How I spent $0 on accommodation for a week

spent $0 on accommodation for a week

Several weeks ago, I was traveling. In one week, I traveled to Dresden, Berlin, Granada and Budapest. And I spent $0 on accommodation. That’s right. I did not pay a penny the entire week.

But Nina … there must be a catch. I mean come on. You paid something, right? Like you paid $5 a night. Or you got some good discount and you’re calling it “free.” Or … you’re just trying to get us to click on this post, you blogger!

While “How I spent $0 on accommodation for a week” would be some amazing click bait, I promise you that every single bit of that sentence is true. All I want to do is tell you how. As someone who loves to travel and does it on a teacher salary, I am always looking for ways to save money while traveling. It’s kind of a two-part thing. You first save money to travel. Then you save money while traveling so you can travel even more!

How I spent $0 on accommodation for a week

The first part of this story involves a smart phone, the sharing economy and some patience. Have you heard of Couchsurfing? Likely if you’re around my age (late 20’s and early 30’s), you have. You might have even used it when traveling or just to meet new people. It really is quite an amazing community.

What is Couchsurfing? Well it’s an online platform where you can connect with other travelers for accommodation or friendship. Basically through this community, you can find people all over the world to stay with. You figuratively “surf their couch.” The idea is that you stay with a local rather than in a hotel and get to know the culture in a more personal way. It’s not just a free place to stay but also just a human connection.

spent $0 on accommodation for a week

I used Couchsurfing when I was in my early 20’s with two friends. On a whim, we decided to go to Chicago for Lollapalooza. We found out that we could attend the festival for free if we volunteered. We were stoked. We just needed a place to stay.

I had heard of Couchsurfing before and might have even created a profile. I honestly cannot remember that detail. I just remember that the three of us decided we would try to couchsurf. When you couchsurf, you have to find a host willing to host you. This means that you send messages to them.

However there’s an art to the message-sending. Why? Because couchsurfing is more than just a free place to stay. Like I said above, it’s a human connection. You have to read the host’s profile and show that you have read it in the message. In fact, some hosts will even put things like “mention xxx to show me that you read my profile.” Likely they get inundated with requests daily. I’m sure it can be overwhelming.

What I do is put in my dates and location. I then click on profiles of people who are accepting hosts and read through their profiles. If they seem like a cool person who I would genuinely like to get to know anyway, I send them a request. I start by introducing myself and why I’m coming to their city. Then in the next paragraph I mention a few things that we might have in common or that we could discuss. Things like “I read that you spent some time living in Spain! That’s awesome. I actually currently live in Spain and love it. I’m sure we would have a lot to discuss.”

You can customize your search by more specific preferences. I know as a solo female traveler, I tend to request more women than men. However I will say that in Berlin, I had a male couchsurfing host who was wonderful. I’m not opposed to requesting male hosts. I just go off of the vibe I get.

How do you know it’s safe?

Well there’s nothing guaranteed here. However you can leave reviews for people and they can leave reviews for you, like on Airbnb. If someone has nothing but positive reviews, they’re probably going to be a wonderful host.

Hosts can also verify themselves. This means that they pay a fee of $50 to Couchsurfing and scan their ID. I think they have to enter their street address as well. Basically, a verification is when Couchsurfing says “this person is who they say they are and they actually live where they say they live.” So this is another nice way to feel safe. You could literally only request verified hosts.

Lots of people use Airbnb. The idea is the same here except you pay. However there’s always the possibility of ending up in a bad situation there too. Or you could end up in a bad situation in a hotel … or just walking down the street.

At the end of the day, I love couchsurfing because I’ve met nothing but wonderful people through it. I don’t request every person I see and I exercise caution. If a host is sketchy and I just don’t feel comfortable (which has yet to happen), I can always go to a hostel.

But does making a profile sign me up to host?

Absolutely not. My profile is set to “not accepting guests” right now since I’m not in Spain. The only time I was accepting guests was when I was in college in Kentucky. We had basically no requests. I’m sure being a host in Granada would be quite different. However I will have to speak with my roommate about whether she’d feel comfortable with me hosting this year. I like to be a respectful roommate.

Having a profile does allow you to find others to meet up with. In larger cities, the Couchsurfers will often put together pub crawls and meet-up events. They’re perfect if you want to meet some new people. They’re also great if you’re traveling solo like I was.

In Berlin, I went to this super fun pub crawl with something like 30 people. I also went on this tour led by Syrian refugees about the situation in Germany. It was powerful. Both events were advertised on Couchsurfing.

My hosts

I couchsurfed twice during this week. The first time was for two nights in Berlin. The couch I slept on was like a bed. It was big and very comfortable. My host was knowledgable about Berlin and just a cool person to talk to. I made sure to buy him a bottle of wine to thank him for his hospitality. We ended up drinking that bottle together and talking about life my second night that I stayed there. Overall, it was an awesome experience.

I also couchsurfed for 4 nights in Budapest. My host was female and had this cute apartment in the city that was right next to public transportation. I slept on a very comfortable mattress on the floor. I slept super well.

I really enjoyed getting to know my host in Budapest as well. She took me to Budapest’s most famous ruin bar called Simpla. She also cooked me this amazing Hungarian dish that’s pasta with a mixture of yogurt and cottage cheese. It sounds weird but it tastes amazing.

Both of my hosts were wonderful people who I hope to see again at some point in my life. Perhaps they will end up in Spain couchsurfing with me one day.

Blogging got me free accommodation

spent $0 on accommodation for a week

I also stayed in two different hostels while traveling that week. However both gave me a complimentary stay in exchange for a review on my blog. This is something I’ve actually done several times in the past.

As bloggers, we can collaborate and mutually benefit with companies within our niche. If you blog about travel and have readers, you can collaborate with hotels and hostels too. A lot of bloggers think that you need crazy big numbers. However I have had success at landing hostel collaborations in cities like London, Lisbon, Liverpool (apparently also a lot cities that begin with the letter L) and the Azores Islands. My social media following and page-hit numbers aren’t nothing but also aren’t as big as some bloggers.

Businesses are looking for different things. Some will want only bloggers with large followings. However a lot of them care about engagement. Do your followers comment on your content or social media? Is your following engaged? That is what they look for more than anything.

Before a trip, I always reach out to various hotels and hostels. I figure it couldn’t hurt. I’ve also worked with tour companies as well this way.

I also want to note that it is tougher in the high season. This trip is actually the perfect example. I initially had intended to find a collaboration for all three nights in Berlin. The one hostel who was interested told me that they don’t do Friday or Saturday night collaborations during the high season. Since I was going to be in Berlin that Sunday, I figured I might as well see if they would go for that night and then figure out my accommodation for the other two nights.

I’ve actually created a free hotel/hostel comp checklist. Click here to get it!

So in the end, I collaborated with hostels in Dresden and Berlin.

What about Granada?

I live there. I stayed with a friend.

So as you can see, between the sharing economy, Couchsurfing and friendship, I spent $0 on accommodation for a week.

How do you like to save when you travel?

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76 Comments

  1. 0 is my type of vacation. I would love to learn about the spots from a friendly person then pay for a tour done by someone else who is only speaking to get paid. Thank you for bringing this way of life to light!

  2. Coushing surfing is such an awesome service. I used to use it all the time when traveling solo. However, I have found now traveling as a couple it’s really hard to get people to host you. Do you have an suggestions?

    1. The last time I tried couchsurfing as a group was 7 years ago. That was when it was still very new. I will say that this time around, I sent out a lot of requests. A lot of people were out of town. I wonder why people are opposed to hosting a couple. I suppose in addition to making your message super personal, try to talk about how lowkey you will be. People I think just don’t want too much to have to deal with and I suppose two makes them go ahhh.

  3. How cool! $0? That makes me happy. I think I’m too old to appreciate couch surfing too. I’d just be all, “How clean is the couch? Who all has been on it? What if the person whose couch it is wants to talk to me?”

    1. Hahaha well they will likely want to talk to you. Connecting with someone from another culture is part of the experience. However I never like to say anyone is too old for anything! I also ask some of these questions too but just go with it in the end.

    1. Yeah I first considered it when I moved to Europe and was traveling more. Now I can stay I’ve stayed in 6 different European cities for free thanks to my blog.

  4. This is awesome! I’ll be going to Asia to travel for a few months and I’ve heard of couchsurfing. I’ll have to try it one day and see if it’s something I’m comfortable with.

  5. How cool, I’ve never heard of this before! I wish I had known about this in the summer while I was travelling around, but now I know! I might be a little skeptical of whose place I’m staying at but it is nice to know they scan ID’s and all that!

    1. Yeah it can definitely be a little intimating to stay with people you don’t know. That’s why I always have a backup. But all the times I’ve done it have been great!

  6. I have heard of couchsurfing, but never really learned anything about it. I must say, I am intrigued! Being married with kids though, I’m guessing it wouldn’t work for us, haha. 😉 But what a fun opportunity for single travelers!

    1. Well my host in Berlin had a kid himself and I’ve seen other hosts with children. I wouldn’t completely write it off. You would just have to see who the hosts are in whatever city you want to go to and request people you think would be okay with children.

  7. I am on couchsurfing and have met amazing people through it. I have hosted severally, but I haven’t been hosted yet. Looking into traveling soon to be hosted!

  8. Couchsurfing sounds like a brilliant idea!! Not only can you stay there free, but you can also get to know them & they can also tell you the best & lesser known places to visit in the area! This is the best thing!

  9. When I read the tittle I was like “OMG, wah, how?” but then your post made all sense. I have heard of couchsurfing but never used it. I should if I travel alone coz who would say no to free accommodation? And also using my blog is a great idea!

    1. Yeah both are great ways to save money and see a place in a different way. I hope you do try both!

    1. Yeah hotels are nice. If you are a blogger, you could also try to collaborate with hotels when you travel.

  10. This idea of couch surfing could work for the right person. I agree that it’s quite an interesting concept. I’m not entirely sure I could do it though.

  11. What a brilliant post, it really got my attention! I’ve downloaded your hotel/hostel proposal checklist as this is something I want to start doing! Thanks for your help 🙂

  12. That’s so great $0 for a week. I have heard of Couchsurfing but never used it. Sound’s like the perfect way to save money when traveling and meet new friends.

  13. Nothing wrong with finding free or cheap traveling arraignments. I only wished I’d done more research or at least had access to this type of information when I was traveling about.

  14. I love Couchsurfing! I’ve been on the platform for almost 10 years now and I’ve met some amazing people. I’ve made some really good friends through it as well.

    1. Yeah I’ve been on it for a long time too! It’s amazing the people you can meet through it.

  15. wow this sound great but i’ll def be scared to stay at someone’s place. i love more the blogging for a stay !! I’m Going to Spain i’ll try to do that maybe you can help with some tips.

    1. That’s awesome you’re going to Spain! I live there, so feel free to send me an e-mail with any questions you may have. And yeah, if you blog about travel you should definitely try to find an accommodation comp.

  16. I’ve heard of couchsurfing and have some friends who’ve done it but I’ve never tried it myself. I would be curious to check it out though on my next trip.

    1. Yeah Couchsurfing was around before Airbnb. I remember when Airbnb came out I was like “okay that’s fancy Couchsurfing that you pay for.”

  17. That’s cool that you can get some access to great places through your blog. And the couchsurfing does sound like an interesting prospect. I agree that meeting more families in a more personal way and getting to know more about the culture is the way to go.

  18. This is great indeed I totally agree with you blogging is much more than what we think it is. Like a good example can be collected from your post of why not connect with people and advertise their services which ultimately benefits you. This will not only bring recognition to their services but people would love to visit your site for any latest updates.

  19. I’ve heard of couchsurfing.This sounds like a great idea to save money from travel costs.Specially this is a great way to connect with locals of the destination.

  20. I love that you got to stay for free. I haven’t stayed in a hostel but do think it’s perfect for the younger crowd. I like that couch surfing has ways to verify the person hosting is legit

    1. Yeah I really love that part as well! And the thing about hostels are that the majority offer private rooms. So you can have the benefits of a hostel with your own space.

  21. I haven’t heard or tried that one but it looks fun at the same time it is cost saving.Sharing this one is helpful for travelers

  22. couchsurfing is a great concept especially if you are travelling alone. I usually travel with my boyfriend so we tend too home-swap a lot!

  23. I heard of couchsurfing but I didnt know it was a free service. It sounds nice but I guess you really have to do your research and really love the connection with people. You have to be a true genuine person to host like this!

    1. Yeah and I have found great people through it. Like anything else, just be cautious and have a backup plan.

  24. Now couchsurfing is a great way to travel in my opinion. It is awesome that you do this and share your experiences with others so they can do it too. Thanks for sharing the information.

  25. This sounds interesting. It’s a good idea I must say coz when you’re travelling there’re times you need information from a local. While information centres are helpful I think more/better info comes from the everyday consumer…. I’d feel more comfortable doing it with someone not on my own but this is great!

  26. I’m a hotel girl through and through, but the couch surfing sounds like an awesome idea! Definitely a good way to connect AND save money at the same time!

    1. Yeah it really is! And if you are a blogger, you can also use your blog to work with hotels too!

  27. I didn’t dare to do couchsurfing because of all the horrifying stories I’ve heard but you’ve given me confidence (a bit) once more! I think I might very well try that~ Otherwise, just stick to my blog in exchange method!

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