Hitchhiking in Europe : Where to find a free place to sleep ?

If you have hitchhiked before, you already know that you might have no idea where you’re going to end up for the night. But after a long day hitchhiking and full of adventures, what you need is a suitable place to rest ! Finding a way to rest is an essential part of a long-term journey. You need some sleep to recharge your batteries and continue farther, right ?

I spent years traveling around Europe and I challenged myself to never pay for any accommodation, therefore I know how complicated it can be to find a place to sleep in an unknown place. Using my personal experience of around 70.000 kilometers hitchhiked, I made a list with some options I tried in my trips in order to help you and give you some ideas the next time you’re unsure about where to sleep. This list is centered on Europe, if you’re on another continent some other options might be available to you (such as camping in a tea plantation as in the photo below), but you can use this list as well to get some inspirations if needed.

Setting our tent in a tea field
Ok this wasn’t in Europe, but it was pretty nice to sleep in the middle of a tea field

Contents | Where to find a free place to sleep ?

  1. Find a host through an hospitality website
  2. Airports
  3. Train stations / Bus terminals
  4. Parks
  5. Rest areas on the highway
  6. Crash on the last floor of a building
  7. Sleeping under a bridge
  8. Go to a Couchsurfing event and find a host there
  9. Get out of the city and stay in the nature
  10. My favorite option : Ask People !
  11. Bonus, three more original places where I slept.

Find a host through an hospitality website :

Couchsurfing / Trustroots / BeWelcome / Warmshowers

There are several websites where you can ask people to sleep for free in their home. The most famous one is Couchsurfing, and, so many people are using this website that it could be very difficult for you to find a host in major European cities. However, there are several other options, such as Trustroots, which is a popular hospitality website among hitchhikers. Warmshowers is a hospitality website designed for cyclists.

The concept of these websites is simple : You browse the place you’re planning to go to, read the potential hosts’ profiles and then send a unique and personal request, explaining why you would like to meet them and stay in their home.

Come and read our article about how to find a Couchsurfing host !

Plus sign showing advantages

It’s an incredibly powerful way to learn about a country’s culture by staying in someone’s home. Every hotel room around the world is very similar, but a home is different from one country to another. Your host will usually be keen on spending time with you, and giving you suggestions and directions about what to visit. You can take a shower and have a relaxing place to stay.

Minus sign showing drowbacks

You have to spend a lot of time to send requests, sometimes for no result. It requires you to plan beforehand in which place you will spend the night, and that can be the opposite of the hitchhiking spirit. Since you’re staying at someone else’s place you have to abide their rules.

The Couchsurfing logo
The Couchsurfing logo

Airports

The airport could be a solution to crash for the night. You won’t be the only one sleeping there anyway, as many other travelers will also spend the time there. There’s quite a bunch of security guards in an airport, so you can have a safe night of sleep. I tried several airports in Europe and I remember being able to sleep well but having problems getting there since they are far way from the cities.

There’s even a website dedicated to sleeping in airports, that you can check here. I slept in some airports and especially the second best airport in Europe, located in Munich. It was pretty good but I ended up being caught blackriding while trying to go back to the city.

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It could be more comfortable and safer than sleeping on the streets. Toilets open all night. Food and beverages options and probably Wi-Fi available. Warmer than sleeping outside.

Minus sign showing drowbacks

Difficult to get to, because it’s commonly far from the city. If you can’t hitchhike there, it’s usually expensive to take public transportation to get to, and if you choose to blackride, normally more police will patrol the airport line. Lights are usually on all night.

Train stations / bus terminals

The train station or the bus terminal is a bit like the airport : You won’t be the only one sleeping there, but it is more dangerous than the airport but also much easier to get to, since it’s usually located near the city centre. Most of the time security guards will wake you up very early. In my experience I always had better nights of sleep at the airport than in a station or a terminal. I remember trying in the Brussels train station and it was just impossible to get any rest, or being awaken by the guards at 5am in the bus terminal in Bursa (Turkey).

Plus sign showing advantages

Easy to get to, possibly just by walking. Sleeping is tolerated there as it is a prime spot for homeless. Warmer than sleeping outside.

Minus sign showing drowbacks

Difficult to find a quiet area, and the lights are on all night. Not the safest place in town. Guards won’t let you sleep unless it’s very late or very early. Might not open 24/7.

Parks

Opening the map and spotting the main area in green is always an option. Once again you won’t be the only one sleeping there. It can be a good option if you have your own sleeping material, like a sleeping bag or a hammock. Otherwise it might get cold during the night depending on the season. My memories of sleeping in parks in Europe are always synonym with cold nights where I could not sleep much even though it was already spring or fall.

Plus sign showing advantages

More space and less people around you. You can probably find a spot without lights so that could give you more privacy.

Minus sign showing drowbacks

It’s colder to sleep outside so make sure you have the proper gear. Police might not let you sleep in the park. Probably not as safe as the airport unless you are farther away from the city.

A man sleeping on a bench
That’s pretty much how it looks like, minus the suit and the suitcase.

Rest areas on the highway

This one makes a lot of sense if you haven’t reached your destination. There’s no point for you to enter a city if you have nothing to do there or if it’s already very late, because exiting a city is one of the hardest parts when it comes to hitchhiking in Europe. Therefore if it’s night and you already feel pretty tired, or nobody wants to give you a lift, you could rest for a while. In the biggest petrol stations, they have restaurants open for 24 hours. The staff there is usually pretty kind with hitchhikers.

When I have to crash in a rest area, I always try to speak with the staff and then I try to find a chair and a table to sleep for a while. If the rest area is big enough I try to find a quiet place outside and lay down in my sleeping bag.

Plus sign showing advantages

You are already ready to hitchhike in a prime spot as soon as you want the next morning. You don’t need to waste time to find a spot to sleep.

Minus sign showing drowbacks

Sleeping on a chair pretty much guarantees a not-so-good night of sleep. I struggle to sleep much in that kind of situation, but HiuYing is a professional at that !


A tent in a gas station on the highway
Setting our tent in a gas station

Crash on the last floor of a building

That’s a technique I had used a few times around the world. When it’s late and I have nowhere to sleep in a city, I try to find an open building, go to the last floor and sleep right there in the hallway. The best is to find a commercial building, as you can be sure that no one will come before 7-8am. If it’s a residential building you’ll never know at what time you will be awaken. The owners’ attitude is also impossible to predict if they find you there.

One time I arrived Zagreb very late, I was in the center and I found an open building. At the last floor I realized that one of the offices was not locked, I entered and slept there until 7am. I didn’t leave any traces behind me and started my next day by visiting the city. If you use this technique, please just make sure not to leave anything behind you !

Plus sign showing advantages

Centrally located. Warmer than outside. I like to sleep in places where people don’t expect, that way I’m less of a target and I feel safer.

Minus sign showing drowbacks

Could be difficult to find an open building. Could have potential problems with the police or the owners.

Sleeping under a bridge

That’s the only thing of the list that I’ve never done. I’ve seen others doing it, therefore I think it’s fair to include it on the list.

Plus sign showing advantages

You are covered from the rain at least. Could be pretty central. Socially accepted to sleep under bridges, you’ll just look like a homeless person.

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People might pass by all night long so I’m not sure if that’s really a safe place to crash for a night. Can be cold depending on the weather.

Go to a Couchsurfing event and find a host there

This one worked for me once in Madrid the only time I tried so why not ? If you haven’t found a host, you could check if there’s a CS event that day and try your luck there. At least the people you’ll meet there will probably be alright with the idea of hosting a traveler so that could work for you. Lately I’ve been slightly disappointed with the CS events I attended, even though I wasn’t looking for a host, but I struggled to connect with people there. Let me know how this worked out for you !

A Couchsurfing event in Helsinki
A Couchsurfing event in Helsinki

Get out of the city and stay in the nature

When it comes to urban survival, one of the easiest ways to make it pass the night is to leave the city. Similar to sleeping in parks, and depending on the gear you’re carrying with you, why not just leave the city in order to find a suitable spot inside the nature ? That could be setting your hammock between two trees in the forest, or pitching your tent in a field for instance.

Plus sign showing advantages

You’ll have more spots to choose from. You might be the only one sleeping in this forest, and probably no one expects to find you there. Less crowded than the city, and probably safer than a park.

Minus sign showing drowbacks

You may need a long time to get out of the city, and if you want to go back to the city the next morning in order to visit, that could be a waste of time and energy. It could be difficult to find a suitable spot in a town that you’ve never been before, and locals could look at you with suspicions.

My hammock between two trees
My hammock in Bucharest, Romania.

My favorite option : Ask People !

Once upon a time, I found a roof countless times just by asking random people on the streets. It has many advantages, first, locals know the city much better than you do, so they might be aware of a suitable spot for you to sleep at. Secondly, it’s a great way to make new friends ! I don’t know for you guys but I’d feel pretty bored to just go around a city without meeting anyone… This technique is the best remedy to fight against loneliness and boredom, and you might even end up sleeping in someone’s home and have a lot more stories to share after that!

I’ll write an article with more details about how to optimize your chances if you kindly ask by commenting this post.

The first time I found someone to host me was in Cluj-Napoca, a city in Romania, I went to a park and saw some people in a hammock. I had a hammock in my backpack and I asked them if it was safe to sleep in this park at night. They laughed at me. I started to share my story, and said I hitchhiked from France to Romania. They became interested so I showed them some pictures, and they ended up inviting me in their home. That was a life-changing experience for me, and I started to ask people everywhere I went.

Pro tip when looking for a place to sleep in a city : Ask homeless or especially buskers where you could sleep without money. They usually have good advice.

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Unique experience for you and your host. Make new friends. More comfortable inside a home than outside. Many stories to share.

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Sometimes it doesn’t work, and you have no backup solution. It requires energy, self-presentation and a way to persuade others. It can be time-consuming before you find someone to help you.

Photo with a couple I stayed with
My first time being invited after speaking to a couple on the streets !

Bonus, three more original places where I slept.

If nothing on the list works, here are two other options I used in Europe even though it’s probably not so common.

Homeless shelters

Once in the city of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, I asked a church about where I could sleep for the night. They could not recommend anything, but one priest took time to call the local homeless shelter. It was late, and they had one remaining spot for the night, so I wouldn’t have taken anyone’s spot. I went there, had a quick shower, met other foreigners and slept in a dorm of about 10 people.

Squats

We’ve heard about squats but finding one to sleep in is much more difficult, especially if it’s only for short-term. Squats are usually low-profile. We were lucky enough to find a squat in Oslo, the capital of Norway, and after sharing our story with the guys in charge they welcomed us for 4 nights.

Caves

As mentioned before, you can & should use the nature surrounding you to find a spot to sleep. This is how I ended up sleeping in a cave by the lake in Ohrid, Macedonia.

Was it helpful to plan your trip ? Do you have any other original place where you slept? Feel free to comment and add any suggestion or feedback to this list !

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Maxime

A young father following his dream of travelling the world, now joined by HiuYing, his wife, and Darian, their first son.
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