Aside from the plane and train tickets to get places, one of the most costly aspects of travel can be lodging. Here is some information on couch surfing, hostel hopping, and other means of sleeping cheap that you may want to get the lowdown on before trying them. I’ve tried to include all the fine print that I can. This article is to encourage female travelers to get out there. Take risks, but don’t be dumb about it. Find a safe, affordable dwelling that fits into your budget and your comfort zone.
Cost: 0 USD
Region: Mostly U.S. and Europe
How: Join Couchsurfing.org (become a member and join the coach surfing community. It’s easy.)
Sleeping in a stranger’s home is something I never would have done as a solo, female traveler if it weren’t for Couchsurfing.org. But with this site, you can get to know your host beforehand and even check references. When you join the 7 million people on the online Couchsurfing community, you can browse different types of places and people you’re interested in staying with. For example, you can select to stay with only women or families and you can seek out hosts that offer more than a couch if you want to. Some hosts even offer guests a private room… for free!
Tips for Couch Surfing:
- Try to have a conversation with your host before staying with them. Either by phone, Skype or an extended email exchange. That way you have an idea of who you’re staying with.
- Have a backup plan. This might be another couch-surfer to have as a backup to the host you plan to stay with in case something falls through.
- Be thorough when filling out your Couchsurfing profile, and stick to hosts who are thorough with their own profiles. This builds familiarity and trust between host and surfer.
- Send out personalized surf requests.
- Check references.
- Don’t overextend your stay. After all, this is a free service. If it turns out that you’ll be somewhere for more than 4 days, surf multiple couches in the same area. This keeps the host from feeling uneasy by too-long stays and it allows you to explore other couches and meet more cool people!
- Be open to conversations and some time with your host. I’ve couch-surfed twice and met really neat people on both occasions. Once, in Pennsylvania, a host and I walked to a nearby apple orchard where we went apple picking.
Cost: About 10 – 60 USD per night.
How: Homestaybooking.com or search “homestay” plus the name of the country where you wish to stay. For example: “Homestay Delhi India”
Stay with a family in their extra bedroom. This is a great way to integrate yourself in another culture, live in the company of a family, and learn about their lifestyle. At least one meal a day with the family is usually included. Homestays in almost any place can be found by searching the Internet. Costs vary.
Tips for Homestays:
- Check to see if you speak the same language as at least one other person who you’ll be living with. Otherwise prepare to communicate by drawing pictures and playing charades.
- Agree upon a price and length of stay before you arrive. It is most helpful to do this via email so that you have an informal written agreement.
- Bring payment in the form of local currency to pay the family.
- Be open and willing to accept the family’s house rules. For example: I lived with a family who took showers every-other-day and had one weekly laundry day due to regional water restrictions. This wasn’t a problem. I just had to remember not to shower every day and I had to remember which day of the week was laundry day.
- Read reviews! There are often online reviews for the homestay families. Read them. I’ve stayed with families who’ve seemed inconvenienced from the moment I arrived and were probably renting out their room for extra income. I’ve also met wonderfully inclusive families who’ve made me feel at home in a foreign land.
- One homestay a friend of mine recommends: Noemie and Olivier in Ermont, France, found through homestaybooking.com.
- Also check out “Top Ten Homestays in India” on The Guardian.
Cost: On average 15 – 50 USD per night
Region: Most countries
Hostel stays are so easy these days since the invention of the Internet. You can virtually scope out hostels beforehand and get an idea of how clean they are, what they offer amenity-wise and even what type of crowd they attract. (For example, you can find specialty hostels that are still affordable by searching “Top 10 Hostels Around the World.” Or if you’re intention isn’t actually to sleep you can check out the “The 20 Craziest Party Hostels,” although I wouldn’t recommend this for rest, cleanliness, or safety.)
Tips for staying in Hostels:
- Check out hostel accommodations beforehand. They can vary significantly. For example, some hostels offer large communal rooms with bunking arrangements while others offer private rooms. Get an idea of what you’re headed to before you get there.
- Bring earplugs and a mask to block out noise and light.
- If you plan to go out exploring, make sure that where you leave your things is locked, safe and secure.
- Check pricing for the exact dates you will be there. Hostel pricing often varies with season.
- Book ahead online.
Cost: 40 USD per week to ???
Region: Mostly the U.S., South America, Europe– esp. France, Spain and Italy
How: Search “Monastery” and the place you will be, for example: “Monastery Italy.”
Recommended from personal experience: Taize, France
Monasteries are some of my favorite places to stay, but my experience is limited. I’ve only stayed in two and they were cheap ones. Prices and expected length of stay can vary significantly from place to place. Atmospheres vary too. You may have a private room with your own bathroom (these are more pricey, and though I know they exist, I’ve never stayed in one). You may be placed in a group sleeping arrangement with tents and communal bathrooms. Check this out beforehand. Inexpensive monasteries with higher traffic tend to have work assignments (like bathroom cleaning duty) that guests are expected to take part in. Some monasteries offer mealtime. All offer prayer, bible study or mass. I’ve never heard of a monastery that required attendance at any religious services. Most monasteries do have certain times of day or areas reserved for silence. Staying at a monastery can be rejuvenating. They are usually located in small, remote villages removed from the noises of the world. However, the experience can also be overwhelming and sleepless, especially if you find yourself in a popular one. Find out more at this Stay in a Monastery blog post.
Tips for staying in Monasteries:
- Bring cash donations in the form of local currency. A lot of monasteries allow you to stay in them free-of-charge. Some ask for small, reasonable donations for lodging upkeep or for providing food.
- Don’t expect Internet or cell phone service. These remote monastic communities often don’t have any.
- Bring modest dress. Although you probably won’t be expected to follow a dress code, you might not want to find yourself being the only one exposing skin.
- Bring a good book and/or journal for silent time.
Work Exchange Programs
Cost: Usually free
Region: Many worldwide
Work or volunteer in exchange for shelter and usually meals. These programs are awesome ways to experience everyday living in a foreign land all while getting a healthy dose of helping others. Accommodations and work vary significantly from place to place, so check out the digs online before you agree to anything. Seriously. MAKE SURE YOU REVIEW A PLACE BEFORE AGREEING TO LIVE AND WORK AT IT. I’ve heard horror stories and met people who have had to do 8-12 hours of backbreaking work, 7 days a week, in a remote place in exchange for measly meals and infrequent showers. And since their host was their means of transport to and from the train station, they were stuck. On the flip side, I have had nothing but positive experiences both with WWOOFing and WorkAway. WWOOFING, I stayed with a beautiful, three-child family in a farmhouse they built from the ground up. Outdoor work was five hours a day in a high tunnel, sewing seeds, bonding with chickens, and collecting fresh berries. If there was bad weather or if more help was needed indoors I made breads, canned tomatoes, or whitewashed walls. I had my own independent cabin on the family’s property when I needed alone time. This was a valuable life experience filled with learning and play in the outdoors of Ireland.
Tips for Work Exchange Programs:
- Always check reviews, and, if you can, get in contact with someone who has stayed at your desired accommodation destination.
- Find out how many hours per week you’re expected to work and whether those hours are flexible.
- Find out if you will be the only worker or if you will work in a group of people. Some locations host large groups and you may be living in quarters with many other workers.
- Find out your living arrangement beforehand.
- Will you be offered meals? If so, how many?
- What kind of work will you be expected to do? Painting? Gardening? Tending of livestock?