The public transport in Venice is big and well spread. It reaches the mainland several kms far away as all of the inhabitated islands in the lagoon. If you know exactly when you are going to arrive in Venice, buy tickets in advance on Venice Connected.
To move around the historical centre you can (and should also to enjoy it more..) walk it all around, grab a map and if your sense of orientation is good enough you wont get lost too much, though to get the islands (Giudecca, Murano, Burano and Lido) you necessarily need a vaporetto (waterboat) unless you want to swim (more than illegal is not very healthy either..). Try to stay on it as least as possible, to go to Giudecca take it at S.Basilio or Zattere, to go to Lido at S.Elena, to go to Murano and Burano at Fondamenta Nove. Going along the Grand Canal is useless and just expose you to be checked meaningless. You can blackride quite easily but beware of checkings; they are not very frequent but do happen. Some stations have gates, but most of them don't and even where there are it´s easy to sneak in by closely following after someone entering. "Barkastop" is italian for boatstop. Takes some time, but works if you don´t care where to go. To cross Grand Canal in different points than the bridges (Scalzi, railway station, Rialto and Accademia) you have local gondolas for 0.50€ a good cheap experience.
As of May 2015, blackriding is with any kind of public transport very easy possible. There's as good as no ticket controlling in buses and waterboats. Same stations of the islands have gates, but you can easily sneak in while going behind someone.
You can get bus tickets for local buses for 1,30 euro (in the bus they cost 2,50 euro) - valid 75 minutes, changing lines is allowed, return trips are not. The boats to get to other islands are ridiculously expensive (6,50 euro for 1 hour). You could risk going without a ticket on one stop, the fines are at 44 euros (July 20th 09). Little ticket controlling on the boat, but the ticket controllers often want to see a ticket before you board at "popular" stops -- Piazzale Roma, Railway Station etc. If one of the boat men want to see your ticket, get on the next one. Black-riding seems pretty easy.
There are also long-term tickets that are valid on all the local boats and buses: 12 hours = €16; 24 hours = €18 etc. You can buy a lot of tickets with discount if you pre-book them at least a week in advance online at Venice Connected
For those between 14 and 29 years the Rolling Venice Card may be cheaper, it's valid 72 hours for the price of 22€ (18,- for the ticket and 4,- for the card, which stays valid for a year and gives you additional discounts).
Barca-stop (hitchhiking private boats) is possible, although it may take a little patience. Go to an empty dock, make a sign, and look friendly. Ferries, gondolas, and water taxis will probably not take you. The private boats are pretty easy to spot though, and focus on them!
Walking around the main collection of islands is possible without a problem. The places you'll need to get public transport to include Mestre (unless you enjoy walking 5km on the bridge observing a swamp on one side and an oil refinery on the other), and the islands of Lido, Murano (glass museum), Burano (lots of brightly-coloured houses) and others. Update August/2018: We stood on the bank of Canale Giudecca close to the railway station with a big sign saying "Giudecca" and waved at boats - we got a ride to G. in around 15 mins.
A train ticket from VE Mestre to Venice Santa Lucia costs 1 euro. There at the Venice S. L. railway station you can leave your bags (left-luggage) for 4 euro per bag for 5 hours (prices checked: October 2011).
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Venice offers a wide range of accommodation. Most of it is highly overpriced. If you are trying to find a host on Couchsurfing, it's nearly impossible in Venice itself, so use the option "expand search within ... miles"
There is a campsite called Camping Jolly. I wouldn't go as far as to recommend it, but you can rent beds in lockable tents there for less than 15 euros a night. Everything else there is highly overpriced but there's a supermarket nearby and maybe you can ask to use the kitchen in one of the bungalows. Takes you 10-15 minutes to walk to the bus which brings you to the Piazzale Roma in 15 minutes.
The Backpackers House Venice could be an option. I payed 37,50 for a bed in a double room in August 2017. It's hidden in a sideway at the Campo Santo Margherita.
The hospitality exchange community is not too big and might be better search for a host in Mestre, Padova or Treviso. Though there is a significant university and several students living there, who even if not members of internet networks might be willing to help and host you. Campo S.Margherita is the main meeting point where they go after classes.
Read about sleeping at the Venice airport. The an Assemblea Sociale per la Casa (ASC) or Social Assembly is a grassroots movement fighting the depopulation of the city, and links residents with abandoned empty apartments.
Wild camping is possible on the Lido (beach) as also in some parks in Mestre (Parco S.Giuliano).
To Lido take the bus along Via Sandro Gallo for a few stops and walk to the beach on the adriatic side, then walk along it until you find a spot away from the resorts, then make camp. At night, security officers patrol and one of them asked us to leave around 4am (!). We spent the rest of the night close to the large building, where it seems it is allowed to sleep, but it is a much more sketchy area with drunk people and so on.
There are also some little huts you can squat for a day or two. It is accepted to make a fire in the evening, although not really in the daytime. Make sure to visit the excellent dumpsters in Lido before you go, so you have plenty of food to eat.
Try to avoid railway stations since they are never really safe in Italy, exception made for Venice city centre one (S.Lucia) where often travelers or homeless sleep outside.
If the weather is not too cold you can also sleep on any of the thousand banks around the city centre, also the floor is not too dirty often. Though keep in mind that is CCTV city, here you can find all the camera location http://www.tramaci.org/anopticon/ , lots of them are illegal and under court judgement but this doesn't mean that meanwhile police is not using them.
In Venice itself, you can stealth camp in construction sites or abandoned buildings (at your own risk). Pick out of the way spots and wake up early (suggested anyway as Venice is most beautiful in the dawn light, before all the tourists wake up).
From the main train station in Mestre, there is a perfectly nice stealth camping spot only 2 minutes walking. Exit the station through the underground corridor, heading AWAY from the city center (it's obvious what is the 'front' of the station and what is the 'back'.) Go out the back and once you ascend to street level, immediately look to your right and you'll see an old fence. Get behind the fence, walk along the tracks about 50m, and you'll come to a couple of open lots with trees and bushes. Plenty of relatively discreet places to lay your sleeping bag.
As I lived there 2 yrs, Mestre is not the best option for free camping specially near the railway station, like all railway stations in Italy, pretty ones of the worst spot to spend the night (e.g. Milano Centrale or Roma Termini). If u go in the historical centre, at night is almost inhabited, no tourists around (very charming as well) and specially in less touristic quarters(sestiere) like "Castello" or "Cannaregio". just crash on one of the hundreds bench u see or even some green areas u may find, churches stairs might be also an option. Of course u ll be wake up by someone but its so much more safe than mestre station. Lots of backpacker and homeless also do sleep right outside of SantaLucia station.
If you go at evening time 5-6p.m till 23p.m in Campo S.Margherita (check on maps) one of the largest square, is full of university and young people. If you are nice and smart you can easily find some cool people to host you.
An option to camp in Mestre, can be the following: take bus 2 (see advises for hitching East, AGIP station) till the last station. Walk along Via Vallon towards the AGIP station. Along Via Vallon, there is a great spot to pitch a tent (out of sight, quiet, in wooded area), it's on the west side of the street about 1km south of the gas station. GPS location (WGS84): N45°31.028'x12°15.298'E. Marion_and_John slept there in June 15.
I found the place easily and went to the inside of the trees. There were so many syringes, belts, and rubbers in there so it's a little uncomfortable. Bushes side are better but only in nights. People cross near there in daytime. Update: I didn't go to the inside of the trees or to the bushes but stayed at some bushes that come up on your left. That part is not that isolated and it is close to a parking lot but there are no syringes or anything similar. The place is really easy to find but it doesn't seem to be especially safe. Not for the faint-hearted. ;)
Update August 2017: I found a big, beautiful field for camping at the corner of via Torino and Corsa del Popolo, a few hundred meters east on via Torino. It is quite a large field in Mestre, quiet and safe (I only stayed there two nights, but hid my pack in the bushes while I explored Venice); it is protected by a very easy to climb fence and there is not much trash, so I assume not a lot of people go in there. On the corner is a 24hr McDonalds with wifi and power outlets, a humongous grocery store, and about 20 minutes to Venice by bus.
Update June/2017: We met some kewl guys who brought us to huge abandoned factory where you can place as many places to sleep as many people lives in whole Venice. You need mattresses and sleeping bag of course. Get out of vaporetto at Bacini. Go trough the brick gate. On left hand side you see the building, just get through the fence, and enjoy. Two vapo stops from there you have also Coop. And if you are into art, this is the best place to enter the Biennale in Arsenale. Don't tell this info to strangers, and don't make parties there, few people living there and its worth to keep this as a secret for as long as possible.
Do all the snack-shopping in Mestre before you go on the islands.
In Venice you can dumpster-dive at Coop in Piazzale Roma, close to the train station, as well as at Billa and Coop on Lido, also check Trashwiki.
Tabling from any of the thousand touristic restaurants which fill the city is not very well seen by locals but constitute a good option, asking or taking directly, just check out any leftover.
I've checked in May 2015 some Coop Markets, but as seemed as if they all had locked their dumpsters. But I found many food at Lidl, where the dumpsters were easily accessible.
The Snack Bar in the square by the university (Campo Santa Margherita) is not too overpriced - sitting charge is €1.50, and the portions are decent. Also, take advantage of free breadsticks (i.e. included in that €1.50)
Internet-cafés in Venice are ridiculously expensive. In Mestre within 10-minute walk from the railway station you'll find places entitled "Internet Point" run by Chinese or Bangladeshi guys, where Internet is around €1.50 for 30 minutes. You'll need an ID if you want to use the Internet (by Italian law).
Lots of restaurants and bars have free wifi access for their customers and if you are lucky there may be no password; internet cafes are bloody expensive and in the universities, classes as libraries, you need a vpn, user and password to login but you can easily ask any student for a favor.
Venice municipality and local police are not really welcoming for buskers, at least from what local buskers say. It appears there are 10 official permits per month to be issued at Palazzo Manin (municipality), that last 15 days and cost 30€ (other buskers source, not verified official news)and of course they are difficult to obtain.
If local police ("vigili" or "polizia locale", often in uniform and not civil clothes so you could recognize them in time and run away) catch you playing or performing with no permit apparently they can be really mean, confiscating your instrument or performing tools and taking even your money. Being a foreigner and not speaking local language should help as always but is really better if you distract them and escape. Normal police (Polizia, Carabinieri and Guardia di Finanza) shouldnt care about you and annoy only street bag/belts/etc sellers, though if you see them run away might be wise take away also your stuff.. About busking places the whole centre, historical Venice is good and full of tourist (though they can be cheap view how expensive is the city), Strada Nova, Rialto and S.Margherita are Vigili's preferred places to go around as also some of the most visible, try to avoid them; Accademia, S.Polo and Frari/S.Rocco should be better. Be careful and talk to other buskers/street sellers asking for advice, there is a good solidarity.
- You can go inside Basilica San Marco for free - large bags and rucksacks are not allowed. Lnx, however, managed to sneak in with a small rucksack, SLR camera bag and a tripod case.
- If you want to experience a Gondola ride and don't want to spend €80/hour, you can cross the Grand Canal in a Gondola for €0.50 (yes, 50 eurocents). The Traghetto runs between the west side (market) and the east side (just north of Rialto bridge) and crosses the Canal Grande in various points.