I want to show you how to find over 3000 free places to stay in Italy.
No, this is not the number of park benches, it is the number of people that have raised their hand and said, “Come stay at my house…it won’t cost you a dime.”
Why loose your shirt taking the family to Rome spending 150 euros a night when you could be relaxing on your private geranium covered balcony of your new private Roman apartment?
Why stay in a hotel crammed with travellers when you could stay with a friendly local who will share the highlights of her city?
I am going to show you exactly where to find these opportunities and share some techniques to make your next vacation cost you not nearly as much as your last.
There are a few ways to stay for free in Italy (or anywhere) and today I’m going to talk about two great options. The first option is through a home exchange. The second is through a hospitality exchange.
The photo above applies to a home exchange:
Where do you want to stay (for free)? A sea view apartment in the vacation haven of Praia a Mare on the Tyrrhenian Sea in Calabria (images 1,5,6) or a restored stone farmhouse on the outskirts of the walled medieval city of Lucca in Tuscany (images 2,3,4).
First Option: Home Exchange
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 someones 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. HomeforExchange.com, for example, boast a 95% exchange rate.
Home Exchange.com has 1808 properties listed within Italy. Yearly Membership is $119.40
Home For Exchange.com has 385 listings in Italy. Yearly membership is $57.00
Exchange Away.com has 300 Italian properties. Yearly membership approx $110.00
Roof Swap.com has 260 Italian properties. Yearly membership is $74.99
1st Home Exchange.com 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.
Surf Snow House X-change: has 2 properties listed in Italy. Free. You need to join to access owner contact information. I wanted to include it because it’s a great concept behind a home exchange because you can pick a house near ski or surf points, although Italy isn’t widely represented here.
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. You get the notion that if more people participated in this great alternative to payed accommodation it could change us all into friendly global citizens rolling in travel opportunities and happy memories.
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 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 ran mostly by volunteers. The spirit of the people who are strong in the community are captured via Hospitality club ambassadors.
My How-To Manual for a Successful Exchange
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 are not in a position to 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 or hosted in the last six months as they may no longer be interested.
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 with some late night skills with the ladies. Your goal is mutually beneficial exchanges.
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. Couchsurfing.org “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 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. When your stay is complete- rate your experience through your account.
This will assist your host in securing another exchange (if it’s favorable) and it will let you rise in the ranks by showing you are a participating member which means more potential for others to contact you.
This will keep others in the loop and the communities thriving with practical information.
One last thing: Don’t be a dick.
If you want just plain, cheap accommodation, and your gonna treat these places like a dirty dorm room- you better just stay in a dirty dorm room. Shoestring or budget travel isn’t always about trying to find the cheapest option in any given place. In that case eat your way through Europe on Big Macs.
I’m talking about freedom. Freedom to be creative enough to plan your own adventure- not your neighbors. 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 at home- 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”- keep working that day job.
(Image credits: 1,5,6: Cristiana Orlando/ 2,3,4: Alyssia Lazin Kapic via Exchange Away.)