Ways to Stay Somewhere Cheap or Free While Traveling

By Rachel Puryear

As anyone who loves to travel knows, it unfortunately isn’t cheap to do so. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t travel more than you think without necessarily breaking the bank. Here are several ways to save a lot of money while traveling – by staying in decent places for cheap, or even free!

Bunk beds, with a white sheet over a blue mattress and pillow on the top bunk, and a black and white blanket with a red pillow on top on the bottom bunk, each with a black metal frame and light wood paneling. By Markus Winkler.

Hostels

If you don’t mind relatively modest, shared accommodations – think a room with several bunk beds, shared with fellow travelers, plus a common bath and kitchen/ette – staying a hostel could be a way to pay much less than even a low-end hotel/motel. Besides, this option offers an opportunity to meet other travelers, and socialize – if you’re traveling alone, this could help ease loneliness.

Ready to search for a hostel to book your next low-price accommodations? Click here for a huge database of customer-reviewed hostels worldwide, through Hostel World.

Some hostel facilities have separate quarters for men and women, and/or for families; while others offer mixed quarters. If you have a preference, inquire with the facility.

A word of caution: Most of your fellow hostel guests are nice travelers like you, who just want an inexpensive place to sleep at night. As always, however, there can always be a few people with nefarious intentions anywhere. Most people won’t bother you – but nonetheless, you may want to sleep in such a way that any valuables you have will be difficult for someone to take from you without waking you up. You will be held responsible for your own security in such places.

Driveway Surfing, aka Moochdocking

There are nice folks around the world who will let you park your RV or camper on their private property for free while you travel. This can also be a way to visit family and friends, and maintain some privacy for you and them without the expense and hassle of getting a hotel.

Tips for driveway surfing: This is someone’s private home, so of course use the same common courtesy you would use as a houseguest anywhere. Exercise good communication with your hosts, and ask before helping yourself to their amenities like laundry machines, bathrooms, food pantry, and utilities if it hasn’t already been offered. Leave the place cleaner and better than you found it. Offer to help with chores and other skills you might have that they need, and be polite and pleasant to be around, including being open to socializing and connecting with your hosts. Be sure to thank them, as well. Remember – it’s important to treat your host well for the sake of good manners, as well as encouraging more people to keep offering their place to future driveway surfers.

If you don’t know someone in your destination area, you can join Boondockers Welcome, a nationwide database of willing hosts. There is an annual membership fee of $25 (to be a guest only, not a host).

Housesitting

Other people around the world who are just like you also want to travel, but need people to look after their homes while they are away – to ensure security, pick up mail and other errands, take care of pets and plants, and generally look after the place. Many people able to travel for extended period of time have nice homes. Typically, the expectation is that you will not be paid for housesitting, but that you will stay there for no charge – basically exchanging housesitting services for accommodations.

So, how do you find people who need housesitting in a place you’d like to travel to, and/or find housesitters for your own home while you’re away? Trusted Housesitters is an established and well-reputed site for connecting such folks. They have annual membership plans ranging from $129 to $319, depending upon whether you want to register as a sitter/homeowner/both, and the level of service you want. For many, the most basic service will likely meet their needs.

Home Exchanges

Another possibility is to let another person/family stay in your home, while you stay in theirs. If someone from somewhere else will be visiting your area at the same time you want to visit theirs, this could be the perfect way for each of you to save some money on accommodations.

Of course, how do you find such a person in the area you wish to travel to? You can join HomeExchange, and be connected with people around the world who are also looking to exchange their homes. Membership is $150 a year for unlimited home exchanges.

Campground Memberships

Campground fees can add up over time, but you can save lots of money with a campground membership, especially if you camp frequently.

One such campground membership is through Thousand Trails. They have hundreds of locations in various regions of the United States, including at least 16 in California, with several locations in/or near the outskirts of the Bay Area.

Membership costs vary depending on how many regions and campgrounds you want access to, and of course, an upgraded membership offers more options in more popular destination areas, such as places close to National and State Parks. The most basic memberships start at $630 a year. If you camp a lot, you RV full time, or maybe want to do a cross country road trip; you can save a lot on campground fees over the year with an initial investment up front. However, this is probably more than you want to spend if you’re more of an occasional camper, or have a particular favorite camping spot.

Workamping

There are a lot of opportunities out there to work in exchange for free lodging, as partial or total compensation. If you would like to spend a lot of time on the road or in a popular camping destination; and need to earn a living, but remote work is not feasible or desirable for you; then this could be a perfect solution.

One website that helps connect workampers with employers who need them is the aptly-named Workamping Jobs. Depending upon the nature of the work, you may work in exchange for free parking, wages, or a combination of both. Some remote positions are also available.

Boondocking in Vehicles

Boondocking is a term for parking a vehicle outside of campgrounds, without utility hookups, and sleeping overnight. Doing this can save on campground fees, and also might allow you to be more mobile and sleep in less crowded places.

Check out this guide to boondocking at highway rest stops, as well.

A few caveats about this option: (1) You will usually have to provide your own power, water, waste disposal, internet, and other utilities; (2) You will need to be mindful about security, as you are more vulnerable to crime while you’re out without many other people around (that’s the downside to fewer crowds), and (3) If you’re in a more urban area, be sure to check the parking regulations where you are – or you might be woken up by police in the middle of the night.


Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to traveling around the world, and staying in great places without breaking the bank.

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