Staying at The Free Travel House

It’s the catch-22 of traveling. As young adults, we’re encouraged to take off and explore the world before we saddle ourselves with responsibilities that make it difficult to head off to Mongolia and stay in a yurt for a year. Unfortunately, as young adults, we don’t have any money. So we eat bread and cheese, hitchhike, scour the Internet for cheap flights. We camp, we stay in hostels, we brave the couchsurfing scene, and now there’s the free travel house.

No, really. A free travel house. It’s a thing. I first noticed it on a Lonely Planet forum over the summer. A message posted by Lazar from the Serbia Travel Club advertised a free travel house in Istanbul. Intrigued, I went to the website to figure out the catch.

There isn’t one.

The project, aptly dubbed “The Travel House,” aims to “connect travelers from all over the world and thus contribute to building a global travel culture.” The organizers chose Istanbul as the ideal destination for their travel experiment and, after a little fundraising, rented a large empty apartment smackdab in the center of Istanbul.

The apartment, with its limited wifi connection, shared kitchen and bathroom, and sparse furniture, is the perfect spot for budget travelers to spread out their sleeping bags for the night.

Inspired by The Academy of Free Travel’s “House for Everybody,” the Serbia Travel Club’s success in Istanbul has emboldened them to try it again next summer in a different location. The Academy of Travel, a Russian hitchhiking club dedicated to organizing large-scale hitchhiking expeditions, has been organizing free travel houses since 2006. Open for two-four months, the travel houses are available for free to any traveler that happens upon them. Previous locations have included Cairo, Vladivostok, Arkhangelsk, Osh, Istanbul, and Dushanbe.

Given that both projects rent apartments in residential areas, guests at the “House for Everybody” and “The Travel House” are expected to keep quiet, refrain from drugs and alcohol, and basically keep a low profile in order to avoid disturbing residents.

Travelers have to fill out a basic application in order to confirm that there is space and they are willing to abide by house rules. If you run into housemates that would rather not abide by those rules, just wip out your giant Wenger Swiss Army Knife to help them rethink the situation. Although The Serbia Travel Club requested donations in advance on their website, travelers are not expected to pay any money in order to stay. Of course, if you’ve got some cash to kick-down, it’s most welcome, but if you’re on a tight travel budget, no worries. You won’t be turned away.

Both organizations advocate the importance of creating a meeting point for travelers that focuses on sharing knowledge and exchanging experiences rather than the isolated (and expensive) travel experience that often goes hand in hand with staying in hotels or sticking to the beaten path of guided tour groups.

Curious to try it out? Visit The Serbia Travel Club website to read their blog about the Istanbul travel house and to stay informed on the location of next year’s travel house.

By Nikki Hodgson