Hi, my name is Steph and I’m a cheap skate. I’ll be the first to admit it…I don’t like spending more money than I have to on anything. That includes accommodation, however I refuse to stay in hostels. I did it once. ONCE. That was more than enough for me. I’ve been on the road for two years and have never stayed in one. For those of you looking for budget accommodations while traveling, I’m going to divvy out some tips to you and what I’ve learned while I’ve been out here.
First, join a house sitting site. If you know that you’re a responsible, trustworthy and tidy person you shouldn’t have a problem getting a sit and receiving a good reference. You will typically be taking care of pets, as there are very few that are pet-free house sits (however, they do exist). There are a few main sites out there depending on where you want to do the house sits. The popular one, if you do a search for ‘house sitting site’ in the U.S. costs in upward of $120 USD a year but you can usually find a coupon code to help bring it down.
There are some country specific house sitting sites as well which I’ve used while in Australia and New Zealand which have been great. Kiwihousesitters.co.nz and Mindahome.com.au are more reasonable than the above mentioned one and cost around $50 USD a year. Create a good profile, include plenty of photos and just be honest about who you are, why you are out in the world wanting to do this and why you are qualified. I’ve had a lot of people come to me first asking if I’d be interested in doing their sit which is always nice. Once you start getting sits, be sure to ask the owner if it’s ok to use them as a reference in the future then make notes in a document about the dates you were there, what you did, the names, phone numbers and email addresses of the owners and where it was.
The other free-ish ways of staying somewhere is to join Helpx.net, Caretaker.org or Wooff.net. These are work exchange sites where you can expect to work between 3-8 hours a day in exchange for room and maybe meals. Typically the longer you work, the more benefits you’ll receive. Wooffing, as it’s referred to, is typically on organic farms. Helpx could be anything from watching after someone’s kids and doing housework to living on a boat or helping build things or simply working in a garden and help painting or cleaning the house. All of these sites are free to look through with some asking you to log in to see more details and photos. Helpx is always my second go-to if I can’t find a house sit.
One option I have not and probably will not explore is couch surfing. For guys, this might be a decent option though. This is where people host you for free in whatever spare room they might have. Could be a couch, a room, a patio, a back yard to camp in. I know one guy who used couch surfing all around the world and I don’t recall any complaints. I’m sure the majority of the hosts are just fine but something about it doesn’t sit right with me. Take a look at their warning page. I think it’s great that they do alert you to the things that could happen and what you can/should do about it. How they’d like for you to let them know if the host did something….mmmm…odd or out of line. It just seems to go into such specific detail that it sounds like they’ve gotten a lot of complaints and must show they’re trying to do something about it. Check it out yourself.
In Australia, Gumtree.com.au is a popular trading/selling/classified site that almost every Aussie seems to use. I was told recently that you can advertise as a house sitter in there and find jobs pretty easily. I haven’t had to do that and I’m not sure I feel good doing it. Something about putting yourself out there on a free site that could attract creepy people. At least through dedicated websites where you pay to join, there is some comfort level that you’re dealing with ‘normal’ people. Maybe it’s the American Craigslist thing coming out in me…who knows.
Speaking of that, the other options for paid places to live are by doing homestays. Two popular sites are Homestay.com and Airbnb.com. Airbnb sometimes seems to be on the higher priced side, although there are always exceptions. Since I’ve been back in Australia, I wasn’t able to find a house sit in Cairns so I turned to those sites to see what I could find. It’s super expensive to live/rent in Australia and forget about renting a self contained unit for yourself if you’re on a budget. You’d be lucky to find a place for less than $400 AUD a week. Yes, I said a WEEK. I’ve gotten rooms for around $22 USD here but they were not close to the city. Luckily I make sure a bus stop is nearby and find out where the grocery store is. These all determine where I stay.
I’ll give you some advice about homestays though. Read the reviews left for the hosts. If they don’t have a review, don’t be shy to ask questions before committing. And for god’s sake, don’t book for more than a couple of days if you can help it. If you like the place, then ask if you can stay on longer. If you don’t like it, you didn’t waste a bunch of money. And always have a backup plan!! You have to remember that these are not hotels, they are people’s’ homes. They might not be as clean as you would hope. I’ve stayed in some rooms that looked like their 5 year old kids lived in (and I’m sure they did at one point). You might be sharing a bathroom with the family. On the flip side, I’ve had a couple that were quite nice and very reasonable. The great thing about staying with locals is that they have a wealth of information and a lot of them seem quite willing to help you out. You can usually catch a ride to the store with them or go out to events and meet their friends. It’s a great way to network and live like a local which is why I really like doing it.
In expensive cities like Sydney, I wasn’t even able to find a homestay or airbnb accommodation for a reasonable price that was close to downtown. I scoured the internet for a decent hotel room. Even hostels there cost in upward of $100 a night! If I’m going to be forced to pay that for a hostel, I’m going to shell out about the same to stay in a hotel. I did find one where the rooms were literally referred to on the site as being a “Matchbox” or a “Shoebox”. I took the Matchbox and it cost me about $85 a night. It was smack in the middle of downtown, clean and got decent reviews. I could practically touch both walls with my arms stretched out. It was all I needed though and I’m glad I didn’t miss out on Sydney.
One other way, at least in Australia, is to rent a room in a share house. There are sites like Flatmates.com.au and Au.easyroomate.com where you can browse the listings and see if something grabs you. Typically there will be 2-5 people living in the same house and you will be sharing a bathroom, kitchen, etc. with everyone. I started looking at it in desperation but really wouldn’t want to live with 3 or 4 other strangers. They typically seem to be young but the houses did look fairly nice. Some have a minimum amount of months they want you to commit to and some require a bond (down payment) that you may or may not see again. I guess it works for some people, but I’ll pass on it.
I’d also like to say that there are some weird people out there. I was just told tonight that some girls who did wooffing were getting hit on by the host and were on the verge of being assaulted so they got out of there during the wee hours of the morning. You always take a chance, I suppose, when looking for free accommodation, even if you work for it. I’ve also heard horror stories from homeowners where their housesitter trashed their house, so I suppose it goes both ways. The two most important words to take away from this: BACKUP PLAN. It IS possible to live around the world on a budget, just be prepared for anything that might come your way. People are unpredictable. You might try to have a chat with the host before committing or maybe getting references. I’ve also learned to ask for additional photos of bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens if they are not supplied. Usually there’s a reason they’re not. Unfortunately photos on sites might be outdated or not truly reflect what you may walk into.
You may also want to check out the neighborhood’s reputation when doing a house sit or even a homestay. The internet is invaluable for finding out things like that. I typically google a hosts email address to see what comes up. Sometimes I look up street address to see if names in public records match up to the homeowner. Most importantly, if it doesn’t feel right to you, then it probably isn’t.
During your stay, ask the host if there’s anything you should look out for or what to expect on that great empty beach. For the ladies out there, I would highly suggest carrying pepper spray with you (although apparently it’s illegal in NZ and Australia but I still have mine) if you’re walking alone or out on the beach by yourself. Always know the “911” emergency number in the country you’re in. For NZ it’s 111 and in Australia it’s 000. Program in your host’s home address and phone number as well in case you get in trouble or worse yet, LOST! Be sure your phone is charged when you leave the house.
Don’t let me scare you…I haven’t had anything go wrong. If you don’t expect the best, then you won’t be disappointed. I’ve met some great hosts and homeowners and still keep in touch with quite a few of them. It’s all about the journey and how you take it. If you can allow yourself to step out of your comfort zone a little bit, you open doors to new experiences. Isn’t that what we’re all after, ultimately?
Feel free to post any tips you might have on living abroad on a budget or stories you’ve heard or lived through yourself to help others that are in need of advice!
*Homestay.com and Airbnb.com links are affiliate links which help me with future stays and also reward YOU with a $25USD credit if you book for the first time on Airbnb!