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How to Find Free Accommodation in Exchange for Work

Koh Tao, Thailand

Koh Tao, Thailand

Having to pay for your bunk bed every night is one of the most significant expenses on the road.

Work two or three hours in the morning and use your money for what you’re there for – the adventures and activities.

Life does not happen while you’re asleep.

What I discovered after backpacking for about five months was that almost all of my dollars went to pay for somewhere to sleep.

Especially in bigger cities or touristy spots around the globe, accommodation prices can be ridiculously high.

I knew people that stopped along the way to work in hostels because they ran out of money, but I didn’t want to stop.

I wanted to continue seeing new places, not stay in the same spot for months folding other peoples' bedsheets for a living.

The first time I went backpacking, I planned and saved up for three months of travel, but three months became five months, and five months turned into a year.

How did I afford it?

I stopped paying for my accommodations.

But how do you find work for accommodation?

Let’s be honest and say that there are lots of possibilities, but not as many actual jobs.

Sometimes the person you end up working for didn’t even know this kind of employment is a thing.

If you want to give working for your accommodation a try, so you can travel longer for less, read on. 

The author on a Vespa in Thailand

The author on a Vespa in Thailand

Finding Free Accommodation

1. Talk to people

It does not matter if you are in a hostel, car rental office or at the beach renting a surfboard.

Talk to people, tell them you are looking for somewhere to stay and offer to help out with whatever they might need help doing.

If you stay with a local host, your visit will also be beneficial to him/her from a cultural exchange perspective.

And that is a BIG reason people take in backpackers, as well. They want to get to know you. So tell them about you.

2. Look for ads

Google “work for accommodation” and the destination you want to stay in for a week or more. It doesn't get easier than this!

3. Join backpacking Facebook groups

People know people. In these Facebook groups, backpackers share experiences and tips.

Ask them or tell them about your experience.

Facebook groups are often about specific destinations, too, so look up some groups to join before you go somewhere.

I got a housesitting offer this way. I just posted a short message about myself and that I wanted to help out with whatever and that I wanted to stay around two weeks.

A lovely woman contacted me two days later and offered me an opportunity to stay for free in her beautiful beach house. 

My job? 

I had to look after her plants while she went to Thailand for vacation.

I mean, seriously?

I got two weeks of free accommodation just to water some plants.

This was in Byron Bay, Australia, during peak season, so almost all the hostels were fully booked as well. It was a win-win situation!

Sydney, Australia

Sydney, Australia

4. Just ask the guy or girl in the reception

I found most of my jobs in hostels. And I found most of them by asking if I could help out for a free bed at night.

Sometimes, if you know you want to stay somewhere, you can call or email them beforehand.

Most of the receptionists I talked to were super friendly, even though all of them couldn’t offer work.

I found it much easier to talk to small, local hostels, and not so much the big agencies. But, the big agencies can be very helpful. 

They'll often mention if they offer work, or work in exchange for accommodation, on their website.

5. Tell them what you’re good at

Do you have bar experience?

Maybe you have worked as a receptionist back home. Perhaps you know how to do something completely different, such as gardening or housekeeping?

It’s really not about what you can offer, but who you talk to and what you say.

Write in a Facebook au pair group that you offer free babysitting if they let you sleep over.

Put up notes in places where lots of backpackers are in movement.

And simply brag a bit about what you can do, for a free bed, of course.

I’ve been doing au pair work in New Zealand

I’ve rented out cars and snorkel gear in Australia

I did some tour leading in Asia, and to be honest, I’ve been pet-sitting, house-sitting and babysitting around the globe.

Wherever you might be, people go to work; they’re busy. They could always use some extra help.

A snorkel and dive day trip in Cairns, Australia

A snorkel and dive day trip in Cairns, Australia

6. Decide that you’re going to stay for at least a week

The people you work for will want to know how long you want to stay. Sometimes they have two or three-week minimums.

If they have a minimum, say that you want to try for a week first. If they don’t have a minimum, stay for a week anyway.

I am all about discovering new places and moving around, but to take in a destination and learn something from your work, I think it’s good to do at least seven days.

When you work for accommodation, you often have a schedule working one to three hours, four to six days a week. You can usually change this if something suits you better.

I like working a couple of hours in the morning and having the rest of the day to discover.

I wouldn’t say that I’m a morning person, but this way I feel like I get my whole day free because I wouldn’t usually be awake so early.

But, the schedule depends a lot on what you want and for whom you're working.

In Cairns, Australia, there was a hostel by the esplanade that offered backpackers free accommodation if they worked one full day in reception each week. That’s an excellent offer people! 

Imagine not having to pay a cent for your accommodation, and having six full days of doing whatever you’re there to do.

Some see backpacking as a kind of vacation. 

They have one or two months to play with, and they have money enough to do everything and pay for everything during that time. 

I never saw backpacking that way. I saw it more as a lifestyle.

You save a huge amount of money when you don't have to pay for accommodation, and that's money you can spend on the good stuff.

Life really doesn't happen while you're asleep.

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