Can’t afford a hostel? You just might be the definition of homeless. Sleeping ‘rough’ can be dangerous or illegal, and at the very least, you won’t get a fantastic nights’ sleep. Don’t worry though – if you look and act like a foreigner, the locals are normally more than happy to help you out.
Train stations, airport and other public places can give you a sense of security – afterall, you’re just waiting for your train (or something), but is not allowed in many places, so you might be moved every hour, and in other places the train station may close overnight, so can be impossible. A better idea is to sleep behind a bush, in a barn, or anywhere people aren’t likely to discover you. Another stategy is to set up your camp in a conspicuous way – many people will assume you’re allowed to be there, and you might not even be bothered. If asked to move, just play the “Well shit, you’ve already asked me to move three times, where do you want me to sleep?!” card.
A far better and safer idea is to ask permission. If you’re in a rural area, just knock on some doors, and ask if you can camp on their lawn for the night (if no english is spoken, charades works), people are often pretty receptive to this, and you shouldn’t have too much trouble unless you look dodgy.
If you’re in a predominantly Muslim country, this works extremely well – Islam pilgrimages are part of the religion, and charity towards travellers is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. On my time hitchhiking through Muslim states, I was always offered food and water, and was never turned away when I asked for a place to sleep. Asking to camp also works particularly well in Mosques (that have gardens), and is great because they have toilets, washing facilities, and drinking water. It probably works ok at the places of worship of other religions too – try it out!
Couchsurfing is a website where travellers can get in touch with locals, with the purpose of staying at their house for (more or less) free. What it is NOT: Couchsurfing is not a free hostel or hotel service, or a place to crash after a rave or special event, and is not temporary accommodation while you look for a job. Many hosts get lots of people trying to take advantage of the system, and will ignore requests if they think you’re trying to take the piss. What it is: Couchsurfing is a way for travellers to meet the locals and experience the true culture of a place; It’s a way for locals to meet interesting travellers and share stories and experiences. While you need to be aware that you’re going into a strangers house, and it could be dangerous, it’s generally pretty safe as long as you do research on the person (check their CS profile and references), and follow your gut feeling.
Couchsurfing tips: Always read the profiles fully (esp. because some people write things like “if the subject is not ‘banana’, I will not read your message”) Hosts don’t like it when they recieve a copy/pasted message. Try to personalise every couch request you send (“I see you like Band X, I also like Band X, maybe we can get together and listen to Band X together. Tell the prospective host a little about yourself and what you’ve been doing, and maybe an interesting story (“Last night I slept in an abandoned train….”). Be as personal as you can, and try to let the host know when and how you intend to arrive, how long you will stay for, and what you want to do/ see in the city; if you’re on your own, try to assure the host that you can entertain yourself if they are too busy – all hosts will have a job of some sort and might not have time for anything more than a couple of drinks at night (on the other hand, they might never leave your side the whole time you’re there – like I’ve had on at least 3 separate occasions).