Free Accommodation Isn’t Just for Bums


When you picture somebody living for free around the world, what do you see? Is it a hippy planting trees and living in a tent or run-down shack? Or a down-on-their-luck hobo with dirt under their fingernails and a long face to match, sleeping on whatever charitable couches are offered to them?

What if I told you that there is a whole world of free accommodation that has nothing to do with being a bum? That you could stay in palatial accommodation – for free – in some of the most desirable destinations, sometimes simply for checking the mail and watering the plants?

Or that you can tap into a local culture and make new friends and do some volunteer good while you’re at it?

Or that you could sail the world at large – for free?

It’s true. Free accommodation isn’t just for bums.


I’m a Professional Hobo, But I’m Not a Bum.

Nora Dunn, The Professional Hobo

The following is an excerpt from the popular e-book How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World:

In 2006, I sold everything I owned (including a busy financial planning practice) to embrace my lifelong dreams of traveling the world, long-term and intensively. I had no idea where I would go, what I would do, how long I could make my money last, and if there was any way to earn income along the way. I just knew I had to go.

Through extensive research, networking, and a bit of serendipity, I stumbled on various ways to get free accommodation; I started with volunteering (Part 1) and couch surfing (Part 3). Over time I discovered house-sitting (Part 2), and even the extensive world of getting free accommodation on boats (Part 4) when I sailed the Caribbean for a few months.

The only thing I haven’t tried myself (but which is very similar to house-sitting) are home ex- changes. (But don’t worry, I cover this too, in Part 5.)


The Money I’ve saved with free accommodation

When I commit to something, I commit. For the entire year of 2011, every single day of which I was traveling (since I have no home to speak of), I spent $173 on accommodation. Not per night, or per month – that was for the entire year. (And it was for two nights at the Hilton in Stockholm as a treat).

The only money I ever spend on accommodation is either:

  • Staying in hostels or hotels between free accommodation gigs
  • Renting an inexpensive place in a country where the cost of living is (usually) cheaper


Here are my approximate accommodation expenses in my first six years of full-time travel:

2007: $1,500

2008: $1,000

2009: $2,400

2010: $1,800

2011: $173

2012: $1,700


So for most entire years of accommodation expenses, I’ve spent less money than many people would spend on one month of accommodation.

If we assumed that it would cost approximately $1,000/month (sometimes less, usually more) for housing expenses in most developed cities, then between 2007 and 2012 I saved over $63,500 in accommodation expenses.

This is not only why I’m the free accommodation guru, but also why I have successfully made full-time travel financially sustainable.


Intrigued? Check out the book How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World here!


What You Have to Do in Trade For Free Accommodation

There are no rules when it comes to the tasks required for free accommodation. I’ve done a variety of jobs in trade for free accommodation over the years, including:

  • Designing marketing plans for a hostel in Hawaii
  • Checking the mail and simply keeping an eye on a house in Zurich and cottage in the Swiss Alps
  • Taking care of the dog at a Caribbean beachside resort
  • Cooking delicious food at a retreat centre in New Zealand
  • Keeping a dog, cat, and bird company in a mansion in Panama, with full staff on-hand to do all the work

…and much, much more.


The Art of Financially Sustainable Travel

I like lobster – and I eat it when I want it. Techniques like getting free accommodation are a scientific means to an end – one of financially sustainable travel – which I do in style, thank you very much.

The two main components of financially sustainable travel are:

  • Keeping travel expenses down – or at least keeping your expenses in line with:
  • Earning an income along the way

Keeping Travel Expenses Down

You can keep your travel expenses down by:

  • Traveling slowly (the less you move, the less you spend)
  • Using cheap transportation hacks (and again, I’m not talking about hitching free rides; when I fly, it’s in business class for less than the price of equivalent economy tickets – here’s how I do it)
  • And of course, by enjoying free accommodation.

Earning Income Along the Way

There is a myriad of ways to earn money on the road, from location independent businesses (of which there are dozens of options), to using working holiday visas, working on boats, teaching English, being an au pair, teaching at international schools, implementing your greatest creative business idea, and much much more.

I’ll be releasing a guide to Working on the Road in the next few months (more on that soon), but in the meantime, whet your tastebuds with this collection of resources from around the web to get you started:

For more information about how you can enjoy free accommodation around the world, check out Nora’s jam-packed resource:

How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World


Nora also wrote the book Tales of Trains: Where the Journey is the Destination, about some of the world’s most famous and epic train journeys and what it’s like to ride 42,000 kilometres of trains through 11 countries in a total of 44 days.





Nora Dunn is the The Professional Hobo, a woman who sold everything she owned (including a busy financial planning practice) in 2006 and has been travelling the world in a financially sustainable way ever since. She is an internationally published freelance writer on the topics of travel, personal finance, and lifestyle design, with columns on Wisebread, Credit Walk, and many others. She penned the books How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World, Tales of Trains: Where the Journey is the Destination, and most recently, Working on the Road: The Unconventional Guide to Full-Time Travel. Check out her latest musings on Facebook and Twitter.

6 responses to “Free Accommodation Isn’t Just for Bums

  1. Hi Nora,

    Brilliant! Brilliant! We’re living in Savusavu, Fiji for 4 months. About the end of our stay. We’ve watched the house cat, and 3 outdoor cats…..and yep, we’re house sitting, and we haven’t paid a dime for accommodations of course. We have a million dollar view of Savusavu Bay, nestled 50 meters above the bay, with the Pacific Ocean to our left, and we’ve been told by many locals that this is the best view in Savusavu, or maybe, the entire island of Vanua Levu. Down the street at the Jean Michel Cousteau Resort folks pay $3600 a night for the top suite. We have a much better view than they do, and we’ve paid zero dollars, for 4 months, to have sweeping views from one of the most peaceful, beautiful islands on earth. Relative wealth, folks.

    Nora, you’re a whiz at engineering a freeing lifestyle. Kelli my fiancee and I have been blessed to be successful running online businesses but really, we spend so little on the road and sock a bunch of it away. When you’re smart, and do some legwork, you can pay little for accommodations and spend the money on what you most value. You can enjoy your wealth, and save, and still live like a king…..and we’ve rented villas in Bali, fully serviced, which did rock, but the views are nothing like what we have here. Absolutely jaw-dropping, and it’s costing us nada to live here.

    Thanks Nora. Tweeting through Triberr.


    1. Hey Ryan,
      AWESOME! 4 months with the best view in Fiji sounds like a pretty nice way to get free accommodation if you ask me!
      And you’re right – when you engineer a life that saves you money (without sacrificing style), you can spend the money you have (even if it isn’t much) on so many other cool things instead.
      Happy house-sitting!

  2. Awesome article! Love all your articles but this one in particular, you break it down in simple and quick bits to digest. I’ve done all of them in the US but you are the inspiration to try it abroad. Thanks, Elmer

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