What To Do When You Have Nowhere To Sleep

What To Do When You Have Nowhere To Sleep

Sometimes your travel plans just don’t work out and you’re stuck in a city with no place to stay. Maybe the hotel was overbooked or your friends are unexpectedly out of town, and you need to find a last-minute place to sleep. Here are a few options you can try when you need to take a rest.

This post originally appeared on Nathan Agin’s blog

This past weekend, I found out — for the first time in my full-time travels — what it’s like to not have a place to stay for the night. Yup, I was homeless. Well, more than usual.

It all went down in Charleston, South Carolina. I decided to head there for the weekend, and decided just to figure out lodging once I arrived.

Little did I know that it was both Fashion Week and Accepted Students Weekend at the College of Charleston. In short, everything was booked.

So what did I do? And what can you do to ensure a roof over your head during your travels? Let’s take a look at the options.

Free Places To Stay

First, depending on your situation, you can consider the free resources that are available to you.

Try Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing has a network of hosts all over the world. This is huge when it comes to travelling, even if you’re not on a budget, and it can be a fantastic way to meet awesome people. More than likely, there’s a couch available wherever you’re going. Even if it’s the same day, send out personal messages to as many hosts as you can. Sit down for 30 or 60 minutes, and be honest, nice and respectful in your communication. Even for people open to it, last-minute guests can be disruptive. You can also search for a city’s last-minute posting board where you can explain your situation and reach out on a more global level. Often, there are other hosts who receive these alerts who might not show up in the regular search (it’s how I found my host in Charleston).

Get In Touch With Friends

Do you know anyone who either A) might know someone in the area you are, or B) have an idea of what you can do (also a seasoned traveller)? Reach out to them for advice, even if they can’t provide you with lodging.

Also put a message out to your social networks like Facebook. Letting people know where you are and what you’re looking for can yield amazing results!

Talk To The Locals

At the cafe, restaurant or shop, ask the people there if they know anything — maybe there’s something that the tourists don’t know, or maybe you’ll even meet someone who has a spot where you can crash!

Paid Options

Of course, if you have some cash to spend, you can often find a place to stay for a price.


You can use Hostelling International or Hostels.com to find locations, which are usually around $20-$40/night for a dorm bed. It’s also a great way to meet other travellers

Motels And Hotels

Consider looking for the nearest chain hotel, like Motel 6, Super 8, Days Inn, Red Roof Inn, or any other local chain. These types of locations usually charge anywhere from $80-$$150/night (or more) depending on your area.


It depends on the city, but check if there’s a YMCA in town, and if they have beds or rooms you can rent. Usually they charge $100 or less per night.

Be positive and trust that it will work out! I know it can be stressful; keeping calm and carrying on is so critical to your success. If you’re desperate or on edge, people will pick up on that energy. You want to let everyone know that you’re as cool a customer as they come. That’s the kind of person people want to be around, and who they will want to help out!

Back Up Plans And Last Resorts

While I was able to secure a place my first evening through Couchsurfing, my host didn’t respond to any of my texts or calls the following night. So at 11PM, I found myself with nowhere to go, and no prospects.

Now what do you do?

Hotel Lobbies

This was my saving grace, and it hit me in the moment as I wandered by a pretty swanky spot and saw some open chairs, thinking “maybe I could just stay there.” It’s certainly safe!

If you don’t make it obvious you’re staying for the night, or if you can find a quiet and “dead” area of the hotel, you might be able to spend the whole evening. If you are confronted, feel free to use (or modify) this story:

  • You just drove into town and you’re meeting your sister. She’s out with her friends, you don’t know where she is, and she’s not answering her phone. The reservation is under one of the friends’ names, and you don’t know any of them.
  • Mustering up a bit of exasperation (which shouldn’t be difficult, given the circumstances) can really help to sell this!

This worked like a charm for me — until they needed to freshen up the lobby and they needed me to vacate. I’m sure they would have just kicked me out immediately if I came clean about my situation.

All-Night Diners

Stay up all night and read, talk with others, and make your meal last longer than you ever have before. Even if the place close at 4 or 5AM, it can still get you through the majority of the night.

Train And Bus Stations

You never know who else might be hanging out at these, so perhaps a less-desirable option than the others, but many stations are open 24/7.

Other Important Things To Consider

If you have a few nights in a row without comfortable sleeping amenities, it can start to wear on you. Here’s a few things you need to think about to stay safe and healthy.


It’s so important to get good food into your system to keep you going, like nuts, fruits, salads. Skip sugared, salty or fried foods!


There’s no need to push yourself or hit the gym, but maybe do a bit of stretching or yoga if you’ve been curled up or in funky positions all night!

And other healthy practices can help you along too. Meditation, journaling, Sudoku — whatever will keep you sane, positive, and keep you going.

Sleep When Needed

Chances are you’re going to be a bit sleep deprived, but it’s important that you get your rest. If you feel safe and are comfortable, take a nap.

Listen to your body — if you can’t go any further, that’s OK. You don’t need to prove how tough you are by staying up for 36 hours.

Once the next day arrives, naps in a sunny and safe park are a great way to spend the day!

What Could You Have Done Differently?

The simplest option, and what would have made the most sense in my situation, was to get back on Couchsurfing and send out messages.

Even at late hours — post to the last-minute board and send out personal couch requests. Again, you never know who else is up and can help out.

The reason I didn’t start reaching out again is because I believed I’d hear back from my host. It just didn’t seem possible that he’d never get back to me! As it happens he just wasn’t watching his phone. He did apologise and I’d like to believe that he’s a good person, but it’s important to experience a “worst-case” scenario because you realise it’s not that bad, and you can handle it!

Now that I’ve “wandered the streets” for an entire evening and lived to tell the tale, I understand that I can get through this if it happens again, though I’ll certainly try to avoid it. Let’s not forget about the 600,000+ people in the U.S. (NAEH) who experience this reality of nowhere to sleep every night — and who don’t have the option of hanging out in a cushy, hotel lobby.

I’ve often referred to what I’m doing as the “middle-class version of homelessness” because I can still afford to eat at a restaurant or stay in a hotel if I really need to. And I look like a clean-cut kid, which affects how people perceive me if I’m lurking around a lobby or in a diner all night.

Stay safe, and happy couchsurfing!

What to Do When You Have Nowhere to Sleep [Nonstop Awesomeness]

Nathan Agin became a nomad in 2010, after getting rid of most of his possessions, getting a backpack, and venturing off around the country. He’s now on a mission to help others optimise their lives everyday, no matter where they are! Find him at Nonstop Awesomeness.

Image adapted from Anton Brand and hugolacasse (Shutterstock). Additional photos by Scott Rubin, mararie, Christopher Bulle (Flickr).


  • I was just in San Fran, with no accommodation organised – and then the Giants won the world series and there was nowhere to stay (at least that I could afford).

    Here’s my tip: Hire a campervan!! They don’t really modify prices according to availability, and they come with some bonus wheels to get around! This was a lifesaver for me. And my accommodation had amazing views (different every night) and my own kitchen.

    For showers, I went to a gym, told them I was interested in signing up, and they gave me a week trial. I didn’t work out, but I did use their showers. You can usually purchase day passes, too.

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