We all want to know how to get free accommodation… and if you say you don’t, you’re lying to yourself!
Travelling is the most enriching and valuable experience for a person but more often than not, it can be the complete opposite for your bank account. With transportation, accommodation, food, beverages, shopping, and attractions it can all add up to a pretty hefty price. But when you start getting into it there are always little, and sometimes big, things you can do to cut these costs down.
If you are expecting this to be another one of those posts telling you to constantly badger hotel staff about how awesome their exposure could be if they gave you a free stay in exchange for a shoutout, then I’m sorry to disappoint. And yes, I am a pro Travel Content Creative and have done sponsored content with hotels and other accommodation, but this is about the nicest and most fun way to find a free stay when you travel.
Although you may feel the need to try to cut these costs down all at once, like many things in life, it is best to be done one step at a time. So let’s take the first step and focus on the cost of accommodation.
Not only minimising the cost but cutting it out completely! Although you probably should consider contributing in other ways while you are taking advantage of some generous hospitality.
That’s right… FREE accommodation!
Before we get deep into the tips and tricks of travel, I must warn you that my advice is not 100% guaranteed and may not be for everyone but don’t shut it down yet, it may be the best travel/life advice that you will ever read!
Are you ready?
The key to free accommodation is…
I’m sure some of you are probably a little confused and are maybe even thinking, “what the hell is she going on about, that can’t be it!”, but you just have to believe me when I say making friends is the ultimate way to save money on accommodation. And here I mean ‘real’ friends, I’m certainly not encouraging you to just pretend to like someone just for a place to stay a couple of nights.
These friends include:
The one you have known forever.
This friend is someone you have known from a very young age, someone who has put up with you through almost every stage of your life so far and is commonly referred to as ‘The Best Friend’, ‘BFF’, or ‘Family’. Whether this friend lives around the corner or lives on the opposite side of the world, they will always make room for you, and often be begging you to come and hoping you never leave.
My original and best BFF since kindergarten moved from Australia to Nashville to go to College but that was never going to keep us apart. Since she left a few years ago I have stayed with her a couple of times and she always stays with me when she comes back for a visit. That’s what I call a win-win!
The exchange student.
For me, this has been the most successful type of friend, not only is it because as an exchange student, the accommodation and host family is all set up before your arrival but also for the students you have hosted yourself, you have already developed the friendship, and if you did a good enough job of looking after them and showing them around, they are always happy to return the favour one day!
I have had both sides of this work for me. I hosted my French ‘sister’ when she came to Australia as a High School cultural exchange and we were both devastated when she had to go back home three weeks later. Since then I have stayed in her Bordeaux apartment, and my family spent a few days at her parents’ house in Southwest France on another trip. We still look for opportunities to catch up as we both travel the world.
On the other side I was lucky to be hosted in Portland, Oregon by a beautiful family as part of my Education World Travel exchange. And my student host has turned out to be a personality carbon copy of me. I have been back to visit her again twice and she came and stayed with my family for a few weeks as well. This free accommodation works best when it works both ways.
Throughout the years the definition of penpal has changed, but the basis of what this friend is has not. For many, a penpal is a long-distance friend who you have built a friendship entirely or majorly through nonverbal communication, but whether this is a friend you send actual letters to or just chat to over Facebook, there will be a time where you will finally, or once again, have a face to face conversation with this friend (by this I do not mean skype or facetime).
And if you are lucky enough to get a really good penpal they will even invite you into their own home, be your tour guide for your stay and the most important of all, they will become your friend for life. I had a few snail-mail penpals growing up and one, in particular, has become another of my international ‘sisters’, this time in California. Over the past ten years I have stayed with her a few times, and every time we just seem to pick up where we left off the last time.
And like my shirt states in the super-cool photo above… Friends are forever, boys are whatever!
The one you met while travelling.
In many ways, this friend is similar to a penpal, however, where many penpals are found online these particular friends are found out in the real world. They may be travellers too or many even locals in the town you are wandering through. Again, it will not be as simple as running into someone on the street and being invited straight into their home for no cost at all, that stage of friendship may take a little more work.
With this type of friend the most common way to save money is sharing a room or splitting the bill, you never know, this friend may turn into your travel buddy! The world may seem really big but you will be surprised how easy it is to run into someone you know!
I have also had a few times where I have made friends while we were both travelling and years later let them know that I was going to be visiting their home town, only to get an immediate and excited offer to stay with them while I am there. How could you say no to that? I have stayed with these friends everywhere from Sydney to London to New York, and not only has it saved me a fortune, I always have a blast and a built-in tour guide as well.
The friend of a friend.
Once again, I need to make it clear that making a friend does not give you automatic permission to enter their home free of charge, especially if you barely know them. And when it comes to friends of friends you should have even lower expectations of being invited to stay.
I am not cutting out the possibility of being able to stay with this friend of a friend (and every other type of friend you can think of) completely, you just need to be aware and understand the reality and boundaries of this concept. This person is usually recommended to you by a friend. Although they may not invite you to stay, they may still be quite happy to meet up and show you around.
Set your expectations.
Think of the world as a monopoly board; each new friend you make is one of the properties on the board with a hotel. The more hotels you have access to on the board, the more likely it is that you won’t have to pay to stay in someone else’s! But like Monopoly, you can’t just head straight to the place you hope to end up! Start planning well in advance and be prepared for the chance that for one reason or another you may never get to stay there.
Pro tip: Make sure you give them plenty of notice of your visit! I’m sure you would be feeling a little confused, and probably less than pleased if you just rock up at their door one day and expect a free bed, so keep that in mind!
As much as we like to win and we wish it could be as simple as a game of Monopoly, as I keep saying, you must be aware that this concept is not always reliable, but most importantly, if you are lucky enough to find a bunch of these generous friends that will supply you with ‘free accommodation’ make sure to always be respectful and generous yourself.
For some this respect can be shown through keeping your room tidy while you are there, using your manners, shouting your host/friend for dinner or buying some groceries and sometimes, although it takes away from the idea of ‘free accommodation’, it doesn’t take much to throw in a couple of dollars towards their rent either!
“YOU WILL NEVER BE COMPLETELY AT HOME AGAIN, BECAUSE PART OF YOUR HEART WILL ALWAYS BE ELSEWHERE.
THAT IS THE PRICE YOU PAY FOR THE RICHNESS OF LOVING AND KNOWING PEOPLE IN MORE THAN ONE PLACE.”