By Emma Grace Fairchild:
For both international and domestic explorers, choosing where to stay is the big decision; however, there are many options for finding temporary accommodations on the cheap, either as an exchange for services or completely free. The rise of interest in sharing economies and low impact travel has created a perfect opportunity for platforms such as couchsurfing, work away programs, and housesitting exchange. If the thought of a pricey hotel bill discourages you from traveling, consider thinking outside the norm for a unique and affordable place to stay on your next adventure.
Couchsurfing is a free program in which people volunteer their couches for fellow travelers to crash for short-term stays. The basic premise is that locals who also love to travel offer their homes (usually their couch or a guest room) so travelers can stay in an area they might want to visit. Upon mutual agreement, a free place to lodge is arranged. In order to remain transparent and avoid uncomfortable placements or conflicting expectations, it’s possible to leave a review of your host and for the host to leave one for the guest as well. Couchsurfing is ideal for meeting new people who know the area and for making friends with others who also love to travel. As well as a place to stay, there are hosted events at bars or cafes in cities around the world where both locals and people passing through can meet. A big part of couchsurfing is reciprocity, and surfers can show hosts their gratitude by being good guests (ex: keeping the place clean and tidy, offering to help with a project). Another common “thank you” gesture is taking your host out for dinner or even making them a meal at the flat; bringing flowers for the home; or leaving behind a small gift of beer, coffee, or chocolate. Once you’re back home, you have the opportunity to open your space to fellow travelers if you have the ability, and the community of supportive travelers grows! Couchsurfing is popular all over the world and is definitely worth considering for independent or small groups of travelers.
For longer travel plans, there are alternative resources for finding a place to stay that fits your needs. Workaway.info is a site that helps travelers find homes, businesses, farms and more all over the world that offer accommodation (and often more) in exchange for work. This could mean working a few hours a day in a business or on the land, or even contributing specific skills that the host needs. Described on their website as an opportunity for cultural exchange, volunteers are able to “integrate and help local communities in over 155 countries,” while the huge variety of hosts get the help they need. Some examples of places you could stay in exchange for work are a horse and apple farm in Finland, a yoga retreat center in Mexico, a site in Poland while building a straw bale home, or a place in Nepal while volunteering at a primary school. WorkAway serves as a way to connect interested people with appropriate hosts, but it is up to the individual parties to agree upon the specifics of the trade. Reviews are also common and helpful through this platform and can help travelers decide which program might be best for them. Some hosts require volunteers to commit to minimum stay times, so planning and clear communication are important when organizing a trip. If you’d like to try something new, see a new country or state, and save quite a bit of money, WorkAway exchanges could be the perfect way to do that.
Similar to Work Away, housesitting and pet sitting sites offer an exchange of services that benefit both parties involved. If you’re looking to travel, you can join online communities such as Nomador.com or trustedhousesitters.com, and find folks that need someone they can trust to mind their home while they are elsewhere. The host chooses someone to watch their home, water their plants, and care for their pets while the visitor has a place to stay for free. Not only does this allow for a comfortable and private space for travelers to feel at home, but it also encourages visitors to see places that a tourist might not otherwise find. This would be ideal for people who can remain for a longer time and don’t mind if they are outside the center of a city, as well as for those with the ability to work remotely. Because it is a service very much based on trust, on sites such as these it’s important to have references both for yourself and the homeowner to keep things clear and happy.