When it comes to places to stay, some people can overlook the less conventional options. Besides saving a ton of money, opting for free digs also opens opportunities for new friendships, fascinating encounters and hilarious stories. When we visited Perth, Australia, we found these things in abundance. Here we present a guide to three of our favourite alternatives to hostels, hotels and Airbnb. House sitting House sitting can seem like quite a strange concept. Also known as pet sitting (most “assignments” include animals to take care of), the deal is that homeowners find trustworthy strangers to come and take care of their property (and pets) while they go on vacation. Fido/Felix aren’t sent to expensive, stressful kennels, the owners get peace of mind knowing everything is well-cared for and and you get a free place to stay! There are numerous websites that allow hosts and sitters alike to sign up, log in and search for a good match. We used https://www.aussiehousesitters.com.au/ to find gigs in Western Australia, but there are global ones too, such as https://www.trustedhousesitters.com and https://www.nomador.com/. Sites usually charge a reasonable yearly membership fee, giving you access to potential house-sits all over Australia (and with the latter two, the rest of the world). It’s also important to get some reliable, sterling references, so that homeowners can see you’re the ideal candidates to look after their pets. We recommend starting with a few from friends whose animals you’ve cared for, then after a couple of actual assignments you should have the ideal pet-sitter’s resume; it won’t be long before homeowners are contacting you to come and sit for them! It’s worth noting that this exchange relies of faith in humanity rather than any sort of monetary transaction. We’ve heard of sites that charge both homeowners and sitters, but in our experience, it’s better to avoid accepting payment as it changes the dynamics of the relationship. This deal is all about trust and mutual generosity, not a service just to gain free digs. A word of advice: Try organising Skype conversations with your potential sits too, as it gives you a better idea of what to expect. We speak from experience when we say that not all house-sitting assignments are a walk in the park… But generally speaking, pet sitting has been a wonderful, fruitful experience for the two of us and in our blog post “Why pet sitting is perfect for travelling animal lovers”, we go into greater detail about why we still look after animals all over the world. Couch surfing Another way to make new friends and have a more soulful travelling experience is to try couch surfing. Some people claim that the website and its concept plateaued in the mid-2000s, but we recently did it in Perth and can vouch for the community’s size and popularity both there and the rest of the world. Travellers can sign up to http://www.couchsurfing.com and create a profile, then search the database for thousands of like-minded people who are offering a place to stay, free of charge. The accommodation isn’t always a couch, either; most hosts offer a private room to sleep in, and have had so many guests stay in their home that they are very well prepared when it comes to hospitality for their sofa-surfers. To bag a decent place to crash, it’s crucial to have an honest, interesting profile and the intention of genuinely wanting to engage with the host. Members want to feel that they’re inviting someone fun, interesting and considerate into their home, so a blank or vague profile is bound to be unappealing. Another thing to remember is to engage with them in online conversation before you show up, asking questions related to their own profile and travel experiences, to see if you would get along in person. It’s important to read their profiles carefully, as some hosts have certain stipulations, such as individual guests only, or a specific gender preference. If all this sounds a little bit kinky, you’re right to be apprehensive. There are a few couch surfer hosts who besmirch the concept with a hint of seediness, although it will be fairly obvious from their profiles if they are looking for more than just a conversation about travel. Look out for “naked sleepers” or “share a bed” in the tags, and stay well clear if sexual adventures aren’t a part of your agenda. Site moderation also helps surfers to stay safe, and there’s a whole section on the website devoted to it, so it’s simple to find the right kind of social experience for you. We stayed with a friendly, fascinating German couple who lived in downtown Perth. They had hosted hundreds of surfers and provided us with a very comfortable private room and even our own bathroom, which goes to prove how well-equipped and generous some hosts can be. We learned about their work in Alice Springs, their conservation efforts all over the globe and got to know Perth a little better thanks to their guidance as locals, which is what couch surfing is truly all about. WWOOFing/WorkAway If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty and chipping in to help with physical tasks, this third method of finding free accommodation in Western Australia will certainly suit you. Whether you want to help an eco-tourism company in Broome or try landscape gardening next to the Margaret River, there’s a variety of work to be found in Western Australia. With websites like http://www.wwoof.com.au/ (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) and https://www.workaway.info/ travellers can find ideal hosts to live with in exchange for a few hours of work per day. Like couch surfing and house sitting, registration with the websites allows you to search a database of ideal locations, accommodation, hosts and employment. From large organic farms to private smallholdings, you can help people who don’t have enough workers, or those who can’t do the work themselves, such as the disabled or the elderly – it’s a very positive, productive way of travelling. Our note of caution with working in exchange for accommodation is to be sure you understand the work involved. This isn’t just so that you are sure of fulfilling your requested duties, but also to safeguard against employers who might take advantage of their free workers! Fortunately, the websites we’ve listed in this post list vetted hosts and offer plenty of advice and support, which should protect you from any unscrupulous farmers. With a great profile, excellent communication and the right attitude, “WWOOFers” and “Workawayers” can find meaningful encounters with the locals of an area. If walking someone else’s dogs on the beach, going on graffiti trails with couch surfer hosts or picking oranges near Perth sounds like a unique way to spend a vacation, take a look at the links in this post and give it a go. You’ll be rewarded with more than just a free roof over your head. Byline: This post was written by Mark J Newton, one half of the artistic duo the Escape Artists 11:11. He and his partner Nate Evans have been living a nomadic lifestyle since 2014 but have only recently begun to document their travels. To learn more about life and work while being location-independent (and what 11:11 means to them!), head to their site www.escapeartists1111.co.uk.