How to Escape Winter Without Spending a Fortune

by Nora Dunn

Is the winter cold getting under your skin? Are tight finances holding you back from that sunny vacation? Here are seven ways you can escape the winter chill without too much money escaping your wallet.

Home Exchanges

Get free accommodation and enjoy the comforts of home—somebody else’s home that is—with a home exchange. By living like a local, you’ll save money on food (with a kitchen to cook in), hotels and, best of all, you’ll have a culturally authentic experience. Don’t forget the added perk of knowing somebody is taking similar care of your home (and possibly pets) in your absence. Not all home exchanges need to be simultaneous either; check out some home exchange information and resources.


House-sitting affords you all the benefits of home exchanges (like free accommodation and local living), without the need to reciprocate with your own home. House-sitting arrangements vary dramatically in location and responsibilities, and often pet care is involved. It’s nice work—here’s how to get it. (And yes—people who live in warm places go away in the winter, too!)

Hospitality Exchanges

With a hospitality exchange, you stay as a guest in a local’s home while they’re there. It’s another fabulous way to “live locally” and get free accommodation. And many hosts are enthusiastic about hosting travellers—maybe even taking time out to give you a tour.

Hospitality exchange etiquette predicates that you don’t plan to stay more than a couple of nights; however, the host may invite you to stay longer if you get along well. Two popular websites connecting travellers with hosts are Couchsurfing and Hospitality Club.

Volunteering for Free Digs

Forget expensive voluntourism vacations; I’m talking about volunteering your services in trade for free accommodation (and sometimes food). The range of opportunities and places to stay is massive; I have done everything from milking goats to painting murals to designing marketing plans—all in trade for free accommodation in anything from yurts to castles.

Some popular worldwide volunteer sites include The Caretaker Gazette (with opportunities of varying natures, including house-sitting), Help Exchange and WWOOF (which is largely focused on organic farms and rural gigs).

Most sites have annual subscription fees but pay for themselves with one night of free accommodation.

Volunteering on Boats

In 2012, I spent two months sailing the Caribbean on five boats around three countries. I only paid for my share of the food and running costs—a minimal incursion.

There is a thriving sailing culture, and once you’re tapped into this small community, opportunities abound. Here’s how to volunteer—and even get paid jobs—on boats.

All-Inclusive Budget Destinations

As a more traditional vacation option, Canadians can enjoy all-inclusive vacations to resorts in Mexico, Cuba and Dominican Republic for as little as $800 per person per week (including flights, transfers, accommodation and meals). For $800, you might not get the Shangri-La, but you may be pleasantly surprised—and at least you’ll be warm.

Fly for (Almost) Free

Most of these money-saving strategies are based on free accommodation (which is a big ticket item). Combine that with flying for free (or almost free), and you’ll have eliminated the majority of your vacation expenses. Check out our creative strategies to save money on airfare.