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Travel for free? Five alternative holiday concepts

With house or pet sitting, house exchange, holiday for a hand or couch surfing, you can not only save costs on your holiday accommodation, but also live like real locals. Our author Ina introduces you to five alternative concepts in which vacation is not only compensated for by money.

Traveling to a foreign country, learning a new language, seeing the world from the perspective of the locals and leaving the smallest possible ecological footprint: more and more people want to spend their vacation authentically and with a clear conscience. On our Good Travel platform you will find numerous accommodations from hosts who enable you to do just that. But not everyone has the necessary change for a sustainable holiday in a hotel, guesthouse or holiday apartment. And some people are even horrified by the idea of ​​having nothing to do in their free time. With the following alternative holiday concepts you can travel cheaply, authentically and sustainably.

1. Cheap holidays with house and pet sitting

Some people live in places where others would like to vacation. With house sitting, this becomes a reality. Because many homeowners want someone to look after their home when they go away. In return for free living space, they expect their guests to treat their house with care and, for example, water the garden regularly. If looking after pets is also part of the deal, then it is also referred to as pet sitting. Both concepts require very clear agreements in advance, honest communication about the respective expectations and also a healthy dose of trust. Both sides maintain their profiles on the common mediation platforms (see below) and are rated based on the number of sits. In addition, it is not uncommon for the pet owners and sitters to spend a few days together in the house before the handover.

Where can you find house and pet sitting offers and how much does it cost?


2. Free vacation via home exchange

Unlike house sitting, home exchange involves house or apartment owners exchanging their premises for a specific period of time. This creates trust because both sides are taking the same risk during this time. Just like with house sitting, animal and garden care can also be part of the exchange. However, it may not be so easy to find a match whose personal interests and vacation timing match. That's why some platforms offer a hybrid of house sitting and house exchange. You become part of a community where you earn points every night you make your house available to other members. These points can then be exchanged for overnight stays within the entire community.

How do you find the perfect home exchange match and how much does it cost?

Free vacation via home exchange

3. Help desired: Vacation in exchange for assistance

With vacation for a hand, travelers help their hosts for a few hours a week and in return are allowed to stay with them for free. As a rule, the hosts are present during the stay and also want to interact with their guests. Depending on the agreement, meals are also included in the deal. What exactly the traveler's consideration consists of is agreed individually. Example activities include gardening, helping with harvesting, DIY, caring for animals, children or seniors, cooking or housework. As with housesitting, meaningful profiles and clear agreements in advance are the key to a successful holiday in hand.

Where can you find suitable hosts for a holiday on hand and how much does it cost?

  • (Cost: $49 for individuals, $59 for couples)
  • (free of charge)
  • (Focus on organic farming - each country has its own national organization which charges a membership fee. The fee per organization is 15 - 40 euros. There is also a cheap option for partner or family memberships)
Work Away

4. Sailing along: hand against bunk

Hand against bunk is a special form of holiday against hand. Guests are allowed to sail on a boat and in return take part in the work on board. This can include active sailing and, on longer crossings, taking on day and night watches, but depending on the agreement it also includes any repairs that may need to be made or cooking for the crew. There is usually an on-board cash register into which all members pay and from which the costs of fuel, port fees and food are paid. Long-term sailors often advertise on the platforms in order to earn some extra money. But be careful: such offers are not always legal. In most countries, private individuals are not allowed to bring paying guests on board without a separate license.

Where can I find offers for bunk against hand?

Sail along hand against coje

5. Stay overnight for free with Couchsurfing etc

Couchsurfing is a community within which private individuals offer travelers a place to sleep for free. This doesn't necessarily have to be the couch in the living room, but can also be a mattress on the floor, a spare guest room or even an entire floor with its own bathroom. Direct contact with the hosts offers the opportunity for a particularly authentic holiday experience from which friendships for life can develop. also offers a verification function where address, telephone number and ID details are verified. There are now several providers, but has the most members.

On which platforms can you find Couchsurfing hosts and how much does it cost?

Couch Surfing

How sustainable is vacation versus hand-holding, house sitting, couch surfing and house swapping?

Finally, a few thoughts on the topic of sustainability. Alternative holiday accommodation, which can be found through house and pet sitting, couch surfing, house exchange or holiday for hand portals, conserves resources. Because all concepts use spaces that already exist. This is much more sustainable than, for example, the construction of new bed castles, which in the worst case scenario destroys ecosystems and seals off once biodiverse areas. However, these alternative concepts are not a replacement, but rather a complement to commercial tourism. As many of our Good Travel hosts prove, commercial tourism can also be designed gently, considerately and in harmony with nature. The following Good Travel accommodations sometimes also offer the opportunity to go on holiday for help or offer very cheap overnight stays:

Although tourism has negative social and environmental impacts in many places, operators of hotels, guesthouses and holiday apartments generate income that they can use to support local jobs and businesses. On the other hand, especially with vacation against hand, it can happen that potential local jobs are replaced by volunteer work. Therefore, take a close look at the hosts’ profiles and read their reviews carefully. If you find advertisements that give the impression that someone is just looking to hire free workers, stay away from them.

Further article recommendations: Five affordable places for families and Five places under a hundred euros

© Photos: unsplash / Cecilia Medina, Jamie Street, Alexandra Gorn; pexels / Zen Chung, Oliver Sjöström, Ketut Subiyanto

Ina is a digital nomad and travels through Europe by land and sea. The journalist is always on the lookout for special places for Good Travel, philosophizes about travel in her column, takes photographs, makes music and writes articles on all kinds of environmental and sustainability topics.


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