September 2011

Post image for How to Stay for Free in Italy (or Anywhere).

Find over 3000 free accommodation choices in Italy.

Thankfully — this isn’t the number of park benches waiting for you to rest your head.

It’s the number of people that have raised their hand and said, “Come stay at my house…it won’t cost you a dime.”

Finding free accommodation in Italy is easier than you think.

Why loose your shirt taking the family to Rome? A “cheap” hotel can cost 150 euros a night but your own private Roman apartment could be — free.

Why stay in a hotel teeming with other tourists who found it on Trip Advisor when you could stay with a friendly local?

Again — the cost to you would be approximately a bottle of wine and a thank-you card.

But it takes a certain think-outside-of-the-box approach.  But if you’ve read this far than I have faith you’re that person (welcome btw).

I’m gonna show you exactly where to find these opportunities. All 3000 of them.

I’m excited to share with you techniques which I hope will open a lot more travel doors for you.

Let’s get started.

There are a few ways to stay for free in Italy (or anywhere) and today these are two ways.

Option 1: a home exchange

Option 2: a hospitality exchange

The First Option: A Home Exchange

The photos above are actual active properties you could stay in on your next holiday.

You could have a sea view apartment in the vacation haven of Praia a Mare on the Tyrrhenian Sea in Calabria (images 1,5,6), or you could opt for a Tuscan holiday in a restored stone farmhouse near Lucca  (images 2,3,4).

But you’ll need to swap your own home to make any of this happen.

The prerequisite for taking advantage of a home exchange is having a home and a willingness to loan it out.

In return, you will have access to another home. Simply- you will be staying at someone’s home while they are not there, and those people will stay at your home when you are not there.

In some situations, your dates and their dates for exchange don’t need to be concurrent. Some people have more than one residence and will accommodate you at their second home.

You can peruse all the homes listed in the home exchange sites I link to below for free. Most websites charge to access owner contact details via membership fees. Fees range from $57 (U.S.) and up per year, but most will extend your membership if  a successful exchange is not negotiated within the year., for example, boast a 95% exchange rate.

Home has 1808 properties listed within Italy. Yearly Membership is $119.40

Home For has 385 listings in Italy. Yearly membership is $57.00

Exchange has 300 Italian properties. Yearly membership approx $110.00

Roof has 260 Italian properties. Yearly membership is $74.99

1st Home has 240 Italian properties. Free “limited” membership; otherwise $79.99

Home Swap Holidays : has 5 properties listed in Italy. Free. List your own property and become a member to access owner contact information.

Second Option: Hospitality Networks

The hospitality networks are free to access. You do not need to have a property to exchange. You will be a guest at someone’s home. They could be world travellers themselves, or have chosen to armchair travel while inviting the world through their door.

Most hospitality network forums are warm and fuzzy feel good love fests. Most hospitality network forums are warm and fuzzy feel good love fests. You get the notion travelling this way could change us all into friendly global citizens rolling in travel opportunities and happy memories. That would be cool.

A world where everyone can explore and create meaningful connections with the people and places they encounter. Couchsurfing vision statement.

It sounds contagious.

Think of hospitality networks also as a great way to meet people to share travel tips and stories. You don’t have to stay at their place- you could make initial contact with them and then take them out for coffee when you land in their area. The solo traveller would be wise to tap into these networks.

Couchsurfing: The couchsurfing community is represented through 100 Italian towns and cities. Worldwide there are over one million members and over 200,000 people have actually surfed a couch via their site and are actively a part of the community. That’s insane! Over 7000 Italian users are listed as being open to hosting you and thousands more Italian members will chat with you or could answer your questions. The sheer numbers combined with an easy to use site makes it highly likely you could secure free accommodation in Italy and have an insanely good time doing it.

The Hospitality Club: The club has over 300,000 members. Over 20,000 Italians have joined. When I lived in Italy I was a member and people wrote me regularly- I know the system is used and loved. People travel for months and years staying  at hospitality club members homes. It is a pretty incredible service with a mission similar to couchsurfing. It is interesting to note that it is run mostly by volunteers. The spirit of the people who are strong in the community are captured via Hospitality club ambassadors.

Your step by step guide to scoring free accommodation in Italy (or anywhere).

Step 1. Assess what you have to offer.

Do you have a home that is suitable for swapping?   If yes, try a home exchange.  Remember, just because you are renting it doesn’t mean you can’t exchange your rad Vancouver condo  for a city centre Florence apartment- they are probably renting too!

If you can’t  host at your home concentrate your efforts  on couch surfing or the hospitality club because having a home to reciprocate accommodation is not a prerequisite.

Tactic for home exchanges:  Give yourself time. A lead time of 4-6 months can be needed for both parties to secure a match and design the getaway.

Step 2. Ask yourself this: What am I looking for in my trip?

This will help you narrow down your prospective homes. What part of the country are you interested in staying? North or south? Would you prefer a city spot and rely on the trains or would you like a country home where you need a car?

Deciding on your  reasons for visiting will clarify the house hunting process.

The reverse could also happen- you are flexible on the destination as long as the lodging sparks your interest. This process will take considerably more time as the possibilities seem endless.  But if you have time to burn it could also lead to a spectacular home that sings to you and you would, therefore, design your holiday around it.

Remember: Listings belonging to Florence for example- could also mean the outskirts.  Make sure you understand clearly if the listing is suburbs or city centre as transportation could be an issue.

Step 3. Narrow your search down to 5 -7 homes.

Owners schedules, situations and destinations they are interested in can fluctuate. Having more than one option will most likely get you in a position where you have a positive invite from a home host.

Decide which prospects you would like to pursue. To save money on home exchange membership fees- pick the one site that contains the majority of your narrowed down list.

Tactic for home exchanges: Trade on par. Don’t focus exclusively on luxury villas if you have a dilapidated rancher that need a serious kitchen reno. I’m not saying that you can’t bag an upgrade- but remember that the amount of requests that the fancy places receive makes this a competitive category.

Tactic for hospitality networks: Search people that are relatively new and excited about becoming a potential host. Avoid people who have not updated their status or hosted in the last six months.

Step 4. Join your preferred site and post your profile.

You want put considerable effort into this step. You are introducing yourself and potentially your home, and you want your profile to be captivating and well thought out.

Think like a host! What information would you like to know from a potential guest to your home? Use that as your baseline for crafting your profile. Of course, you would want to know what this person looks like so a photo is essential. You would also like to know what this person spends their time doing, who they are travelling with and their previous experiences, if any, as a host.

Tactic for home exchangers:  You are not offering your home- you are offering the benefits of a holiday in your area. People likely are not familiar with your area. Don’t make it hard for them: list all points of interest in proximity of your home. People want great day trips and want to know what they will be able to access easily.

Tactic for Hospitality Networks: Your preferences and interests are pertinent if you are being directly hosted by someone. If they are non-smoking vegetarians with a baby, they would like to know that you are a chain smoking party man that will be stumbling down the hall at 3am. Your goal is a mutually beneficial exchange, not a war.

Be honest and detailed. Not everyone will get your sense of humor, or like your opinion- but some people will love them. Show your personality so you can meet the members who will appreciate it. And, while you decide what to share, remember that more information helps other members get to know you better. “How to”

Step 5. Contact the owners.

These are not hotels, they are private people’s homes.  Even if you are making contacts with several people, make each request personal by addressing the host by name.

Give them details on your travel dates — even if they are approximate, you work out the details at a later time for a mutually beneficial situation. Tell them why you are interested in staying at their homes (example: it is family friendly and within an area of Tuscany that your grandparents are from).

Step 6. Rate your experience through your account.

When you get home post a rating. This will assist your host in securing another exchange (if it’s favourable) and it will let you rise in the ranks of that site by showing you are a participating member.


One last thing: Don’t be a jerk.

If you want just plain, cheap accommodation, and your gonna treat these places like a dirty dorm room — maybe this style of travel isn’t for you.

Shoestring or budget travel isn’t always about trying to find the cheapest option in any given place. In that case ,you would only be focused on eating your way through Europe on Big Macs.

I’m talking about freedom. Freedom to be creative enough to plan your own adventure — not your neighbours. Freedom to spend less time with your ass in an office chair making the funds that you think you may need for your trip. Yeah, your gonna need money- but if you’re smart you can really get much more out of your trip than what you originally thought.

So if budget travel isn’t just cheap travel — what is it?  It’s about making the most of what you have. It’s a philosophy. It may be how you already live —  or it could be new to you. Just because you have the extra coin to splurge on an expensive hotel  does it mean that is your best option?

A  home or hospitality exchange goes deeper, but it takes more time to organize.

I suppose the question to ask yourself is this: Can I invest the required hours to organize an exchange?

If the answer is “yes”,  start planning your next holiday now! If the answer is, “No, it just seems too complicated”, just keep working that day job.

(Image credits: 1,5,6: Cristiana Orlando/ 2,3,4: Alyssia Lazin Kapic via Exchange Away.)

What do you think of a home of hospitality exchange? I’d love to hear it.


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