Like everyone, I love to travel, but loving it so much can have a pretty negative effect on my bank balance. Over the past few years, I've found a variety of ways to cut my travel costs, including seeking out the best cheap and free accommodation ideas. Here are three of my favorites!

1. Couchsurfing

No, it's not a dangerous new activity amongst drunk college students. Couchsurfing is a worldwide platform connecting travelers who need a place to stay with travelers who want to meet new people and are willing to put them up. This isn't just a great way to travel for free, it's also a fantastic opportunity to have a local show you around their city, practice the language, and make new friends.

  • Just visit couchsurfing.org and build your profile. Then, you can search for matches in the locations you're visiting.
  • Couchsurfing is totally free to join, and hosts won't charge you a penny for accommodation—although it's nice to pay them back by offering to cook a meal.
  • Don't be put off by the name; many hosts on Couchsurfing.org have spare rooms with beds so you don't have to slum it on a sofa.

2. Housesitting

Housesitting is my favorite new way to travel. I'm actually writing this from a five bedroom, five bathroom enormous house in Winchester where I'm staying for free in sheer luxury (think four poster beds and walk-in rainforest showers).

People with nice houses tend not to want to leave them empty while they’re on holiday. So, many will offer free accommodation to someone willing to keep an eye on things and maybe take care of a pet or water the plants. Although this best suits singles or couples, some housesits also accept families with kids.

Trustedhousesitters.com is the biggest housesitting site, with the most amount of sits worldwide—especially in the UK, France, Spain, USA, Australia and NZ—although, there are plenty of other locations. Membership starts at $7.49 a month, so even if you only housesit for three weeks out of the year that works out at just $4.28 per night for accommodation—a bargain compared to most cheap hotels!

Here's how to get started

  • Build a profile with some photos and information about yourself and your pet/home experience, then search for sits that suit you and start applying. Feel free to view my profile for inspiration.
  • My tip for applying: make each message personal to the homeowner. I got both my recent sits purely by doing just that. Mention the pets by name, tailor the message to show that you read their profile, and crack a joke—even a bad one will help break the ice!

3. Work for a free stay

Not so appealing to a holiday-maker, perhaps, but long-term travelers might want to consider working in exchange for free accommodation as a way to extend their trip, and give something back to the community they're visiting.

Work to stay at hostels

Many hostels will let you stay for free in exchange for working a few days a week. Some hostels will even throw in free meals, or drinks at the bar—saving you a ton of cash! Generally, the only way to find a stint is to email the hostel directly or just ask when you're there, but sometimes you’ll find positions on sites like HostelJobs.Net or HelpX.net.

Usually, it's fairly un-glamorous stuff like changing beds or working at the bar—but if you have a particular skill hostels need, you might be able to strike a more interesting deal. I met a couple in Colombia who were staying in hostels for a week at a time, totally free, in exchange for filming and editing a professional video of the hostel for marketing.

WWOOF.net

WWOOFing, which stands for the long-winded title World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is a service that matches people looking for work with farmers who are looking for laborers. You don't need any farm experience, just a willingness to work.

Alongside free accommodation, you'll also gain new skills, make new friends, and pick up some of the local language. Membership isn't international; you have to buy a membership from each WWOOFing country's organization—which usually costs around $30 US per year—but it's perfect for an extended stay in a particular country.

This is a guest post by Emily from London, U.K.