How To Stay at Hostels for Free (When You're Broke)

Greetings from the beautiful cultural city of Cusco, Peru! I'm staying here for two weeks before going on the 5-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu on May 28th. I'm working with adventure travel specialists at the tour agency Apus Peru. They're offering me a discount on the tour and paying for my professional services. I'm excited to work with this reputable tour agency because they also donate a portion of the proceeds to Thread of Peru, a not-for-profit social enterprise that gives back to the community and empowers local artisans. I'm really enjoying my time so far and it brings back good memories from a yoga/meditation retreat 3 years ago with a bunch of friends from Austin. The people here are very friendly. In fact, I was sitting down at a coffee shop on the Plaza del Armas my first day and a guy from London pulled up a chair and we started chatting for over an hour sharing travel stories. The same night we met up for dinner and drinks with a few other friends, went to a Karaoke bar, and partied at Wild Rover Hostel until 2am. Sometimes you gotta cut loose, live in the moment, and enjoy yourself!

 Plaza del Armas in Cusco, Peru

Plaza del Armas in Cusco, Peru

This blog post is about how to stay at hostels and organize tours for free in exchange for professional services. I'm currently sitting in the a large common area of Milhouse Hostel where I'm staying for 2 nights in a private room in exchange for professional photos and a positive review on HostelWorld. It couldn't be better timing since my account balance is currently negative. Long story short, a client I did some work for in Ecuador wasn't satisfied with the video production quality and issued a chargeback from PayPal right after my monthly payment from Airbnb came in. Thankfully we resolved the complaint, I sent her an updated video, and she contacted American Express to issue a refund. However, the funds won't be available for another 24-48 hours. Therefore, I couldn't even afford to pay the bill after checking out of Kokopelli Hostel. Luckily, I asked my friend Drew for a small loan in the meantime and he was happy to oblige. He's been traveling in South America for roughly the same time in the opposite direction (from Chile upwards) and just arrived in Cusco earlier today. We're going to meet up this evening for dinner with a few of his friends from Austin. I would like to interview him as my first podcast guest for Digital Nomad Adventures.

So, without further ado... I would like to share with my readers how to stay at hostels for free when traveling on a shoestring budget. It all comes down to email marketing, copywriting, and offering a valuable service to your client. The first step is compiling an email list of your target market. There are many ways to accomplish this goal. I recommend using the Chrome extension called Hunter.io to extract email addresses from relevant websites. Then you can put all of them into an Excel spreadsheet and import the contact details into an email marketing platform like MailShake. It's only $19 per month and allows up to 5,000 contacts per campaign.

 MailShake Email Campaign

MailShake Email Campaign

The above screenshot is an email campaign in MailShake to over 400 tour companies in Cusco! The dashboard shows you all the relevant statistics for your marketing funnel, such as open rate/clickthrough/replies/bounces/unsubscribed recipients. The open rate for this particular campaign is lower than usual and bounce rate is very high at 22%. The main objective is that you're getting the word out there about your business. All you need is a few clients to say "Yes" to your offering and the rest is history. Using this technique I arranged free accommodation at a fancy hotel in Cusco in exchange for professional photos to update their website and social media channels.

You may be curious how I built such a large email list of tour companies in a short period of time. In this particular case, I went to the Peru Tourism Board during my visit to Arequipa and simply asked for a list of all the hostels and tour agencies in Cusco. Voila!

 Peru Tour Agencies

Peru Tour Agencies

If you need help with social media or email marketing, don't hesitate to contact me or schedule a call.