Want to get free lodging and still see great places? These travel clubs the secret to cheap stays

View of Seattle from Queen Anne Hill’s Kerry Park, near Tim and Susan Viall's first condo-sitting gig.

View of Seattle from Queen Anne Hill’s Kerry Park, near Tim and Susan Viall’s first condo-sitting gig.

Would you travel more frequently if you received free lodging in beautiful places? How about two weeks free in a lovely condo on Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill? Or three weeks just outside Denver to watch a friendly, old cat? How about two weeks, no cost, in a beautiful four-bedroom house in Tucson, Arizona?

House-sitting assignments have been great fun for us, and provide free lodging at those destinations. Assignments include watching over plants, a cat or other pets.

Other destinations in the last few years include St. George, Utah (near Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks), Albuquerque, New Mexico and Denver (twice). All of the lodging is free, mind you; generally the home is nicer than ours (we check Google Earth to see what the home and neighborhood looks like).

When we are contacted, by a New Orleans’ owner recently, we apply our criteria: is it a noteworthy destination, what are requirements (plants, cats, dogs), does it fit our schedule and do we want to travel that far? Several options we declined were Hayden, Idaho, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Sedona, New Mexico and Southern California.

Red Rocks in Snow Canyon State Park, just outside St. George, Utah.

Red Rocks in Snow Canyon State Park, just outside St. George, Utah.

The details: These are house-sitting gigs, sometimes with pets to watch or plants to water. In return, you get comfortable lodging and cooking privileges (saving money on dining out). During the day or evening you are free to explore the highlights of the area. We sometimes arrive at these assignments with our small camping trailer, and extend our vacation visiting friends or family along the way.

It’s one of two major benefits to our seven-year membership in the Affordable Travel Club. The primary benefit is to travel the U.S., Canada or the world, contacting one of several thousand club members in advance and arranging a night or several nights lodging during our travels.

Lovely desert home in Tucson, Ariz., on two acres with a pool.

Lovely desert home in Tucson, Ariz., on two acres with a pool.

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Club members will put you up for the night, offer you (usually) a snack and an evening libation and provide breakfast in the morning. You leave them a $20 gratuity ($15 for singles) as you depart ($30 in Canada). Along with the stay, you soak up local insight and make long-term friends with some of your hosts. Big benefits: You gain local knowledge from your hosts and save $100 or more compared to a night at a hotel or motel.

We have stayed overnight with 15 different ATC members, including three in Canada. Without fail, they have been lovely people with nice homes and local knowledge they are eager to share about their city. Conversely, we have now hosted a dozen ATC members passing through our town, including a lovely couple from England who stayed with us three nights (they invited us to lodge in their home southwest of London when we get to Great Britain).

Ferry departing Edmunds, Wash., near a house-sitting assignment in Edmunds, Wash.

Ferry departing Edmunds, Wash., near a house-sitting assignment in Edmunds, Wash.

We learned of the club experience when we met a couple from Virginia seven years ago on a European cruise. They raved about their experience and shared their many travels utilizing ATC. About six months later, they invited us to split with them a one-month house-sitting gig in Seattle. We were convinced.

The couple has traveled the world using their membership. During a week’s house-sitting stint in Taunton, England, they shared, “We are in Taunton in Somerset — enjoying pet-sitting with a very sweet springer spaniel whose owners are members of ATC. (The owners) have headed down to Cornwall while we’re staying in their beautiful home. We lined up everything by emails and are happy to have this convenient place to stay while we explore places within an hour or two from Taunton.

The owners have given us several hints about good places to see in the area as well as tasty restaurants and pubs to try. We take Bracken to a field where he can run and chase a ball; the dog is happy to stay at home alone for six-hour stretches, so we come back in time to give him his supper and we’re able to prepare our own dinners here at the owners’ house.”

The couple traveled on to Ireland and Scotland, using Airbnb for economical lodging.

More travel must-reads from Tim Viall:

ATC offers a club bulletin board for potential house and pet sitters. We post a notice as “creative/flexible house-sitters” and (post pandemic) are contacted about every other month for potential house-sitting assignments. When we joined, we saw the “overnight lodging when traveling” club option as the highlight. We now see house-sitting as a second major benefit.

Soon, we will explore Vancouver Island, British Columbia with a three-week stay in a lovely home in Nanaimo, just a block from the Salish Sea channel and a short ferry ride across to Vancouver, BC (and a “mostly outdoor cat” to watch over).

If you like meeting people and learning details of waypoints in your travels, an ATC membership makes sense. On the East Coast, the Evergreen Travel Club is very similar, with a larger membership of East Coasters. We also have met fellow travelers who have used housesitting clubs such as Trusted Housesitters, HouseCarers, MindMyHouse and other groups.

For more information: Affordable Travel Club,; Evergreen Club,

Contact Tim Viall, [email protected]; happy affordable traveling.

This article originally appeared on The Record: Forget Airbnb, Expedia: These travel clubs can score you free lodging

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