Omni Traveller

Budget Backpack Travel in Europe

Travel Accommodations: Cheap Hotels, House Sitting, & Home Exchanges

The expense of accommodations while travelling abroad concerns most budget-minded travellers because they mistaken believe they only have one option- rent hotel rooms. Well, guess what? There we discuss how to get cheaper hotel rooms and two cool ways to locate free accommodations.


Cheaper Hotel Rooms

Hôtel Parc Montsouris

Hôtel Parc Montsouris
 Photo: Spicules

Even if hotels represented your only overseas housing options (they don’t), you could still afford to fly because it’s possible to snag hotel rooms abroad at rock-bottom prices.

How can you grab hotels for cheap? By using the same fare aggregate websites you use to snag low-cost plane tickets. Sites like Kayak and Orbitz offer hotel bargain searches right alongside their flight searches, and a quick click can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

When it comes to searching fare aggregate sites for cheap hotels, another viable option is Priceline. While Priceline isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, when it comes to finding flight tickets, their “Name Your Own Price” feature can be very, very useful for finding discount hotel rooms as well.

Of course, the only thing better than a cheap stay in a great hotel is a free stay in a great hotel, a feat you can accomplish by spending in Rewards Points/Frequent Flyer Miles. When it comes down to it you’ll get way more bang for your buck trading 5,000 for a night in a hotel rather than for a magazine subscription is such a better choice. So, consider spending your spare miles on a hotel room and break up the routine of endless hostel stays. Every now and then a private room away from the gang is a nice breather.

However, grabbing a free hotel room through trading-in Reward Points miles represents little more than the tip of the free international housing iceberg. Consider an equally enjoyable alternative for a longer stay- house sitting.


House Sitting

House in Henningsvær, Norway

House in Henningsvær, Norway
 Photo: Sberlazza

With House sitting, you look after someone’s house in exchange for living in the house while the owners are away. Responsibilities will include looking after maintenance and repairs, collecting mail while forwarding anything that looks time-sensitive, and possibly looking after the care of a pet. House sitting can be a profession for those with experience and impeccable references. However, beginners can always start house sitting smaller houses and apartment. Services like HouseCarers and Caretaker’s Gazette make the transactional nature of the free housing they offer explicit.

HouseCarers works from a similar premise except instead of providing active services in exchange for free accommodations all you need to do is watch someone else’s home while they’re out of town. Some gigs on HouseCarers last for a couple days, others last for a couple months. HouseCarers is also a membership site, but their annual dues (like Caretaker’s Gazette) are negligible. Both amount to about $30-$45 each.

Both of these options aren’t quite as foot-loose-and-fancy-free as hospitality exchanges. While you could technically join a hospitality exchange tonight and find accommodations for tomorrow without too big of a hassle, both of these temp house caretakers require you to jump through a few hoops to make sure you’re aboveboard. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise- most people aren’t looking to let a complete stranger watch their home for a couple months unless they know that stranger has some sort of liability to cover whatever damages they may cause. Still, the opportunity for free housing over the long-term makes HomeCarers and Caretaker’s Gazette great options if you’re looking to skip town and settle down in one place for a longer period of time than a series of hospitality exchange stays.

Caretaker’s Gazette is an alternative option. It is a membership service that gives you access to classified ads placed by people looking for people who will come and take care of their house in exchange for free housing. The opportunities you’ll find at Caretaker’s Gazette range from helping out on farms to maintaining campgrounds to managing hotels and motels to providing elder-care services to being the equivalent of a live-in-maid. Sometimes you’ll receive payment for your services in addition to the free housing you’ll receive, at other times you’ll just get free housing.


Home Exchange

This option isn’t for everybody as you need to own a home to take advantage of it, but if you have some sort of property in your name then you can sign up at and find someone else to temporarily swap houses with. Contrary to popular belief you don’t need to actually own a traditional property to participate in home exchange, as you can trade living quarters even if you’re just renting an apartment or if you live in a condo you purchased. All that matters is you have some sort of living space to trade, which means this option’s off the table for the perpetual vagabond.

Home Exchange works really simply. First you join the site (requires a small membership fee) then you pop online and start searching for properties you might want to stay at. The service offers tens of thousands of listings at any given moment, spread around nearly 100 different countries around the world. Once you see a property you like you just need to email the owner and start a dialogue about whether the two of you are interested in an exchange.

Keep in mind there are two different types of exchanges you can initiate on the site- you can either set things up so you go live in someone else’s home at the same exact time they stay at yours, or you can exchange hospitality and host them for a length of time with the agreement they will host you at an agreed upon time in the future.

Some people are skeptical of Home Exchange but the service has been around for a long time and the site facilitates a quarter million exchanges every year. And don’t worry that exchanges on the site are 1-to-1. You don’t need a mansion on the beach to exchange for an Tuscan villa. Cultural norms are different and your life is probably a lot more exciting to a foreigner than you think it is, just as their life, a life they consider ordinary and routine, seems extremely exciting to you.

All the services mentioned are viable means of enjoying free accommodation worldwide. With a little planning, one of these methods can be very worthwhile.