Judging by the huge number of hits on my January post about how to do a home swap, I gather the live-like-a-local trend is real and growing. So for those who aren’t keen on sleeping in cookie-cutter hotel rooms, who think variety is the spice of travel, or who simply need to travel on a shoestring, here are four more suggestions for how to score cheap sleeps in Canada and beyond. (Note: I haven’t used any of these services yet myself, but I’ve heard good buzz from other travellers…so far, no axe murderers it seems…)

Airbed & Breakfast

How it works: This is like bunking at a friend’s house: in return for a small fee, you get a bed for the night–and it might be nothing more than an air mattress–and breakfast in the morning. It can be unbelievably cheap: someone in Calgary was recently offering to host an overnight guest for a mere $10. According to the site, you can currently find a bed in 718 cities in 71 cities.

Good to know: Hosts post photos of their digs at the site, and both hosts and guests can post feedback after a stay. 

Help Exchange

How it works: This free service lets you swap labour for room and board at farms, ranches, lodges, hostels and even sailing boats. You might, for example, give a hand with the planting at an organic farm in Quebec, or help with the housekeeping at a B&B on one of BC’s Gulf Islands.

Good to know: Make no mistake, you’re signing up for a working holiday. But you probably won’t be expected to muck in for more than a few hours each day and you can stay for several months.


How it works: This is so called peer-to-peer rentals: locals in nine North American cities, including Toronto and Vancouver, offer more than 1,000 places to put your head. Rates vary from a few bucks to a couple hundred, depending on whether you’re buying the use of a room, an apartment or an entire house. 

Good to know: You’ll pay a small service charge (around $10 CDN) to the site, but you do get something for that: Roomorama won’t release the rental fee to the host after you’ve checked in. And you can “shout out” your wish-list on the site to request a room in a certain destination on certain days.

Update 2/16/09: Global Freeloaders

How it works: This one came on to my radar while I was clicking through various links on my pal Laura Byrne Paquet’s excellent live-like-a-local blog. It’s a completely free service that’s as easy as: 

1. Sign up.

2. Introduce yourself to, and request accommodation from, the other people registered on the site. (The site collects and forwards your e-mail–sort of like it works with Craigslist.) It’s an international site, so you can search by country and city for listings.


3. Sit back and wait for a reply. 

Good to know: This service relies on “a balance of give and take” according to the site–so if you’re not prepared to return the hospitality within six months of signing up, you’re strongly urged to reconsider. When posting, be as specific as possible about what you’re prepared to offer a guest: just a bed for a couple of nights? the grand neighbourhood tour? an open-fridge policy?The goal here is hospitality, not hurt feelings…

And hey, if you’ve had experiences with any of these sites, I’d sure appreciate it if you’d share your comments here…