Want to travel for cheap? Consider these seven places to stay for free—more or less.
As varied as vacations can be, they all usually have at least one thing in common: not working. But what if for only a few hours of labor—tending a farm, volunteering at a local school, walking a dog—we could make a positive impact on a community while saving money and experiencing a bit of local culture along the way? Where do we clock in?
HippoHelp launched in 2017 as a free, map-based web platform that connects travelers with farms, hostels, and retreats around the world looking to trade room and board for hands-on help. There are thousands of good options, but we like Moulin2Roues, a bed and breakfast located in an old water mill on the banks of the Thouet River in western France. Spend a few hours helping with housekeeping, gardening, or restoring the mill, then take to two wheels and explore La Vélo Francette and Le Thouet à Vélo, two beloved cycling routes that wind through the countryside from one village to the next.
Volunteer to help feed, clean, or walk the hundreds of adoptable pets at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and you’ll get a 10 percent discount on lodging at the nearby Canyons Boutique Hotel (from $159). You’ll have easy access to Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks, or bring your sand skis and head to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, which has 3,730 acres of perfect drifts ready to ride. And if you just happen to adopt a dog during your stay, the hotel has pet-friendly rooms.
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
The National Park Service has countless volunteer positions available, like campground host, visitor services, and trail maintenance. Not all come with free lodging or camping, but some do, like being a volunteer winter Nordic patroller on Mount Rainier. You’ll do part-time or intermittent work like marking trails, helping visitors, and assisting search and rescue operations in exchange for cabin stays in the park’s Longmire historic district.
Helpstay.com is another search site for room-and-board trades. Among the listings, you’ll find gigs like helping at a honeybee sanctuary in Maui or building an off-the-grid yoga retreat in Alabama. We like the offering from Robert Clay Vineyards, a winery in the sleepy Texas Hill Country town of Mason that brings in dozens of volunteers to prune, tuck vines, tackle weeds, and harvest and process grapes in exchange for a bed in a 30-foot travel trailer on the property. After work, you can paddle or take a swim in the nearby Llano River.
Alexandria, New Hampshire
The Appalachian Mountain Club leans on volunteers in many capacities. You can work as a naturalist, leading nature walks or astronomy tours from the White Mountain Huts, or harvest firewood in the Berkshires. Many volunteers receive free or discounted housing and can bring a guest at a reduced price. In October, join a weekend of trail maintenance work at the AMC’s Cardigan Lodge, near Alexandria, New Hampshire, and you’ll pay just $60 for lodging and meals.
Chugchilán, Cotopaxi, Ecuador
The Black Sheep Inn is an eco-lodge nestled 10,400 feet up the Ecuadorian Andes. The private or shared rooms start at just $35, but you can earn discounted rates with a bit of volunteer work. Bring donations like books or old laptops for the library in Chugchilán, or help out in a classroom, hand out school supplies, or pitch in at the medical clinic. Yoga teachers can get free lodging in exchange for leading sessions in the on-site studio. There are hiking trails from the lodge and a newly revamped sauna and hot tub.
Craigieburn Ski Area, Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand
At this no-frills ski hill on New Zealand’s South Island, you’ll get ski-in, ski-out accommodations, plus breakfast and a three-course dinner, for a very affordable rate (from $63). The catch? All guests are required to partake in light housekeeping duties. You’ll be assigned a chore, like vacuuming, cleaning dishes, or helping the chef prepare dinner. Your chores won’t interfere with your ability to score deep powder, though, and by day you’ll ride diesel tractor–powered rope tows to 350 acres of steep, inbounds terrain and endless off-piste backcountry bowls.