I love to travel and to backpack, but more often than not I end up doing so on a shoestring budget. Setting budgetary limitations is not only an economic strategy, it’s also a way to experience a location in a new way.
Often when I’m traveling (in India, Nepal, Myanmar, wherever) I end up just staying with locals. I would never dream of doing this in the United States, as there is a pretty good chance that I’d end up dead, but in other places I’ve never had a problem. I once ended up staying at a Dairy Farmer’s house (farm house) outside Utrecht for a few days and stayed for for a month (and worked on the farm).
Don’t get me wrong. Staying in your own hotel room is nice (and staying in a penthouse suite is even nicer), but there’s something very communal about alternative cheaper (even free) accommodations that can add a different element to your trip. Sure, there’s the risk that you’ll end up in a terrible accommodations situation–and believe me, I’ve experienced that before–but the benefit of making novel connections with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet more than makes it worth it for me.
Below are a couple of accommodations options that I would swear by.
Despite the name, you might not always end up sleeping on a couch. Couchsurfing is a community of people who love travel and understand the value of having a place rest your head for free. Hosts offer up their couches (or spare rooms, air mattresses, etc.) with the understanding that they might at some point need to be in your shoes. Sometimes they will even function as tour guides, don’t expect this to always be the case. Both hosts and crashers create profiles, are reviewed by the website and others–so the chances of you landing in a Deliverance situation are extremely slim. The service is a hundred percent free, but make sure to show your appreciation with a few purchased drinks, a homecooked meal, or a box of chocolates. You can even pay it forward and opt to be a host yourself.
Pro tip: Find a host whose interest mirror yours. If you like music, look for a host who’s a musician. If you’re looking to check out the outdoors, you can probably find a host who know the local mountains like the back of her hand.
WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms)
If you don’t mind working and getting a little dirty for free room and board, then WWOOFing might be for you. Similarly to Couchsurfing, both hosts and travelers make profiles in WWOOF, are thoroughly reviewed by the website, and can be reviewed by other WWOOFers. But there is one major difference. In couchsurfing, you crash without having do anything aside from be a decent person. With WWOOFing you work on a farm. Dismiss any grueling labor camp images you might have! WWOOFing can actually be a lot of fun. Most hosts are families, though there are some smaller and bigger opertaions, and are super welcoming. Ever curious about what it’s liked to grow carrots? There’s a WWOOF for that. Ever wanted to raise chickens? There’s a WWOOF for that. Garlic? There’s a WWOOF for that. WWOOFing is a great way to see a part of the world and also learn a thing or to about what it’s like to live on a farm.
Pro tip: You can string together multiple WWOOFing trips to make your way across a country.
I can’t stress enough how safe both of these options are, but you make sure to give a detailed itinerary of where you’re going to friends and family just to cover your bases.
What’s your favorite way to crash on the cheap?