Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Sat June 20 2015

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  • Shannon Wolf | June 20, 2015 11:00 PM ET

    How to Sleep On the Cheap (Or Free) When Traveling

    How to Sleep On the Cheap (Or Free) When Traveling

    Lucked out with my first couchsurfing experience in Berlin in this beautiful flat (all photos courtesy of Shannon Wolf)

    Accommodations are among the most expensive parts of traveling. (But a basic necessity that is hard to get around, and homelessness isn’t part of my budget tips.) I may be fiscally minded but I have my limits!

    Luckily, there ARE ways to keep accommodation costs down or even FREE! All of which are tried and true but depends completely on your comfort level.

    Below are the best options for cheap/free accommodation.


    Spent half my time sleeping in a hammock and the other half sleeping in this one-man tent seconds from the beach in Costa Rica for $8

    If you are traveling to warmer continents such as Central/South America or Southeast Asia, the best way to pinch your pennies (depending on your level of comfort) is to invest in a tent, which you can purchase there for under $15. Or acquire a hammock with an attachable mosquito net.

    Although not technically allowed, it’s possible to set up camp along a beach, which is completely “free.” The worst authorities will do is tell you to pack up and move but if you want to do it legal, there are plenty of campgrounds and hostels which cost you as low as $3 US a night. That means more money in your pocket in the long run and use of all amenities.

    If you don’t want to lug it around, many hostels also offer tent/hammock rentals. The cost may be steep for what it is, but $8 it beats spending $15 for a room you share.


    Throughout Europe, hostel prices are exorbitant (particularly in high season) and if you want to blow your budget, this is the continent to do it! However; in 5 months, I have spent a total of €300 (about $340 US) on hostels when I was unable to find a host via couchsurfing. (By now, even on the lowest budget accommodation, I would have spent at least of €1500 [about $1,700 US]) 

    Couchsurfing has many pros and is a great experience while traveling, but like everything, safety can potentially be an issue if you don’t do your research.

    I have met some of the most inspirational people around the world thanks to it, but I have also had a few uncomfortable experiences due to not initially following my gut.


    • Chance to meet a local who knows the city inside and out.
    • Have the chance to try local cooking from your hosts if you’re lucky.
    • Get to hear their story, share your experiences, and learn something new each time.
    • Discover local hangouts and hidden gems where tourists don’t go.


    • Can feel slightly uncomfortable at times.
    • It’s harder to meet other people. (however, couchsurfing holds a lot of events and meet-ups on their website as well)
    • It does get tiring over the long term — if you do plan to couchsurf, even it out by going to hostels. You’ll appreciate it more.

    When searching for a potential host, make sure to check the following:

    • A high number of positive references. (Check ALL references — if they have none or only a few, don’t stay with them.)
    • A filled out profile with multiple images
    • Look to see that they are verified members — not mandatory but safer. (A green checkmark will be on the left-hand side of their profile)
    • Make sure to have a conversation with your host via Facebook or Skype to get a better feel for how they are. Check their “home” section to see what your sleeping situation is.

    Other safety tips:

    • First and foremost, follow your gut. If you don’t feel safe or comfortable for any reason, leave immediately.
    • Always get your potential host on Facebook if you can, as well as their phone number and address.
    • Always let someone know the above information.

    Sleeping in Airports

    You can’t always get away with it but when worse comes to worse, this is an option. has up-to-date information on airports around the world and will tell you the best places to sleep. 

    Dorm Rooms

    One of the best hostels I’ve ever been too — Tropicana Hostel in Guatemala

    Depending on where you are traveling in the world, the cost for dorms will vary greatly but HostelworldHostelbookers, and Air B&B are the go-to sites. You can price compare to find the cheapest price and read travelers reviews to gauge the atmosphere (remember to do private browsing for the best prices).

    For those of you who are new to hostels, the typical amenities it should have include:

    • Lockers
    • Wi-Fi
    • Kitchen
    • Hot Showers (in Europe)
    • Mixed Dorm
    • Shared Bathroom
    • Security


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Shannon Wolf Tales From the Leap

Shannon Wolf Shannon Wolf is a freelance photographer and writer, traveling across the globe with an open itinerary and no intent of stopping. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she left behind a fast paced life to truly live and not just exist in an attempt to inspire others to follow their bliss. At age 26, Shannon has visited 20+ countries on four continents around the world. She has travelled overland by chicken-bus and tuk-tuks, hitchhiked by fruit trucks and through islands on horse and buggy. She has slept in the jungles of Nicaragua, on benches in London, secluded hidden beaches and she’s only getting started.
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