The two biggest expenses when planning a trip are airfare and accommodations. What if you could skip one of those? While you’re unlikely to finagle a free flight without elite or airline-employee status, there are a surprising number of ways to score free lodging if you’re flexible.
How to Score Free Lodging
Forget tricky hotel deals and hidden rental fees—these seven hacks will get you truly free lodging.
It pays to be a pet-loving traveler. One of the most popular and reliable ways to secure free lodging is through pet sitting opportunities, which have become widely popular through sites like TrustedHousesitters.com.
If hanging out with a furry or feathered friend sounds like a small price to pay for free lodging in locales ranging from France to Australia, simply think of the $10 monthly membership as a wise investment. Joining gets you access to listings and the chance to apply for gigs as a background-checked pet sitter, plus the ability to list your own home and pets—so you’re paying for a useful service rather than any lodging. It could potentially save you hundreds on both lodging and pet services like kennels.
Free lodging in its most basic form is available on Couchsurfing.com. Think Airbnb minus the prices, and only for shared accommodations: The site is based on reviews by both hosts and travelers. Couchsurfing doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be sleeping on a sofa—in my experience, it meant a spare bed in a central Amsterdam loft. Most hosts, especially those in Europe, are former backpackers or seasoned nomads happy to help budget travelers and make some new friends. It’s not a bad idea to pay for verification to strengthen your profile or to bring along a thank-you gift once you secure a host, but the site is totally free to use and has thousands of listings in most major cities. Safety is of course more of a concern, so stick to hosts with plenty of rave reviews and always trust your gut when you arrive, no matter what you’ve read.
Book Overnight Transit
Overnight train or bus tickets can double as free lodging if you’re planning on making the trip anyway. A tactic every former study-abroad student and backpacker has likely used, this is best done in more comfortably arranged transportation options, like on coach buses or in first-class train cars when possible.
Use the Right Credit Card
Confident credit-card users can get hotel stays for free if they choose the right travel card. Get free nights for spending money as you normally would by earning double points—some of the best travel rewards cards are easy to apply for and there are fee-free options as well.
Chase Sapphire Preferred was our Editors’ Choice winner for best travel card this year. While you’ll pay a nominal yearly fee after the first year, points can be used at a wide array of hotels and are worth more than other programs’ points are: Users get double the points for dining and travel-related purchases. Read more here about our favorite travel cards and how you could use them for free lodging.
Swapping houses with a stranger isn’t just the plot of that Kate Winslet romantic comedy about breakups. It also happens to be a great way to score free lodging. HomeExchange.com has thousands of listings across the globe, from houseboats and cozy apartments to roomy villas. This site also has a yearly subscription rate—which is applied to a second free year if you don’t actually find an exchange within the first twelve months—but it can save you the hassle of ever paying for a hotel again.
Use Monasteries or Religious Guesthouses
Travelers willing to take up bare-bones accommodations (often simply a bed and communal bathroom) can sometimes get free lodging in religious housing, like monasteries. Religious lodging and guesthouses are offered in many places with a majority religious demographic, like highly Catholic Spain or Italy, both of which are home to many monasteries and nunnery-run guesthouses. Some can be rented for a nominal fee, while others ask only for a donation. The best way to find out is to look up religious sites in your destination and reach out directly by phone or email before you leave. There are some regional websites that can help, for example MonasteryStays.com, which includes options in Italy, Spain, and Portugal.
If you’re not into animals, or just prefer doing simpler tasks like watering plants as payment for a rental, housesitting opportunities—while harder to find— might be for you. Know that this option is a lot more exclusive, but there are housesitting sites that can help. International options like MindMyHouse and Nomador have hundreds of listing available for $20 or $90 per year, respectively.
More from SmarterTravel:
- How to Score a Free Car Rental
- How to Score a Free Flight Upgrade
- 7 Ways You’re Throwing Money Away While Traveling
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.