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Travel Top Stories

4 surprising places you can stay for free around the world

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 13/05/2017 Aimée Grant Cumberbatch
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One of the most common conundrums when it comes to travel is how to make your funds match up with your expectations. You may feel like you deserve the five-star treatment but when your budget is, well, budget, sacrifices have to be made.

Sure, you could survive three weeks on a hand-luggage allowance or sleep on the beach, but what if you could stay somewhere amazing for an absolute steal?

We’ve found four either entirely or almost free ways of making your destination-based dreams a reality.

A picturesque Parisian bookshop

If you haven’t heard of Shakespeare and Company, chances are you’ve seen it - it must be one of the most Instagrammed places in Paris. Its higgledy-piggledy interiors, literary heritage and photogenic shop front make it something of a blogger's mecca. But less-well known is the fact that you can stay in this little shop in the Latin Quarter for free. There is a catch though; you have to have a way with words. Shakespeare and Company welcomes authors, playwrights and poets, called Tumbleweeds, to rest their heads in its cosy corners. In exchange guests must read a book a day (so you may have to brush up on your speed reading), spend a few hours working in the shop and complete a one-page autobiography for its archives.

You’ll either stay in the flat above or in a bed nestled among the books, so if you don’t love the smell of a dusty tome, this might not be for you. If you do decide to stay, you’ll be in good company, the shop has hosted 30,000 Tumbleweeds in its time and the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Anaïs Nin and Dave Eggers have either frequented or lodged at the shop. Just imagine the TripAdvisor reviews they’d have left…

A monastery in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley 

Ever sat at your desk wondering if you should give up your hectic stress-filled life, donate all your possessions to charity and move halfway around the world to become a monk? While that might be a bit extreme, a monastery stay could be the ideal opportunity to get in touch with your spiritual side. There are monasteries around the world that offer basic accommodation for travellers in exchange for a small donation. These trips shouldn’t be taken lightly, however, as it goes without saying that monasteries are deeply sacred spaces and all guests will be required to respect the rules of the religion while there. This may mean not consuming alcohol, sticking to separate sleeping areas for men and women, and covering up. However, good behaviour will be rewarded with an incredibly rich cultural experience and (almost) free accommodation. Well worth it we say.

Try Kopan Monastery, located in the ancient Buddhist town of Boudhanath in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley, the San Giorgio Monastery on the waterside in Venice (the monastery has neither website nor email so call +39 041 241 4717 for availability) or check out monasterystays.com.

An eco-village of tree-houses in the Dominican Republic

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If you’re willing to exchange your skills for a stay then Worldpackers could be the scheme for you. While many of the locations require manual labour like farm work or cleaning, there are some locations that are looking for social media skills, teaching help or musical talent. So not only is it a great way to cut your travelling costs, it could boost your CV at the same time.

Some of the most popular locations include an eco-village of tree houses in the Domincan Republic which offers free meals, laundry, and bikes in exchange for providing a few hour’s music each night, or a horse therapy institute in Brazil where guests can enjoy holistic therapies, hiking tours and free food in exchange for digital and social media savvy. All those who travel with Worldpackers will also benefit from their travel insurance, so you can enjoy your time away with real peace of mind.

A luxury beach villa in Ko Samui, Thailand 

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Most people’s perception of home exchanges probably comes from The Holiday. But far from just a rom-com plot, a home swap is a practical way to minimise accommodation costs. Plus it’s ideal for Londoners as you might be surprised by how many people are looking for a bolthole in the capital.

Home swap sites are bit like Airbnb without the fees, but remember with most schemes your home will need to roughly match up in size, location and cost with that of the person you’ll be swapping with. Something to bear in mind before you request a stay in a sprawling LA mansion if you live in a 1-bed in Leytonstone. However, there is some hope - home exchange website Love Home Swap allows you to build up points by letting others stay in your home without swapping, which you can then put towards somewhere amazing. It’s particularly handy if you already have a holiday planned, divide your time between homes or are blessed with especially understanding family and friends. Some of Love Home Swap’s best properties include a luxury beach villa in Thailand’s Ko Samui with on-site chef and infinity pool, a waterfront penthouse in New York’s West Village with views of the Hudson river, and a home on a seaside golf estate in Cape Town.  

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