Where To Sleep While Traveling

You'll end up sleeping in all kinds of places while you travel, it's part of the fun. Whether you're looking for free places to sleep, cheap places to sleep or places to sleep when your plans fall through, this is the post for you. If you don't feel like reading, here's a link to a ten minute video I made instead. Or you can listen to the Freestyle Travel Show episode I host embedded below:

There's plenty of places to sleep for free while you're traveling, so I'll start with those. Then there's some places that may cost some money, but I'll mention them anyway along with how you spend as little as possible when it comes to it.

Free Places to Sleep While Traveling

Hospitality Networks

This is usually my first choice. Hospitality networks, the biggest of which used to be Couchsurfing (kinda useless now), allow you stay with people for no money for typically 1-3 nights (can always turn into more!). Besides being free, the biggest benefit is meeting someone (who's usually awesome) that lives there and can often show you around or at least tell you where some cool things are, whether it's cheap eats or secret waterfalls.

I started a podcast called the Freestyle Travel Show, you can listen to the episode I recorded just about couchsurfing and hospitality networks. Freely subscribe and listen on Apple Podcasts or anywhere podcasts can be found.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: As of 2020 Couchsurfing is no longer free. In addition, the majority of its members have become inactive (and frustrated by the company's poor management). Furthermore, it's no longer possible to tell for sure who's active or not, so those who indeed decide to pay for Couchsurfing may be sending messages to "hosts" who are unable to see their messages anyhow.

Although Couchsurfing fell apart, the next coolest community (especially for hitchhikers) is TrustRoots.org, followed by WarmShowers.org (for cyclists) and several other general ones like BeWelcome.org.

The process is the same on most of these sites: you look up where you wanna go and see profiles from people who live there and have a couch (or spare room, floor space, yard to camp in, etc) and may be able to host you. Send a message to the people who look interesting (usually a few days to a couple weeks in advance), tell them when and why you're coming and why you chose to send them a message, then just hope they reply.

<Leaving this here, but Couchsurfing has become largely useless since I first wrote this>
Couchsurfing had two additional features worth noting. One is called "Public Trips" where you can "announce" ahead of time that you'll be coming to the city or town, then some of the hosts there may see it (if they pay attention to that feature) and may potentially send you an offer to stay with them. The second feature, which is only available in some of the bigger cities, are "Last Minute" or "Emergency" hosting groups active users have created. Just search groups for something like "berlin last minute" or "NYC emergency" and you may find it. Post there if you need a place TONIGHT and (in my experience) you have a 50/50 chance of getting hosted.

It's worth noting that your odds go way up if you've filled out your own profile, added pictures and actually put effort into the messages you end. You also leave and receive references after hosting someone or staying with them, the more positive references you have the better your chances are as well. This is a free option of a place to stay, but it involves another person and is far from a free hotel, it's an experience. Also, while money-free, it can be time consuming to find the right people and send messages and wait for positive replies.

Stay with friends and family while traveling

Of course, if you're visiting a place where a friend or family member lives, you should check if you could stay with them. Never assume, however, that just because someone is an old friend that you'll be able to stay with them. Girlfriends/boyfriends, roommates, jobs, landlords, tight space and other less predictable reasons could all leave you (and your friend) in an awkward spot when you ask to come crash on their couch and it just can't happen, so check ahead of time.

Using Social Media to find places to stay while traveling

This has worked for me so many times, often by accident. I'll update my status to something rather simple like "Hitchhiking to Melbourne today, should fun", and suddenly there's a friend commenting, "Cool! My friend Emily lives there, she could totally put you up for a couple nights!"

You can of course use this method intentionally and directly by posting something like, "I'll be going to Melbourne next week, does anyone know where I might be able to stay?"

Friends may point to friends, people who hosted them there in the past or you may even have a friend you haven't talked to in a while who's living there now. Even if no one knows anyone there you may still get good advice on places to camp or some cheap hostel or otherwise (options I'll get into shortly).

Broader social media tactics

You may have great luck on Facebook or Instagram. You could try Twitter as well, but it'll probably only work if you have a big following.

A slightly more interesting tactic, is Tinder. If you haven't heard of Tinder, it's a dating app where you swipe pictures of people nearby you're attracted to which can lead to the ability to send a message and go meet up in real life. Yes, it's for dating and hooking up, but there's also a guy who used it to find girls to help him hitchhike across North America. After I read that I played around with using it to find places to couch surf. As long as you're straight forward and are an honest sounding person, this may work for you. I will note, this probably works better for guys. Er... could work better for girls, but, yeah, you know what you'll likely be dealing with.

Another option is Reddit. I met up with a friend traveling in Austin and he'd been on the Austin subreddit getting advice from locals, connecting with people who wanted to go grab a beer and so on. It could be kind of a long shot to find a couch, or at least require a bit of back and forth communication, but it's worth taking a look (and if you can't find a couch at least you'll find some cool people to chat with!). Just don't be pushy or spammy, folks on Reddit hate that.

Staying with the person who picked you up hitchhiking

This has happened to me dozens if not a 100+ times. If you've already been getting along with the person who picked you up there's a decent chance they may even offer to let you stay the night and hang out even more. This is especially true if it's getting late and you're not close to you're end destination or if you're there and they know you have nowhere set up to stay.

I've never asked, it's always been offered, although it's happened so much that sometimes I know they're going to offer even before they do. Some of these people become friends for life and it makes for a great story for both of you.

Staying with people you meet in town

Bars, cafes, truck stops - all places where you might meet someone cool willing to take you in for the night.

A typical situation: You sit down at the bar and order a beer, with your backpack next to you. The person to your right is friendly and says "hi", then jumps to the next easiest thing since they saw your backpack, "Where are you traveling from". Next thing you know you're having a friendly conversation and at some point they might say, "So where are you staying tonight", at which point you tell them you have no idea and they may very well respond, "Why don't you stay at my place, I've got a big couch in the living room!". Done.

This works the same at cafes and truck stops. Just like in the hitchhiking situation, I never ask them (although I've met other travelers who do), people just tend to offer if they think of it. If you're like me and don't want to ask people, that doesn't mean you can't actively put yourself in situations where you may be asked. For example if you need WiFi or food or something else, you're better off going to a bar and sitting where the action is (next to friendly looking people) rather than going to the dark corner of a Starbucks by yourself.

If you're really not shy then you can use one of the oldest tactics in travel which is to just knock on doors of friendly looking houses and ask if you can camp in their yard. I haven't done this, but those who have claim a 50/50 success rate and say often they'll be invited to sleep inside. I imagine part of this success rate also comes with developing an eye for what houses seem more friendly, but either way the worst that'll happen is people will look confused and say no.

As long as we're talking about door knocking, there's also churches. Again, something I've never done personally, but many travelers have rocked up to a church (or other religious places) and asked and been told they could sleep inside or at least camp outside. I was once "forced" to pop into a church and ask about a bus ticket (I was hitchhiking and my ride insisted), they were quite busy, but they gave me food, twenty bucks and apologies saying that usually they'd have let me stay the night and set me up with a bus ticket to wherever the next day.

Stealth Camping

This is a method I've used hundreds and hundreds of times. Sometimes called urban camping, all this means is camping in places not really meant for camping. It's basically my default when hitchhiking multi-day distances.

It requires that you have some kind of bed roll setup, for me it's a sleeping bag, air pad and a bivysack which is a small waterproof tent. Basically you just wanna stay warm and dry.

You may wanna check the legality of such things, as it's different everywhere, but that's up to you.

Camping spots can range from in the woods off the highway, under bridges, on the beach, between buildings or in parks. It's obviously better to search before dark, and also realize that you may be more visible once the sun comes up, be ready to get out quick if you need to.

I made this video a while back which shows some more information, specifically how I use Google Maps to try and find the most ideal spots:

Stay up all night in 24 hour spots

Not ideal, but if all else fails this may be what you're left with. There's some public places where you can still catch some Zs, others you just have to grind it out until morning.

Bus and train stations, for example, are often open all night and you may be able to plop down on a bench and look like every other tired traveler. You can close your eyes and get some shut eye there, but be wary of unsavory types who may hang around waiting to rob the sleepy. Also in some stations an employee might come around checking for tickets, making sure that everyone there is actually a passenger on a hellacious layover.

The next option is to find a "hidden" spot in a 24 hour place. Truck stops, especially in the US, will often have "trucker lounges", little rooms with a bunch of seats facing a TV with Law & Order playing on loop. Walk in casually and downplay your backpack as best as possible and just watch TV while you fade in and out of sleep. I've never been kicked out, I imagine as long as you're relatively clean and not a nuisance you''ll be fine too.

Then there's big hotel lobbies and casinos. Especially if they have a "business center" room or the like, somewhere you can get in, face the wall and sleep without being bothered. It helps if you have a laptop to open up and look like you're busy, I've done this in Vegas a number of times with success. It helps to have a story ready too, something about how you're waiting for a friend of a friend who's staying there (and who's name you don't know) to show up so you can check it, that sort of thing. Again, try to make your backpack as invisible as possible, either keep it under a table, behind a chair, or with a jacket over it.

Then there's buses and much better, subways. While not 100% free (possibly a couple bucks for the ticket), just hop on and pass out (make sure your things are secure, i.e. pick pocket proofed while you're sleeping). In many cities the subway will just go back and forth as you fade in and out of sleep. Not ideal, but that's where you're at.

The last option is to just grind it out in a 24 hour cafe. The best are ones with bottomless coffee, just spend a dollar or two (so not 100% free either) and chill. Again, if you do have a laptop this adds a pinch of legitimacy, as if you're working on something. Be friendly and you'll be fine, maybe you'll even wind up getting an offer to stay with someone before it gets too late, or if you're in a truck stop maybe you'll get a ride offer before the morning.

Work exchange

This isn't a good option for just staying a night or two, but if you wanna dig in somewhere for a week or a month or more without spending any money, this is a good bet.

Work exchange services like WOOFing, Workaway and HelpX allow you to connect with farms, hostels and other small operations so you can do a bit of work in exchange for a free place to stay and usually free meals while you're there.

If you're into (or wanna be into) sailing, you may find some opportunities with the above sites, or you can try findacrew.net which is specific for sailing. Through that site I once helped restore a big steel boat in California for a month, I lived on the boat and ate for free. We were supposed to sail around the world, but... that's a whole story in itself.

Cheap places to sleep while traveling

Sleep while you're traveling, like actually moving

Before you crack and get a hostel, hotel or airbnb (the last options I'll discuss), consider that cost versus the cost of an overnight bus or train. If you left City A heading for City C and you're stuck in City B for the night, check if a bus ticket from B to C is cheaper than a hotel room. Two birds with one stone, you can sleep on the bus and wake up where you wanna be. 

Hotels, Guest Houses and Hostels

The line between these gets blurrier and blurrier every year (right Larry?), and prices range from a couple bucks for a dorm bed to hundreds of dollars for a night in a five star resort. It just depends where you are in the world and what season it is.

This is what happens when you've exhausted all the free options I've mentioned, maybe the weather's really bad and you can't camp or there's simply nowhere to camp, you're feeling sick or you just need a good night to relax alone or with your lady/guy.

The most I've ever paid for a room was $60 for the night, it truly sucked, but I had no other options. You should hopefully never pay this much. Costs will vary quite a bit, though. In the US it's becoming increasingly more rare to find rooms much less than $35 in the average town, but you can. In Southeast Asia it's pretty easy to find a room to yourself or certainly a dorm in a hostel for less than $10, I've seen dorm beds for $2.50 and even offered a night on a hammock for a dollar.

No matter where I am I usually go about searching in the same manner (if I can get online), to find the cheapest place:

First, I open Google Maps and do a few searches in a row, using the terms "hotels", "hostels" and "guesthouses". For many places Google will show the prices, this gives me a general idea of costs nearby as well as how close places are, which is obviously important if you're already there and just on foot.

Next I'll open up Priceline.com and check there, sorting by price. Just pay close attention to the distance, as it'll default to showing you places that are too far away to walk to. Also keep in mind that the price it shows will go up with taxes and fees and such nonsense.

Lastly I'll go to HostelWorld.com and search there.

Between these three resources you should now know not only the closest cheap places, but also from Google Maps there will probably be a couple wild cards, hotels without a price. I'll quickly whiz through the reviews to see if they seem cheap or someone mentioned the price, or if there's a phone number I'll call and check.

I won't typically book through any of the websites, though, not at first. If you find a place that's cheap and in walking distance, it's better to call first and ask what the price is, as it may be different from the price online. If it's cheaper, than I'll walk there and pay. If it's more, then obviously go ahead and book online.

In some countries it's better to just show up and haggle. $7 a night? Ridiculous. Ask for $5. Whatever, you'll do what you do.

Also, if you can't get online (and even if you can), try asking around at the gas station, the bar, wherever. Often I'll be at a bar or something anyway while I'm doing these searches (remember the section above, meeting people in town?), so I can use their WiFi and their local knowledge for cheap rooms or camping spots, maybe posting on Couchsurfing too if it's early, all while putting myself out there in case someone in the bar wants to dose me with travel magic and invite me in for the night. Plus bars have beer, so you really can't lose.


I'm sure there's other sites like this, but Airbnb.com (this referral link includes free $25 credit from me) is the most popular. It's a way to rent a room or even a whole house from someone for a night, a week or longer. Unlike Couchsurfing, this isn't about hanging out with the person who owns the place (although that sometimes happens), it's just about having a place to stay.

This can often be cheaper than a hotel room if you search enough, and be a bit nicer. It's a good option if you want some privacy or just wanna relax, like if you're a traveling couple that needs your own space after heaps of not-so-private couch surfing.

So That's it!

I hope this helps you sleep well at night, you have plenty of options. Got some more ideas? That's what the comment section is for, and I'll also update this post periodically. Good times!

Wanna keep reading to inspire your wanderlust?