Paying to sleep sucks.
It’s one of those annoying, daily recurring costs you can’t seem to get around. Just like you have to eat each day, you have to sleep each night. Well, maybe every second night if you’re a hard-core party animal who can stay awake for 48 hours and still function like a decent human being.
But for now, I’m going to assume you’re like me and enjoy a good night’s rest.
When you’re backpacking and trying to keep your expenses to a minimum, staying in fancy hotels is unlikely to happen. Unless you’re in a budget friendly country like Laos, Bolivia or Romania. But in Switzerland, hotel prices will bring you to tears more than chopping an onion that’s come straight out of the ground does.
Luckily, there are several options to rest your head in Switzerland without breaking the bank. Here’s what they are.
1.1 Hostels in general
Hostels are an all-time classic with backpackers. They’re an excellent place to meet people, share crazy travel stories, get advice from fellow travellers or finally tackle that overdue laundry so you can stop running around with flies following you everywhere.
But most of all, hostels allow you to save a considerable amount of money since you’ll be sharing a room with other people. Usually, a dorm sleeps between four and ten people and you can either choose to stay in a gender separated or a mixed dorm.
Hostels are an all-time classic with backpackers. They’re an excellent place to meet people, share crazy travel stories and much more…
What I love about hostels is the free stuff they usually come with. Be that a weekly rooftop barbecue, free breakfast, the odd yoga class, semi-fast wifi, a ticket to use public transport or a free walking tour around town.
Most hostels aren’t too happy with people booking through sites that take a massive commission for each reservation. Which all of the ones mentioned above do. That’s why I often contact hostels directly and inquire about a discount for booking straight through them. More often than not, this has saved me a couple of bucks.
1.2 Hostels in Switzerland
The majority of Swiss hostels are part of the Hostelling International (HI) group. A night for members costs between 30 and 40 CHF, which is 7 CHF less than what non-members pay. This markdown alone is worth signing up for the annual fee of 33 CHF (or 22 CHF if you’re a student).
But the benefits don’t stop here. Being a member also entitles you to discounts on local activities, language courses, outdoor shops, bike rentals, rail passes with Interrail or Eurail and much more.
What I love about hostels is the free stuff they usually come with.
What strikes me most is what the HI Hostels in Davos, Valbella and St. Moritz offer. If you stay with them for more than one night during winter, you receive a free ski pass for the time of your visit. This includes free rides on all the gondolas, chairlifts, skilifts and even local public transport. Regardless of whether you’re a HI member or not.
A curse for the hotel industry – a blessing for everyone trying to find a cool place to stay.
If you travel with someone else or in a group, renting an apartment or a room with Airbnb can work out a lot cheaper than paying for several individual beds in a hostel or hotel.
Depending on who you’re staying with, this might also be a opportunity to get in touch with locals, pick their brains for insider information and not feel like the biggest tourist for a change.
You can book a bed either through the Airbnb website or their app. Both options require you to create an account and register your credit card.
For more information about Airbnb and tips on how to find a host, read this helpful article by Nomadic Matt.
3. Sleeping on straw
Sleeping on straw is a unique way to spend a night out of the ordinary. On the Agrotourismus website, you’ll find over 300 farms providing accommodation in their stables or homes. Offers include everything from a pillow on a bale of straw to a whole apartment.
Out of all the options on Agrotourismus, the most budget friendly version is sleeping on straw. Your host provides you with a cosy spot on a pile of hay or straw where you can set up camp for the night. Some places offer bedding or extra blankets, but some require you to bring your own sleeping bag.
Prices range between 20 and 45 CHF per person with breakfast (usually) included. Depending on where you are, this works out slightly cheaper than staying at a hostel. And the views you sometimes get on these farms are definitely worth taking a little detour out of the city.
Putting up your own tent is another great way to spend a night without hurting your wallet. Check the Swiss Camping website for the exact locations as well as the facilities each campsite comes with.
Prices range between 6 and 15 CHF per person. Some campsites are slightly pricier, especially in the Canton of Ticino during high season. But you shouldn’t have to pay more than 20 CHF anywhere.
If you’re a spontaneous traveller, you can just show up at a campsite without making a reservation. Usually, this shouldn’t be a problem. But if you travel during school break or public holidays, calling ahead to check if they have enough space is a good idea.
For those of you that have a soft spot for glamping, the TCS (Touring Club Switzerland) website is your best bet. TCS campsites offer teepees, yurts, pods, cabanas and much more. Since their website is in French, German or Italian, I’ll quickly run you through how to find your way around the site.
Clicking this link will take you straight to the glamping section. Browse the images to find the type of accommodation you’re after. If you click on one of the images, you’ll see which TCS campsites you’ll find them at. The more detailed description of the campsite and its facilities are in German, French or Italian again.
People often ask me if wild camping is allowed in Switzerland. And the answer is yes. Well, pretty much…
So if knowing the address is enough for you, you’re done here. Otherwise, head back to the (English) Swiss Camping website and search for the campsite you just found on TCS. Swiss Camping doesn’t tell you about any glamping options, but they have general information about the campsite and its surroundings.
Not surprisingly, glamping costs a lot more than “normal” camping does. Expect to pay between 35 and 50 CHF during low season and 40 to 60 CHF during high season. That’s if you’re sharing the costs with someone because you pay per night, not per person. So if you travel on your own, you’re better off choosing another option.
Like maybe sleeping in the middle of nowhere?
4.3 Wild camping
People often ask me if wild camping is allowed in Switzerland. And the answer is yes.
Well, pretty much. Depending on which canton or municipality you’d like to set up camp in, there may be certain restrictions. But if you follow these rules, you should be fine.
- Ask the tourist information, the municipal administration or a nearby farmer if you can camp in the area. You can never go wrong by talking to people and getting the latest updates on the current situation.
- Sometimes, the government imposes fire restrictions you need to be aware of. During dry times, lighting a fire is forbidden and the fines for violating this are high. As in several thousand Swiss Francs high.
- Stay away from natural reserves, hunting grounds or places with lots of wild animals. Not wild as in dangerous but wild as in birds, deer and other free-living animals. I’d also steer clear from cows and their calves. Believe it or not, but people have died from coming between protective cows and their little ones. Switzerland is not always as save as it seems…
- When you put up your tent, keep in mind that lightning, floodings, landslides and falling rocks could disturb your nighttime peace. The local tourism board will be able to help you out with that since they know the area.
- A closing word by the Swiss Alpine Club: Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints.
To my knowledge, that’s all you need to know about wild camping. Time to move on.
4.4. Camp in my garden
“Camp in my garden” is a concept that lets you stay in someone’s garden for free or for a small fee. By the looks of it, it’s not as popular in Switzerland as it is in other countries. I only found ten participating places but hey, better than nothing. 😃
You can search for a place on this interactive map. Once you’ve created your free account, you’re good to send a request to stay with someone. On every profile, you see which facilities are available, what the garden looks like and where exactly it is. Facilities range from a basic tap with cold water to hot showers, laundry service, free wifi and fire pits to already set up tents.
“Camp in my garden” is a concept that lets you stay in someone’s garden for free or for a small fee.
“Camp in my garden” is a concept that lets you stay in someone’s garden for free or for a small fee.
If you happen to give “camp in my garden” a go, please let me know how it went. I’ve never tried this since I only stumbled across it recently. But it sounds very promising.
Couchsurfing is probably the most popular player in the accommodation sharing community. It’s a platform where people all over the world offer up their couches, spare beds, hammocks or air mattresses for free. And here’s how it works:
- Choose “find host” and enter the city you’re going to stay in.
- Enter the dates if you know when exactly you’ll be in the area. If not, just leave this one open.
- Set the filter to Accepting Guests and Maybe Accepting Guests. If you’re happy just having coffee with someone, select Wants To Meet Up as well.
- If you prefer staying with a female / male, set the filter accordingly.
- Another filter I always set is the “Last Active” one. If someone hasn’t been online in a year, I usually don’t bother contacting them.
- Before getting in touch with someone, I also check their response rate. If they have a response rate of 43%, I know there’s a good chance they might not answer. This doesn’t keep me from sending them a request. It just means that I’ll contact different hosts to increase my chances of finding a host.
- Couchsurfing isn’t all about finding a free place to stay. It’s also about interacting with people and making friends. To increase your chances of getting accepted, avoid messages like “Hey, I’m coming to your city and looking for a free place to crash. Can I stay with you?” Make it a little more personal. Read their profile, refer to mutual interests and tell them a little bit about yourself. After all, those people are going to potentially open up their homes to you. So try to be a good guest from the get go.
- Sometimes, it takes a couple of days to receive a response so I recommend starting your search ahead of time. Finding a spontaneous host is possible, but your chances of finding one are higher if you give them a little more notice.
For more information about how to crush it on Couchsurfing, read this post by Nomadic Matt.
6. Staying with friends
And that leaves us with my favourite way to spend the night when I travel.
Before setting off for a trip, I always check if I know someone in the area. Catching up with people I met during previous travels and reminiscing about our time together on the road is always a winner.
Do you have any Swiss friends? Don’t be shy to get in touch with them. If you let them know you’re coming over, they’re going to give you one of the following answers:
- “You’re coming to Switzerland? Good for you. Have fun.” (Not exactly what you’re looking for, but fair enough.)
- “You’re coming to Switzerland? Awesome! Let’s meet up while you’re here.” (Sounds better already, doesn’t it?)
- “You’re coming to Switzerland? Nooooo way. Let me know when you’re here. You can stay with me.” (Jackpot! Spend some time with a friend AND save money on accommodation? Looks like you can have your cake and eat it, too. Happy days. Alright, I’ll shut up now.)
Ready, set, snooze…
See? Paying to sleep doesn’t always have to suck. Especially if you find a free or fairly cheap place. After all, most of us don’t fit into the I-can-stay-awake-for-48-hours-and-not-look-like-a-zombie category. So we need to keep making regular decisions about where we’re going to crash.