What To Do When You Have Nowhere to Sleep

After almost 18 months of travel, something crazy happened.

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. :)

(That’s a shot above from about 5:00 AM, after…oh, maybe 20 minutes of sleep total for the evening.)

 

It all went down in Charleston, SC. I decided to head there for the weekend, and just figured I’d 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 – the fightin’ Cougars!) – 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?

FREE OPTIONS

  • Couchsurfing: a network of hosts all over the world. This is HUGE when it comes to traveling, even if you’re not on a budget; 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 this time).
  • Get in Touch with Friends (Call/Text): 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 traveler)
  • Facebook
    • Put a message out to your social network – 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

  • Hostels
  • Motels/Hotels
    • Motel 6, Super 8, Days Inn, Red Roof Inn, or any other local chain
    • Anywhere from $25-$75/night (or more) depending on your area
  • YMCA
    • See if there’s one in town, and if they have beds/rooms you can rent
    • Usually $100 or less/night

 

And the MOST IMPORTANT Part to Remember:

  • Be Positive + Trust it Will Work Out.
    • Seriously: don’t freak 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’ve got this handled and you’re as cool a customer as they come. That’s the kind of person people want to be around, and who they’ll want to help out! :)

 

If nothing above works out:

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  on Saturday night (I was waiting for him to get back home so I could go back).

So at 11 pm, 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 – thanks to Mike for this idea at 3 AM!
      • 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 5 AM, it can still get you through the majority of the night.
  • Train/Bus Stations
      • You never know who else might be hanging out at these, so perhaps a less-desirable option than the others, but these places are usually open 24/7

 

What ELSE to Focus on:

  • Nutrition
    • SO important to get good food into your system to keep you going – nuts, fruits, salads – skip sugared, salty or fried foods!
  • Exercise
    • 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!
  • Sleep When Needed
    • 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!
  • Other Healthy Practices
    • Meditation, Journaling, Sudoku – whatever will keep you sane, positive, and keep you going – this is the perfect opportunity to bust these practices out and put them to work!

 

What could I have done differently?

The simplest option, and what would have made the most sense: get back on Couchsurfing and send out messages!

Yes, even at that late hour – post to the last-minute board, 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!

 

Oh, and what happened to my host?

He was home, but wasn’t watching his phone. (This was the text he sent me at 7:42 AM.)

Um, I guess that happens…?

He did apologize (via text) and I’d like to believe that he’s a good person; this was just an uncharacteristic moment of catastrophic flakiness. :)

 

On the plus side, it’s important to experience a “worst-case” scenario because you realize: 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!

 

One final point…

 

I am SO FORTUNATE.

Let’s not forget about the 600,000+ people in the US (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 choose or need to.

But all jokes aside, I really don’t know what it’s like to not have a home and have no prospects of what to do next. I am so unbelievably grateful for this fact.

I look like a clean-cut kid, I don’t smell of garbage, and I’m generally pretty easy-going. It’s not likely someone will look at me and call the cops.

When you look at the pie this way, I have it ridiculously easy.

The night after my “ordeal,” I was back to a super comfortable bed, absolute peace and security, and farm-fresh food.

 

OMG. Do I really have anything to complain about?

 

my other digs for that night (my backpack is between the chair and couch)

 

***

Have you ever experienced a homeless night? How did you handle it?

I’d love to hear your response + any other comments you have below.

 

Looking forward to learning more!
Nathan

 

###

About

Former life: actor/office worker/virtual assistant; lived in Los Angeles for 11 years. Since then: sold nearly everything, took a $5 flight to Hawaii, lived there for 3 months, wrote an eGuide about all of it, and still traveling. Currently: digital nomad - looking to improve myself, have fun and serve others.

Posted in courage, environment, gratitude, travel
18 comments on “What To Do When You Have Nowhere to Sleep
  1. Matt Griffin says:

    I’ve had several nights with nowhere to sleep:
    1. Flew into CA for a few days, figuring I would book cheap motels when I was there. Slept on a park bench in Alameda the first night. Crashed at a friend’s apartment (with several other people) in San Fancisco the next night. Spent the next 2 nights in a sleazy motel in Oakland (pay by the hour with a mirror on the ceiling).
    2. Went to a concert in Maine and parked in a parking garage, not realizing the garage closed before the concert ended. Slept on a park bench again there (kinda shady area with prostitutes around).
    3. Went to Hampton Beach with a friend. Nowhere to stay, but he had a car. We pumped $10 of quarters in the meter and planned on sleeping in the car. Police vacated us after the town curfew. Wound up sleeping in the car in a rest stop off the highway. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS. Without going into details, that was the worst one.
    4. 24 hour Denny’s with free refills on coffee can be a good place to meet night owls and relax for a cheap evening.

    • Nathan says:

      wow – some pretty amazing experiences, Matt! I’ve been with folks for the “garage is closed” moment. ah, life!

      haven’t needed a park bench yet – I imagine a beach town or some place warm would be easier – not sure if/when I’ll use this strategy! (Mom would KILL me.) :)

    • Justin Moore says:

      I came to los angeles with no place to live/sleep. I figured skid row would be the best place to go…I stayed at LA Mission for 4 days before moving into the rotary house by voa. Eventually ended up at ballington plaza transitional housing program.

  2. Jeanie says:

    Yeah–when I was traveling last March-April, I slept in my car pretty frequently off the highway, truck stops, whatever. I stayed with friends at pre-set “destinations” but in Austin, I bounced around from stranger to stranger w/ a few friends thrown in.

    Gene was kind enough to let me couch surf with him on the basis of 2 weeks of Gchatting, and we hit it off mid April, so this became home. :)

    • Nathan says:

      oh, if ONLY i had a car in Charleston. or maybe i should have just “found” one – know what i mean? ;)

      and i’ve met a few others recently who’ve started relationships through Csurfing – awesome!!

      another reader emailed me about truck stops, too:

      “Those places usually have food, places to sleep, and showers – and staying their for a few hours is the point. I did this when I travelled the country once instead of a hotel.”

  3. You made it Nathan! Whew…I bet that was some experience. While I haven’t had a homeless night yet, the closest I’ve been was at a Hostel in Denmark. We were staying there just one night and arrived late after getting NO sleep on a long train ride from Germany (it wasn’t a sleeper train).

    They had a security check in where you’d scan your credit card you used to purchase the room into a machine and it would “activate it” to work as your room door key. Cool system, right?

    It didn’t work.

    So my two cousins and I had to hang out in the tiny lobby area until 1 AM until a person staying there was kind enough to let us into the communal kitchen/TV area. We cooked spaghetti and set up to sleep there until someone who worked there finally arrived as we were setting up on the couches and let us into our room.

    From the time we arrived, we waited several hours to get any sleep. And this was on top of another sleepless night.

    On the bright side, Denmark was just incredible and looking back, we all said our hostel incident was a highlight of our traveling adventure!

    • Nathan says:

      ha – very cool!

      i remember going to London and being WAY off on my sleep schedule – I just couldn’t fall asleep at night (since I didn’t sleep on the plane at all). I think it took me 2 days and a few mid-day naps to get through it all.

      and i’ve heard Denmark is beautiful – it’s on my list, and now i know to be on the watch for that security system! thanks stephen!! :)

  4. John says:

    There’s also airbnb.com — a paid option, but basically it is people renting out their spare room, or sometimes their entire apartment. Really cool idea.

  5. You are far braver than I am…I have not gotten to the point where I can go off the beaten path or just explore. I always have to know in advance where I’m going or what I’m doing …and who I’m going to be palling around with.

    I am hoping eventually I’ll grow a pair of cajones! :) For now, I’ll just read your adventures!

    • Nathan says:

      :)

      it’s that old question: brave or stupid?

      sometimes, you don’t have a choice. i certainly didn’t intend to crash lobbies for the night; it just showed up as my reality.

      i admire people who set out from the beginning knowing that they’ll just crash wherever they can find a soft patch of ground. i try to remember that it’s not a competition, and wherever i am, if i just keep pushing and testing myself (reasonably), that’s all i can ask!

      glad the tales can provide an escape for ya!! :)

  6. James says:

    I was homeless for a month when I moved for a new job, long story short work had a shower and I had a car and an income so it wasn’t terrible. But it certainly was an experience.

  7. Ken says:

    hi Nathan. This happened to me exactly how it sort of panned out for you, in San Diego around 2006. I had exhausted all my funds, had only enough to get back to Boston (with a return flight already booked), and I wandered around until I found a swank Hilton I believe, with a giant second floor. I had a book with me and I read it in a couch, until a real jerk security asked me a ton of questions. I gave him a bogus last name, said my family was out and I was locked out of my room, he asked for the last name, walked down the long hallway towards the desk and downstairs, and I split out a side stairwell; frazzled I spent the night in Balboa Park (next to the San Diego Zoo) and just stood at the stares and the planes en route to landing as they wizzed by me, until the sun was rising and I made my way. I wish I remembered the particulars to why I had no money or what happened the next day, but needless to say I finally made it home.

    Now that segway gone, here it is nearly 10 years later, and I find myself in a situation that is truly destitute. I took a trip to Copenhagen, amazingly they didn’t even question that I had a 1 Way Ticket, not realizing that its one of the most expensive cities on earth, I somehow blew through my entire budget of 1000 which was supposed to last me a week in three days. Though I am paid up my last day in the hotel I am in (hostel, but not a hostel), I have not eaten in probably around 30 hours. If there was ever an experiment to see how the hopeless, down trodden and destitute live, this is it mate. In everything traveling overseas is as amazing, their world of barter, craigslist, etc, posting boards, is few and far between (NO ONE uses CL), and I said well I can sell my two phones, both though US phones, a good cracker or something can make to with a good Iphone and a HTC, or sell them for profit on ebay or something. I said let me make my bad situation a good one. I will sell my phones, and get a bike (more bikes than people here, all over) and I will toss my luggage, grab a crapo backpack and do the Copenhagen to Berlin Bike Trek. Alas I can’t even get a free bike. I cant find anyone to barter. I approached someone with a pack and said I will give you my phone for your backpack, he gave me the most puzzling look lol. (he may not have understood me either). I figure ok, I’ll write to my only two friends back home, I explained my situation and they both said, literally, ‘its your pickle, you are smart, figure it out. My only hope is that I am able to receive some funds back on my card for two charges that I didn’t make, but that could take weeks. I want to buy a used tent, ya know to be able to do this trek, even further, how cool would it be to backpack and tent out all the way to Malta, but there are no WalMarts here, where I can run to and grab a cheap one person tent for 24.00 USD. Everything closes so early, and the specialty shops are for the wealthy here, and the only other place is a North Face Store, and even if I had the funds, I wouldn’t drop 1200 NOK on a backpack to a corporate american company. I tried to get into the free bike program that passes out bikes to people who want to see the city to ‘use’ for up to three day, but my emails went unanswered lol. I even tried to snag one, (i know awful) free standing one late at night on a corner, and when I jumped on it (actually had a note to stick near the wall where it was lol), it had a mini spoke lock. I felt and looked like a fool. It is amazing. Three easy things, that most people have sitting in their garage, where warm spiders rest in old tarps and tens and where 12 speeds haven’t been used since one was 14, sit in desolate silence, here, its near impossible to find three items, even to buy or barter: a bike, a backpack and a tent lol.

    At any rate I digress. I soon will be on 48 hours with nothing to eat but one cup of tea. I have instant coffee I saved for tonight. There is a place I was thinking about going to eat it and either walking out on my bill or leaving a bunk old credit card that I do not use, down, and saying I will be right back and then just splitting. (All of this is not in my nature to do, but one must do what one must to get by)

    To say I have put myself in this situation is an understatement. While I am not on drugs or have been to find myself here, while I am not losing my marbles or have done something horrible to just have no friends or family to help my, my situation is a very unique one, and I DO NOT have anyone to help me. My only other option now is to contact the American Consulate and say I am indigent, which is so embarrassing and need help to get home. Which for me, in my minds eye, is a failure. I wanted to come here and backpack Europe, and it all sort of crept up way too fast on me, and I didn’t budget like I thought.

    At any rate, the reality of being truly homeless, destitute with no funds, no access to funds (maybe a little in the horizon), or ANY food, is truly terrifying. Yet at the same time exhilarating in a strange way? :)

    Just wanted to come and share my story and current situation. It is 5:22 Denmark time, and I will keep you posted if you want.

  8. Brian says:

    Homeless for the better part of two years and it is horrible! Hard to keep spirits up after so long. Like Ken mentioned in a previous commengle male it the thought of being homeless can be a terrifying one.

    At 57 and single male you would be surprised at the lack of shelters in Virginia Beach unless you have kids.

  9. RR says:

    If it’s cold where you are at night, but hot during the day, find a nice office roof to get onto – they normally have groups of large air conditioning units there and they blast out some much-needed heat if the units are running overnight, (hence looking for nice offices).

    They are also relatively safe areas – no one bothers to go up, so if you have stuff with you, you can sleep in safety and cops won’t bother you either. Try and find an area that’s not overlooked – if you oversleep you don’t want office workers seeing you. This secures your spot for future situations. If you see a lot of cigarette ends, you’ll want to evacuate early. 4:30 or 5am and you should be alright:

    I did this when I got abandoned with nothing but the clothes I was wearing and no money and it saved my ass.

    A hotel lobby or car sounds like heaven – hahaha!

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Hi, my name is Nathan Agin. I love to travel and live as healthy as I can while doing it. I've been on the road since 2010 and see no end to this way of life. Every day I meditate, exercise, eat lots of natural foods, and do a few other practices to keep me going! I strive to be healthy anywhere, and am excited to share how YOU can do this, too— wherever you are!

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