Find a Bed on a Budget
Intro | Sleeping | Eating/Drinking | Transport
There are loads of ways to find a cheap/free bed for the night. Obviously it depends on your comfort levels and some of the options may not sound hugely appealing but once you’re on the road, you’ll find yourself sleeping in all sorts of strange places. If you’re a budget traveller, even in rich countries you shouldn’t ever really be paying more than $20 a night for somewhere to sleep and most of the time it should be considerably less.
Couchsurfing: Sleep with a Stranger…
This isn’t as a dodgy as it sounds. Couchsurfing is one way to find a bed or couch to sleep on for a night or two and best of all it’s totally free. Yes there really are people in almost every town and city in the world who will let you sleep on their couch or spare bed for free. (Unless romance blossoms between you and your host you probably won’t end up in their bed!)
Check out the Couchsurfing website which has nearly 2 million members in over 70,000 cities across the world. Most of them will be reluctant to let you stay until you’ve got a few positive references that state you’re not a total freak, but once off and running many people get completely hooked on the couchsurfing phenomenon.
A good way to get positive references is to invite your friends to join and add you or to start by meeting people for a ‘coffee or drink‘ which is an option on the site. This is safer for both parties and should get you a reference. You can even consider offering your couch or showing travellers around your home town before you set off on your travels.
There are also many couchsurfing events and meet-ups that take place where lot’s of members get together and it’s a good way to meet people when you’re away from home. Couchsurfing is especially useful in countries where hostels are more expensive and there tends to be more willing hosts in these places anyway.
Camping: Some like it wild
Camping is one option to sleep for free or very little if you opt for the added security of a campsite. Pack a small tent into your backpack and hit the road, in most parts of the world no-one is likely to seriously object if you find somewhere discreet to camp out for the night. Probably not a good idea if your a solo girl traveller and you might want to make sure there’s no wild animals in the area that might eat you.
Dangers obviously vary greatly depending on where in the world you are. Risks vary from totally safe to do in some countries to totally not a good idea in others so it’s worth doing some research before you head off.
If you don’t fancy either of the above then hostels are you’re next best bet. A bed for a night can cost as little as US$2 in parts of the backpacker mecca that is South East Asia. However is some parts of the world such as Scandinavia even a bed in a large dorm can set you back $30+, hardly budget travel.
One way around this is trying to find a job in a hostel. The turnover of staff is high so there’s often vacancies for night reception staff for example, you may get paid some cash but you almost certainly be allowed to stay for free with some food/drinks thrown in. You’re unlikely to actually save up money working in a hostel but you should cover the costs of a backpacker lifestyle and you’ll meet loads of other travellers.
For more on this see are Guide to Youth Hostels
Other Ways to Scrounge out Some Sleep
Other options include volunteering, which will often get you a bed and sometimes food. Beware of the volunteering schemes that charge you huge amounts to work. Many are exploiting people who simply want to help those less fortunate. It is probably better to wait till you arrive in a country and then look for volunteering opportunities. You may need to commit to a few months though if you want to get a place to sleep for free.
If everything else fails airports and many train stations are normally open 24-7 and are okay to get a few hours kip in, some even have showers.
Also take advantage of night buses and night trains when possible as this will save you on a night’s accommodation. Any trips over 8 hours are probably worth doing at night.
In theory it is possible to sleep for free almost anywhere in the world. However if you’re doing a world trip or long period of travel, you will almost certainly have to fork out for somewhere to stay at times in your trip. Couchsurfing members can occasionally let you down despite all the positive stories on the website, leaving you in the lurch looking for somewhere to stay.
Many big cities especially aren’t places where it is safe to camp. Camping in extreme weather conditions isn’t much fun. Volunteering projects and other jobs can take a while to sort out. So if you’re planning a world trip and you do need some sort of funds behind you but by following some of these tips you can drastically cut down your accommodation costs to the bare minimum.
This article was last updated in July 2013.