How To Sleep For Free (How I Saved 18,000$ While Traveling)

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Update: Check the comments for more resources I missed or have added since this post was published.

A couple years ago, I hitchhiked over 14,000 miles around the USA in a year and I slept for free 99.5% of the time.

I saved over 18,000$ in cheap hotel room bills (estimated at 50$ a night) using the methods below and you can too.

More importantly though, sleeping with locals on beds, couches, floors, boats, roofs, in yards, mansions, forests, prairies, and even on a pool table was the best education I ever received.

One thing I learned…
Anyone can travel the world, regardless of how much money is in your bank account.

Another thing I learned…
Travel will help you understand different perspectives and see our current world situation clearer. As our world gets flatter, these skills are essential to your survival.

One more thing I learned…
The only way to really learn about the world is to go see it for yourself.

I dissected what I learned in my year on the road and I continue to learn as I travel around the world now (I’m writing this from the sunny Baja Peninsula in Mexico… watch the short video). I also analyzed the most innovative travelers today to show you the best ways to sleep for free as you travel.

Ultimately though this post is about showing you how to be free. 

I’m writing this post to call you out. To challenge you to start traveling today, no matter what your financial situation looks like. The common excuse that you don’t have the dough, won’t fly anymore.

If you are planning to go tomorrow… tomorrow will probably never come (just ask a Nomadic Matt).

Now, maybe you could care less about traveling and are neck deep in dirty diapers. Or if you do want to travel, then you love nothing more than drinking jugs of margaritas, while turning toasty brown under the sun. No sweat, I’d love if you skipped this post. Go do something you that gets your blood bubbling.

I’m really only writing this for: the people out there who can’t wait to see the world with their own eyes; the curious souls who aren’t swimming in pools of cash and won’t settle for the dead American dream; and those sneaky folks that are reading this from their cubicle and counting the seconds until quitting time.

Maybe this is you? If it is, then you might want to read on (or watch the video). (You also might want to be my friend on Youtube or Twitter. I’m Benjamin Jenks and I want to help you.)

***

Sleeping for free can be spectacular, but it is not for everyone.

In fact, it can be a pain in the ass sometimes and even dangerous other times (although not as dangerous as watching sitcoms or driving your car everywhere).

Some mornings I have woken up in a clean double bed, went for a dip in the infinity pool, and then hit a few golf balls at the driving range 20 feet away. All before I shared a healthy breakfast with a friend I had met only hours before. Other days weren’t as cushy, as I woke up in a patch of forest surrounded by broken bottles feeling like a homeless bum.

The more experience I have with this lifestyle though, the better I get at finding amazing spots to sleep. This post will help you avoid broken bottle days and have more infinity pool days. But it takes courage and a willingness to push your own boundaries to make this work for you.

Are you up for the challenge?

5 Ways I Sleep For Free:

1. Stay With Friends

This is a simple one. You do this already. However, for this to work during long-term travel, you are going to need more than 20 or 30 good friends to stay with.

What if you had hundreds or even thousands of friends, who were excited to have you stay with them? I do, Ramon Stoppelenburg did, so did the Twitchhiker, and you can too.

Facebook and Twitter can be used to maintain hundreds of friendships across the world. If you have an interesting blog, like Chris Brogan, you might have thousands of friends. These people would drop everything to hang out with you, if you landed in their city.

Sure, these won’t be your best friends. They won’t invite you to their wedding or smoke a cigar with you, when you become a proud papa. Maybe we should even call them online buddies to be clear. 

It isn’t important though that you become lifelong chums (although now and again this will happen). It is important that you get a place to crash for a few days, while you explore a new city. Plus, your online buddy gets to hear about the interesting life of an adventurer. Everyone wins.

If this is new to you, it can be challenging to grow your current network of online buddies. Unfortunately, it is even tougher to maintain them, once you have them. This process can take some time, but keep trying and check out these tips for help:

A. Reach out to people with similar interests online. Comment on someone’s sick viral stop motion video, @message someone on Twitter who wrote an article that rocks, and don’t be scared to add someone as your friend.

B. Maintain contact with old friends by sending them messages now and again. Don’t spend hours doing this; one message every six months or even a year will suffice. Catch the important events, like birthdays, babies, weddings, graduations, or when your buddy hits the lottery.

C. Be a positive online buddy. People who post about their boring and depressing lives have no places to crash. People who incite political or philosophical debates will be getting unfriended (save that until you are having a few beers).

D. Share the interesting details of your life and travels. Post an itinerary of where you are traveling to and ask others if they want to hang out.

E. Send a casual message to friends on your travel path. Remember: people are busy as heck with their own lives, so you might have to remind them with a short friendly message.

Warning: The catch to staying with your friends is that you have to be a genuine and sincere friend. You can’t do this just for the place to crash. You have to do it for the friendship. Lazy, fake, and selfish mooches don’t deserve free places to sleep.

2. Learn To Couchsurf Like A Pro

Until the teleporter is invented, Couchsurfing will be the most powerful tool for travelers ever. This website has changed my life. Thanks to Couchsurfing founders, Casey, Dan, Sebastian, and Leonardo! I have a huge man crush on these guys.

You are on Couchsurfing, right? If not, do it now. Stop reading this post. Open Couchsurfing.org in another window right next to this article and sign up. Then come back to finish reading this. Seriously (and add me as a friend, if you need it)…

Extra Sauce: For you overachievers, bookmark Lea Woodward’s Guide to Couchsurfing and download Karol Gadja’s short, free e-book about How To Use Couchsurfing too. Both are a great place to start from brilliant travelers.

Couchsurfing is a website that connects travelers with hosts in a safe, simple, and free fashion.

I’ve stayed on about 30 couches and have met over a hundred friends around the USA through the meet-up groups. All my experiences have been positive, besides a few dirty places to stay.

Extra Sauce: There are a number of websites, similar to Couchsurfing, to take a look at too. I never use them, but the professional hobo, Nora Dunn wrote a spectacular post about them.

3. Sleep With Locals

Get your mind out of the gutter (although that can be fun too)… I mean, sleep on the local’s spare bed, couch, floor, or even camp in their yard.

You could call this spontaneous couchsurfing and this is for true adventurers only.

In the USA, this is pretty tough. Most Americans are taught to put big fences around their house. Don’t talk to strangers is told to every toddler, before they head out the door to play.

Consequently, only about 5% of my nights were spent sleeping like this. But if you head to a country with a more nomadic lifestyle (try Mongolia… Tim Cope had a lot of luck there) or a more hospitable culture, you will have better luck.

Despite the challenges and sometimes the dangers, this is the most rewarding way of sleeping. You will feel like an angel of god swooped down to give you a hand. 

Maybe you’ll wake up in New York on a rock band’s pool table with a whiskey headache the size of Antarctica. Or you maybe you’ll learn about Tantric healing over tea from a Buddhist priest in the desert of Arizona.

You just never know what could happen.

Tips For Sleeping With Locals:

A. Your hiking backpack is the key. 

The backpack is a symbol of an adventurer. Any self-respecting adventurer will recognize you immediately and probably ask you,

“Where are you coming from?”

Display your symbol proudly, despite the looks of fear from the sedentary folks.

B. Talk To Strangers

Sorry Mom, but I talk to as many strangers as possible. I am a bit shy at heart though, so to get the conversation started, I simply ask for help with directions.

If someone starts a conversation with you, be open and friendly. Putting away your computer, phone, or book, will increase the odds of someone approaching you.

Warning: If you are a woman, you will get more invitations, but you will want to be selective. I’m traveling with an adventuresome German girl now, who likes to say, “Be careful, but don’t be scared.”

If you aren’t comfortable sleeping in someone’s home, then say no. If you are comfortable, then go for it.

4. Guerilla Camping

The USA has free camping in national parks, known as dispersed camping. There are also many forests, fields, prairies, and hills that are ripe for an avid guerilla camper like myself.

Guerilla camping is the art (yes, I said art) of finding a place to camp anywhere. Usually this means on some state land or on private property somewhere. Some people call it stealth camping and others call it acting like a homeless bum.

I could care less what the naysayers think, I love it. Every night is an adventure. What you sacrifice in hours of sleep, you make up for in feeling a pure injection of freedom.

Author James Michener and I are on the same page. The world is our home.

Author Jack Kerouac said, “An uncomfortable bed free is better than a comfortable bed unfree.”

Jack and I are on the same page too… except I always shoot for a comfortable AND free bed, even if I’m sleeping under the stars. Buy a decent tent, a sleeping bag, and a mat for the most comfortable snooze.

You will also have to be attentive to your surroundings, because this can be dangerous. But I camped guerilla style for about 30% of my nights traveling the USA and I was never hassled by anyone.


Guerrilla Camping Etiquette:

A. Be respectful. If someone went to the trouble of putting up a huge fence with flashing KEEP OUT signs, then they really don’t want you sleeping on their land. Find someplace else that is easy to get into.

B. Ask locals for good spots to camp. Most will be happy to help a traveler. Remember to be proud. You are an adventurer on a quest. In Spain, you would be revered as a perigrin (or pilgrim).

C. Practice Leave No Trace Wilderness Ethics. Even go one step further and leave the place better than you found it.

My Guerilla Camping Checklist:

A. I avoid towns and cities. State parks, national parks, and forests are the best spots.

Typically this means you have to walk 2-3 miles out of town. Walking is great exercise though, so no complaining. Then head into the forest, where no one will bother you.

B. If I can’t get out of the city, I’ll look for a big park. Any place that has a forest or enough bushes to hide my tent will work.

C. If I can’t find a suitable park, I’ll check the schools. Athletic fields work well. There is a lot of grass, they are usually safe, and no one is there at night. Baseball dugouts have worked for me on a few occasions.

D. If I can’t find a school, I will look near churches. No preacher with a god-loving heart is going to turn an adventurer away. If you ask, they are usually happy to offer you some help too.

E. If no church is nearby, I’ll look for large private properties. You won’t see me camping in your front lawn, but if you have a huge backyard with some trees. You might find me nestled in there early in the morning. But you would have to be really quiet and up early to find me… I’m like a ghost.

F. If none of these are available, sleep in the parking lot of Home Depot. Those sheds in the parking lot aren’t locked and no one checks them at night. If you arrive after the store closes and are off before it opens, you will be golden.

E. In an emergency, you might try sleeping on a roof. You can get to the roof of some downtown buildings if you do a little scouting for a fire escape. No one thinks to check these at night and you will have a great view of the stars.

Extra Sauce: In cities, be prepared to set up camp in the dark and leave before the sun rises to avoid getting caught.

5. Volunteer On A Farm

If you like nursing our green leafy friends to life, then WWOOFing is the perfect fit for you. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms and is a website designed to connect you with farmers around the world. You get your hands dirty in their fields and they provide room and board.

I worked the fields at a dahlia farm in Southern California for a couple weeks and met some really earthy travelers.

You can find these gigs all over the world. They vary greatly in what they offer though, so make sure to call each farm before you commit. Some will have you working 40 hours and others are only a few hours a week.

***
5 More Ways To Sleep For Free:

1. Become A Travel Hacker

If you can figure out the complex world of credit card miles, you will be rewarded with free hotel rooms (or at least cheaper rooms or upgrades).
Chris Guillebeau has a beginner’s guide to travel hacking to get your started. Also, my girlfriend recently used his monthly forum to get a free plane ticket.

2. Sleep in Airports/Train Stations/Bus Stations

These stations can offer a place to slump over in a chair for a few hours of shuteye. I only use them if I am desperate or in transit somewhere.

Sleeping in airports is an informative site to check for sleeping spots in popular airports and airport reviews.

3. Sleep in your RV/Van/Car

It’s called boondocking and a lot of people do it. Picture your house on wheels, except smaller. Boondocking seems pretty luxurious compared to what I’m used to. One day though I will settle down and get myself some wheels.

Until then, check out my blogging buddies, The Wynn’s, who have a fun video about boondocking at Wal-mart. Or you can read about how Tynan lives in his RV with tips for others (when he isn’t dating the most beautiful women in the world, that is).

4. House Sitting

Just like Couchsurfing, there are now a handful of websites that connect travelers with homeowners.

Lea Woodward nails it again with a great post on how you can get started.

5. Squatting

Similar to guerilla camping, except you choose an abandoned house. Check out the forum, Squat the Planet for tips, although Tom Thumb’s guide is more helpful.

6. Hostels or Campgrounds

I know, I know… these aren’t free. But they are if you work in exchange for your rent. Many hostels and some campgrounds will cover your rent, as long as you are willing to scrub some toilets and wash some hostel sheets.

***

Finally, for those that are itching to start traveling now. Tyler Tervooren just rocked my world with this free e-book about getting your adventure started.

***

Am I missing a way to sleep for free? I invite all adventurers to add to the information on this post by writing on your own blog, posting on Twitter, or commenting below. A whole generation of young folks need this information.

If this post got you all hot and bothered to go taste the sweet flavor of freedom, then take a minute to share this article with your friends. My survival depends on it.

Thoughts? Share your opinion in the comments, Twitter, on facebook, or on your own blog.

 

36 Responses to How To Sleep For Free (How I Saved 18,000$ While Traveling)
  1. Tyler Tervooren
    January 9, 2012 |

    This is a really great resource. Thanks for sharing this, Benjamin. And I appreciate you including my free guide as part of it. I hope your readers get a lot of use out of it.

    Tyler

    • Benjamin Oliver Jenks
      January 9, 2012 |

      Thanks Tyler! I hope they check it out too. I really enjoyed it. I have to get into the frequent mileage game soon.

  2. nikki
    January 9, 2012 |

    Great post! So many great tips in here, i actually added this post to my favorites tab, I know I am going to have to reference back to this one. Thanks for sharing all the amazing info!

    • Benjamin Oliver Jenks
      January 9, 2012 |

      Thanks Nikki!
      I was happy to include you and Jason’s video in this post. Boondocking it up! :)

  3. Jen
    January 9, 2012 |

    Jenks!! even though I am neck deep in diapers, this post was still for me! It reminded of the golden days… and gives me hope for some to come in the future! I love reading about your fun travel stories….Reminds me of the time we didn’t want to pay for the hotel at the great wall…we hopped over, and after eluding the cops, camped out guerrilla style…sigh. (No harassment as we casually walked out of the park in the morning either!)

    • Benjamin Oliver Jenks
      January 9, 2012 |

      Ms Neck Deep in Diapers,

      YES! Score one for you. Cops zero. That must have been a night to remember. Thanks for sharing, Jen

  4. JoAnne Schaub
    January 10, 2012 |

    Super awesome comprehensive post! My hubby and I are ready to be free and travel! Looking at going the RV route later this year. Thanks for the tips and the inspiration!

    • Benjamin Oliver Jenks
      January 10, 2012 |

      Sounds awesome, JoAnne! I’m living in a trailer now and really enjoying it. Feel like a king. :)

  5. Arnaud
    January 11, 2012 |

    Nice tips, we ‘ll try some of them. Thanks !

  6. Zoe
    January 16, 2012 |

    I’m definitely not neck deep in diapers yet, and we were already planning to never pay for housing during our epic roadtrip around the US that we’re starting in June. Staying with friends, wwoofing/helpxing, couchsurfing, free camping, and probably housesitting will all happen. Wooh!

  7. Roy Marvelous
    January 19, 2012 |

    I also wrote a Couchsurfing guide after hosting and surfing with 100+ people over the last 6+ years: http://roymarvelous.com/couchsurfing-for-dummies-guide-tips/

  8. [...] It’s a cool video that has a lot of good resources that you may not have heard of. You can read the full article he’s written about this subject on his website. Some of the resources mentioned are woofing, [...]

  9. [...] Adventure Sauce: How to sleep for free [...]

  10. David Graves
    March 21, 2012 |

    Saw a link to one of your videos on my FB feed today. Great site you got here. Great links, too.

    I’ve been one of those people that has had a real hard time finding work since the economy took a shit in late 2008 and have done quite a bit of hitchhiking in the interim. One thing always keeps me from longer adventures, though- food.

    Before you started getting paid for your videos, how did you acquire food? Friends cook you meals? did you have a meager bank account to draw funds from?

    • Benjamin Oliver Jenks
      March 21, 2012 |

      Welcome David! Good question.

      I don’t eat for free. I worked for 6 years before I started. Then worked a little after as well. I also had some 401k dough I used to fund the beginning of AdventureSauce (cameras and such).

      Check out my article on Web Content Writing for step-by-step resources how you could make money online. I have a big list of creative money making ways in the Email Series and Travel Lessons too.

      Hope this helps, stay in touch

  11. Discover Spice of life
    March 26, 2012 |

    Actually you are doing efferent type of blogging. i really enjoy your site so much.

  12. Peter Gibbons
    April 14, 2012 |

    Couchsurfing might be great in the USA, but in Europe (particular eastern Europe) hospitalityclub.org is more popular. The website design might look a bit 2002, but the community is still pretty much alive :)

    • Benjamin Oliver Jenks
      April 15, 2012 |

      Yo Peter! Thanks for the relevant info. I appreciate it and this is good to know. Stay in touch

  13. Frank Izaguirre
    April 20, 2012 |

    Benjamin, sick site. I’m digging your posts. I thought of another sleeping for free tip I’ve used before: Take an overnight bus, train, or even plane. If you’re going to riding on one of those vehicles anyway, might as well save on the cost of sleeping somewhere.

    Frank

  14. Frank Izaguirre
    April 20, 2012 |

    Benjamin, I’m digging your site. I thought of another sleeping for free tip I’ve used before: take an overnight bus, train, or even plane. If you’re going to be traveling on one of those vehicles anyway, might as well get a free night’s sleep out of it.

    Frank

  15. Dustin Knight
    May 20, 2012 |

    The worse the economy gets the harder it sleep in a place with 4 walls–especially in the states. Britian has free shelters folks can sleep in as long as they clean up after themselves.

    Alternatively, although this takes LOTS of planning, luck and is very niche, there is always a chance there is a multi-day convention near you where you can become a staff member. If its a good convention (and we are losing them every year), you can get a free hotel room every night of the con (or beyond; try to work in Logistics i.e. those people who set up and break down the convention center; they get to spend a couple extra nights there). What helps here is that you have experience doing it, have your routes planned ahead and have an “in”/experience/circle of friends who work nerdy conventions. Even if the convention is something you’ve never dreamed of as being something you’d be into, its always fun helping people share and express their passions in life!

    • shawn cookson
      February 6, 2014 |

      Dustin, I never thought of that option. Thanks!

  16. John Erickson
    May 21, 2012 |

    I love this article so much.
    I am now very excited and don’t want to go to school or work for the day! but I will and I will think of my plan for the near future..

  17. Wilson
    June 13, 2012 |

    Depending on where you are in the world, sleeping on overnight buses, trains and planes.

    I’ve pulled all nighters and crashed at a library, internet cafe, lounge during the day.

  18. [...] Benjamin O. Jenks captures it well: I could care less what the naysayers think, I love it. Every night is an adventure. What you [...]

  19. [...] talked about How To Sleep For Free, Being Alive, Taking Action, and Finding Your Purpose (among other [...]

  20. Israel did 9/11
    August 7, 2013 |

    I came here because I was considering sleeping in my car, but I got way more than I bargained for; Sleeping in an abandoned house? Maybe if I was researching for a horror screenplay! :P

  21. Dianne
    October 16, 2013 |

    At this time it sounds lile Drupal is the best blogging platform out thedre roght
    now. (from what I’ve read) Is that what you are using on your blog?

  22. Akilina
    December 10, 2013 |

    My weirdest sleeping places en route from Istanbul to Ireland:

    -under a picknik table on the border of france and spain (after dealing with two horrible truckers in a row, no sleep for 48 hours)

    -in a gas station on the massage chair in Paris, France

    -in Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris

    -the back of a Turkish guys car (he was in the home with his family, wanted to give me a place to sleep tho) in Salzburg, Austria

  23. […] Seriously though, I’d recommend watching Jenks’ videos and reading some of his blog posts. He’s worth it. Start HERE: http://www.adventuresauce.com/2012/01/how-to-sleep-for-free-how-i-saved-18000-while-traveling/ […]

  24. shawn cookson
    February 6, 2014 |

    Another great article Benjamin! One can never have too many options under this topic. As for the naysayers, they’re simply envious and are not happy with their lives.

  25. Shay
    June 27, 2014 |

    Another new alternative is http://www.HelpStay.com which offers free stays for a few hours help.

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