fresh produce — they go off after about three days.
#3: Home Exchanges
Home exchanges are like reciprocal house-sitting gigs. They’re not quite as difficult to coordinate as you might think. There are a few dozen websites out there to help you meet other home exchangers and structure a deal, which can sometimes work three ways to match everybody’s destinations and time frames.
I’m not referring to voluntourism here (where you pay a fee to volunteer for a good cause) but rather to volunteering in trade for free accommodation, and sometimes food. This is a very rewarding way to see the world, meet new people, and integrate into a community by living and working with them.
The range of tasks (and quality of accommodation) varies greatly; I’ve milked goats, designed marketing plans, run kitchens, landscaped, and much more. All in trade for anything from yurts to 5-star cottages to eco-resorts.
What a boon it was to discover a whole community of captains who need extra hands on deck! I sailed the Caribbean for three months, living on five boats spanning three countries in that time.
The needs of seafaring captains vary widely (as do most free accommodation gigs); you’ll have a cabin or bunk on the boat in exchange for helping out with the sailing and daily tasks of life — which on a boat, can be extensive. You’ll likely be asked to financially contribute your share of common expenses like food and petrol.
Tips for Finding + Landing Gigs
Although free accommodation lends itself to long-term travelers, you can try out any of the above options with a standard vacation too. Many gigs can last just a few days, ranging to as long as months or even years (occasionally).
Whether you’re looking for a new start in life or just a new place to go on vacation, here are some tips for finding your own free accommodation gig:
Be flexible with dates.
Have a variety of destinations you’re willing to go to.
Apply for positions as you would for a job, and treat it as seriously.
Have references ready; this can ease a homeowner’s concerns about having a stranger take care of their house and pets, for example.
How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World
Are you curious to know more? These five forms of free accommodation are featured in my latest book: How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World, which is jam-packed with resources about where to find gigs, how to land them, and what to expect when you get there.