Tips for finding cheap or free accommodation in Italy
How to save on travel costs while not cutting the fun and quality when in Italy? By reducing the costs for accommodation to a minimum or getting it completely for free, and keeping your money for the things that really make your Italy trip special.
All of the options mentioned below correspond to a way of traveling that is very much in line with the Slow Italy philosophy as they promote cross-cultural understanding, by allowing travelers to get a much closer look into the local culture and get a “feel” for the places they visit. They get the possibility to connect with a local family and in some cases also the opportunity to participate in a think tank or restoration project, doing something useful and meaningful for a local community, in varying situations and surroundings. Most of these travel alternatives are not only budget-conscious, but also an environmentally friendly and sustainable mode of travel that makes maximum use of existing resources without requiring new infrastructures, specifically built for tourists.
100% Free accommodation
1. Bartering for accommodation
The website Barattobb.it allows guests to barter goods and services for their stay. Under the motto “Barter instead of cash” the Italian group of www.bed-and-breakfast.it initially launched a yearly Barter Week in November (now in its fifth edition) to promote B&Bs that agree to hosts guests in exchange for all sorts of goods and services. Following up on the success of the initiative, the organization decided to create the website Barattobb.it, listing B&Bs that work on the principle of barter all year round. Instead of paying for their stay guests can trade almost anything from homemade marmalade or fresh pastries, over offering a wine tasting lesson, a photo reportage of the B&B, to doing small repair works or leaving a wall painting. Notice that it is the host who defines what can be traded, but many B&Bs offer at least two or three different options. Currently, there are about 35 B&Bs in Rome, 8 in Florence and Venice, 6 in Naples and a few in Milano and Turin which operate on this principle throughout the year.
Couchsurfing involves getting in touch with like-minded internet users who are happy to offer a spare bed (or couch) in their house for a few days so you can stay in their city or town, for free. Couchsurfing currently has 6,857 people living in Italy interested in hosting a guest on their couch.
Globalfreeloaders is about give and take. Contrary to Couchsurfing.com at Globalfreeloaders you can’t be one without the other. If you want to use the network as a guest you will be asked in return to also become a GlobalFreeloader host, willing to accommodate other travelers, completely free of charge, over whatever period you are comfortable with, but at a fair frequency.
A unique feature of GlobalFreeloaders is the ability to mass-mail the people in a given city, while the expectations of CouchSurfing hosts is to expect an individually tailored message. GlobelFreeloaders currently has 940 Italian members.
4. Hospitality Club
Hospitality Club aims to bring travelers in touch with people in the place they visit, and to give “locals” a chance to meet people from other cultures in order to increase intercultural understanding and strengthen the peace on our planet. Hospitality Club seems closer in spirit to GlobalFreeloaders than CouchSurfing while still allowing for more detailed profiles and people to be messaged individually.
Hospitality club currently has over 21,000 hosts listed in Italy.
Bewelcome.org present themselves as “a culture crossing network that lets you share a place to sleep, meet up and help others on their way.” They presently have 445 members in Italy.
6. Participate in an international artist residency
The Rockefeller foundation Bellagio Center on Lake Como is unique place in Italy that offers scholars, artists, thought leaders, policymakers and practitioners free room and board together with a serene work environment for disciplined work, reflection, and collegial engagement. Application requirements and residencies vary depending on whether you solicit as a scholar, creative artist, or practitioner. The acceptance is very selective, but still, it is worth applying to get a chance to work in a wonderful environment on the shore of Lake Como, surrounded by diverse, inspiring artists who all seek to foster positive change. uninterrupted by the usual professional and personal demands.
Bellagio art residencies are for composers, fiction and non-fiction writers, playwrights, poets, video/filmmakers, and visual artists. Writing residencies are for researchers in the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and other academic disciplines, including related social, political, economic, cultural and gender issues. Practitioner residencies are open to professionals in fields relevant to the Rockefeller Foundation’s issue areas.
The next deadline for the Bellagio Center competition for creative artists is December 1, 2011 for a possible residency between mid-August and mid-December, 2012. The next deadline for the Bellagio Center competition for scholars is December 1, 2011 for a possible residency between mid-August and mid-December, 2012. Practitioner applications are accepted on a rolling admissions basis.
6. Home exchange programs
There are many home exchange programs and some of them offer two types of exchange: home exchange and hospitality exchange.
Home exchangers trade their homes, condominiums or apartments at a time that is convenient to both parties, while hospitality exchangers host each other as a guest in their homes within their family. Often, home exchangers will include their cars as part of the package.
Home exchanges can be surprising. Don’t think that you need to own a superb villa in an exclusive setting to participate in a home exchange program. The wildest combinations are possible. An Italian couple swapped their villa for a RV in Oregon because they had always wanted to tour the U.S. in true nomadic style.
HomeExchange.com is one of the home exchange programs which offers both home exchange and hospitality exchange options. They currently have 1,769 listings in Italy. You just have to pay a membership fee which amounts to 9.95$/month on a yearly basis.
Exchangehomes.com also has a few offers for home exchanges with Italy.
gti-home-exchange.com Green Theme International Home Exchange offers, apart from the regular listing, also a choice of home owners who have made the green pledge and chosen for an eco-lifestyle. Green Theme International Home Exchange currently has 71 offers in Italy.
Free accommodation with a few constraints
Finding a homesitting job on one of the many websites bringing together homesitters and home owners is another way to find free accommodation in exchange for a little work or few constraints, such as ensuring some hours of on-site presence, especially at night. Just Google ‘homesitting’ to find some of the homesit websites bringing together homesitters and home owners.
Typically you receive accommodation in return for which the homeowner receives your services of housekeeping (which usually implies that you spend all nights on-site as well as an agreed number of hours during the day), minor garden maintenance and loving care for their pets. You pay for your own living expenses, toll calls and food. The homeowner pays ongoing costs and of course food for the animals. Sits can range from long weekends to several weeks or months.
Accommodation in exchange for work
1. Work Away
Workaway.info promote fair exchange between budget travellers, language learners or culture seekers and families, individuals or organizations who are looking for help with a range of varied and interesting activities. A few hours honest help per day in exchange for food and accommodation and an opportunity to learn about the local lifestyle and community, with friendly hosts in varying situations and surroundings. Workaway.info currently have 205 hosts listed in Italy, ranging from farmhouses in the countryside to charming houses close to the Italian lakes.
2. Help and Host
Helpandhost.net present themselves as “the web’s number one volunteer work help exchange system, a new way to find free accommodation in exchange for work for everyone, volunteers, backpackers, students, gap years and anyone looking for a different type of holiday.” They presently have 6 hosts listed in Italy.
Accommodation in exchange for a small fee
An excellent solution for travelers who want to get in touch with the local culture and spend a night (or a week) with a local family. Often the cost is cheaper than staying at a ho(s)tel, and the experience is a lot more interesting.
Airbnb offer all types of accommodation from a typical bed-and-breakfast through a tree-house, yurt, or tipi to a boat, apartment or chalet. Prices vary according to the type of accommodation and the region of Italy, but worth always checking
3. Staying in a convent, monastery or sanctuary guest house
Prices and offer can vary greatly ranging from luxurious rooms to spartan accommodation, and several don’t even have a set room rate and will just ask for a minimum offer. Some like guests to participate in the monks’ life and help in the everyday tasks, while others offer a hotel-like service. Monasterystays.com is an on-line booking service for lodging in authentic monasteries and convents in Italy, where you can check for offers and availabilities.
Written November 11, 2011, updated November 18, 2013