Don't have a big travel budget? No worries. If you've been bitten by the travel bug, there's a way to scratch that itch. And it needn't cost a bundle to do it.
By thinking outside the box when it comes to where you'll sleep at night, you can travel inexpensively.
Here are six suggestions for getting your accommodation for free or next-to-nothing:
1. Couchsurfing. Stay for free in other people's homes through a network of kind souls all around the world who will offer you their extra bedroom, couch, or corner of the floor. To learn more, see Couchsurfing.org.
2. Houseswapping. As described, this means trading your home for someone else's for an agreed-upon amount of time. Your dates need to coincide and it works best, of course, if your home is in a destination someone wants to visit. There are many websites you can use to find fellow swappers. One of the most popular is Homeexchange.com.
3. Care-taking/Housesitting. Now things start to get interesting. Because your obligation here isn't to share your own home but to tend to someone else's. If you can water the plants, feed the pets, scratch the kitties behind the ears or walk the dogs, and generally just do what needs to be done around the house, you stay for free. Learn more and start your search for a caretaking gig at Housecarers.com and Caretaker.org.
4. Stay in Convents or Monasteries. Not all convents and monasteries are low budget. Some often charge a stipend. But if you're willing to offer your services and do a bit of work while there, the "powers that be" may be willing to cover your keep. You'll find listings of worldwide monasteries at Deoestgloria.com.
But if inexpensive is what you're after, a book called "Good Night & God Bless," by Australian author Trish Clark, explains how to find clean, safe and well-located budget accommodation in the convents and monasteries of Europe.
And if it's a totally free stay you're after, you'll have the best luck at Buddhist monasteries, which traditionally don't charge for accommodation. First-time visitors are usually limited to a one-week stay, and reservations are needed. You're also required to participate in community life (no coming and going as you please), so it's best not to think of this a hotel stay but as a "working vacation."
5. Renting Rooms from Families. This is a great way to immerse yourself in a foreign language, culture, and customs. Homestays are often offered by language schools, but it's not always necessary to be enrolled in classes to take advantage of these low-cost local accommodations.
How to find a room for let? Pound the pavement once you've landed in a new locale. Ask locals, especially those with storefront businesses. They often live behind the shop and may have a room for rent.
You can also check public bulletin boards and libraries, local newspaper classifieds, and inquire at language schools. Before you leave home, try searching in-country Craigslists and Internet/Facebook forums, and e-mailing local language schools to ask for recommendations. The Warren Hardy Spanish School in Mexico's San Miguel de Allende, for example, posts a list of host families and rooms for rent. For more information, see here. Another place to make friends with fellow travelers and expats the world over is International Living's Facebook page.
6. Freeloading -- otherwise known as "staying with friends." During our travels for our work writing for International Living, we've made lots of friends, especially in the expatriate communities we've visited. We feel fortunate to have a guest room available to us in places like Lake Chapala, Panama City, the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua, the south of France, Ireland, and more.
If you're not as fortunate, there's no reason you can't be. Find a pen pal at websites like InterPal, PenPal World, and International Pen Friends. Then see what transpires. Be sure to be cautious, though. Always ask for references, photos, and anything else you need to feel comfortable. And always keep friends and family at home informed about your travel plans.
If you're creative, you'll find lots of ways to travel on the cheap. Many clean, comfortable, and safe accommodation options are out there... and not all are listed in guidebooks and on the Internet. One of our favorite ways to travel is without an itinerary. Once you get where you're going, visit a selection of hostels and small hotels within walking distance of the main town plaza, for instance. Ask to see a room, and check the sheets and pillows, test the hot water, and always ask for a discount off the first-quoted price. We've had great luck with this, including a great stay at a $7/night hostel in Baños, Ecuador... breakfast included.