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.
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 as you know, Switzerland doesn't fall into that category.
Luckily, there are several options to save money on accommodation when you're in Switzerland.
1. Stay in hostels
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 smelly laundry so you can stop running around with flies following you everywhere.
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 dorm or in a mixed dorm.
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 public transport ticket or a free walking tour around town.
1.2 Hostels in Switzerland
The majority of Swiss hostels are part of the Hostelling International (HI) group. Members pay between 30 and 40 CHF per night, while non-members have to forge out an extra 7 CHF.
This markdown is definitely worth becoming a member. In Switzerland, a membership costs 33 CHF (22 CHF for students) per year. If you get the chance to become a member abroad, I suggest doing that instead. It's usually a lot cheaper than in Switzerland. I remember paying 5 € for mine in Luxembourg.
But the benefits don't stop with a cheaper bed. Being a member also entitles you to discounts on local activities, language courses, outdoor shops, bike rentals and even rail passes with Interrail* and Eurail*.
2. Sleep at an Airbnb
A curse for the hotel industry - a blessing for everyone trying to find a cool place to stay.
If you can split the costs with someone else, renting an apartment or a room with Airbnb can work out a lot cheaper than paying for individual beds in a hostel or hotel.
Depending on who you’re staying with, this might also be an opportunity to get in touch with locals, pick their brains for insider information and not feel like the biggest tourist for a change.
For more information about Airbnb and tips on how to find a host, read this helpful article by Nomadic Matt.
3. Sleep on straw
Sleeping on straw is a unique way to spend a night out of the ordinary. On Agrotourismus, 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.
The most budget friendly way to stay on a farm is definitely the sleeping on straw option. Some places offer bedding or extra blankets, but some require you to bring your own sleeping bag to get cozy on your bale of straw.
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.
4. Go camping
4.1 Swiss campsites in general
Putting up your own tent is another great way to spend a night without hurting your wallet. Check helpful sites like Swiss Camping or Swisscamps to find the exact location as well as the facilities each campsite comes with.
Prices range between 6 up to 20 CHF per person or per tent. Some campsites are slightly pricier, especially in the Canton of Ticino during the summer holidays.
If you're a spontaneous traveller, you can just show up at a campsite without making a reservation. However, if you travel during school break or on public holidays, calling ahead to check if they have a spot for you is a good idea.
If you like glamping, head to the TCS (Touring Club Switzerland) website. Those 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.
Use the link above and browse the images to find your preferred type of accommodation. If you click on one of the images, you’ll see which campsites offer them.
Detailed descriptions of each campsite and its facilities are in German, French or Italian again. 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 point out any glamping options, but it's where you find general information about the campsite and its surroundings.
Obviously, glamping costs a lot more than regular camping. Expect to pay between 35 and 50 CHF during low season and 40 to 60 CHF during high season.
4.3 Wild camping
People often ask me if wild camping is allowed in Switzerland. And the answer is technically yes.
Depending on which canton or municipality you’d like to set up camp in, there may be certain restrictions. But if you stick to the following points, you should be fine.
- Ask the tourist information, the municipal administration or a nearby farmer if you can camp in the area.
- 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 insanely high. As in several-thousand-bucks high.
- Stay away from natural reserves, hunting grounds or places with lots of wild animals. Not wild as in dangerous but wild as in deer and other free-living animals. I’d also steer clear from cows and their calves. Coming between a protective cow and their little one is never a good idea.
- When you put up your tent, keep in mind that lightning, flooding, 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."
5. Try Couchsurfing
Couchsurfing is probably the most popular player in the accommodation sharing community. It's a platform where people offer up their couches, spare beds, hammocks or air mattresses for free.
While becoming a member on Couchsurfing used to be free, you now need to pay a small fee to join. You can choose to pay 2 $ per month or 15 $ per year. One night on a couch in Switzerland and you'll have more than made up for this fee.
If you're not familiar with the concept of Couchsurfing, here's how it works:
- Head to Couchsurfing.com and register your account.
- Choose "find host” and enter the city you’re travelling to.
- If know, select your travel dates or 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 over 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 28%, I know there’s a good chance they might not answer. This doesn’t keep me from sending them a request. But I’ll contact different hosts to increase my chances of finding a host.
- Couchsurfing isn’t simply 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 about yourself. After all, those people are going to potentially open up their homes to you.
- Sometimes, it takes a couple of days to get 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. Join "Host a Sister"
I recently came across a charming little Facebook group called Host a Sister. As the name suggests, this one is only for women and it basically gives you a platform to offer a place to stay or to look for one.
It's a fantastic way to get in touch with people from all over the world and find a free couch, beed, hammock, tent or whatever else it might be that "your sister" is offering.
Give it a go and let me know how you like it.
7. Stay 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 likely 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? Cool! Let me know when you’re here. You can stay with me." (Jackpot! Spend some time with a friend AND save money at the same time? Happy days.)
Whichever of these ways to spend the night you pick, they're definitely going to be cheaper than staying in a fancy hotel. Except for maybe the glamping part.
If you have any additions to this list, please share it in the comments below.
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